(This article originally appeared in Hemmings Classic Car #102, March 2013)
Dying on the Vine (Part II)
Last month we started looking at sales literature produced during the final year of production for select manufacturers. To qualify, manufacturers had to be in business for 30 years and their last year of production had to be at least 25 years ago. Those criteria narrowed the field of thousands to just nine American companies. This month we will take a look at two companies that produced high-end vehicles and one from the mid-price category. Each was in its last year of sales and dying on the vine.
Throughout their existence Marmon could be counted on to produce a beautiful, innovative and high quality automobile. Just like their automobiles, Marmon sales literature was always interesting, of high quality and absolutely beautiful. By the late 1920s Marmon realized the need to compete with higher-volume companies so they introduced the Roosevelt in 1929 – an eight cylinder car that could be purchased for less than $1,000. This attempt to increase sales was tremendously successful when the company saw sales rise more than 50% in 1929. However this boom was ill-timed and the Great Depression would doom Marmon just as it did dozens of other auto manufacturers. In 1933 Marmon sold only 86 cars and the last sales literature was produced in 1932. This sales literature was primarily focused on instilling confidence in the Marmon 16 – the only model produced in 1933. There were no signs of panic in the literature and the quality was just as fine in 1932 as it was during better times. In addition to the piece that is pictured, Marmon also issued several customer testimonial pamphlets but testimonials and metallic ink wasn’t enough so Marmon became a memory.
Big was a central theme to Nash sales literature in 1957. Whether it was describing the “broadest windshield…greatest shoulder room” or the all-new 255 Horsepower V-8 engine, sales executives focused on the grandeur of the Nash Ambassador and even labeled it the “World’s Finest Travel Car.” As would be expected, the literature itself matched the big theme, folding open to a nearly two-foot square. A few big options offered in this sales catalog included a chaise longue, twin travel beds and air conditioning; each of these options tried to convince the consumer that the Ambassador was indeed the World’s Finest Travel Car. Unfortunately for Nash, 1957 would be the final year of production as AMC realized economic conditions and the public’s new interest in smaller cars would be good for the AMC Rambler in 1958 and beyond.
From a sales literature perspective it would be difficult to find a company with as great a contrast between its heyday and finale as Packard. In the 1920s Packard delighted potential clients with stereoscopic and moving sales catalogs. In the early 1930s the company produced elegant felt covered portfolios. Sales literature was neglected when Packard merged with Studebaker in 1954 and by its final year in 1958, Packard sales literature took the form of two-sided flyers for each model. These flyers simply provided a brief overview and specifications for the badge-engineered cars. Again, from a sales literature perspective, this decline in quality was a sad ending for a great manufacturer.
Next month we will take a look at the final two companies selected by our criteria; Studebaker and Pierce-Arrow. Each has a unique story to tell as Studebaker had existed for nearly a century when it went out of business and Pierce-Arrow would refuse to compromise its quality and reputation even when times got tough.