The history behind Hillstrom has its origins in 1882, when Joseph Hillstrom started making farming equipment in Stillwater, Minnesota. Not without success, so gradually the company was expanding towards making all various kinds of machinery. In 1939 they did their first attempt at entering the passenger vehicle market with their Hillstrom type A. What Hillstrom saw was an empty space in the market for people wanting something more refined than for example the little crude Willys Americar, yet wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the “standard” sized cars like Fords and Chevrolets growing for every year.
The 40s meant of course the war, that interrupted civilian production between 1942 and 1946. But after the end of the war, Hillstroms might not have been great sellers, but they had their place in the market in the late 40s and early 50s. However, Hillstrom was becoming more and more something of a player in the margins in the late 50s, when there was a horsepower war, cars were growing all the time and sparkling of chrome and pastel colours.
The 60s meant something of a revival for Hillstrom. The Volkswagen had shown that being a bit quirky wasn’t necessarily bad, there was a growing market for compacts, and people were starting to appreciate a more sporty, european-influed style, which Hillstrom somewhat tried to incorporate in their designs. So it was with great hope Hillstrom entered the 70s, however it was full of backlashes, as it was for the whole car industry in America. In the 80s it became more and more clear that Hillstrom didn’t have much of a future in the passenger car market. There was tons of new regulations on the horizon, there was the success of the asian manufacturers, and there was the aging Hillstrom lineup that had been facelifted a couple too many times. Hillstrom was searching for a partner in the automotive market, without further success. Having problems to adapt their ageing designs to the new passive restraint regulations in 1990, meant that Hillstrom decided to axe their whole passenger car lineup. The “1990” models actually were all produced under 1989, and was internally called “1989½” models.
However, Hillstrom decided to soldier on in the market for commercial vehicles, where they still remain a slow but steady seller, managing to satisfy the customers looking for a real workhorse rather than something that’s looking cool or has a plush interior.