Considering the love-hate relationship dealers have always had with their tire suppliers, perhaps it's not surprising that their association, too, often has been at odds with manufacturers. Even in 1921, when dealers met in Chicago to found what today is the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association, many already were smarting over what they perceived as unfair treatment at the hands of tire manufacturers.
The newly formed group, then known as the National Tire Dealers Association, asked tire makers to define a national account and stick to that definition. At last look, dealers were still were waiting for them to comply.
Nevertheless, the association had begun drawing attention to the problems facing the independent tire dealer. And that is a role the association has continued to play over the past 75 years-most recently with its adoption of the ``Independent Tire Dealers' Bill of Rights'' in 1992.
During the association's conventions in 1929 and '30, dealers thundered their unhappiness at losing out on the sale of the ``fifth wheel.'' This because automakers, departing from tradition, had begun installing spare tires as standard equipment in new cars.
Dealers, during the 1930s, also began objecting to the rising competition coming from ``mass merchandisers,'' including Sears, Roebuck and Co., Montgomery Ward & Co. and others whose purchasing volume made it possible to retail tires at lower prices.
One group of dealers, vowing to ``fight fire with fire,'' began merchandising their own brand of tires. Organized as the Automobile Tire Dealers League of America and, under the name ``United Tire Stores,'' they began selling a line of ``Mercury'' tires, made by Miller Rubber Co. of Akron.
The League merged with the NTDA in 1925 and the combined groups elected George J. Burger of New York as president. Five years later, however, Miller Rubber was acquired by B.F. Goodrich and friction soon developed between Miller's new management and United Tire Stores.
The matter wound up in court, but ended disappointingly for United Tire Stores and the dealers involved.
Mr. Burger remained active with the NTDA and in 1935 after the group was reorganized and given a new name-the National Association of Independent Tire Dealers-he was employed as executive secretary until 1938.
Under the influence of fiery Mr. Burger, the NAITD's early years were marked by strong militancy toward tire manufacturers.
Among the NAITD's proudest accomplishments was gaining passage of the Robinson-Patman Act, barring manufacturers from discriminatory pricing between various classes of buyers.
In 1936, the Federal Trade Commission, under prodding from the NAITD, published its ``Trade Practice Rules for the Rubber Industry'' and later issued a ``cease-and-desist'' order against one manufacturer based on these rules.
But perhaps the widest gulf between the association and tire makers occurred in 1948, when the NAITD filed suit against North America's major manufacturers, charging them with ``unfair and discriminatory pricing'' and ``collusion on dealer discounts.''
The NAITD's lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Washington, D.C., sought treble damages of $3 million from ``the Big Five''-Goodyear, Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., U.S. Rubber Co., B.F. Goodrich and General Tire Co.-along with Lee Tire & Rubber Co. and the Rubber Manufacturers Association.
The NAITD accused the defendants of conspiring to reduce dealer margins and selling to various preferred accounts at discriminatory prices.
Singled out were tire company prices to national accounts, governmental units and building contractors. The association's brief also questioned the legality of mileage rental contracts between tire manufacturers and their cab and bus company customers.
The NAITD's original complaint was settled in 1952 when, without admitting guilt, the tire makers agreed to pay the association $75,000 in cash and $49,500 later in return for advertising in its Dealer News magazine.
An amended complaint, which switched the allegations of conspiracy to those of violating the Robinson-Patman Act, wasn't settled until 1955, when the court, in effect, merely enjoined tire makers from further mileage-rental agreements with cab and bus companies, but permitted them to continue previous operations.