(This article originally appeared in Hemmings Classic Car #109, October 2013)
The Factory Behind the Car
In the early days of motoring, the image of a company’s size, capabilities, and stability were just as important as the actual vehicle’s performance, dependability and looks. With so many competitors in the market place, it was important to the consumer to purchase a car from a company with a solid reputation a company that would be around tomorrow or years from now to supply parts for your vehicle and be around when it is time for an upgrade. In the 1910s and 20s it was not uncommon to find pages in sales catalogs describing the company’s production facilities. It wasn’t even too uncommon to find small booklets and testimonial letters dedicated to the same. One uncommon piece, however, comes from Buick in 1924. It is a hardcover, 112-page book entitled “The Factory Behind the Car.”
The Factory Behind the Car is divided into two halves. The first half includes a tour of the Flint property and the second half of the book covers each of the different plants and departments that produced materials for Buick automobiles.
As you might imagine, the factory tour begins in the company lobby and office complex with a description of décor and room purpose. On these pages even small features are mentioned like indirect electric lighting and bronze door trim. With great pride, the building’s built-in vacuum cleaner system and pneumatic tube messaging system are described as are Buick’s telegraph and long-distance phone departments. Heavily pictured throughout, you even get a glimpse of the General Manager’s office and mounted moose head.
After the general office tour the reader is taken to the engineering department and finally the machine shops and production facilities. To Buick engineering and research was very important since, according to the book, buyers in 1924 would not be “thrilled by motion” as they were in the early days. Instead, consumers in 1924 focused on performance and service as they now “poke a knowing finger” into the workings of an automobile.
When the basic tour of the factory grounds is complete, the second half of the book focuses on each department that helped produce Buick automobiles. Those departments range from front & rear axle plants to sheet metal, upholstery and patterns. Power, steam and compressed air were all produced at the Central Power and Heating Plant and could produce enough energy for a city of 50,000 people. Throughout this second section, Buick’s “plan of progressive production” is emphasized and highlighted within each department. These independent assembly lines ultimately fed the main line in the assembly plant where a basic chassis rolled into the factory and departed under its own power at the end of the line.
For me, the most interesting thing about this piece is the fact that it doesn’t specifically address who its intended audience is. While the intended audience isn’t specifically mentioned, I can’t imagine that a hardcover book like this would have been mass-produced for customers walking into a dealership or even given to new car buyers. That would have been too expensive. I believe that it was intended for prospective dealers and this is emphasized about thirty pages into the book where the pages discuss the “selection of suitable sales representatives in cities and towns all over the world.” To be selected potential dealers must be located in an area that can be served by rail supply within 2-24 hours after a parts order. Potential dealers must also be willing to focus primarily on rendering good service and not on the number of cars sold. Finally, readers are reminded that the reputation of a local dealer is a reflection of Buick as a whole.
As stated above, literature on factory capabilities was nothing new in 1924. In fact, Pierce-Arrow, Paige, Nash and Oakland even used a nearly identical title for their own factory pieces. With the exception of the Pierce-Arrow factory piece, however, Buick’s use of a hard cover and 112-pages set it apart from the rest and make this piece a must-have for any Buick fan.