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
At the age of 18 Bills was elevated to the
foreman in the Ford assembly shops and in 1917, while still employed at
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
Detroit Directory follows:
“Ralph E. Bills Co., Ralph E. Bills Mgr,
Painting, Automobile Body and Fender Rebuilding, 3967 Grand River Ave.”
By that time he had three employees; Leslie
(woodworker), Lawrence Meiske (painter); and Joseph Krieger.
His 1922 directory listing indicates he was
aftermarket bodies for Fords:
“Ralph E. Bills Body Co., Ralph E. Bills
Painting, Automobile Body and Fender Rebuilding and Special Sedan
Fords, 3965-3967 Grand River Ave.”
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
on a Marmon chassis in 1926 that was built to get clients interested in
its ‘Masterbilt Six’ 'heat-controlled' engine.
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
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
externally by blowing
a current of air on top of the cylinder head and around the
walls, which were surrounded by fins, and internally by a constant
of cold air through the pistons by means of vertical tubes fixed
with the crank case. The exhaust valves were also cooled by air
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
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
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
at 3740 Cass Ave., Detroit, wher he also established the
Permanizing Company of
Michigan, Inc., the exclusive Michigan distributor of Permo-Duro and
automotive finishing products. His products competed directly against
better known ‘Simoniz’ finishing system, although many car washes,
paint shops offered both ‘Permanizing’ and ‘Simonizing’ to their
1929 advertisements state Bills, at 3740
Detroit, was an authorized “Permanizing Station” for the Permanizing
Michigan, Inc. and was also its Michigan distributor. Other
franchisees included the Detroit Garages, Spee-D-Wash Inc., and Arena
The Motor News column of a 1929 issue of
(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
and paint, now heads the Permanizing Company of Michigan, Inc. Mr.
organization operates a chain of Permanizing stations through the city
are equipped and trained to properly apply the Permanize process to
“According to Mr. Bills, the Permanizing
process required expert
workmen and special materials to properly administer the cleaning,
protecting surfaces. Even a high-priced rubbing cloth, especially woven
process, is required. Another texture is required for the sealing of
coat which lies like a film of flexible glass over the color finish of
Officials of the company state that this process first removes all
foreign matter from the pores of the original paint. A thorough
the original paint must be completed before the process is applied. The
operation is the careful application of Permanizing formulas which
seat a dust and dirt-proof coat over the entire finish. The final step
operation consists of polishing this sealing coat down to the desired
and hardening it to the extent that later washing of the car will
affect the surface. The last process leaves the finish of the car
grease and dirt accumulations and its manufacturers claim that
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
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'
“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
after the car has been in use a short time," Mr. Behrens said.
polishing does not remove this film and consequently the polish only
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"
the surface of the car's finish ; then with the Permo-Duco liquid the
the clean lacquer or enamel are sealed against future deposits of scum.
permanized car shines with a high luster which has more depth and a
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
have his car permanized every six months he will always have a car that
The text from a Permanizing display ad
“The Beautiful Finish and Delicate Color of
Protected Against mud, Dirt, Snow, Ice and Rain
“You can't compare PERMANIZE with any other
automobile finish on the
is not a wax-not a polish-not a cleaner. It is a scientifically
that makes your old car look line new-and protects the finish of your
against fading and discoloration.
“PERMANIZE RESTORES and ADDS to the original
beauty of the finish of
car--and in addition preserves and protects it. It is not unlike a thin
of glass, covering the entire finish of your car, and no matter how
PERMANIZED car becomes an ordinary washing will remove all foreign
restore the original lustre.
“PERMANIZE is applied to your car only by
experts and official
Stations. Each station has a certificate of franchise for permanizing
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
The July 9, 1931 issue of Printers’ Ink
mentioned the ruling:
“The Simoniz Company v.
Permanizing Stations of
“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
Company. It is not argued here, the court pointed out, that the
the two companies do not possess the same descriptive properties.
there any dispute with regard to the fact that The Simoniz Company is
user of the mark “Simoniz” on these goods. The sole question,
the court, is: Are the two marks confusingly similar? The Patent Office
that the two marks do not look alike, sound alike or convey the same
“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
trade-marks in order that confusion and deception might be avoided. We
the opinion that the involved marks are confusingly similar, the
material difference in the two marks being the first syllables, ‘Si’
– 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
Bodies, Painted, Varnished and other surfaces’ is held confusingly
the registered Mark ‘Simonize’ for use on a compound in the form of
cleaning and polishing automobile bodies, furniture and the like. It
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
Form a decision dismissing the opposition and granting registration,
“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
No appearance for appellee.”
The 1940 US Census states that Bills left
shortly after 1935, relocating to Southfield, Oakland County, Michigan
was engaged as a carpenter, working on his own accord in the city’s
He retired to Palmetto, Manatee County,
away in January of 1977.
Mark Theobald for Coachbuilt.com