While most gearheads will immediately think to Michigan’s manufacturing capacity, or the California hotrod scene, or North Carolina’s racing heritage, we believe the Buckeye State should be part of any conversation regarding an individual state’s contribution to automotive history.
In fact, we’ll give you ten ways to start that discussion—read on.
Or if you’d like to offer another state with perhaps some lesser-known automotive history, we’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
10. Chevy Vega – GM Lordstown Assembly
GM opened its Lordstown, Ohio plant in the late 1960s for its compact economy car production. And the Chevy Vega was the first model off the line. While the Vega has a reputation for questionable reliability, there’s no arguing that it was a good looking vehicle, particularly the early chrome bumper ones. And the Lordstown plant would also be responsible for producing a bulk of the GM J-body compacts like the Chevy Cavalier—cars that would be ubiquitous in high school parking lots across America for decades.
9. Charles Kettering/Delco
Charles Kettering is the reason you don’t have to manually crank-start your car every morning. After designing a workable electric starter motor in 1911, Kettering and the company he helped found, the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Co. (AKA Delco), were absorbed into General Motors. From there, Kettering helped develop several other automotive innovations, specifically around the ignition system. That legacy lives on in the form of ACDelco, a leading supplier of OEM-spec aftermarket automotive parts. (Kettering himself got an entire city named after him, just outside of Dayton, Ohio.)
8. Honda – Anna/Marysville/E. Liberty Assembly Plants
Honda’s got a big footprint in Ohio, where it makes some really, really cool stuff. For starters, its Anna, Ohio engine plant assembles the turbocharged 2.0L K20C1 engine in the potent Civic Type R. About an hour’s drive east brings you to the Honda Performance Manufacturing Center in Marysville, Ohio, which is responsible for the second-generation Honda/Acura NSX hybrid sports car. (And for a while, Marysville was cranking out the iconic Gold Wing touring motorcycle too.)
Honda also recently announced a major investment in its Ohio factories to produce batteries and electric vehicles as well.
7. Art Arfons
For whatever reason, a lot of Ohioans enjoy going really, really fast—just ask folks like John Glenn, Jim Lovell, and Neil Armstrong. But of those speed lovers who preferred to stay on terra firma, the name Art Arfons stands out. Born in Akron, Ohio where he lived much of his life, the man transitioned from drag racing to become an integral figure in the epic annual Bonneville land speed battles that played out during the 1960s (securing several world speed titles in the process).
Here’s another interesting accomplishment: In 1966, Arfons lived through a wreck during a speed run at 610 mph, and holds the record for the fastest car crash ever survived.
6. Chevy Camaro – GM Norwood Assembly
Based in a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio, GM’s Norwood plant had been cranking out cars since the early 1920s. But things got really interesting in 1966, when the first—and we mean the VERY first—Camaro rolled off the assembly line. In addition to the Camaro/Firebird F-body twins, Norwood also briefly assembled some early X-body Nova models prior to 1973 as well. F-body production was essentially split between Norwood and GM’s Van Nuys, California facility until the late 1980s, when the final Camaro exited the Ohio plant in 1987. The factory was torn down a few years later.
5. The Rubber Industry
Visit Akron long enough, and you’ll undoubtedly see the Goodyear Blimp hovering in the sky above. The global tire and rubber company has its world headquarters there, and one of its primary competitors, Firestone, called Akron home for decades too. The town carries the nickname “The Rubber City,” as it serves as a major hub for the entire rubber industry, and has cranked out products like tires, belts, seals, and hoses for many big auto manufacturers.
4. Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
Nestled between farmland, parks, and a scenic reservoir, The Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course of Lexington, Ohio is a stunningly picturesque track. The venue hosts an impressive lineup of events too, including the annual Honda Indy 200 Indycar race, Trans-Am races, NASCAR Truck Series races, and the IMSA SportsCar Championship. Better still, the track welcomes throwback events like the SVRA Mid-Ohio Speed Tour and, for you two-wheel fans, its annual Vintage Days draws-in a dazzling array of classic motorcycles, scramblers, and minibikes.
3. Ford 351 Cleveland Engine
Named after Ford’s Brook Park, Ohio engine assembly plant, the 351C, specifically the 351C-4V, was the go-to “hot” engine for the Blue Oval faithful for decades. Due in large part to better-flowing cylinder heads, the 351 Cleveland engine could make more power than a contemporary Ford 351 Windsor. Adding to the 351C’s mythical status was that they were only available in the U.S. from 1970-74. Thanks to their performance, 351 Cleveland engines could be found in a dazzling array of coveted rides—including the De Tomaso Pantera.
2. Crosley Motors
Cincinnati’s Crosley Motors was born from the Great Depression, in which company founder, Powel Crosley, felt the U.S. consumer would welcome an affordable economy car. Crosley Motors would go on to produce over 80,000 compact coupes, wagons, trucks, off-roaders, and even beat the Corvette by a few years to give America its first postwar sportscar.
Crosley coined the terms “Super Sports” and “Sports Utility,” and used several mechanical innovations like an incredibly lightweight engine block made from stamped steel, an overhead cam driven by a shaft/beveled gear off the crank, and a hydraulic disc brake system for all four wheels.
Fun fact! Ohio was also home to microcar manufacturer King Midget.
1. Aftermarket Performance Companies
Well, obviously Ohio is home to the world headquarters of our favorite automotive performance parts supplier.
But the state also welcomes a wide range of other aftermarket performance companies as well.
Mr. Gasket got its start in Ohio, plus Mickey Thompson Tires & Wheels, Wiseco, and Trick Flow Specialties all call the Buckeye State home. Here are some more Ohio-based aftermarket companies off the top of our head:
- Flaming River
- Stainless Works
- Hawk Performance
- Right Stuff Detailing
- Callies Performance
- Forgeline Motorsports
- Cometic Gaskets
- CORSA Performance
Bonus! Fisher Body (Sort of…)
If you’ve ever ridden in a GM product made before 1990, there’s a good chance you were greeted by the logo of the Fisher Body company affixed somewhere in the vehicle’s door jamb or sill. While the Fisher Body automotive coachbuilder technically began in Detroit, Michigan, a lot of people don’t know its roots stem from Norwalk, Ohio, where the Fisher family had already established a horse-drawn carriage business in the latter part of the 1800s—hence the familiar carriage emblem that often accompanies the “Body by Fisher” wordmark. (Hat tip to Summit Racing’s Jason Liss for the Fisher Body trivia.)
So what do you think? Is Ohio the most important state in U.S. automotive history?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. And if you’ve got any under-the-radar automotive geographical history to share, drop some knowledge on us too!