An Historical Overview of the Oakland-Pontiac Automobile Company
In late August of 1907 a small group of businessmen lead by Edward Murphy, founder of the Pontiac Buggy Company, met to formulate an agreement to form a new motor car company carrying the Oakland marque. Murphy would serve as president/general manager, with Alanson Brush as vice president/chief engineer and Martin Pulcher, secretary/treasurer.
The plant would be a substantial complex located on Oakland Avenue in Pontiac, Michigan. The Oakland Motor Car Company officially began production in 1908 with the first car, a Model A, rolling off the assembly line in April of that year. Five models were offered the first year with prices ranging from $1,300 for the Model A runabout to $2,150 for the Model E four passenger landaulet. First year production was approximately 278 cars.
Big changes for the Oakland Motor Car Company came in 1909. Not least of which involved the newly formed General Motors Company, headed by William C. Durant. Oakland’s success and rapid growth brought to bare financial pressures for the company. Durant saw this as an opportunity to bring Oakland into the General Motors family of companies. By January 1909 General Motors had acquired about 50% of the Pontiac based company’s shares and a merger with G.M.C. was imminent. In April 1909, just short of the one year anniversary, The Oakland Motor Car Company officially became a holding of General Motors. Sales dramatically increased to 1,035 cars. This success established Oakland as a viable competitor in the rapidly growing automobile market. Unfortunately, Edward Murphy, whose marketing and managerial skills made the company a reality, died suddenly. The company’s stability and growth would continue for twenty three years with a peak production of 60,121 cars in 1928.
Alfred P. Sloan
In the mid twenty’s many manufacture’s expanded their marketing appeal by introducing new car lines. Alfred P. Sloan played an important part in this. He had become President of GM and is credited with instituting a pricing structure in which (from lowest to highest priced) Chevrolet, Oakland, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac, referred to as the ladder of success, did not compete with each other, and buyers could be kept in the GM "family" as their buying power and preferences changed as they aged. All divisions, except Chevrolet, had companion cars, as they became known. Buick had the Marquette, Oldsmobile the Viking, while Cadillac offered the LaSalle. Oakland was not to be left out of the competitive melee and in 1926 introduced its own companion car called the Pontiac. Introduction of Pontiac was enthusiastically accepted with 49,875 cars being registered in the first year of production. While the car was smaller in size its price was too. With a price range beginning at $825, two hundred less than a comparable Oakland, the marketing strategy was a complete success. In fact Pontiac sales exceeded those of its parent company marque. Thus the first step in Oakland’s demise had been taken.
Sales of Pontiacs continued to climb as the durability of its engine proved to be what the public wanted at an affordable price. The more expensive Oakland fell into a market niche that was only compounded by the early on set of the depression. Even the marketing slogans, “Sturdy as an Oak” or “The All American Oakland” could not revive plummeting sales. As the Depression deepened in 1931 General Motors was forced to make some tough decisions in order for the company to survive. With Pontiac sales continuing to be stronger than that of its parent, Oakland, the decision was clear. Oakland would cease production at the end of 1931. The company maintained the Marque's name until April 1,1932 when the division was officially renamed Pontiac Motor Car Company. Thus Pontiac became the only G.M.C. companion car to not only survive but flourish and become a leader in modern automobile manufacturing.
Early 1932, Pontiacs V8's were Oakland engines. But Pontiac maintained its strong customer loyalty by producing its own strong six and powerful straight eight engines through 1954.
Introduction of the Hydra-Matic transmission, power steering, air conditioning and other refinements secured the publics confidence in Pontiacs role as a automotive sales leader. With the 1955 model year came the re-introduction of V8 power. Success of the new engine was in part due to Pontiac engineer, Clayton Leach, who in his spare time, developed the ball and stud rocker arm assembly in his basement. This valve train design was soon adapted for the new Pontiac V8. The reliable engine linked to a four-barrel carburetor and Hydra-Matic proved to be a desirable combination that was appealing to the public.
Pontiacs Golden Anniversary year saw a newly designed car representative of the "chrome era". With its wide body, powerful engine, multiple paint combinations and luxury options, the 50th anniversary car would win the hearts of drivers for years to come. The Golden Years of Pontiac would come to a close in 1958 with trade mark chrome and glitz and Pontiac sales would maintain its position as one of the top ten automotive manufactures.
Creative Oakland and Pontiac engineers gave the automobile industry many innovative ideas. Unfortunately, Oakland will be remembered as the only marque not to survive the companion era. After more than 80 years, Pontiacs loyalty can be seen daily around the corner and down the road. The success of Pontiac leaves us with a unique footnote in automotive history. Of the several marques' produced, Oakland is the only company to introduce a companion car so popular it lead to its own demise.
-75 Years of Pontiac Oakland, John Gunnell, Crestline Publishing, copyright 1982
-Standard Catalog of American Cars, Beverly Rae Kimes and Henry Austin Clark Jr., Krause Publications, copyright MCMLXXXIX
-Antique Automobile, “History Series, Oakland”, George Orwig, Vol.70, No.2, March/April 2006