In this edition of The Year in Cars we explore 1936—a year that featured some important milestones for the American auto industry.
The U.S. auto industry produced 4.4 million passenger cars and trucks in 1936—a huge improvement over 1932, a year of near-total economic collapse in which only 2.3 million vehicles were manufactured. Still, it was a far cry from the nearly 5.4 million units in 1929, a production level the industry would not achieve again until 1949. The Motor City was slowly and painfully working its way out of the Great Depression.
Ford led the sales charts in 1936 with nearly 931,000 units, followed by Chevrolet with 918,000 and Plymouth with 520,000. These three brands would lead the field from 1932 to 1954, forming the trio known as the Low-Priced Three. Ford and Chevrolet swapped the top spot through these years, with Plymouth perennially holding down third place.
Notable events and trends of 1936:
+ Gordon Buehrig’s groundbreaking Cord 810 was introduced, with innovative features including front-wheel drive and the first hidden headlamps on a production car. But meanwhile, Cord’s parent Auburn brand was discontinued and the company would barely last another year.
+ Ford introduced the Lincoln-Zephyr, a future-forcing design with semi-unitized construction and streamlined styling, succeeding in areas where the Chrysler Airflow had apparently failed.
+ Reo, the venerable Lansing, Michigan automaker founded in 1905 by Ransom E. Olds, who also created Oldsmobile, ended passenger car production. However, the company continued to build trucks through 1975.
+ The all-steel roof, introduced the previous year by Fisher Body across the General Motors line, began to spread throughout the industry in 1936, with Chrysler and Hudson joining the development. The advance was more challenging than it appeared, requiring wider rolling mills, wider presses, and even wider transportation machinery.
+ Two styling trends were in full flower in 1936: the Touring Sedan body style with integrated trunk compartment at the rear; and rear fender skirts, increasingly popular as a dealer accessory. Fender skirts provided a more contemporary, quasi-streamlined, expensive look. Note all the fender skirts on display in the photo gallery below.