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Home > Featured Auto Makes > Pontiac - Oakland  (Part  1 2)

Pontiac - Oakland   Part 2: 1916-1925

By John Bentley

Revised by Jeremy Wilson

The first Pontiac car was introduced at the end of this successful Oakland decade.

The Oakland Creed, as stated through the years, presented the following praiseworthy objectives: “To build at a fair price an automo­bile so sprightly as to uphold its owner’s pride; so competent as to arouse his genuine respect; so reliable as to win his deepest confidence; so economical as to serve his highest interest--this has been the purpose, is now the accomplishment and will continue to be the endeavor to which Oakland devotes the whole of its energies, its re­sources, its skills...”

Compared with bombastic modern automobile advertising, this was quite a lot to live up to, but the Oakland Company did a pretty fair job of translating into fact the high standards it had set itself.

For 1916, the four-cylinder, three and one-half by five inch “long stroke” engine was continued with little change in a chassis designated the Model 38, which was offered in three body styles--touring, roadster and speedster. Three additional cars were introduced, two of which--Models 32 and 32-B--had six-cylinder engines of slightly smaller over-all dis­placement than the Four, due to reduced bore and stroke. The third one, however, was the highlight of the year for Oakland, featuring a completely new 90 degree V-8 engine with a bore and stroke of three and one-half by four and one-half inches. Styled the Model 50, it was quite a success and contributed much to Oakland’s total sales of 27,000 cars for that year.

The V-8 Oakland was in a sense the brainchild of Fred W. Warner, who at the time of William C. Durant’s return to power in General Mo­tors, was promoted from general manager to vice president. Under his able guid­ance, design improvements and price reductions brought Oakland to its highest peak of prosperity until that time. This was reflected in a sale of 35,000 units for 1917--the V-8 being retained one more year, together with another new six-cylinder model known as the 34, which came in coupe, roadster and sedan form. The Oakland Light Six for that year was attractively priced at $795.

For 1918, production of Light Sixes--now known as the Model 34-B and offered in a variety of nine body styles--topped the 30,000 mark. This was the year when Oak­land pioneered a wide choice of enclosed bodies in the light car field, gambling on public acceptance of a new trend. Some 52,000 Oaklands found their way into the garages of private owners during 1919. The Model 34-B proved so popular that it was continued for another year. These sales were all the more indicative because they occurred on a steadily rising market when the delayed action of raw material short­ages caused by World War I was felt.

By 1920, automobile prices had reached a new peak and Oakland’s incursion in the closed body field was so much of an experi­ment that dealers were required to take at least one closed car with each consign­ment from the factory. Oakland’s share of prosperity resulting from the postwar boom was a full one, but a lack of central co­ordination in the vast General Motors empire permitted excessive latitude in pro­duction programs and inventories. This un­economic state of affairs led to difficulties which eventually brought an end to the second Durant administration, and as an in­direct result also induced a change of man­agement at the Oakland plant.

The resignation of Fred W. Warner in 1920 opened the way for his succession by George H. Hannum as president and gen­eral manager--a position he retained for six years.

The 1920-1930 decade saw a tremen­dously rapid expansion of the Pontiac area, due to General Motors plants going up northward along the railroad, and to the building of a complete new factory beyond Harris Lake, where previously there had been open country.

Pontiac, during this period, acquired stature faster than any other industrial city in its census bracket, with the result that there were not nearly enough houses to accommodate the workers. To remedy this situation, GM embarked on an ambi­tious housing program financed by the Modern Housing Corporation, and it was not surprising that the car eventually fated to eclipse the Oakland should derive its name from this Michigan locality.

Oakland had now dropped Fours for good, and the 1920-1921 manufacturing pro­gram allowed for one six-cylinder model, designated the 34-C. Engine dimensions were identical with the 34-B, as was the output of 44 hp. With a view to standard­ization and the reduction of manufacturing costs, the line of bodies was reduced to four--two open and two closed.

The first Pontiac was introduced as companion auto to Oakland: a 5-passenger sedan, it had all the latest Fisher styling. The price was a mere $825.

Although each of the next three years witnessed a succession of improved Oaklands--the 34-D and 6-44 in 1922; 6-44 in 1923; and 6-54 in 1924 and 1925--the power unit was still the overhead valve six with a bore and stroke of 2 13/16 x 4 3/4 inches, which had an SAE rating of 18.9 hp and developed 44 hp. Refinements were intro­duced in suspension, braking, lubrication, transmission, lighting and bodywork de­tails and equipment, but it was a case of the good old dependable chore horse dressed up in a different hat.

Price ranges reflecting the greatly in­creased cost of raw materials and produc­tion during this period were interesting to watch. Whereas late in 1916 an Oakland Roadster could be bought for as little as $845, the same car cost $990 in 1917; $1,050 in 1918; $1,185 in 1919; $1,235 in 1920 and $1,395 in 1921. That same year the sedan and coupe models had risen to $2,065 as compared with $980 and $995 in 1917--an increase of over 100 per cent. Thereafter the price curve began its downward sweep, with the roadster reduced to $945 by 1925.

The Oakland line from 1924 through 1926 featured a 6-54 six-cylinder chassis avail­able in as many as 10 body styles; whereas from its inception in 1926 the Pontiac of­fered only three different bodies.

The public’s reaction to the new Pontiac was clearly demonstrated by a sale of 76,783 cars between January 25 and Decem­ber 31, 1926. This was an all-time sales rec­ord for a first-year automobile up to that period, and from then on the final eclipse of Oakland became a matter of time.

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