Christine Schwerin, Michigan History MagazineLook50
U.S. Senator Prentiss M. Brown (Dem-MI) supported National Used Car Exchange Week. (In this photo, Brown is the on the far right.)
National Used Car Exchange Week, 1938
The Cash for Clunkers program has no doubt rounded up an abundance of—well—clunkers. In this, it is much like the 1938 campaign dubbed “National Used Car Exchange Week.”
During the Great Depression, dealerships were saddled with too many unsold used cars tying up capital and not enough space or turnover to bring in newer models. Skittish consumers were holding tight to their wallets. Ford Sales Manager John Raymond Davis conceived the used car drive, in which auto dealers across the nation slashed prices an average of about twenty percent, or sixty dollars per vehicle (with the average used car selling for $275).
“…the greatest selection of used cars ever offered…”
According to H.H. Shuart, then manager of the Detroit Area Auto Dealers Association, “Citizens will find the greatest selection of used cars ever offered, and the prices are low because the inventory is the heaviest of all time.” Detroit mayor Richard W. Reading explained, “Used car sales must be stimulated before dealers can handle increased volume of new car business. Until then, factories will be forced to continue on restricted schedules.”
The Automotive Daily News estimated that 175,00 used cars sold nationwide during the weeklong event from March 5 through March 12, 1938. In at least one third of those deals, consumers bought the used cars without a trade-in. In Detroit, forty clunkers that were traded in and deemed not worthy of resale became somewhat of a pyrotechnic display. An estimated seventy-five thousand people watched as they were set ablaze on Belle Isle.