Of all the safety equipment ever invented for a motor vehicle, none has been so ubiquitous, and been damaged so many times in so many accidents, and has generated so much income for so many parts suppliers, and provided so many labor hours for so many collision technicians, as the item invented by Frederick R. Simms. Simms was born in Hamburg, Germany, August 12, 1863 and became a British mechanical engineer, businessman, and inventor. He was a personal friend of Gottlieb Daimler and became involved in the company that eventually became known as Daimler-Benz. In association with Robert Bosch, he invented the magneto. He started the Simms Magneto Company in New Jersey. The company eventually went on to produce a number of electrical items through the 1940’s and eventually was bought out by the British company, Lucas. But for those in the collision repair industry, Frederick Simms is not remembered for his achievements in the world of automotive electrics. Frederick Simms is known as the inventor of what is arguably the most maligned safety item ever – the automotive bumper.
In March, 1977, the first of what would become known as the Northeast Automotive Services Show, or better known as simply, the Northeast Trade Show, is presented by the North Jersey Auto Body Association (NJABA) at the Ramada Inn in Rochelle Park, NJ. The show is called “Allied Member Night.” The show was the brainchild of Ron Mucklow, NJABA president for 1977 and 78, George Threlfall, founder of NJABA along with former NJABA presidents Dave Demarest and Jim Bowers. It was a table-top show strictly for local jobbers, allowing them to show off their latest products. “This was the days before spray booths, frame machines and all that stuff” said George Petrask, NJABA president for 1981 – 82 in a 2017 magazine interview.
Ron Mucklow and George Petrask handed out a “bunch of tickets”, set up the room and waited for people to show. Nobody came, the two men thought it was a bust, and left for dinner. A short time later they returned to find throngs of people waiting for the doors to open. It was claimed that the fire department was called and no more people were allowed to enter the room because it was so packed.
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In the very earliest days of “motoring” only the wealthy could afford cars and in keeping with the social protocols of the still-present horse and buggy means of personal transportation, wealthy vehicles owners were driven around by chauffeurs. Chauffeurs would drive their employers into the city for work and then, because most early cars were open, had to park the car in a parking garage and wait for their employer to come out of work 8 hours later so they could drive home. By default, the chauffeurs became mechanics and body men, repairing their owner’s cars as needed. During the long 8 hour wait for their employers to get out of work, some chauffeurs chose to go joy riding and inevitably, ended up getting into accidents. At the time, the vehicle owner was held liable for any damages to the other party’s vehicle. Of course this caused a deep rift between the vehicle owners, and their chauffeurs – the guys who repaired their cars. Eventually, the law was changed and the driver became responsible for damages in an accident. And people other than chauffeurs became adept at auto repair. But the damage was done and those who made auto repairs were seen on a lower social strata than those who owned the cars. For an expanded version of this story, and other interesting historical tidbits, order YesterWreck by going to the “Order Here” tab above.
The 1970’s saw the seeds sown for what would become the model for 21st century collision shops. Before the days of ABRA, CARSTAR and Caliber, Pittsburgh industrialist Ward Wickwire signed the first franchising agreement to open an American Way International body shop in Pittsburgh. The agreement carried an option for franchised shops throughout Pennsylvania. Wickwire fully believed that the AWI business model would solve many of the industry’s problems.
AWI never became a household word or was nationally recognized, but this period would give rise to those who were. In 1972, Anthony A. Martino opened his first auto painting shop in Wilmington, DE. Using the first letter of his last name, and the first letter of his first and middle name, he called his new business Maaco Auto Painting. He soon began to open additional shops providing a good overall paint job at a reasonable cost and by 1977, he had almost 200 locations. Martino died in January, 2008 and in October, the company he founded was sold to Driven Brands of Charlotte, NC, a holding company which also holds Meineke Car Care Centers and Econo Lube among others.
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Ernest Hanni has a rather unique perspective on the collision business. That’s because he has been a body shop owner in San Francisco since 1935. According to Hanni, the three biggest problems with the industry in 1971 are; enough qualified body men, the ability for independent shops to buy parts at competitive prices (compared to dealer-owned shops), and the need for more shops to become involved with industry associations to make the industry a better place. Fast forward another 48 years to 2019. Dealer parts pricing structure is no longer an issue, the other two remain.
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For 2018, sales of YesterWreck helped donate almost $1,000 to the Chuck Sulkala NABC Appreciation Scholarship fund. Thanks to all who purchased a book in 2018 and made this possible. Let’s keep this rolling in 2019. Thanks in advance for your support!
Automotive writer James Crate wrote in 1993 that from the birth of the automobile up until 1956, the auto had been wholly unmolested by federal laws primarily for a reason that was left over from the days when horses were the primary mode of personal transportation. And that is the then-motoring public and the federal government considered the automobile a personal item, much as a horse had been, and thus was an inviolate part of a person’s way of life and such a personal artifact should not come under the scrutiny of some government law or entity. That began to change on July 15, 1956 when Congressman Kenneth Roberts, an Alabama Democrat opened the first session of the first House subcommittee on traffic safety by proceeding directly to the subject of automotive design standards.
The auto industry was not ready for Congressman Roberts. They weren’t ready to be asked if the vehicles they were putting on the road might be designed better and safer, to first help mitigate accidents and / or to reduce the severity and save lives. The motoring public, at the time, was apathetic. Even Robert’s fellow legislators and other federal personnel were apathetic at the least and at the worst, condescending. Roberts was not re-elected. However, during his tenure, he managed to get H.R. 1341 passed which set safety standards for those vehicles purchased by the US government. At the time the federal government purchased about 35,000 vehicles a year, a proverbial “drop in the bucket” in the total scheme of things. But it set a precedent, and got people and the government to give vehicle safety and design another look.
Coincidentally, this was the same year that Ford tried selling safety as a vehicle feature. An optional safety package came with seat belts, padded dash and padded sun visors among other items. (Seat belts would not be federally mandated until 1964) Fewer than 2,000 of Ford’s safety packages were sold.
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The Xirallic Disaster
On the afternoon of Friday, March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake occurred off the coast of Japan. It was the most powerful earthquake ever to hit Japan and one of the five largest earthquakes ever recorded in over 100 years of record-keeping. The earthquake then spawned a tsunami generating waves over 100 feet high. Among other things, the tsunami damaged a nuclear generating plant and wiped out countless homes and businesses. Among the many businesses hit was the Merck company, the world’s sole maker of Xirallic paint pigment, a product used extensively by most major car companies for both factory paint jobs and field refinishing. Immediately, major refinish paint companies began to ration the product. Whereas a paint distributor may order a gallon of Xirallic material, they were now reduced to pints or less. The disaster also had a an ill-effect on many parts manufacturers, suppliers to auto manufacturing lines. Hardest hit were Toyota and Honda. The Xirallic issue was rectified in about 90 days once the plant was brought back on-line. Parts issues, mainly with Toyota and Honda lasted almost a year.
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The Infamous Two-Man Shop
In the 1970’s, the number of shops continued to grow, fueled by younger techs who did not want to conform to the rules of an existing shop, or didn’t like the work they were getting, and decided to start their own shop. Angry, and determined to “get back” at their former employer they found a small garage, hung out a sign, and opened for business.
Industry veteran Tony Lombardozzi explains, “When these guys left, they either took someone with them, or very quickly realized they needed some help, and became a two-man shop. Then they went to all the former shop’s insurance contacts to tell them, to get their business, they would charge $2 per hour less than their previous shop. So the work started to roll in, but in the days before job-costing, those two guys never knew if they were making any profit or not. Subsequently, many of them didn’t last.”
Some of these shops exist today (in 2017) operating on a shoe-string and “flying under the radar.” Lombardozzi explains, “There is always someone looking for a cheap and fast collision repair, not caring if OE procedures are observed or not. And there is always a small, out-of-the-way shop that is willing to provide it, and maybe even save their deductible for them. But the cost of doing business is now so high, and in the wake of the John Eagle Decision, the liability is so high, it’s only a matter of time before these little shops disappear.”
Armistice Day – 100th Anniversary
To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations.
President Woodrow Wilson – November 11, 1919 on the occasion of the first anniversary of the cessation of WWI hostilities
YesterWreck wishes to recognize all members of the collision repair industry who have served their country – past and present, and all the men and women of the US armed services everywhere for their service.