GM stock dropped 25% today, hitting $1.27 per share during intra-day trading. It's a level not seen since April, 1933. Let's put things into perspective and take a look back at the GM of 1933.
The GM of 1933 and the GM of 2009 are two seemingly diametrically opposite companies connected by only one thing — a stock price. One was exiting the Depression, while today, one is apparently just entering one.
In 1933, the last time GM hit this price-per-share, Pontiac had just become a division of the General, replacing the Oakland brand in 1932. Alfred P. Sloan, GM's President, had just merged the sales operations of Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac, requiring dealers to sell all three brands out of one dealership.
That wasn't the only organizational changes made by GM that year. AC, the forerunner to AC Delco, officially became a GM division in 1933.
1933 also saw Chevrolet take a flying leap into two distinct directions for the brand lineup. They created two new models — the Eagle and Mercury with the Eagle as the upscale series and the Mercury, added at midyear, serving low-budget buyers.
Chevy wasn't the only brand with new models. The year also saw the 1933 Cadillac V-16 Convertible Victoria, a representation of extreme luxury in the depths of the depression. Despite tough times, Cadillac fielded an extensively revamped lineup of V8s, V12s, and V16s for 1933. Most notably, the boxy look of the Twenties began to give way to the streamlined look of the Thirties. Featured were fully skirted, flowing fenders and a graceful "windsplit" veed grille, which boasted a painted shell that blended in smoothly with the bodywork.
Under the direction of "Boss" Kettering, founder of GM's Research Laboratories, GM Research developed a revolutionary two-stroke diesel engine that was smaller, lighter, far more powerful and more efficient than the traditional diesel. Within a few years, it was being applied to railroad locomotives, heavy commercial trucks, boats, and off-road equipment.
That wasn't the only technological advancement GM saw in 1933. GM Engineering also developed the first independent wheel suspension system, lessening the impact when any of a car's four wheels hit a bump or hole and making the car safer as well as more comfortable. Popularly known as "knee-action" suspension because of the way each wheel was connected to the axle, it was then introduced in all 1934 model year GM cars in the North American market.
Famed GM designer Harley Earl also found 1933 to be an important year, regaining his stature within the automaker after a series of missteps during the Depression, when Cadillac asked him to prepare a special model to showcase at the General Motors pavilion at the 1933 Century of Progress Exhibition in Chicago. This car was called the Cadillac Aero-Dynamic Coupe and was unlike any other car of its time. This "show car" had a number of innovations including an all-steel, contoured, one-piece roof that would later lead to the famed Turret-Top. The Aero-Dynamic Coupe was a hit and helped to re-establish the idea within the GM executive ranks that the appearance of passenger cars should be left up to the designers. The Aero-Dynamic Coupe would later go into limited production.
[Photo Credit: NY Public Library]