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Thor Products & White Automotive (Whitco)

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Overview of Colorado Jeep Product Manufacturers from the1950s-1970s

White Manufacturing Co. (also known as White Automotive and Whitco over time) was started in the late 1950s by Richard T, Bingman and partners. The company progressed at a modest level making, among other things, aluminum floral display stands. Eventually, White allied with Kaiser and began making tops. White filed for incorporation in 1959. One of the company’s earliest products was a white soft top for jeeps.

The next year, in 1960, Richard T. Bingham filed a patent for a pair of locking hubs. One set would automatically shift into gear when it sensed the axles were being powered (i.e., when the transfercase was shifted into four wheel drive). The second set of hubs added a dash-mounted button to allow for control of the hubs from the driver’s seat (assuming I have interpreted the patent correctly!).

The interesting thing is that Bingham never assigned the patents to the White Automotive Company. Instead, the patents and hubs ended up being used by Thor Products, which also operated out of Colorado Springs (though sometimes the address is Manitou Springs, a small town just west of Colorado Springs).

thor-automotive-logoThis suggests that Bingham had some time of relationship with Thor, but his exact connection to Thor isn’t known at this time (my guess is that it was a subsidiary or sister company of White).

1. The Thor auto-matic hub patent vs. the finished device:

thor-auto-matic-hub-patentthor-auto-matic-hub.jpg
thor-hubs-facebook2

2. The Thor Lectro-matic hub patent vs. the finished device:
thor-lectro-matic-hub-patent

thor-lectro-matic-hubthor-hub-1thor-hub-2

Thor Automotive was seriously about the jeep parts business, because the company secured a Small Business Adminstration loan for nearly $20,000 in 1960 (may have been a rotating line of credit).

In early 1962, Four Wheeler Magazine began operations. By October 1962 (the earliest magazine I own), White Manufacturing was already advertising their “White Convertible Top”. Thor did not advertise in that issue.

However, by March of 1963, Thor was not only advertising their hubs, the company had several other products as well.  According to the SBA, the company still had a loan with a balance of $20,000.

1963-07-fourwheer-thor-hubs-tire-jerrycan-carrier

In the same March 1963 issue, White Manufacturing had begun branding itself as Whitco, by claiming “Whitco means go!”. At that time the company introduced its 700 Series all season convertible top.

1963-03-white-manufacturing-ad-lores

Mysteriously, by January of 1964, Thor had ceased advertising its hubs or any of its other products. Instead, it ran a couple months of ads featuring a stabilizer. Strangely, it never mentioned the stabilizer as “another product” in the 1963 ad.

1964-01-fourwheel-thor-automotive-shimmy-product-lores

So, what happened to Thor? Did it go under? Did White Automotive buy out the company? Were some of the assets sold to other Colorado manufacturers? That’s simply not clear. However, it’s possible that some of eachhappened. For example, when I compared Thor’s tire carrier with Whitco’s, the two look like they have the same rounded bar, single-swing action carrier:

Thor’s spare tire carrier from a 1963 Ad:

1963-03-white-manufacturing-spare-tire-carrier

Whitco’s spare tire carrier from a mid 1960s brochure:
whitco-tire-jerrycan-carrier-brochure

The Thor example is not of great quality, but I think the design is close (closer than any other tire carrier of the time …  see other carrier examples here).

As for the Thor hubs, perhaps the hub design was sold to Husky Products in Longmont and that company redesigned the Lectro-Matic into the Selectro brand? The name is surprisingly close. Moreover, it’s not clear to me where Husky came up with the Selectro hub (that post is forthcoming).

Another odd twist is the Thor name. A man named Don Chapman worked at one of the jeep parts companies in Colorado, then moved to California, where he invented the Viking Selective Hub and appears to have been involved in the Thor Winch (both companies located in Gardena, California). An attempted to find some link between Chapman and Thor Automotive proved a dead end.

Thor might have disappeared, but Whitco continued to do well, expanding over the years. In 1974, the company opened a 1,400 square foot lunch and break room for its employes. Done in a Paris Street motif by Mrs. Charles L. Schwer, the wife of the executive vice president, its “pleasant and restful atmosphere” made possible one area where employees could gather for a hot sandwich and a cup of coffee.

By 1977, White Automotive was averaging total revenues of $5 million a year and was the nation’s largest manufacturer of convertible tops, roll bars, tire carriers and wheel covers, carpeting and folding pickup truck tops. Richard T. Bingham, 51 years old, was the sole stockholder. The company had expanded to a 45,000 square foot facility in Colorado Springs that employed 230 people. A second facility in Columbia City, Indiana, had also been purchased and was being run with 28 employees. (this is a full page article with photos about the company).

During the late 1980s the company began to struggle. By 1991, unable to find a buyer, it declared bankruptcy. This poorly rendered image gives some of the details.

1991-01-24-csgazette-white-automotive-declares-bankruptcy

I’m sure someone in the Colorado Springs area probably knows much more about the company’s history. Perhaps a visit to the city’s historical society could yield some clues.

 

 

9 Comments on “Thor Products & White Automotive (Whitco)

  1. Mike

    Interesting background history Dave. I remember in 1962, A “WHITE COLOR TOP” was a big deal, being convertible, was even a bigger deal. Until this point in time, Drab black or canvas color green were the only choices one had. In 1962, my dad owned a 1950 CJ3A that was topless. I talked him into buying a Whitco White convertible top for the 3a. We didn’t have the cash, so he took out a loan through the dealer (Mide Motors, Garfield, NJ) to pay for it. I still remember the salesman, Peter Lintas, Big fat guy with eyeglasses who got to drive a New dealer demo Willys two tone blue “Crackbox” wagon. Anyway, the top was installed and we got a call to pick up the Jeep. This period of time was in October, during the Cuban missile crisis.
    Well, the top was white, but it was not convertible, boy was I bummed. “Fat Pete” told us that Whitco doesn’t make a convertible top for older Jeeps, Yet, I do remember seeing a black convertible top on a CJ3A back in the early 1960’s. Long story short, for 55 years, I’ve been wondering, Did “FAT PETE” lie to us, or was he telling the truth? If anybody knows the answer to this question, inquiring minds want to know.

  2. David Eilers Post author

    Mike,

    The DJ-3A had a convertible top. Could you have seen a DJ-3A and mistaken it for a CJ-3A? Or it could have been a DJ-3A Convertible made into 4WD?

    – Dave

  3. Mike

    Dave, that’s possible, many years later, I viewed the same Jeep for sale (year 2015) on Ebay. Of course by then, it had a newer top.

  4. Dennis

    I worked for Whitco from 1976 until they closed in ’91, I was engineering technician up until they declared bankruptcy then managed the Columbia City plant for a year while looking for a buyer. Which didn’t happen. I don’t think Thor was ever part of Whitco, the hub patent that Dick had was sold to Warn Industries. Mr. Warn was a member of the board for years.

  5. David Eilers Post author

    Dennis,

    Thanks for your insights! The only link I have between Dick and Thor was that his name was on the patent. It’s entirely possible I’m making links that aren’t there. I’m surprised Warn was a board member. That’s very interesting. Was that Arthur or Thurston?

    – Dave

  6. Dennis

    Don’t really remember who, they just joked about it calling him “Mr. Warn” . The story goes that Dick and his partner Ralf Young had developed the locking hub and wanted to sell it to Jeep. But in those days you couldn’t get in to see the buyers so they drove a Jeep to Toledo to try to get interest from the buyers by sitting in front of the plant when they came and left work. But before they left they had a local trim shop in the springs make them a top for the drive to Toledo. When they finally got a buyer to stop and talk to them he said he wasn’t interested in the hubs but wanted to know where they got the top. Quickly thinking the responded that they made them back in Colorado, so the buyer made plans to go see their operation. Dick and Ralf hurried back, bought rolls of vinyl, tubing and other supplies cleared out an area in the floral stand plant had people cutting, sewing and generally looking like they where making tops. The buyer thought it looked like they knew what they were doing and gave them a contract.
    The hubs???????? we had a box of proto type parts that sat around in the engineering department for years, don’t remember seeing any names on them but its been almost 40 years now.

  7. David Eilers Post author

    Dennis
    ,
    Thanks for those great memories. That also answers the “Ralph Young” question I had. 🙂
    That does beg the questions, what happened to those prototypes parts …..

    – Dave

  8. Dennis

    I wish I knew, my guess that they were trashed. Between Christmas and New Years I got a call at home to fly to Columbia City to help run production because I was pretty much the only one that knew both product lines and personnel in both plants. A few weeks later I was left in charge. I spent the next year living out of a suit case. At the end of a very long year I locked the doors and gave the keys to the bank. When I turned in the banking records in the springs they wouldn’t let me in the plant to get my personal items. I was told that a lot small items, tools, parts and products grew feet so the bank wasn’t pleased. I guess I’m just jealous that I wasn’t able to get anything

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