Monday, April 23, 2007

J C Whitney has everything automotive

Everyone who owns a motor vehicle -- and everyone who loves motor vehicles, needs a free subscription to the JC Whitney catalog, and should spend time on their website.

For over 90 years, Whitney has been a super source for almost anything that can be used to fix, restore or enhance a car, truck, SUV, RV or motorcycle. You can buy tools, tires, wheels, engines, wire, filters, spark plugs, test equipment, touchup paint, cleaning chemicals, upholstery, carpeting, navigation, audio, video, sunroofs, seatbelts, sponges, instrumentation, exhaust systems, fuzzy dice, headlights, funny horns, RV toilets, fire extinguishers, racing helmets... you name it.

They now publish six different catalogs: a general publication, plus specialized books for classic VWs, Jeeps, sport compacts, RVs, motorcycles, etc. Whitney can help you trick out a brand-new Honda, or keep an ancient Beetle on the road.

You can get serious stuff like shock absorbers, or silly stuff like LED-laden tail pipes. Over the years, the company has helped enhance the cars of countless people whose aspirations exceeded their budgets: they even sold phony CB radio antennas, phony cellphones, and phony stick shifts. They’ve also offered options that were unavailable from the car manufacturers. My first purchase was a genuine walnut applique for my Corvair dashboard. I also got a loud AH-OOH-GAH horn for my Vespa motorscooter.

In 1915, the Ford Model T had been in mass production for only seven years, when a Lithuanian immigrant in Chicago named Israel Warshawsky saw an opportunity to mine replacement parts from derelict automobiles. He bought a piece of property and opened a scrap metal yard, The Warshawsky Company.

Industrial growth generated by World War I put the salvage business into high gear. Soon, the demand for auto parts outstripped the supply of derelict cars. Warshawsky began buying up failed auto manufacturers and added new parts to his inventory, and added a retail store.

The Warshawsky Company grew right through the Great Depression, when few people could afford new cars or even new parts. By 1934, the company had a larger store and a wholesale catalog.

Israel's son, Roy Warshawsky, joined the company after graduating from the University of Chicago, and proposed a consumer catalog to make products available nationwide. Roy placed a $60 ad in Popular Mechanics and invited readers to send in 25 cents for a "giant auto parts catalog." The ad produced a flood of response and the JC Whitney Catalog was on its way to becoming a do-it-yourselfer's favorite.

When Israel died in 1943, leadership of the company passed to Roy. As a second world war cut back the supply of new cars, the demand for parts soared. By 1947, the retail store occupied an entire block, the biggest automotive department store in the world, with "everything automotive."

The post-war Baby Boom years spurred more growth on the catalog side of the business. The consumer catalog broke 100 pages, moved to 24-hour ordering and spawned a series of specialty catalogs targeted to key market segments.

When Roy saw a need for products that didn't exist, he contracted manufacturers to produce them. As consumer auto shows became more popular, Roy initiated a cooperative effort among retailers and manufacturers to make it easier for consumers to purchase independent aftermarket products. That effort led to the formation of the Automotive Parts & Accessories Association in 1967 and the election of Roy Warshawsky as its first president. Roy died in 1997. The company is still very much alive, and so are the cars of its customers.

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