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Oldsmobile Compar-O-Graph

(This articOldsmobile 1940le originally appeared in Hemmings Classic Car #104, May 2013)

Are You Getting Your Money’s Worth?

In 1940 and 1941 Oldsmobile stood in sixth place for sales.  After introducing the fully automatic Hydra-Matic transmission in 1940 and allowing customers to select a six or eight cylinder engine in any series of car for 1941, Oldsmobile was doing well just before World War II.  To secure sales in 1940 and 1941, the Oldsmobile Compar-O-Graph, a spectacular portfolio of information, would have been an indispensible resource for salesman during these two years.

As its name suggests, the Compar-O-Graph provided a comparison between Oldsmobile cars and its competitors in major categories like body, handling, safety, economy and more.  The Compar-O-Graph was originally used in 1938 but it was merely a single-sided piece of cardboard with an internal slide.  By 1940 the Compare-O-Graph ballooned to a whopping 12” X 14 ½” hardcover display portfolio.  This portfolio could stand on its own as the cover folded open for support.  Both 1940 and 1941 issues included nearly 100 spiral-bound pages with color.

Oldsmobile 1941 WorksheetThese binders are loaded with information.  In fact, there is practically too much information and I imagine that a casual buyer would be dizzy with so much data.  Determined buyers, with a list of “must haves” would have loved the Compar-O-Graph.  Useful and obvious information in the portfolio included interior dimensions, performance data, body construction, suspension comparisons and details between paint systems used.  These were features were Oldsmobile was either the leader in offering such features or where only a handful of other manufacturers were producing the same.

The Compar-O-Graph authors also got customers excited about some features that would be considered less exciting by today’s standards.  In some cases the features highlighted were also offered by at least fourteen other manufacturers.  Items that fall into this category included locking glove boxes, two standard sun visors, two windshield wipers, rear emergency brakes and two-tone colors as an option in 1940 or 1941.

Oddly, Oldsmobile did not spend extra pages exclaiming the virtues of the first fully Oldsmobile 1940 Insideautomatic Hydra-Matic transmission.  This was the biggest option that separated Oldsmobile from its competitors but Olds chose not to overhype the new technology.  Were the advertising executives just following format or was the Hydra-Matic too new to get excited about, especially considering GM’s mixed experience with automatics in the late 1930s?

Included in the 1941 Compar-O-Graph was a form entitled “Are You Getting Your Money’s Worth?”  This worksheet allowed a salesman to assign a cash value to Oldsmobile features not found in other cars.  As the worksheet states; “Extra equipment, too, means extra cash value.”  A quick tally would surely indicate that a potential buyer can get much more for the money from an Oldsmobile.

There was no Oldsmobile Compar-O-Graph for 1942 or the post-war years.  Salesmen likely moved on to new dealer displays to educate the customer.  The Compar-O-Graph was undoubtedly a bit overwhelming to the casual customer but for those individuals looking for specific features or equipment in a car, the Compar-O-Graph would have been indispensible.  We are lucky these examples still exist so we can learn what Oldsmobile’s pre-war marketing was like.Oldsmobile  1941

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