Monday, January 15, 2018

General Motors' Companion Cars (1): Oakland and Pontiac

A major factor in the rise of General Motors during the 1920s was Alfred P. Sloan's establishment of a price-prestige hierarchy for GM's various brands.  Over the 50 years from 1941 to 1991, when the Saturn brand appeared, the hierarchy from low to high was Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac.  But during the late 1920s so-called "companion" brands were introduced to fill what seemed to be price gaps in GM's line.  In 1930 the hierarchy was approximately (there was price overlapping in a number of cases): Chevrolet, Pontiac, Marquette, Oldsmobile, Oakland, Viking, Buick, LaSalle, and Cadillac.

The first, and most successful, companion brand was Pontiac, introduced in 1926 as the companion to the sagging Oakland brand.  Pontiacs, being considerably lower priced than Oaklands, quickly out-sold the established brand that was phased out in 1932.  Pontiacs continued into the 2010 model year.

This short series of posts dealing with GM's companion brands focuses on styling differences between the established brand and the newcomer -- especially differences in the design of the grille, the chief recognition feature for most brands.


We begin with the 1926 model year, Pontiac's first.  The first image, from a car sales site, shows a '26 Oakland, and the lower photo is a Barrett Jackson image of a Pontiac for that year.  The main grille differences are at the top, where the Oakland has a narrower chromed frame and a bulge holding the brand's crest.  The Pontiac's frame is wide at the top with some sculpting by its badge.  Radiator mascots differ, Pontiac featuring the head of Chief Pontiac, a feature it will retain through 1954.

Now it's 1929.  Both brands feature divided grilles.  The Oakland in the upper "for sale" photo has slightly more rounded curvatures at the top where the frame blends with the central chromed vertical divider.  The car also has a different hood louvre pattern than the Pontiac's shown in the lower photo.  Beltline trim and mascots also differ.  Nevertheless, as in 1926, differences are pretty minor.

Oakland's final model year was 1931, when the Great Depression was further driving sales downward. Comparing the Oakland in the upper, Mecum auction, image to the Pontiac in the "for sale" picture below, we find the main brand-identification difference aside from mascots is in the badges at the top-center of the grille frame.  So the Oakland phase-out is almost complete.

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