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Sun, Aug. 25

Requiem for an industry

This past week, a once great world leader fell by the wayside. There was little fanfare, and with the exception of a few investment bankers and Wall Street brokers, little notice. With the announcement that Toyota had surpassed General Motors in volume, it was almost as though a bell could be heard quietly tolling in the distance, the death knell of an industry.

Is it possible an American icon such as Chevrolet, or for that matter, Ford, could soon become just another name from the past like Edsel or Desoto? For those who see the falling of such giants an impossibility, I ask, when was the last time you drove past a Studebaker or Hudson dealership?

Today, the American automobile industry consists of Ford, a scaled back General Motors and a merged Chrysler, and a large percentage of the parts that go in to these "American" cars are manufactured somewhere besides the good old U.S. of A. This was not always the case. There was a time when America led the world in automotive technological advancement, design and production.

Cars not invented here

The automobile is not an American invention. In fact, during the first years of the twentieth century, European manufacturers led the world in automotive advancement.

However, by 1905, the American automotive industry was shifting into high gear. The following year, a special bodied Stanley Steam car was driven to a new world land speed record of 127.6 mph, Ford production surpassed 8,000 units annually, and in 1908, Cadillac introduced interchangeable parts.

Within two decades, an incredible array of automobile manufacturers battled for supremacy and dominance of a very limited market. In Dubuque, Iowa, the Adams-Farwell combine offered the world's most perfect engine, a revolving air-cooled unit that propelled the 1906 model to speeds of 75 mph. The owners of American Simplex disagreed and actively promoted their valveless engine as the height of technological perfection.

By 1908, the Apperson company celebrated its first decade as an automobile manufacturer with the stunning Jack Rabbit introduced the previous fall. While these and several dozen other companies battled for the top spot, the owner of Buick, William Durant, began construction of an empire that would change the world, a company he named General Motors.

The Closing '20s

This company would eventually become dominant in the industry, but through the teens and into the early 1920s, companies would rise, make contributions to the advancement of automotive technology, fall by the wayside and become forgotten footnotes to history, except to those who had bought and still drove them.

Cameron closed its doors in 1920 after 17 years of production. In that short time, the company had produced high-performance machines with an international following and developed a highly advanced transaxle.

In 1928, McFarlan closed its doors, ending 18 years as a luxury automobile manufacturer and leading innovator. Stearns-Knight owners, in 1928, found themselves in possession of an orphan when the company ceased production after almost 30 years.

Winton ended 30 years of production in 1924.

Now with General Motors sliding from the top spot, the torch has passed and the final chapter is unfolding. With that thought in mind, the upcoming Route 66 Fun can be seen as more than a celebration of the Mother Road, it is also a requiem for an industry.

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