MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images courtesy of Automotive News, Crain’s Detroit Business, and Ziebart
Published 4.8.2020

 Kurt Ziebart Auto News 1Kurt Ziebart (Automotive News)

When I was young kid growing up in Detroit during the early 1960s, I was always fascinated with the styling of the automobiles parked on our street. In 1964, a neighbor’s son, a high school senior at the time, had purchased a used 1955 Dodge. I remember walking over to take a closer look at this car and admire its great styling, however, I was not paying attention to the amount of corrosion that the Dodge had. I was wearing shorts and unfortunately cut my leg very badly. My mother had warned me several times not to stand too close to parked vehicles on the street. So, after a lengthy conversation with Mrs. Tate and a bandaged leg, I learned my lesson. I remember many 1950s automobiles that were still in use or parked on city streets presented a great deal of corrosion, making the vehicle’s appearance very unattractive.

This is a story about Kurt Ziebart (July 27, 1920 - September 12, 2011), who was known as the pioneer of rustproofing. He started the company that bears his name. Ziebart was born in West Prussia, Germany before it became part of Poland and was an automotive mechanic in his early years.

A Detroit parking lot with some rusty automobiles Detroit News RESIZED 2A Detroit parking lot with some rusty automobiles (Detroit News)

In 1953, Ziebart and his wife Edith immigrated to the United States and settled in Detroit. Working on automobiles continued to be Ziebart’s passion, and he developed the idea for rustproofing protection for automobiles. The idea originated when a friend visited from Germany and noticed that many vehicles in Detroit and a number of other states were totally rusted out. How could people drive automobiles that look like that? Ziebart also noticed the problem when he worked at a Packard dealership body shop as well.

1955 Chevrolet with much corrosion 31955 Chevrolet with much corrosion

Ziebart began to experiment with a process to protect new vehicles from the corrosion of water and road salt, which became a huge problem during the 1950s and 1960s. According to his wife Edith, he developed the process and found it to be successful. This was an aftermarket automotive procedure, featuring a rustproofing sealant Ziebart had perfected that proved effective on vehicles. His first storefront opened in 1961 in Detroit at 14700 Harper Avenue.

A Ziebart technician applies rustproofing early 1960s Ziebart RESIZED 4A Ziebart technician applies rustproofing, early 1960s (Ziebart)

In 1963, Ziebart sold the business to a group of investors with greater resources for advertising and promotion, and the company became known as Ziebart International Corporation. For many years, American consumers have taking their new vehicles to Ziebart for rustproofing. I remember my mother taking her new 1966 Ford to Ziebart.

A worker today applies rustproofing Ziebart RESIZED 5A worker today applies rustproofing (Ziebart)

In 1994, Ziebart international Corporation was purchased by its talented and hard-working employees, using an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). They continue to serve the driving community for automotive rustproofing and other maintenance needs.

Ziebart corporate logo 6Ziebart corporate logo

In the beginning, many people criticized Kurt Ziebart for trying to start a rustproofing business for automobiles. However, it turned into a very profitable company. Ziebart continued his automotive career after selling his original company, owning a Mercedes-Benz dealership near Traverse City which he later sold.

Ziebart corporate headquarters Ziebart RESIZED 7Ziebart corporate headquarters (Ziebart)

In conclusion, Ziebart became a worldwide automotive pioneer and a successful Detroit-area based business, providing complete car care services for many Americans and drivers all over the world. Today, Ziebart International Corporation operates over 400 locations, with 1200 service centers, in 37 countries, generating over $170 million in revenue. Kurt Ziebart will always be a part of our automotive history. 

Kurt Ziebart in later days 8Kurt Ziebart in later days

Bibliography

Nussel, Philip. “Rustproofing Pioneer and Namesake Kurt Ziebart Dead at 91.” Automotive News. September 16, 2011.

“Encyclopedia of Detroit: Kurt Ziebart.” Detroit Historical Society.