Mac’s Motor City Garage presents another formative and challenging year for the American automobile industry: 1952. Here’s the full story for ’52, told with rare facts and seldom-seen photos.
The 1952 model year featured mixed blessings for the Detroit auto industry. For multiple reasons beyond the industry’s control, production and sales fell significantly over the previous year. There was a national steel industry strike that lasted 53 days; shortages of key materials, including chromium and copper, due to the war in Korea; and stresses on the economy, also produced by the conflict in Asia. The U.S. defense budget was temporarily quadrupled, while wages and prices (including for new cars) were regulated by the federal government’s Office of Price Stability.
Once again Chevrolet led the field in 1952 with more than 818,000 vehicles produced, with Ford in second at nearly 672,000 units. (Both carmakers had exceeded one million units the previous year.) Chrysler’s Plymouth brand continued to hold down a distant third while the Buick, Pontiac, and Oldsmobile divisions of General Motors hogged the fourth, fifth, and sixth slots respectively. The trend was clear: Surely and steadily, the independent automakers were being squeezed out. Nash managed only 154,000 units in 1952; Packard only 62,000. Crosley built a mere 6,614 vehicles for the year and on July 3, 1952, departed from the automobile business.
With the imported car threat still a few years in the future, the automakers continued to tinker away at unlocking the small car market in America. The previous year, Nash had introduced the compact but fully equipped Rambler, while Kaiser Motors offered the bare-bones Henry J. For 1952, Kaiser partnered with Sears and Roebuck for a unique marketing exercise, the Allstate. A Henry J with Sears’ familiar Allstate badging, accessories, and tires added, the department-store car failed to thrive and was discontinued in 1953 with barely 2,300 units produced.
Another entry in the small car market, and the truly new vehicle for 1952, was the Aero Willys from Willys-Overland Motors. Built on a modern unitized body shell with a 108-inch wheelbase, the Aero was offered in Lark, Wing, Ace, and Eagle models—the Eagle was a stylish two-door pillarless hardtop. While it was applauded by critics for its nimble handling and novel engineering, the Aero would face an uphill battle competing with the Big Three with their vast economies of scale. Check out all the Motor City players for 1952 in the photo gallery below.