(This article originally appeared in Hemmings Classic Car #123, December 2014)
Looking Behind the Scenes
Traditional sales literature is wonderful. The writing is imaginative and creative while the illustrations are usually colorful and bold. If it’s done well, a sales catalog makes you want to hop right in the car and take a ride. What gets me even more excited than traditional literature is behind the scenes material never meant for public consumption. Thanks to automotive reference libraries and marque clubs, much of this “secret” literature is now available decades after it was originally printed. This material is an outstanding technical resource and also brings the enthusiast closer to those who were on the factory, dealership or service end of business so long ago.
Take, for example, the introduction of what I feel was the most beautiful production car to ever roll off an American assembly line – the 1937 Buick. With its art deco lines, plush interior and ample power, this car was destined for the hall of fame all the way back on October 5, 1936 when Buick held its Announcement Banquet and Sales Convention in the Durant Hotel of Flint, MI. By looking at the 5 ¾” X 8 ½” event program and menu we can see that attendees enjoyed a wide range of offerings from crabmeat to turtle soup to duckling. R.H. Grant from General Motors roused the audience with a speech that enforced the fact that the mood was much different going into 1937 than it was going in to 1936. The new mood saw the company “with banners flying high, with our confidence renewed…that there are greater days before us than Buick has ever known.”
Another fantastic piece of behind the scenes literature was the abundance of Engineering Information manuals for 1937. These 8 ½”X 11” bound manuals were issued by the Buick Engineering Department before the 1937 announcement and the title pages urge that the included information be considered confidential. One such 51-page manual with a blue cover goes on to highlight 1937 features by comparing them to the 1936 Buick. Topics cover the engine, exhaust, fuel and cooling systems and also suspension, body and transmission details. This manual is essentially a condensed Shop Manual but its comparisons to 1936 models help illustrate the improvements for the new year.
While the engineering publications tell an interesting story, the finest piece of behind the scenes literature for the 1937 Buick was the salesman’s Fact Book. This 136-page, pocket-sized handbook includes the technical details of the engineering publications in the form of text, charts, diagrams and illustrations and the fun of the Announcement Banquet in the form of comic strips peppered throughout the handbook that illustrate scenarios highlighting new features on the 1937 Buick. One such comic strip shows a passenger praising the Buick’s acceleration at a traffic light. The driver then takes the opportunity to tout the valve-in-head performance and throws in fuel economy statistics for good measure. The heavy illustrations and fun comics were likely relied upon to maintain the salesman’s attention as he studied.
To me, part of the Fact Book’s allure is its rarity. Traditional sales catalogs were published and readily available to virtually anyone who wanted a copy while the Fact Books only went to salesmen and their dealerships. As the year progressed or the next year’s volume was published, many of these handbooks were simply pitched into the wastebasket. To date I’ve only seen one of these 1937 Fact Books in person.
Keep this behind the scenes material in mind the next time you go on a literature hunt. Sure, the traditional material deserves a spot in your personal library but the non-traditional material gives you a deeper understanding of the cars, the company and the salesforce as it existed during a specific year. What is your favorite piece of non-traditional sales literature?