When new they were low end models with muscular monikers and rumblings of power that quickened the spirit. As used cars they were battered, well worn, gas guzzling beasts with no future. Today, they are the crown jewels of the collector car auction circuits, monuments to America’s love of power, speed and size in their automobiles.
The drivers that stopped by Martin Swanty Chrysler on their way to the Mopar on the Strip event brought with them the cream of the Chrysler muscle car crop. Hemi powered ‘Cuda convertibles and 440 Coronets, Superbirds and Dart GTs.
A few had been painstakingly restored from cars that were to rough to be considered a basket case. Others were pristine time capsules. A few were nothing more than pure drag cars and others represented the ultimate in mechanical genius coupled to a bottomless well of finances such as a 1970 Challenger with a Viper V10 engine shoe horned into place so professionally it appeared stock.
The trip was scheduled for the Sunday before Easter. Imagine my surprise to find, after several days of delightful seventy degree weather, blowing snow on Sunday morning! So much for the well laid plans of mice and men. So the trip was postponed for a week.
After a wonderful Easter with my son and his family, communion with my wife, and a very moving service that focused on the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice we set out before sunrise on Monday morning.
The first leg of the trip to Las Vegas went well. Lots of open road, and Don Williams crooning our courtin’ music made the trip a pleasant one.
As we meditated on those thoughts we came to Hoover Dam and reflected on the towering bridge, an engineering marvel, being built over the canyon to bypass the dam, how it would change a drive we have made all of our lives, how we would miss that drive, and how upon completion of the bypass we would rejoice when we wouldn’t have to make it any more.
Compounding the problem was another bane of the modern era, urban traffic and road construction. After an hour of detours and creeping through construction zones where flagman exert their control we let out a collective sigh of relief.
As Pahrump faded from view in the rear view mirror and the serenity of the stark desert plains engulfed us we felt a delightful peace and excitement about our grand adventure.
Climbing from the desert floor towards Beatty, Nevada a sign that pointed to Ryholite encouraged a bit of a detour. In research for my forthcoming book on ghost towns of the southwest I had heard of this lost city in the desert.
Catch phrases, slogans, and ditties can often be recalled long after the vehicles they promoted are moldering in a scrap heap or have been recycled into beer cans or toasters. A catchy jingle played decades later can trigger crisp, clear images of the vehicle promoted so long ago attesting to the power of a successful marketing campaign.
Slogans from the formative years of the automotive age often speak volumes about the times. Then as now, slogans and catch phrases often encapsulate the social climate of the time in which they were penned, the technological state of the industry and its supportive infrastructure. When coupled with colorful advertisement they become windows into another era, a time capsule if you will.
Tag lines for the Jackson, “No hill is too steep or sand to deep” and the Model, “Hills and Sand Become Level Land” give an indication of road conditions in pre 1907 America. Likewise, with promotion for the Allen, “The King of Hill Climbers,” and the Kansas City Car, “The car that climbs the hills”and“Climbs hills like a squirrel and eats up the road like an express train – the Gale.”
In the decade that followed motoring became a bit more refined and automotive companies began promoting products that did more than provide Spartan, durable transportation. The Pope Toledo was, “The quiet, mile a minute car” and the Marmon Six of 1913 was, “The easiest riding car in the world” but “The thrills of speed with perfect control are his who drives the Biddle”.
Some early automobile companies chose simplicity in their promotion. Maxwell was, “perfectly simple, simply perfect.” King was “the car of no regrets.” The Durant was “just a real good car.” “A car to run around in” was the Austin but “Ride in a Glide, and then decide.”
More than a few companies, then as well as now, chose rhymes and limericks to ensure brand familiarity. Nevertheless, some of the more memorable and successful campaigns were those that were simplistic references to the companies’ merits. An excellent example of the latter would be Packard’s, “Ask the man who owns one” and REO’s “Gold Standard of Values” or Studebakers “The Automobile with a Reputation Behind It.”
Others chose to appeal to ego or vanity in their marketing campaigns. The Empire was, “The Little Aristocrat” and Lozier was “The Choice of Men Who Know.” The Winton Six of 1915 was “The closed car so necessary to a successful social season.” The Dorris was “Built up to a standard, not down to a price.”
By the second decade of the Twentieth Century, many aspects of the automobile such as steering wheels replacing tillers and engines that consisted of an equal number of cylinders had become industry standards. However, some innovators insisted on thinking outside of the box and the catch phrases and slogans devised for promotion of their vehicles presents another intriguing snap shot of the times.
The Cartercar was “the car of a thousand speeds – no clutch to slip, no gears to strip – no universal joints to break – no shaft drive to twist – no bevel gears to wear and howl, no noise to annoy”, “Premier – The Aluminum Six with Magnetic Gear Shift.” The Amplex was “Valveless and Self Starting.”
Then there were the slogans that leave one wondering if the idea was to sell vehicles or to ensure the company was not bothered with annoying customers. Beggs was “the car that is made a little better than seems necessary.” The Daniels was “the distinguished car with just a little more power than you will ever need” and Gearless was “A common sense car with no tender or delicate parts.”
During the formative years of the automotive industry in this country, there was a car for every need and a slogan to promote them. If you drove solely for enjoyment then there were “miles of smiles” in an American. However, if safety was a concern then there was the Cole, “The world’s safest car.” If loyalty to a particular region dictated your automotive choice the Vaughan “made in the Carolinas” might be the car for you. For the frugal consumer there was the Hanover, “The Car That Saves Money Every Mile” or the Westcott, “The Car with a Longer Life.”
The Porter Stanhope of 1900 was “The Only Perfect Automobile” but the Ford of 1903 was “The Boss of the Road.” The Northern was “Silent and Dustless” and the Oakland of 1909 was “The answer to the man who says, “Show me.” With Oldsmobile, there was “Nothing to watch but the road.”
Another fascinating aspect of early corporate slogans is how often they have been recycled for a new generation of consumer. As an example consider Cadillac’s “Standard of the World” that dates to 1912 and Buick’s “When Better Automobiles Are Built, Buick Will Build Them” which is even older.
With the exception of use as decorative wall coverings for automotive enthusiasts, vintage advertisement today has largely been overlooked negating an important part of automotive history to the realm of mere novelty. When one considers that they are so important to understanding how we became such a car-dominated culture this is quite surprising.
A redesigned grill, dash, and cab with one-piece windshield were not enough to conceal the lineage of the 1954 Chevrolet truck that marked the final full year of production for the Advance Design series initially introduced in 1947. In spite of the dated styling sales of 292,202 trucks enabled Chevrolet to hold its position as sales leader in the industry.
While the sheet metal of the 1954, and first series 1955, models hinted at what had been, the mechanics provided a glimpse into the future. The venerable 216.5 c.i.d. was dropped and the 235 c.i.d. six cylinder became standard on all light to medium duty trucks. A lengthy options list that included Hydramatic transmission, dual electric windshield wipers, and two-tone interiors also set these trucks apart from their predecessors. Additionally the antiquated torque tube was replaced with more modern open driveline on the first series 1955 models.
On March 25, 1955, it was out with the old, in with the new as Chevrolet introduced its fully redesigned Task Force series with “Modern Design for Modern Hauling.” A load pulling appearance accomplished with forward slanting windshield pillar, upper cab, front wheel openings, “egg crate” grill, as well as hooded headlights and hidden running boards gave the new trucks a profile that was as different as day and night from the Advance Design series.
A fully redesigned, wider frame provided Chevrolet the opportunity to offer an exciting new option, a 265 c.i.d., ohv valve V8 engine. Additional mechanical options included NAPCO four-wheel drive, Hydramatic transmission and, later in the model year, power steering as well as power brakes.
Further ensuring Chevrolet’s dominance of the market was expansion of available light duty models. The model 3204, a half-ton truck built on the long three quarter ton wheelbase with the corresponding long box, designed for those who hauled light but bulky loads and the limited production model 3124 Cameo.
Though limited in production the Cameo Carrier, and corresponding GMC Suburban, garnered much attention and proved to be industry trendsetters in many ways. The most distinctive feature of these revolutionary trucks was the replacement of the traditional protruding rear fenders with slab sides that allowed for a cab wide box.
As standard equipment, the Cameo utilized the deluxe cab of the task force series, including wrap around rear window. Additionally the Cameo featured full, chromed wheel covers, chrome grill, chromed headlight bezels, deluxe interior, and two-tone paint. The fiberglass side panels, accentuated with vertical chrome molding between the cab and box, terminated at the rear with recessed taillights.
Further separating the Cameo from other trucks in the series was a tailgate made smooth with an outer fiberglass panel enhanced with a red, reflective Chevrolet bowtie. Completing the package was a custom bumper with convex door between the bumper guards that allowed for access to the concealed spare tire.
Though the GMC Suburban shared many components, including box, with the Cameo the senior General Motors line featured larger, more powerful engines. Standard was the redesigned 248.5 c.i.d. six-cylinder engine but the new 287 c.i.d. Pontiac V8 was optional.
The Task Force series allowed Chevrolet to tighten its hold on the number one position in truck production. Total calendar year sales for 1955 of 329,791 units amounted to 34.5% of market share with Dodge, Ford, Studebaker, and International left to divide the remainder.
For 1956, Chevrolet directed the majority of its resources towards the development of heavy-duty trucks, the fastest growing segment of the truck market. As a result, the light duty trucks received but minor changes.
The 1957 model, introduced in October of 1956, recaptured the momentum of the series initial introduction. For the first time Chevrolet offered eighty-eight models on twenty-two wheelbases with eight available engines and a lengthy options list that included air conditioning. In addition, the entire front-end styling was extensively restyled.
The floating trapezoid within a trapezoid of the new grill accentuated the wide stance of this series. Other styling modifications included hood, nameplates, script, and now standard wide rear window.
Extensive styling revisions were the hallmark of the 1958 model year. The front fenders were wider at the top to accommodate the dual headlamps. A drop center hood, all new grill with Chevrolet spelled in block letters across the wide center bar and chrome, rectangular parking lamps gave the truck an entirely new look.
Sales of the Cameo Carrier, a limited production truck since its inception, dropped to a mere 375 trucks. In February of 1958, it was replaced with all steel Fleetside model.
Model designation was another change introduced in 1958. Light trucks were designated as 30, 40, 50, and 60 indicated medium duty ratings and heavy-duty models were tagged 70, 80, 90, and 100. Additionally the designation plate on the front fender identified each weight class by name, Apache on trucks up to 9,600 lb. GVW, Viking on trucks up to 21,000 lb. GVW and Spartan on heavy-duty models up to 25,000 lb. GVW designated each series.
As was the case with the1956 model year the Task Force trucks of 1959 received only minor trim and color changes from those produced in 1958 though the number of models increased to 139. Likewise, mechanical improvements and changes were relatively minor with the exception of a redesigned camshaft that resulted in a ten percent improvement in fuel economy for the six-cylinder engine and an optional Positraction rear axle.
From an historical perspective, the Task Force Chevrolet trucks built between 1955 and 1959 are truly transitional models. They are a bridge from the era when trucks were Spartan with but the most basic amenities to the modern age of boulevard cruiser that is more family car than truck.
As collector vehicles, these trucks are a near perfect blend. The classic styling, rugged durability, and ease of repair that were the hallmark of pickup trucks combined with mechanical components that allow for operation under modern traffic conditions with relative economy.