Most people in the collision repair industry today know that car bodies were originally made of wood, not unlike their predecessors, the horse-drawn wagon. But when did they start changing to steel?
Hupmobile, at the Detroit Auto Show in 1913, introduced the first stamped steel auto body. Much of the coachwork on cars of that era was wood. Hupmobile was not alone. A few months later, Dodge Brothers started producing all-steel car bodies. In the latter part of the 1920’s, wooden car bodies were fast disappearing from the market, much to the dismay of those in the wood-producing business. The National Lumber Manufacturers Association charged steel makers with “disseminating propaganda against the use of wooden automobile bodies” when the steel makers placed an ad in an automotive trade magazine promoting the use of steel automobile bodies and stating that steel would soon completely replace wood as “…the automobile industry heeds the trend of progress.”
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Early Accounting Systems
In 1974, industry pioneer Denny Kiyohara started an accounting service and focused on body shops. The only shops that were anywhere near organized enough to use his services were dealership body shops, used to shuffling a lot of paper and tracking numbers. Seeing a need, Kiyohara developed the first computerized accounting system for body shops; the Automotive Repair Management System, better known as ARMS. Eventually, he created a computer system to handle what had previously been done on spread sheets.
Today, everyone knows I-CAR as the premier training arm of the collision repair industry. But in the earliest days of the automobile, training for automobile mechanics was tough to come by. In the earliest days there was no differentiation between mechanical technicians and “body-men”. Oddly, it was the Young Men’s Christian Association, the YMCA, that answered the call.
After an earlier focus of training young men for the ministry, the YMCA’s management endorsed general education work in 1889. It was not long after that they turned to training young men in the new technology of auto repair. By 1900, 288 chapters nationwide enrolled over 24,000 students in various vocational courses. By about 1905, the Automobile Club of America persuaded the YMCA education committee to train chauffeur/mechanics and thus an automotive curriculum became available in Boston and New York. It became the YMCA’s job to produce “competent and reliable men” who would be employed by the city’s “wealthy motorists and garagemen.” The YMCA’s auto technician training lasted until the end of WWI.
Bondo Is Invented
A Mr. J.C. O’Donnell purportedly invented body filler in 1955 but it would take another year before it was referred to as plastic body filler. Many simply referred to all plastic fillers by one of its most popular trade names, Bondo. Plastic fillers were easier to use, enabling the shop to make a cheap and fast repair. The problem was however, that early plastic fillers sometimes fell off the car, prompting either a re-do of the repair, or a very angry customer – or both. O’ Donnell went on to found the Unican company on July 31, 1962, well known for its variety of body filler products.
My publisher just provided a proof of my book’s cover featuring George V. Arth and Son Auto Body in Oakland, CA, the oldest continuously operated body shop in America.
By early 1977, many collision industry leaders could see the need for change within the industry. With the introduction of the unibody vehicle, cars were getting more sophisticated, and the repair industry had grown stagnant. While paint technology had changed somewhat, and car-building had certainly changed, body-men were still applying the same repair techniques that had been used since the end of WWII. And, it appeared to most that unless someone or some organization took the reins and forced change, shops would soon be incapable of making safe repairs.
In April, 1979, a number of industry leaders met at the Hilton Hotel at the San Francisco airport, and began to devise a plan. Among them was a representative from the Automotive Service Association (ASA), the Executive Director of the Autobody Craftsman Association (a leading auto body association at the time), a representative from the Equipment and Tool Institute, executives from General Motors and representatives from State Farm along with an array of shop owners and other interested parties. The first thing they all agreed on was that collision technicians needed better repair information – and a lot more of it. If a vehicle had to be fixed a certain way, the OE had to let the industry know it and make the information readily available. The question was – what was the best way to do that?
Of course, each party had their own interests throughout the discussions. It was noted that several insurance representatives only wanted to find a way to make cheaper repairs. Bob Mecherle of State Farm realized that the discussions were not about “cheap” but how to perform a proper repair and address the changing technology.
Dan Murray of General Motors was a key party to the affair because he had recently returned from a two-year stint living in Germany and working for General Motors where the collision repair business had advanced considerably further than the U.S. In Germany and all over Europe, unibody construction had been used for several years so equipment manufacturers and technicians had advanced considerably.
In November of 1979, a meeting of forty invited industry leaders was held in Des Plaines, Illinois where, after much discussion and planning, over 30 shop owners and associations, along with State Farm, provided enough seed money to start a non-profit company that would train collision technicians on how to properly repair collision damage. The entity they founded, was the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair; then known as IICACR, and now known simply as I-CAR.
The following statement was said by State Farm Insurance founder George Mecherle in his annual address to State Farm employees in June 1934.
“Automobiles are changing. They employ new materials and different construction methods. They can attain higher speeds… all of which contribute to higher severity and higher claims costs.”
State Farm was founded by George Mecherle in June, 1922. From the very beginning, his entire focus, and that of every employee of the company was to sell more policies. In the first seven years of its existence, State Farm sold over 280,000 auto policies. Then, the Great Depression hit, and still George and his team pushed hard for more sales and more policies. It wasn’t until 1934 that his financial people brought George a stark realization – that, for various reasons, loss-payments were starting to exceed new policy sales. The company was bleeding. Read the rest of the story in my book, “YesterWreck: The History of the Collision Industry in America.”
People today think that autonomous cars are a completely new phenomenon. However, the “bones” of autonomous driving, cruise control, was invented in the mid-1950’s by Ralph Teetor, a blind man. It was first installed in the 1958 Chrysler Imperial. Teetor originally wanted to call his invention a “speedostat.”
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.” Read more about the history of the show, and other industry shows in YesterWreck: The History of the Collision Repair Industry in America.