(This article originally appeared in Hemmings Classic Car #110, November 2013)
Uncle Egbert Knows
Uncle Egbert has a little black book. He consults it quite often and he is quite fond of it. No guys, its not that kind of little black book; it’s a different sort of book. Uncle Egbert is a man who loves to get the most for his money and he keeps track of every penny he spends in his little black book. While some people poke fun at Uncle Egbert for being so thrifty, everyone in the neighborhood took note when he decided to buy a new car. The Ford Motor Company clearly hoped that readers would also take note and appreciate Uncle Egbert’s findings in their 12-page sales catalog from 1940 entitled “Uncle Egbert has a Little Black Book.”
The overriding theme in this sales catalog was Ford value. Uncle Egbert began his search with Ford since he knew the company “made good cars [for] the longest” amount of time and they also “made the largest amount of them” when compared to other companies. The savvy salesman greeting Uncle Egbert quickly realized that this buyer was interested in stretching dollars so the salesman’s first approach was to talk about recent Economy Runs and share customer testimonials describing high gas mileage. Of course Uncle Egbert would need more than a few letters to convince him so he had the dealership staff drain the gas out of a Ford and then add a carefully measured gallon. With a couple gallons of gasoline in cans for his return trip, Uncle Egbert set off on a one-gallon journey with his granddaughter and wife. That single gallon took them 20.3 miles – far enough to please Uncle Egbert and make an impression on the rest of his travelers.
During their trip Uncle Egbert appreciated the Ford’s hydraulic brakes, smooth engine and finger-tip gearshift under the steering wheel. Granddaughter Sally and Aunt Emma noticed the car’s beautiful and roomy interior, fantastic visibility and also recognized that there were no uncomfortable drafts in the car.
Upon returning to the dealership it was time to talk business. Based on Uncle Egbert’s thriftiness and attention to detail you might assume this would be a tedious task. Luckily for the salesman, however, it wasn’t; Uncle Egbert was set on buying a Ford based on his test drive. While he initially thought about buying a regular Ford, thrifty Uncle Egbert realized the features offered on the De Luxe models were well worth the extra cost. Those standard features would cost more on other cars and included two visors, two wipers, two tail lights, two horns, two ash trays, a lighter, clock and bumper guards.
Aunt Emma selected the body color and chose Cloud Mist Gray “because she thought it wouldn’t show dust as much as a darker shade.” Finally, Uncle Egbert received a good allowance on his trade-in and reminded himself again how great Ford craftsmanship and materials were. He snapped his little black book shut and signed the order for his new Ford. Uncle Egbert the thrifty penny pincher was ready to drive home in his new car.
Uncle Egbert wasn’t the only character to take a test drive in Ford sales literature from 1940. That year a different catalog entitled Meet the Browns chronicled a family’s needs and experience while buying a Ford much the same way that Uncle Egbert did. These two pieces of sales literature helped Ford sell nearly 600,000 units in 1940 – second only to Chevrolet. I thoroughly enjoyed this “through their eyes” approach to sales literature but one question remains: How would a dealership really respond if you asked them to drain a car’s existing gasoline and have them replace it with a carefully measured single gallon?