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

Pontiac - Oakland   Part 1: 1907-1915 (1907-1915

By John Bentley

Revised by Jeremy Wilson

The first Oakland was a sales flop because of too many novel features.
But this Pontiac ancestor made a quick comeback the next year.

The Oakland car was the ancestor of the present day Pontiac, which it preceded by 19 years. It had an in­teresting career. The first Oakland, a two-cylinder gasoline buggy, appeared in 1907 and was powered by an engine that rotated counterclockwise. The first Pontiac, a light six-cylinder job with modern refinements and an enclosed body, was introduced at the New York Automobile Show in January, 1926.

The whole thing started back in 1893 with a carriage and wagon factory, incorporated as the Pontiac Buggy Com­pany. One of its founders, Edward M. Murphy, was an organization genius of unusual drive. Toward the close of the century, Murphy realized that the new-born automobile trade was beginning to draw skilled car­riage builders away from their jobs.

Faced with rising production costs all around, which caused a slump in the car­riage trade, Murphy decided to become an automobile manufacturer. He did not im­mediately forsake the horse-drawn vehicle, however, but made another attempt in that field by establishing the Dunlap Vehicle Company in 1898. His purpose was to build lighter buggies than those made at the Pontiac Company. Murphy was also re­sponsible for a subsidiary known as the Crescent Carriage Company, formed in 1903. This was his final attempt, for by the following year he could plainly see the handwriting on the wall.

His first plan was to assemble cars from purchased parts and so reduce manufactur­ing costs. But Alanson P. Brush, creator of the highly successful Brush Runabout, had designed a sample two-cylinder car for Cadillac, which that fastidious company did not seem to want. Murphy stepped in, tested the car and thought it satisfactory. He made an agreement with Brush to manufacture under license, and in August, 1907, formed the Oakland Motor Car Com­pany. He started production with a capital of $200,000.

The first Oakland looked good enough but was a sales flop. Maybe the customers didn’t care about cranking their autos the opposite way around; but more likely this newcomer featured too many novelties, among which were a crankshaft balancer and coil suspension.

Undismayed, Murphy had the design re­vamped and the following year came out with another two-cylinder Model A two-passenger runabout, selling for $1,300. Powered by a rugged 20 hp engine, it was priced to cut the ground from under its competitors. This one the public liked and its approval was reflected in the sale of 491 Oaklands during 1908.

In 1909, a completely new four-cylinder 40 hp model was introduced. It was offered in three body styles, priced from $1,600. The factory turned out 735 cars that year. Then it was bought out by William C. Durant, who made it another General Mo­tors Division.

At this time, the Oakland Company was marketing, under its own name, suitable lubricants for Oakland cars. These were known as Oakland Anti-Carbon Motor Oil; Oakland Transmission Lubricant; Oakland Cup Grease and so on.

Edward M. Murphy, sparkplug of the Oakland enterprise, died following the GM merger and just failed to witness a spec­tacular production rise one year later--2,124 units. This represented practically a 200 percent sales increase.

The outstanding Oakland for 1910 was the Model K five-passenger touring car, powered by a four-cylinder 40 hp engine and weighing 2,250 pounds. Priced at $1,700, it was an unbeatable value and was largely responsible for the increased sales. Never­theless, Oakland gains could not help General Motors out of current economic difficulties. Over-rapid plant expansion and the acquisition of too many unproduc­tive companies were to prove disastrous. Obsessed with the idea of hedging against any eventuality, William C. Durant had paid handsomely for a number of concerns whose only real assets were the possible value of their patents. The fric­tion-drive Cartercar was a case in point. The issue between friction-drive and the conventional gear transmission was still in doubt and Durant was taking no chances. These friction-drive patents ended as a dead loss; and for a while it looked as though General Motors--in the hole for $12,000,000, borrowed from the banks--might go the same way. Even so, the money was only lent by these banks on condition that the adventurous Durant step down--which he did.

That same year, Charles W. Nash was promoted to head the Buick Division, with Walter P. Chrysler as his works manager. Both men were brilliant, versatile and born to leadership. By 1912, when Nash rose still higher to become president of General Motors, and Chrysler took his place at the helm of Buick, the gangling giant created by Durant was fast regaining strength.

The Oakland Division, meanwhile, kept rolling out cars and making them better all the time. Sales for 1912 were well over 6,000 units and in 1913 reached a new peak of more than 8,600 units, rep­resenting gross receipts of over $10,000,000. Largely responsible for this was the introduction of the Model 35 runabout, a new and fast light four with an electric self-starter. Oakland’s first six-cylinder design--the Model 6-60 seven-passenger touring car, priced at a reasonable $2,400, also helped the Oakland Division’s reputation.

The new Oakland of 1915 included two models, each offered in two body styles--a roadster and a five-passenger touring car. The smaller, known as the Model 37, had a four-cylinder engine and a 112-inch wheelbase. The larger was the Model 6-49, a six-cylinder job with an Oakland-North way long-stroke engine, which was silent.

The following year, Durant’s financial magic regained him con­trol of General Motors from the bankers.

Introduction of the Pontiac, ten years later, did not mean the end of the Oakland car. This fine make continued in parallel production with the newcomer, right on up to 1930-31, when the last Oakland was also the first V-8 in the low-priced field.

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