CLASSIC CAR LITERATURE
The Factory Behind the Car
By Chris Ritter
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 consumers to purchase a car from a company with a solid reputation, one that would be around tomorrow or years from now to supply parts for your vehicle and be there when it was 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.
General Manager's office.
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 with mounted moose head.
After the general office tour the reader is taken to the engineering department and finally the machine shops and production facilities. Engineering and research was very important to Buick. 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 required to produce Buick automobiles. Those departments range from front and 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.
One of the most interesting things about this piece is the fact that it doesn't specifically address who its intended audience is. It's unlikely that a hardcover book like this would have been mass-produced for customers walking into a dealership or even given to new car buyers. It would have been too expensive for that. More likely, it was intended for prospective dealers. The "selection of suitable sales representatives in cities and towns all over the world" is discussed about thirty pages into the book. It says that to be selected, potential dealers had to be located in an area that could be served by rail supply within 2-24 hours after a parts order. It was also required that potential dealers be willing to focus primarily on rendering good service and not just 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 mentioned above, literature on automotive factory capabilities was nothing new in 1924. Pierce-Arrow, Paige, Nash and Oakland 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 desirable collectible for any Buick fan.