Service equipment through the years

Order Reprints
Air compressors pre-date automobiles
Pneumatic hand tools pre-1900
Vehicle lift 1924
Wheel alignment system 1925
Static wheel balancers 1928
Dynamic wheel balancers 1934
On-car balancer 1946
Diagnostic full-service alignment rack system 1955
Pneumatic tire changers (full pneumatic) 1959
Computerized dynamic wheel balancer 1969
Computerized static wheel aligner 1976
Wheel alignment system using CRT display 1981
Overhead changers (imported) early 1980s
"Open architecture windows" computer aligner 1993


Historical notes of interest

In 1924, Rotary created an in-ground lift that was a marvel of innovation at the time.

The idea for the lift came from the hydraulic-lift barber chair.

It was referred to as a “rotary" due to its rotating feature.

Since the early cars were prone to reverse-gear problems, most drivers preferred to drive only in forward gears whenever possible.

The rotary-style lift allowed both entry and exit without the need to use reverse gear.

Now, of course, the lift industry offers sophisticated in-ground, above-ground and portable vehicle lifts, in a wide selection of load capacities, sizes and styles.

Model T Ford owners were instructed to mix then own engine antifreeze, using a blend of wood alcohol and glycerine.

The Model T, manufactured from 1909 through 1927, didn’t have exacting front wheel alignment specs.

The 1913 Ford Model T instruction book noted that the front wheels “are placed at an angle... the distance between the tops of the front wheels is about three inches greater than between the bottoms.”

In other words, this car used gobs of positive camber, but neither the owner or the mechanic was given any specific measurements to follow.

The instruction book also advised that “toe-in” was not recommended, simply suggesting that the wheels be adjusted to run parallel to each other.

Wheel angle positioning as an exact science was in its infancy.

It started in 1925 when John Bean designed an alignment system that would help reduce tire wear on fire trucks.

Early cars used wooden frames, with metal reinforcement skins.

It wasn’t until the late 1920s and early 1930s that wood was phased out in favour of steel frames. However, wood continued to provide body framing on various makes and models.

Leaf springs were used in both front and rear positions on most early cars. In the late 1940s, coil springs began to see widespread use in production cars. Variable rate coils debuted in the 1970s.

In 1958, “Moogwagons” toured repair shops in the U.S., promoting steering and suspension parts.

Engine drive belts were initially hemp rope, followed by flat leather. In 1911, Gates made leather tire covers, designed to extend the life of worn tires.

The scrap leather was eventually used to make drive belts.

This was followed by vulcanized rubber flat belts accidentally discovered when a Gates employee who was leaving on a fishing trip shortened a rubber bucket.

Further development led to the V-groove belt that provided increased friction surface.

The first front-wheel-drive application in a U.S. production car was in a 1929 Cord.

Lever-type hydraulic shock absorbers were still in use until the late 1950s on some domestic vehicles, gradually being phased out in favour of hydraulic tube-type shocks that entered the scene in the late 1940s. Nitrogen gas-charged shocks were introduced in the early 1980s.

MacPherson struts, invented in the 1940s, first saw U.S. production use in the 1978 Chrysler Omni/Horizon.

Domestic passenger car production in 1915 was 900,000. In the 1915 to 1920 period, this rose to more than 1.9 million. By 1929, it was nearly 4.5 million; by 1950, 6.6 million. The current U.S. vehicle population exceeds 182 million vehicles including passenger cars and trucks.

An interesting, rare and all-but-forgotten option on the 1969 Chevrolet Camaro was a rear-mounted pressurized tank that, at the press of a button, squirted windshield solvent onto the tops of the rear tire treads.

This was intended to remove snow and ice for improved winter traction, on an as-need basis.

GM’s Corvette served as a milestone car in many ways. With help from Dick Moritz, an established Corvette collector and historian, we’ve assembled a few interesting tidbits.

  • the 1955 model saw the first mass-produced V8 engine.
  • the early 1950s saw the first (optional) oil filter on Chevrolet engines. These were serviceable cartridge style. Spin-on filters entered the scene in the mid-1960s.
  • a 12-volt electrical system first appeared on the 1955 V8.
  • 1957 was the first year for mechanical fuel injection.
  • the 1963 model was the first to use power brake assist, power steering and a ball-joint suspension (earlier use of ball joints was in the 1955 Chevy passenger car).
  • the 1963 model was also the first to use OE alloy wheels.
  • 4-wheel disc brakes were available starting with the 1965 model, as a “delete option” (disc was standard, but you could delete this in favour of drum, if you didn’t trust the new “disc” concept.
  • 1974 models first used HEI electronic ignition.
  • 1974 model was the first to use a catalytic converter.
  • 1980 model was the first to use engine computer-control.
  • the first model to use rack and pinion steering was the 1984 (Chevy procrastinated quite a while before switching to R&P).
  • the 1984 model was also the first to feature 16-inch wheels, aluminium drive shafts and carbon fiber rear leaf springs.


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