(This article originally appeared in Hemmings Classic Car #101, February 2013)
Dying on the Vine (Part I)
There was no shortage of American automobile manufacturers before World War II. In fact, there were over 5000 manufacturers who had varying success from major corporations to single prototype production. I thought it would be fun to take a look at some sales literature that represented a company’s last attempt at success. With so many American manufacturers coming and going in the early days of motoring, I established these simple criteria to narrow the results: manufacturers had to be in business at least 30 years and their last year of production had to be at least 25 years ago. When those criteria were put in place the once overwhelming volume of literature was narrowed down to just nine manufacturers. De Soto, Franklin, Hudson, and Hupmobile will start us on our journey.
De Soto (1961)
Take a look at the catalog cover for the 1961 De Soto. You can practically hear the woman saying “Nothing is wrong here honey” but there was plenty wrong with the De Soto line by 1961. After years of plummeting sales, Chrysler set the wheels in motion for De Soto’s elimination by integrating its assemblies with other Chrysler products in 1959. Thirty-two years of production would come to a halt in November of 1960 but not without one last push. This brochure highlights both the two and four-door hardtop body styles. The brochure excitedly touts the luxury and pleasure of driving a De Soto and also encourages customers to purchase accessories that included air conditioning, electronic seats, power steering and an RCA record player. Only 3,034 De Sotos were produced for the 1961 model year.
Lasting more than 30 years in the automotive industry is no small feat. Surviving and bucking tradition and norm is one thing the Franklin Automobile Company can be proud of. For thirty-two years this Syracuse, NY company touted its air-cooled vehicle as the way to avoid “annoying water-cooled vehicles with their boiling, freezing and leaking.” Franklin built more than 154,000 cars during its time but the Great Depression spelled the end in 1934 when they would produce only 360 cars. The last piece of 1934 Franklin sales literature relied heavily on illustrations of cars and very little on specifications, features and sales tactics. The viewer can get a sense of emerging streamlining style and Franklin’s relationship with airplane technology but there is very little that grabbed the attention of a prospective customer. Perhaps the advertising budget didn’t allow for much more since the company was already deep in debt going into 1934.
In an attempt to reconnect the public with its early 1950s racing glory, “Power’s Up, Price’s Down” was Hudson’s sales slogan for its last year in 1957. Hudson merged with Nash in 1953 but sales continued to plummet leading up to 1957. Hudson’s final sales literature extensively promoted its 255 horsepower Hornet V-8 engine and Flashaway Hydra-Matic transmission. Fancy names weren’t just assigned to the engine & transmission and the sales catalog proudly highlights Triple-Safe brakes, Airliner seats, Selecto-Lift starting and a Double-Safe Single-Unit frame. Body styles offered that final year included the Hollywood Hardtop and Four-Door Sedan in both the Custom and Super line. Only 3108 Hudsons rolled off the line in 1957 before AMC scrapped both Hudson and Nash from its product line.
As early as 1935 Hupmobile struggled financially but wouldn’t stop producing automobiles until 1940. These last Hupmobiles used Cord 810/812 styling, tools and jigs. Hupmobile Skylarks were marketed as “The Car of Youth” and were meant for “those who can still react with a vigor of emotions to a superlative motor car – whether they be sixteen or sixty.” Interestingly, the 1940 sales brochure states that the Skylarks were being built by Hupmobile when in fact they were built in Graham-Paige plants. Nevertheless, the last year of Hupmoble sales literature painted a bright picture of the company, emphasized its artistic European styling, and six body styles that were wider (five feet one inch) than they were tall (five feet and one-half inch). Hupmobile the automobile manufacturer would end in November of 1940 but 239 cars would be sold in 1941 by Graham-Page.
Next month we will take a look at some other manufacturers that would meet my Dying on the Vine criteria. Can you guess which they are?