(This article originally appeared in Hemmings Classic Car #114, March 2014)
A Look at Some Pre-War Ford Sales Literature (Part 2 of 3)
From 1910 to the mid-1920s the price of a Model T would fall nearly 70%. While Model Ts were the most affordable car on the market, buyers still needed to pay for the entire car at once. GM would begin offering loans to consumers in 1919 but Ford wouldn’t offer a similar loan program until 1928. Instead, Ford offered a program similar to layaway called the Weekly Purchase Plan. As described in a 1923 booklet, the Weekly Purchase Plan simply required a visit to a dealer where the buyer would select a body style and place a down payment as low as $5. From there, the buyer would arrange weekly payments and (eventually) own the car. Ford described this as a thrifty buying approach pointing out that “weekly payments are so small you will scarcely miss the money.” Key selling points for the Model T in this booklet are increased comfort and convenience, an opportunity for healthy recreation at small cost and the ability to get to work more quickly and more easily.
To emphasize Ford’s willingness to improve the quality of its cars while maintaining a price point, Ford issued a small folder titled “Rustless Steel” in 1930. This folder instantly catches a reader’s attention because the paper is reflective and looks quite a bit like stainless steel. Inside are brief descriptions of vehicle safety and convenience features like shatter proof glass, Houdaille shock absorbers and aluminum pistons. The main point of the folder, however, is to brag about the use of “Rustless Steel” on Ford headlamps, radiator shells, hubcaps, cowl strips, tail lamps and gas and radiator caps. The folder states “this bright, lustrous metal will not rust, tarnish or corrode in any kind of weather. There is no plate to wear off…it never requires polishing…and has twice the tensile strength of ordinary steel.” Tests of the “Rustless Steel” are described where a sheet of metal was placed in corrosive mine water in central Pennsylvania. This corrosive water had been known to destroy metal shovels overnight but the “Rustless Steel” remained unblemished after six months underwater. The folder closes with the statement that “Rustless Steel is expensive to manufacture, yet it is used on the new for without extra cost to you – another indication of the high quality that is built into Ford cars.”
While the cover of the Rustless Steel catalog was certainly flashy, in 1933 Ford raised the bar for attention grabbing literature with their 3D catalog “Look Through the ‘Eyes of the Engineer.’” With the help of red/blue glasses nicknamed the “Ford-A-Scope”, readers were able to see images of the car and components in 3D. 3D images included the 1933 car itself, engine, differential, transmission, bare chassis, interior, and testing photos. The “Ford-A-Scope” glasses had instructions for use printed on them and measure 5 ¼” X 1 ½”. The cover of the catalog shows a couple using the glasses to look through the same catalog. There are sixteen pages in the catalog and readers are reminded of Ford value and quality within the first two pages where a letter from Henry himself reports that Ford has never built a car that would only last two or three years. Instead, Ford insists on a car that will be dependable for the life of the vehicle pointing out that “it costs more to build a durable car – but two items we don’t skimp on are cost and conscience.”
Next month is the last of our three-part look at select pieces of Ford’s pre-war sales literature. The focus of that column will be Ford’s attempt to match sales literature offerings from high-end manufacturers and the company’s early efforts to market cars to women. Stay tuned!