1960s Classic Cars
Automobile manufacturers of the United States generally added to the size, engines, and trimmings of their cars in 1963 and wound up with one of their best years on record.
During the 1963 model run, U.S. plants turned out 7,339,992 passenger cars, breaking the previous high mark of 7,146,119 set during the 1955 model run. On a calendar-year basis, about 7,644,110 automobiles were built in 1963, second only to the 7,920,186-car output of calendar year 1955.
Final figures compiled by the Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA) showed Chevrolet retained for the fourth consecutive year its position as the No. 1 builder. It produced 1,593,257 standard-size Chevrolets in the 1963 model run, while its closest competitor—the Ford Galaxie—totaled 845,292 units.
At the same time, 1963 ended on a sad note for the industry. On December 9, Studebaker Corporation announced it would halt all U.S. production of cars. This meant that jobs were gone for 7,000 workers in South Bend, Ind. Studebaker still will build cars in Canada. It had been making autos in South Bend since 1902. In recent years, however, it watched its sales sag—from 158,823 cars in the 1959 model run to 76,145 cars in model 1963. A 115,000-car output was the firm’s break-even point. Studebaker sales fell even further in the early months of the 1964 model run. The decision to drop U.S. production followed.
Robust health, however, was the condition of the industry as a whole. Particularly energetic was the strong comeback of Chrysler Corporation. It built 939,526 cars during the 1963 model run, compared with 680,945 the previous year. Chrysler stock was split 2-for-1 in April, 1963, and again by a similar amount in December. Profits had shot up 550 per cent in the first nine months from the year-earlier level. The board of directors also approved an increase in Chrysler’s dividend.
Foreign Market. The industry’s good health extended overseas. Great Britain and France each produced about 1,500,000 cars in the calendar year, and West Germany turned out about 2,000,000. Other nations reported similarly strong showings.
With U.S. compacts growing longer, foreign auto makers stepped into the gap and picked up sales in the U.S. market during the year. Their sales peaked at 614,000 in 1959, then dropped to 339,000 in 1962, and climbed to about 390,000 in 1963.
New Models. Face-lifting and a bit of extra length to give the cars a lower, longer look constituted most of the changes in the 1964 line. The two big exceptions were the Chevrolet Chevelle and the Chrysler Imperial. The Chevelle was the only brand-new car introduced by the U.S. industry. Its 115-inch wheel base falls between the regular Chevrolet and the compact-sized Chevy II. The Imperial’s lines resemble those of Ford’s Thunderbird.
Front-seat safety belts became standard, factory-installed equipment on all U.S.-made cars on Jan. 1, 1964. Studebaker had already included the belts, as well as alternators, on all its 1963 models.
The Vast Impact of the auto industry on the economy was shown in a survey by the U.S. Department of Commerce that listed 2,352 plants in 40 states either producing motor vehicles or major components. Surprisingly, more than half of these plants were outside Michigan. Also, thousands of plants in all 50 states were turning out automotive parts.
The department reported that one out of every six U.S. businesses was automotive. And it estimated that one out of every seven employed persons in the nation, or about 11,600,000, held jobs directly connected with the auto industry.
The Auto Population exploded in 1963. It increased 3.8 per cent, to 82,000,000 cars, trucks, and buses on U.S. roads—or more than half the world’s total. California led all states with registrations topping 9,000,000 for the first time. The nation’s drivers clocked 737,000,000,000 miles in the year.
Practically every automotive spokesman was predicting another 7,000,000-car sales year for 1964. Many cited a late-1963 report of the University of Michigan Survey Research Center that showed consumers’ plans to buy new cars were as strong as a year earlier. And for the fifth year in a row, the industry had held the line on the basic car price.
Labor. American Motors corporation’s profit-sharing plan—the only one in the industry—saw $9,247,859 allocated to 29,538 hourly paid workers in 1963. In the second year of the plan—which pays no cash to the workers—pension and hospital-medical benefits plus the value of stock certificates averaged $313, against $361 in 1962. The CIO-AFL United Auto Workers, whose three-year contracts run out in the summer of 1964, undoubtedly will ask the other auto makers to consider profit sharing in new contracts.
“Automobile (1963).” Online Table. World Book Advanced. World Book, 2015. Web. 9 June 2015..