“Will it last until the warranty expires?” was the only real quality standard used at the Sharonville Transmission Plant in the 70s. True, this was a long time ago. But it was during the 70s that the quality of American cars were an international disgrace, and 33 states passed “lemon laws” to protect people from Detroit. It was the shoody quality coming out of Detroit that destroyed people’s confidence in American cars, and that opened the door wide for better built foreign cars to come in and capture our market. Smaller, weaker, less experienced car companies like Toyota, Honda, VW did not invade us. They were invited in by the junk produced by the Big Three.
Back then Ford warranty was 12 months or 12,000 miles, which ever came first. The guiding principle for quality control was the level of warranty defects. Nobody got excited until warranty defects jumped. Then all hell broke loose, because Ford had to pay for repairs. After the warranty expired, Ford did not care what broke down.
We built the C-4 automatic transmission back then. You remember the C-4. That was the one that jumped out of park into reverse, killing 200 people and injuring 1400. That was the one that brought the largest recall in automotive history – 23,000,000 Fords for defective transmissions. The only thing that saved Ford Motor Company from bankruptcy on that massive recall was President Reagan. He was new in office, we were just coming out of recession, and he did not want one of America’s largest corporations declaring bankruptcy on his watch. His solution was simple. Take away the authority of the government to order mandatory recalls.
Ford squeeked through the crisis by sending out, via U.S. Mail, 23,000,000 stickers to put on dashboards, warning people that their transmission could cause injury or death. That is why Ford’s much repeated boasting today that they do not need any government money is so deceptive. The taxpayers already paid to save Ford’s butt, as did 200 people, with their lives. The Wall Street Journal reported that Ford spent at least $20,000,000 in shutup money paid to survivors of the transmission deaths.
What can I say about quality standards at the Sharonville Transmission Plant in the 70s? There was a saying at Sharonville among the hourly: “There is no such thing as a defective part at Sharonville.” One of the inspectors insisted on making copies of his quality reports at the end of each shift. I asked him why. He said “Because I keep rejecting this S&%$, and at the end of the shift my foreman overrules me because they need these parts for production. Some day the s*(&^ is going to hit the fan on all this junk we are making. But they ain’t gonna be able to nail my a%$ because I got 14 years worth of quality reports in my file boxes at home that shows that I done my job and rejected these defective parts, but I was always overuled by management.”
What else can I say? Lets see. There was the bad quality coils of steel coming out of Ford’s River Rouge Steel Plant. Sometimes it was so thin you could bend the oil pans in your hands. Not to worry. They would last for at least 12 months before metal fatigue set in and caused oil leakage. That would not be Ford’s problem.
Oh, yes. Plastic stators is a good one. Stators for the torque converters were always aluminum, since 1958 when the plant first made transmissions. But plastic stators were cheaper. So we went to plastic stators. They came in cracked, chipped, and sometimes the bearings would simply fall out of the stator as the assembler picked it up to assemble into torque converters.
Expanded converters is a good one. Sometimes the torque converter would not rotate internally. There could be a lot of reasons. Sometimes the cover plate was round and the impellor housing was egg shaped, and that constricted internal rotation. Or the stator could have been assembled upside down. But whatever the reason, Ford’s answer was to build an expander.
The expander pumped hydraulic pressure into the converter, bulging out the sides, as in blowing up a baloon. Then the internal parts were so loose that they would rotate. There were times when 20% of the torque converters produced at Sharonville were expanded converters.
I am not surprised by the virtual collapse of the U.S. auto industry. What surprises me is that it lasted as long as it did. If we actually had a free market, Detroit would have folded years ago. It has stayed in business only because the government has kept it in businss.