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Ralph E. Bills Body Co., R.E. Bills Auto Painting Co.
R.E. Bills Auto Painting Co., 1917-1919; Ralph E. Bills Co., 1919-1921; Permanizing Company of Michigan, Inc., 1928-1932; Ralph E. Bills Body Co., 1921-1935; Detroit, Michigan
Associated Firms
Permanizing Stations of America, Inc.

Ralph E. Bills was born on February 4, 1893 at Nankin, Wayne County, Michigan to Samuel (b.1855) and Esther (b.1856) Bills. The 4th of 5 children (Burton J.; Harry C.; Media L.; Ralph E. and Arthur H. Bills), Ralph grew up on the family’s farm and after a public education went to work for the Ford Motor Co. in its Highland Park assembly plant.

At the age of 18 Bills was elevated to the position of foreman in the Ford assembly shops and in 1917, while still employed at Ford, he established his own part-time automobile paint shop, R.E. Bills Auto Painting Co., at the rear of 31 Ferrand Park, Highland Park, Detroit.

By 1920 he had resigned his position at Ford and moved into a garage at 3967 Grand River Ave., Woodbridge, Detroit. His listing in the 1921 Detroit Directory follows:

“Ralph E. Bills Co., Ralph E. Bills Mgr, Automobile Painting, Automobile Body and Fender Rebuilding, 3967 Grand River Ave.”

By that time he had three employees; Leslie Stiles (woodworker), Lawrence Meiske (painter); and Joseph Krieger.

His 1922 directory listing indicates he was also manufacturing aftermarket bodies for Fords:

“Ralph E. Bills Body Co., Ralph E. Bills Mgr., Automobile Painting, Automobile Body and Fender Rebuilding and Special Sedan Bodies for Fords, 3965-3967 Grand River Ave.”

Little is known of his custom body work, save for a four-door sedan body constructed for the Gauvreau-Nelson Engineering Works, 3676 Trumbull Ave., Detroit, a shortlived (1926-1927) automobile engineeering firm who constructed a prototype on a Marmon chassis in 1926 that was built to get clients interested in its ‘Masterbilt Six’ 'heat-controlled' engine.

Its designer was Victor Gauvreau, a brilliant French engineer who's C.V. included stints as assistant chief engineer for Chevrolet, chief design engineer for Dodge, chief engineer at Frontenac, research engineer for Buick and chief engineer and designer for the Pan Motor Co. (S.C. Pandolfo, president) of St. Cloud, Minn. When that firm failed he became instructor of gas engines and machine design at the University of Minnesota.

He left the University in 1923 founding the Govro-Nelson Co., a Detroit manufacturer of precision components and machine tools for the automobile and aircraft engine industry located at 3676 Trumbull Ave. He continued to work on improved engine designs and in 1925 designed a 4-cylinder engine built using a novel heat-control system of his own design.

Gauvreau’s Masterbilt 'heat-controlled' motor was cooled externally by blowing a current of air on top of the cylinder head and around the cylinder walls, which were surrounded by fins, and internally by a constant circulation of cold air through the pistons by means of vertical tubes fixed stationary with the crank case. The exhaust valves were also cooled by air circulating through their hollow stems.

The engine was thoroughly road tested using a Studebaker standard-six chassis during 1925. L.A. Young Industries, a well-known Detroit and Windsor holding company became interested in the Masterbilt ‘heat-controlled’ concept, and provided financing for construction of a second 6-cylinder prototype, which would now be handled by newl-formed joint-venture, the Gauvreau-Nelson Engineering Co.

It was decided to introduce the powerplant at the upcoming 1927 Detroit Auto Show so the 'Masterbilt Six' was fitted to a Marmon chassis to which a specially-designed 4-door body was built and fitted by Bills, who was conveniently located a few blocks away.

The 'Masterbilt Six' engine was briefly mentioned in the trades but full-scale manufacture did not proceed and the 'heat-controlled' engine project was soon abandoned. Thankfully Gauvreau's main enterpise, Govro-Nelson, prospered and remains in business today manufacturing machine tools in St. Claire, Michigan.

In the late 20s Bills moved into a larger facility located at 3740 Cass Ave., Detroit, wher he also established the Permanizing Company of Michigan, Inc., the exclusive Michigan distributor of Permo-Duro and Permo-Duco automotive finishing products. His products competed directly against the better known ‘Simoniz’ finishing system, although many car washes, garages and paint shops offered both ‘Permanizing’ and ‘Simonizing’ to their customers.

1929 advertisements state Bills, at 3740 Cass. Ave., Detroit, was an authorized “Permanizing Station” for the Permanizing Company of Michigan, Inc. and was also its Michigan distributor. Other metro-Detroit franchisees included the Detroit Garages, Spee-D-Wash Inc., and Arena Auto Laundry.

The Motor News column of a 1929 issue of Michigan Living (Automobile Club of Michigan) included the following:

“Ralph E. Bills, a custom body rebuilder known to hundreds or perhaps thousands of club members who have patronized his service for repair and paint, now heads the Permanizing Company of Michigan, Inc. Mr. Bill’s organization operates a chain of Permanizing stations through the city which are equipped and trained to properly apply the Permanize process to automobile finishes.

“According to Mr. Bills, the Permanizing process required expert workmen and special materials to properly administer the cleaning, sealing and protecting surfaces. Even a high-priced rubbing cloth, especially woven for the process, is required. Another texture is required for the sealing of the finish coat which lies like a film of flexible glass over the color finish of the car. Officials of the company state that this process first removes all particles of foreign matter from the pores of the original paint. A thorough renovation of the original paint must be completed before the process is applied. The second operation is the careful application of Permanizing formulas which actually seat a dust and dirt-proof coat over the entire finish. The final step of the operation consists of polishing this sealing coat down to the desired luster and hardening it to the extent that later washing of the car will not affect the surface. The last process leaves the finish of the car immune from grease and dirt accumulations and its manufacturers claim that henceforth every wash job is equivalent to a wash and polish. Mr. Bills has expanded his organization to a size which permits the continuance of his former collision and repainting trade.”

A display advertisement in the February 26, 1928 issue of the San Antonio Light explains the process further:

“Permanizing Is Solution to Car Owners' Problem

“The most perplexing, problem the owner of a new car has to confront—that of keeping his new car looking new—is solved with the "permanizing" service now being offered by the Klean-Rite Auto Laundry, declares John Trent Behrens, President.

"All lacquer and enamel finishes contain tiny pores which collect dust, dirt, oil and traffic film, causing a cloudy, dull appearance after the car has been in use a short time," Mr. Behrens said. "Ordinary polishing does not remove this film and consequently the polish only lasts through two or three washings.

"Permanizing consists of two separate processes; first, the Permo-Duro cleaner, a soft paste, is used to remove the accumulation" from the surface of the car's finish ; then with the Permo-Duco liquid the pores of the clean lacquer or enamel are sealed against future deposits of scum. The permanized car shines with a high luster which has more depth and a better appearance than a brand new car." Dust and rain spots may be wiped off with a dry cheese cloth without danger of scratching.

“Permanizing is recommended both for the new car and for the car whose exterior is cloudy, dull, milky or oxidized and if the car owner will have his car permanized every six months he will always have a car that is new in appearance.”

The text from a Permanizing display ad follows:

“The Beautiful Finish and Delicate Color of This Car Protected Against mud, Dirt, Snow, Ice and Rain

“You can't compare PERMANIZE with any other automobile finish on the market. It is not a wax-not a polish-not a cleaner. It is a scientifically prepared finish that makes your old car look line new-and protects the finish of your new car against fading and discoloration.

“PERMANIZE RESTORES and ADDS to the original beauty of the finish of your car--and in addition preserves and protects it. It is not unlike a thin veneer of glass, covering the entire finish of your car, and no matter how dirty a PERMANIZED car becomes an ordinary washing will remove all foreign matter and restore the original lustre.

“PERMANIZE is applied to your car only by experts and official Permanizing Stations. Each station has a certificate of franchise for permanizing and all permanized cars are guaranteed.”

A 1931 lawsuit brought by Chicago’s Simoniz Co. forced the Permanizing Stations of America, Inc., (the manufacturer/distributor of Permo-Duro and Permo-Duco and franchisor of Permanizing Stations) to abandon their use of the ‘Permanize’ and ‘Permanizing’ trade names, and the firm, its products and distributors (including Bills’ Permanizing Co. of Michigan) had all vanished by 1933.

The July 9, 1931 issue of Printers’ Ink mentioned the ruling:

“The Simoniz Company v. Permanizing Stations of America, Inc.

“The latter company applied for registration of the mark "Permanize" for use on a cleaner for automobile bodies, etc. The Patent Office approved the application despite the opposition of the Simoniz Company.  It is not argued here, the court pointed out, that the goods of the two companies do not possess the same descriptive properties. Neither is there any dispute with regard to the fact that The Simoniz Company is the prior user of the mark “Simoniz” on these goods. The sole question, therefore, ruled the court, is: Are the two marks confusingly similar? The Patent Office held that the two marks do not look alike, sound alike or convey the same thought.

“Said the court: ‘The marks are not identical, but the only material difference is in the first syllables.’ However, this court has repeatedly held that the public ought not to be required to dissect and analyze trade-marks in order that confusion and deception might be avoided. We are of the opinion that the involved marks are confusingly similar, the only material difference in the two marks being the first syllables, ‘Si’ and ’Per’ – the latter two syllables being identical.”

The initial ruling against the Simoniz Co. was subsequently appealed and reversed as reported in the 21st edition of the Trademark Report pp309 (pub. 1931):

“’Permanize’ Confusingly Similar to Registered Mark ‘Simoniz’

Simoniz Co. v. Permanizing Stations of America, Inc., Court of Customs and Patent Appeals, 49 Fed. Rep (2d) 846 May 25, 1931.

“The mark ‘Permanize’ for use on “Cleaner for Automobile Bodies, Painted, Varnished and other surfaces’ is held confusingly similar to the registered Mark ‘Simonize’ for use on a compound in the form of paste for cleaning and polishing automobile bodies, furniture and the like. It was not argued that the goods did not possess the same descriptive properties.

“Application for registration of trade-mark by the Permanizing Stations of America, Inc., wherein the Simoniz Company filed an opposition. Form a decision dismissing the opposition and granting registration, the opposer appeals. Reversed.

“John T. Evans, Edward S. Rogers, and Allen M. Reed, all of Chicago, Ill. (Thomas L. Mead Jr., of Washington D.C. of counsel), for appellant. No appearance for appellee.”

The 1940 US Census states that Bills left downtown Detroit shortly after 1935, relocating to Southfield, Oakland County, Michigan where he was engaged as a carpenter, working on his own accord in the city’s building trades.

He retired to Palmetto, Manatee County, Florida, passing away in January of 1977.

©2013 Mark Theobald for







Beverly Rae Kimes & Henry Austin Clark - Standard Catalog of American Cars: 1805-1942

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