Louis Borick, founder of Superior Industries International, is shown… (Irfan Khan )
Louis Borick, the founder and longtime chairman of Van Nuys-headquartered Superior Industries International, one of the world's largest manufacturers of aluminum wheels for the automotive industry, has died. He was 87.
Borick died of natural causes Monday, two days before his 88th birthday, at his home in Beverly Hills, said his son, Steven.
A onetime used-car salesman who sold his half of a business that made clear plastic seat covers in St. Paul, Minn., before moving to Encino in 1956, Borick founded Superior Industries in a 4,000-square-foot plant in North Hollywood a year later.
When his first product — bug screens for cars — proved to be less of a hot commodity in California than in the Midwest, Borick switched to making other items for the auto aftermarket, such as overload springs, wind deflectors and seat belts.
In 1966, the company became the U.S. manufacturer of Sport Grip steering wheel covers, the popular perforated covers that laced over steering wheels.
"We sold over a hundred million of those," Steven Borick said last week. "That's really one of the things that kicked Superior off and kept it growing as he started getting into other items."
The company, which moved from North Hollywood to Van Nuys in 1963 and went public in 1969, began making steel and cast aluminum wheels for the auto aftermarket in the late '60s.
That led to the company's biggest break: a 1974 contract with the Ford Motor Co. to develop and manufacture aluminum wheels, beginning with the 1975 Ford Mustang II.
"At that time, Ford wanted to start getting savings on weight because the cost of fuel was going up," recalled Steven Borick.
Today, Superior supplies aluminum wheels to the vast majority of automobile manufacturers worldwide.
Steven Borick, who had served as president and chief operating officer since 2003, succeeded his father as chief executive officer in January 2005.
The elder Borick remained chairman of the board until May 2007, when his son took over, and he continued to be a board member until his death.
Borick, who fought off attempts by the United Auto Workers union to represent employees at the Van Nuys plant in the 1980s, was once described in The Times as "a gruff, hands-on leader."
"Very much so," said his son, adding that "he was a very humble man too."
"One of the things he always told me when I was a young man was he never wanted to be poor, and he taught me the work ethic and how hard you have to work to earn your way."
Born in St. Paul on Nov. 30, 1923, Borick served as a B-17 pilot in the Army Air Forces in Italy during World War II and studied industrial engineering at the University of Minnesota.
He married Nita, with whom he had three children, in 1948. They were divorced in 1985.
In addition to his son Steven, Borick is survived by his daughter, Linda Borick-Davidson; his other son, Robert; his brother, William; his sister, Eve Ferkel; and two grandchildren.