In 1931, people thought Edward S. Babcox was insane for launching a magazine in the middle of the great depression. But, 75 years and almost 900 issues later, BRAKE & FRONT END is still going strong. For the past few months, I have been reading back issues of BRAKE & FRONT END non-stop. In musty pages yellowed by time, I found some interesting pages that tell the story of the undercar industry. Enjoy…
–Andrew Markel, Editor
Edward S. Babcox (1885-1970) founded Babcox Business Publications in 1920 after purchasing India Rubber Review (later to become Tire Review). In 1931, He launched BRAKE SERVICE. He would go onto launch four more publications in his lifetime. Edward was a vocal spokesman for the tire industry by speaking at trade shows, writing articles for other publications like Forbes and The Outlook. In 1969, he appeared on the Today Show with Hugh Downs. That same year, at the age of 84 he graduated from the University of Akron.
World War II
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the entire country was called upon to fight the war. The call went out to shops to keep the economy rolling with little waste. BRAKE SERVICE never missed an issue during the war, but the magazine was printed on a lighter stock of paper to save the United States Postal Service fuel. Also, Edward S. Babcox ran the company practically single-handedly while his sons, Tom and Reid were in the armed forces.
The magazine also had to change its focus to help the shop owners deal with “home front issues.” Since Detroit was manufacturing tanks and planes instead of new cars, the magazine did not have any new vehicle brake and steering specifications to publish. The issues that had to be covered included how to keep tires lasting longer (tires were rationed), and how to get better fuel economy.
The magazine also had to deal with human resource issues, like how to replace your mechanic while he is off at war. Some articles discussed how to train women to work in the shop. It also looked into the issues with hiring teenagers to work after school.
Once the war was over, the undercar service industry was in great shape. With the majority of vehicles older than five years and newly trained Army motor pool mechanics, the sky was the limit.
1950s and 1960s
This was one the great times in the Undercar industry. BRAKE SERVICE changed its name to BRAKE & FRONT END SERVICE to better suit its audience. New cars like the Corvette, Thunderbird and the Edsel were being made in great numbers by Detroit. Also, the British invasion was starting to take place with MGs, Jaguars and Triumphs finding there way to the shops with the “binders” (British for brakes) needing service. Also, in the mid 1950s the innertube was being phase out.
With the changes in the vehicle population, shop owners were forced to invest in new equipment like air-powered tire changers, alignment systems and exhaust tube benders. Just like the new space race to the moon, equipment manufacturers tried to top each other with equipment that was better than that produced by their competition.
A great example of this was the Hunter Talking Tower Alignment Indicator that used pre-recorded voices to tell a customer they need an alignment.
This was also the golden-age of motorsports and aftermarket advertisers using the drivers to promote their products. In a 1965 issue, BRAKE & FRONT END showed readers how Craig Breedlove slowed his 600 mph jet car named the Spirit of America on the Utah Salt Flats.
The 1970s: The Asbestos Problem Comes to a Head
The 1970s for the aftermarket was like the Led Zeppelin song Good Times, Bad Times. The good times came in the form of a increasing vehicle population and more advanced vehicles. Disc brakes were standard on every vehicle by mid-decade, and the MacPherson strut gave the undercar shops something new to sell.
The bad times started in 1976 when the EPA found out the asbestos was a carcinogen. That year BRAKE & FRONT END published OSHA’s and the EPA’s guidelines for servicing brakes word-for-word. The ramifications of asbestos still reverberate today.
The 1980s to Today
These are prices from our 1986 Brake Survey. In 2004, the average price of a two-wheel disc climbed to $135.00. In 1987, our salary survey showed the average mechanic made well under $25,00 in a year.
In the 1980s and 90s, Monroe used the famous cartoon character BC to sell shocks. In the May 2004 issue, readers were shocked when when it was revealed that copper ions from the brazing in steel brake lines were causing brake components to fail.