By on February 6, 2012

As expensive as a Cadillac coupe

In How Fake Luxury Conquered The World, Jack Baruth started a productive conversation on just which cars or group of cars disrupted Alfred Sloan’s “a car for every purse and purpose” hierarchy of brands that was such an important factor in GM’s success in the 20th century. Jack believes that letting each division sell fully equipped full size cars like the Caprice, Regency and Park Avenue trim lines cheapened the Cadillac brand and blurred the lines between all GM brands. In the comment thread to Fake Luxury, some of the Best & Brightest suggested the 1965 Ford LTD’s seminal role in breaking down the lines between middle class and luxury cars. Yet others suggested the blurring of lines began in the 1950s with cars like the Buick Special, a less expensive Buick.

Before the 1970s, the brands at GM were individual corporate divisions, with considerable autonomy. They shared some corporate R&D but for the most part developed their own engines and transmissions (well, before the dominance of the Hydramatic, which was developed at Oldsmobile – the other divisions had their own automatic transmission efforts), bodies and even frames. The brands were distinct from one another, but more relevant to Sloan’s model, they didn’t compete directly with each other, on either purse (price) or purpose (available equipment).

At the cusps between socioeconomic groups of customers, around the margins, yes, they may have competed but even in those cases not quite directly. As you got more affluent you might have considered an lesser equipped Pontiac or Oldsmobile instead of a loaded Chevy, but as Jack pointed out in Fake Luxury, you couldn’t buy some of Cadillac’s options on a Buick. Twilight Sentinel, the photoelectric gizmo that turned on a Cadillac’s lights, was a signature element for Cadillac. There was some democratization of luxury with those options that had a wide potential market, like air conditioning or Delco’s signal seeking Wonderbar radios, but just as you couldn’t option out a Buick into a Cadillac, at lower price points, Pontiac offered equipment that you just couldn’t buy on a Chevrolet. Remember, in the 1950s Plymouth, Ford and Chevrolet were not embarrassed to market themselves as the best value of the “low priced three”.

So those that trace the decline of Sloan’s hierarchy to the 1950s have a point. The brands still, though, didn’t really compete directly. While Jack traces that decline to competition for mass market buyers seeking luxury in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, if I can offer my own take, I think the performance market may have created intense direct competition between GM brands before “fake” luxury did. I blame one of General Motors’ most successful products, so popular that it’s known by its initials, SBC. Ed Cole’s small block Chevy engine  was a breakthrough in 1955 because before then, high compression overhead valve V8s were only available at the more prestigious GM marques.

You didn’t just pay for luxury when you bought an expensive car. There’s a reason why the song is called Hot Rod Lincoln and why the guy in the Cadillac is annoyed by the little Nash Rambler. Expensive cars were also fast cars. Cadillac competed, famously at the time, in the Carrera Panamericana race in Mexico. The ’54 Caddy from that race is in the GM Heritage Center collection. So making a powerful motor available in a Chevy was a big deal. Still, a V8 Chevy was cheaper than a V8 Pontiac or Olds, so the brands didn’t really compete on price. Enter “performance” cars.

When it was introduced in 1953, the Corvette was more expensive than many of the cars sold by GM’s more prestigious brands, even some Cadillacs. Tase price of a Corvette was $3,498 (heater optional), almost the same price as a Caddy coupe that year, $3,571. When the Vette got the SBC in 1955 the prestige of being an expensive car was burnished by now being a fast car. Chevy, GM’s entry in the “low priced three” market, was now selling a car that was as expensive as Cadillacs and even faster than some of them.

As long as it was just one car, Sloan’s carefully arranged applecart wasn’t upset. As performance became more an more of a selling point into the 1960s, though, and as dealers pressured their brands to supply them with muscle cars, the GM brands started competing directly with each other. John Delorean and Jim Wangers’ efforts to revive the staid Pontiac brand with the GTO prompted just about every car company, including most of the GM brands, to put a big engine in a midsize car and try to sell it to young people. By the mid 1960s you could choose from a SS Chevelle, a GTO, or an Olds 442.

While they may have competed on performance and now price (those big block packages were not cheap, that’s why they’re rare and collectible today), at least the sheet metal was different. The familial resemblance between the mid ’60s GM A body intermediates is there but not particularly strong. That would change with the Pontiac Firebird. When the Camaro came out as Chevy’s response to Ford’s Mustang and Plymouth’s Barracuda (at Chrysler, selling performance at their low priced brand would mess up their brand hierarchy as well, eventually leading to Plymouth’s demise as a brand), Pontiac dealers and the Pontiac organization demanded what became the Firebird.

While the Firebird came with Pontiac engines, it was obviously a Camaro with different front and rear fascias. That didn’t seem to bother Pontiac buyers nor Pontiac dealers, nor did the fact that they were now competing directly with Chevrolet dealers selling another GM brand. That direct competition intensified with the new 1968 A body cars at GM. They were completely restyled, and while each carried brand unique styling cues, this time the familial resemblance was unavoidable. Though a base Chevelle was cheaper than a Tempest which was cheaper than a Skylark which was cheaper than a Cutlass (at least GM was smart enough not to make an A body Cadillac), when those same A bodies got muscle car packages, the competition on price was much closer.

Yes, if you were from an Oldsmobile family, you could get that A body with a real Rocket V8 and likewise get a Chevy with your choice of small block or big block Chevrolet branded V8s, or a Buick GS with a “nailhead” Buick V8, but that was inside baseball. To the average consumer, they looked alike, they performed alike and they were not that far apart on price. So before “fake luxury” overturned Sloan’s hierarchy, its foundation had already been fractured by selling performance and a youthful image.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks – RJS

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36 Comments on “How the Corvette and Muscle Cars Helped Destroy Sloan’s Hierarchy...”


  • avatar
    geeber

    The performance wars did help undermine the Sloan Structure, but they also showed the limitations of that structure. Chevrolet could have stuck with an inline six in the 1950s, in order to “protect” the turf of the BOP divisions, and would have fallen far behind Ford Division by 1956.

    In the long run, it wasn’t the muscle-car wars that undermined GM’s divisional structure. It was the attempt by the old “Low Price Three,” specifically Ford, to sell vehicles in the medium-price market. The 1957 Fairlane 500 was designed to directly take on Buick (third place in total sales from 1954-56), and the 1958 Thunderbird was priced in Buick and Oldsmobile territory. Both were big successes, and forced GM to respond in kind.

    Mercury was always treated as second-best by Ford corporate management, and didn’t generate that many sales. Ford therefore didn’t have as much to lose as GM did if the low-price division began stealing sales from the medium-price brand. A fair number of those sales were also stolen from Pontiac, Buick and Oldsmobile, particularly with the four-seat Thunderbird.

    Plymouth was not killed by the performance wars. Prior to 1960, Plymouth did not have its own dealer network. It was sold as a “companion car” to Dodge, DeSoto and Chrysler. In the late 1950s, Chrysler was planning to set up a separate dealer network for Plymouth. As part of this effort, Chrysler took away Plymouth from its Dodge dealers in 1960, but gave Dodge the full-size Dart as a consolation. Unfortunately, the corporation never followed through on the effort, so Plymouth didn’t receive its own dealer network, and ended up as part of the Chrysler-Plymouth Division.

    The initial Dart was a Plymouth with Dodge front and rear clip. It sold like crazy – Dodge set a sales record in 1960. But Plymouth sales sagged badly. If not for the compact Valiant, which in 1960 was NOT sold as a Plymouth, Plymouth would have fallen far behind Dodge in total sales. (During the 1960 model year, realizing how far sales of the “standard” Plymouth had fallen, Chrysler Corporation management included Valiant sales with those of Plymouth. At any rate, the Valiant was badged as a Plymouth for 1961.)

    Throughout the 1960s, Dodge demanded a version of every vehicle sold by Plymouth. Eventually, the intra-corporate competition killed the weaker division – Plymouth. But that would have happened even without the performance wars of the 1960s.

    • 0 avatar
      Freddie

      Did Plymouth/Dodge and Ford/Mercury ever have the kind of autonomy that the GM divisions had? My impression is that they were always strictly a badge-engineering operation.

      • 0 avatar

        It depends somewhat on how you define autonomy…

        As far as Mercury goes, I think the answer is “rarely, if at all.” The first Mercury was very nearly marketed as a “Ford Mercury,” which is revealing, and it wasn’t until a postwar influx of GM people that Lincoln-Mercury became a distinct division. There was a push to make it a separate division (distinct from Lincoln) in the mid-fifties, which didn’t really pan out for various reasons, and by the end of 1958 Mercury, Edsel, and Lincoln had been rolled back into a single division.

        Part of the problem was that Ford seldom had the resources to make Mercury a distinct entity (i.e., not sharing the bodies of either the Ford or the smaller Lincoln). It took the company a long time to figure out exactly how much commonality GM had been able to achieve with its A-B-C body program, and I would argue that it never really caught on at Ford. The irony is that where Mercury did offer something distinct, it tended to do pretty well; the obvious example is the first Comet (originally intended as an Edsel), which probably saved Mercury’s bacon in the early sixties.

        Dodge is a more complicated story in that it was originally a separate company, and a bigger company, at that. Quite a few of Chrysler’s plants had originally been Dodge Brothers factories, which for many years gave Dodge Division greater influence than you might expect. For a while, a lot of senior corporate executives tended to come from Dodge. Plymouth, by comparison, was conceived as a companion model, and so tended to be farther down the food chain.

  • avatar

    This was one piece, but a relatively late one.

    Sloan’s hierarchy came closest to being fully realized in the late 1920s, after the initial round of execution. This lasted for only a few years, later continuing as a concept then a myth rather than a fact.

    The hierarchy first collapsed in the 1930s, when the Depression forced Olds, Buick, and Cadillac to all introduce lower priced lines and reduce the prices of their regular models. After the war, these new sub-brands were eliminated, but the primary nameplates shifted lower to fill the positions they vacated. Postwar Cadillacs were far closer to Chevrolets in price than the prewar cars had been. And Oldsmobiles and Buicks overlapped with Chevrolets and Pontiacs even back in the 1950s.

    Even if the Depression hadn’t happened, the pursuit of economies of scale would have compressed the hierarchy. The shift to steel bodies also occurred in the 1930s. The machinery for these favored larger volumes, so Fisher Body (which manufactured the bodies for all five divisions) started commonizing body parts across the lines. By the 1950s they would mix and match stampings to give each brand a different look. This process accelerated with the creation of GMAD in the 1960s and then again with two rounds of rushed downsizing in the 1970s and 1980s.

    Another big variable: the creation of additional size classes, starting with the compacts in 1960. By the end of the 1960s all but Cadillac had one of just about everything. The smaller the car, the lower the price, and the less willing GM was to invest in product differentiation. Without product differentiation, they couldn’t charge much more for the “higher end” brands.

    The muscle car wars were related to this explosion of product classes. The root cause of both was a need for each division to have one of everything. Pressure for this (with the exception of the faux lux cars discussed the other day) came from dealers. If people suddenly demanded small cars, it didn’t help a Buick dealer if Chevrolet and Pontiac dealers had them.

    The solution, realized far too late: have dealers offer multiple brands. If this had been done back around 1960 then the brands could have been kept much more focused.

    But the biggest variable of all, and the one outside GM’s control, was the increase in foreign competition through the 1960s and 1970s. The differences between a Chevrolet and a Buick seemed much more significant when other domestic cars were the basis of comparison. Throw a bunch of Japanese and German cars into the mix, all of which look and feel much different than the domestic cars, and the differences between a Chevrolet and a Buick that had previously seemed meaningful now seemed much smaller, even insignificant. Once again, if people don’t see a difference as meaningful, you can’t price for it.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      Bingo. Especially the last part on foreign competition. If you look at it as GM only, this article has some valid points. But when you consider that having features only available to one brand, and GM had too many brands, this was going to be a problem, especially when other companies had only 1 or 2 brands.

      If you had a feature today for only Caddy at GM, what would it be? How long till it would be in a Toyota, Honda, KIA, Hyundai? Then the question would be, why doesn’t Buick and Chevy have it?

      For todays brands, style, prestige, quality of materials, and the newest features are what differentiate brands. The newest features in a Lexus today will be in a Toyota a few years from today. Sometimes, the features start in Toyota (hybrid tech, not suggesting Toyota invented it, but only that it didn’t start in Lexus).

      The Sloan brand model is GM-centric and it doesn’t scale into mass production well. That is the problem with having too many brands.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “The Sloan brand model is GM-centric and it doesn’t scale into mass production well.”

        It was a very good model for taking on Ford when the Model T dominated the market.

        It lost its value when all of the brands began to experience mission creep. That sort of mission creep was inevitable, given how GM was organized along brand categories. That cannibalization could have been avoided had the brands been maintained as something similar to nameplates, coupled with consistent multi-brand dealerships and a management reorganization. But that didn’t happen until it was far too late.

    • 0 avatar

      “This process accelerated with the creation of GMAD in the 1960s and then again with two rounds of rushed downsizing in the 1970s and 1980s.”

      As much of a tour de force that the ’77 fullsize GMs were, with the exception of the Cadillac (and even those a bit) all of GM’s fullsize cars were obviously badge engineered Caprices. At least the Fake Luxury cars in the early ’70s Jack was talking about looked a little different from each other. The downsized B bodies were clearly siblings.

      Another point you mention, pressure from dealers for more models seems to have been a major factor in the domestics’ screwing up their brands. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Honda Ridgeline and Crosstour were made to placate dealers.

      • 0 avatar
        VanillaDude

        I would like to thank Ronnie for this very interesting take. I have thoroughly enjoyed the comments as well.

        I saw the Sloan Hierarchy going down through the 1950s, due to car sizes. Auto buyers may not be able to see the neighbor’s car perform, or see how fashionable the interiors are – but they can easily see how big their neighbor’s car was as compared to their own.

        As cars grew in size, there were fewer reasons to buy traditionally large cars, such as Packards, Cadillacs, Imperials and Lincolns. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, we see Chevrolets, Fords and Plymouths grow to be as large. By 1959, only Studebaker and Rambler remained similarly sized as their early 1950s predecesors. When we take a look at the 1959 Cadillac, Lincoln and Imperial, we see luxury cars so gargantuan and large, they were illegal on some US roads due to their width. The 1957-1958 Recession also sounded a death knell to super-sized cars. In an effort to remain the largest of each manufacturer’s offerings, Lincoln, Imperial and Cadillac grew too large. Something had to pop.

        This didn’t have to happen.

        With the 1959 Chevy as large as what had passed for a Cadillac, a gap was created for a smaller car. Small cars, as we know, were an assumption by every auto make as eventual. Yet, we also see that early 1950s small car programs were either killed, or failed in the market. This happened partly due to car size, in my opinion. The gap between a compact car and a 1955 Chevrolet wasn’t great enough for a compact market to occur. But, by the time the 1959 cars rolled onto streets, the gap between a compact car and a Chevrolet was large enough for a Corvair, a Falcon, a Rambler, a Lark, and a Valiant.

        This gap helped justify a large car, a compact car, and a midsized car by 1965. Each brand went from one size of car, to multiple sizes and with the creation of the Mustang, different styles of cars as well. Instead of rightsizing a Chevrolet into a Chevelle, which was accidentially tried in 1962 by Plymouth and Dodge with disasterous results, we see each brand lauching differently sized cars.

        For the traditional Ford and Chevrolet, by 1966, there was the obvious need for an LTD and a Caprice. Not only were there profits available with these new styling packages, it justified the exclusivity of having a large Ford or Chevrolet in a market filled with Fairlanes, Falcons, Chevelles and Chevy IIs.

        So the Sloan Hierarchy faced obsolescence due to the growth of the standard sized car aimed towards the middle class of American buyers. While performance, price and luxury touches also contributed – what the average buyer saw was how a larger car offered by a Ford, Chevy or Plymouth, was as large as what they saw being offered by traditional luxury makes only a few years earlier.

    • 0 avatar

      I would concur with all of this. Well stated.

    • 0 avatar
      Joe McKinney

      And Ford was the primary instigator of model diversification. The 1958 Thunderbird (personal luxury), the 1960 Mercury Comet (medium priced compact), the 1962 Fairlane (intermediate) and the 1964.5 Mustang (pony car). In this regard it was Ford which destroyed Sloan’s hierarchy.

  • avatar
    W.

    Great article. I think there is a lot of merit to this discussion, and I’m glad to see it brought to light.

    One minor nit to pick: the Panamericana Caddy is a recreation, not the original (http://www.seriouswheels.com/cars/top-1954-Cadillac-La-Carrera-Panamericana-Race-Car.htm).

    • 0 avatar

      I knew there was a recreation but I wasn’t sure if it was the same car – most of the GMHC cars are original.

      Thanks for the kind words. I was hoping to carry forward the productive conversation that Jack and the comments to Fake Luxury started.

      I think the real truth, as Farago pointed out, was that there were many deadly sins in GM’s history.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    We can argue this till we’re blue in the face but we all know that GM was a little healthier and life was a little better for those of us who love cars back when each division had it’s own engines. At least there was a compelling reason to buy one car over another.

    Part of me is saddened that Cadillac is slowly giving up “engine exclusivity” and heck the “Twilight Sentinel”? My fiance’s base 0 options Vibe has one! (OK in reality it is a Toyota but come on!)

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      I can see separate brands getting unique variants of an engine family, but it’s hard to imagine any manufacturer spending money on fully separate engine designs. For example, Chevrolet might get a lower compression, smaller displacement V8 while Buick gets a slightly larger displacement engine with higher compression for more power at the expense of using premium gasoline. Different times.

    • 0 avatar
      Dimwit

      Yep. I still say that the death knell was the 70’s. Yes Ronnie, the seeds were sown in the 50’s, but it was the brand killing “GM” engines that did it in.

      The irony of course, is that GM had no choice. Either they get efficiency by reducing the parts count (and that took 15 years anyway) or they would have had to divest themselves of a few divisions. Nobody was that prescient in 1972.

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      Developing a car engine is to expensive for a single company, let alone a brand

  • avatar
    Ron

    Four very impressive comments, not the least of which is because no one (as yet) has accused any politician of being a socialist!

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      That’s because it’s all a Marxist plot initiated by Lenin and executed by Stalin and overseen by Kruschev!

      Are you happy now?

      Seriously though, anything that starts out a certain way always changes with time, no matter if it’s cars, electronics, whatever. A natural progression as far as I can tell – or can’t think of any other way to describe it.

  • avatar
    rentonben

    Perhaps the the true failure was not the idea of a spectrum of cars but in execution. Perhaps the Sloan spectrum of price levels needed to be spread upwards.
    When all it takes is a few gee-gaws and a bigger engine to put a Chevy in Cadillac territory then it seems obvious in hindsight that Cadillac wasn’t high-end enough for the system to work.

    • 0 avatar

      You may have a point. One of the things that Jack mentioned that gave Mercedes Benzes status in the 1970s was they were at least as expensive as American luxury cars. Not was well appointed with what passed for luxury in those days, but often more expensive. I could be wrong but I’m pretty sure that a S class M-B could be twice the price of a DeVille.

      • 0 avatar

        Fifty percent more, at least. The tricky part of making the comparison is that with nearly all seventies Cadillacs except the Seville, there was a substantial gap between the advertised list price and the usual ‘as equipped’ tally. I’m not talking here about actual transaction prices, which are a more complicated — though very significant — issue, but prices with typical options. You could get more bells and whistles on the Cadillac, but you paid extra for most of them, including stuff like tinted glass, whitewall tires, and a radio, and I think most cars ended up with two grand or more of optional equipment. The Benz had a higher list price, but (in the U.S.) fewer options, although Mercedes buyers often had to pay extra for items that were standard on Cadillacs by that point, like power steering and automatic transmission.

        To make a really scientific assessment, we’d have to sweet-talk Michael into doing his cost-features tally…

      • 0 avatar
        Mark_Miata

        One of the thing that surprised me when I started researching my 1960 Rover P5 is how much it sold for – about the same as a Cadillac 75 without options. While you got a nice leather and wood interior with Wilton carpets, under the hood was a 3 Liter inline 6 hooked up to a two-speed automatic, and the body was at best a mid-size by American standards of the day. No wonder they only sold a few hundred in North America.

        However, driving it reminds me of the 1967 Mercedes-Benz 230 my father bought new at the factory (and they look similar as well). I inherited the 230 and drove it during my college years, and it was a right pig. Cruised great on the freeway, and was pretty reliable (though parts were expensive), but man was it slow from 0-60, and that was with a manual transmission.

        Too bad Rover never imported the Rover P5B to the USA (a few made it to Canada) – the Buick V-8 engine transformed the car, and it would have made a nice rival to the German makes. Rover is one of those great might-have-beens, since it was a British cross of Mercedes (P5) and BMW (P6 and SD-1). If they just could have screwed them together better in the 1970s – the Top Gear Episode where they could not get Clarkson’s SD-1 to hold water despite using a fire hose tells you everything you need to know about the downfall of a fine company.

  • avatar
    Monty

    No one cause can be blamed for the blurring of the divisional structures – it was more of a combination of several factors all converging within a few short decades.

    Schizophrenic GM management, myopic brand management, dealer networks demanding specialized cars to compete with inter-company products and other maufacturers, corruption of brand identities and the need for economies of scale all contributed to the compression of the price structure within the GM heirarchy.

    As Michael Karesh and PCH101 mention in their respective posts, the answer would have been to combine all brands under one roof at all dealers. Unfortunately, that was, and still is, an untenable solution to the dealers. The GM dealer network, General Motor’s best weapon, is also it’s achille’s heel, and a lot of the “deadly sins” GM is justifiably accused of came from mollifying the dealers.

    The result was inevitable, in hindsight.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      It seemed inevitable, but it was hastened by the decline in the quality and desirablity of the products. Imports were still minor players in the mid 1970’s based on volume and many of those who bought early 70’s Japanese cars abandoned them after the first gas crunch passed. GM still had massive pull with buyers through the late 70’s – witness the massive number of 1980 Citations that were sold. But each massive disappointment after another coupled with the next wave of Japanese cars that followed the second gas crunch – far more desirable the second time around = opened the door for the imports. No matter what the “purse and purpose” structure was dead, but imagine what wold have happened if the X cars were highly reliable and well made? And they were followed up by A bodies that went beyond the X’s? I’d venture to guess that GM would hold a far higher percentage of market share than they do today, though I would not be surprised to see a brand or two still missing. If I could go back in time and make one historical change, waking up Detroit before the beancounter culture killed it would be it…

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      “the answer would have been to combine all brands under one roof at all dealers.”

      To clarify, assuming that we could use today’s marketing paradigms, I would have grouped them under two tents via a luxury wing and a mainstream channel (or three, if the goal was to maintain Cadillac as an exotic ala Rolls, Bentley, etc.). But in any case, definitely not five channels, or for that matter, not even the three channel approach that has been used since the bankruptcy.

      “The result was inevitable, in hindsight.”

      Back in the mid-40’s, Peter Drucker wanted to spin out Chevrolet as a separate company. He believed that the resulting competition would spur innovation within both the independent Chevrolet and the new version of General Motors, and wanted to combine this with a restructured labor force that transferred some degree of management authority to labor.

      But Sloan absolutely detested these ideas. The Japanese read the same analysis, and adapted it to their own production methods. We can see who was proven right.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    Well said Monty. I was thinking the same sort of thing (though without the articulance) when I arrived here and saw that you said it.

    Dan, there was no earthly reason to have three GM divisions building 455’s. Especially when they were all backed up with TH400’s.

    I can appreciate what was said about the muscle cars but I think the creep upwards was begun a few years earlier. I was a young man soon to get a drivers license when the sbc came out in 55. That was more exciting than the vette to most of us. The real kick in the head came in 57 with the 283 (I think Ford came out with the 312 in 56 police models and anything in 57) and the next year when they came out with the 348. One of my classmates had a 58 impala with a 348 and it was a legend in our own minds. I really don’t remember what mopar did but Ford pulled the 352 (something in my head says 360) out of somewhere and we were off.

    A very exciting time for a young wannabe gearhead. I certainly do agree that the impetus for GM to go fast came from outside the corp. The muscle cars were a continuation that ruined things for a lot of guys who liked putting big engines in smaller older cars.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Mr. Shreiber,

    You make an important point. While there were many reasons for the demise of the Sloan hierarchy,competition in the performance sector is not often mentioned.

    It’s funny that the Corvette was developed because Chevy had that kind of autonomy, and yet it was one more factor in blurring the lines between divisions.

    The Vette may have been better as an Olds, back in ’53, Olds being about “experimental” cars, while Chevy was still one of the low priced 3. But Olds didn’t have the vision. Buick was a little too stodgey (doctors cars). Possibly ‘Vette would have worked as a Caddy, but they didn’t have the vision either.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, GM did build show cars for Olds and Pontiac on the Corvette chassis. The Olds F-88 Motorama car and the Pontiac Bonneville Special were Corvettes under the skin. I don’t think the Vette would have worked as a Caddy. That would have scared off a lot of the less well healed car enthusiasts to whom it was an attainable aspiration.

      • 0 avatar
        Dynamic88

        I forgot about those show cars.

        If it was the price of a Caddy Coupe and that didn’t scare enthusiasts, I don’t know that a Caddy badge would. Strictly in monetary terms, to aspire to own a ‘Vette was to aspire to own Caddy Coupe. $3,500 probably wasn’t much less than a year’s salary for most people in ’53. But Caddy didn’t really have any sporting pretensions at that time.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        If I recall correctly, Oldsmobile did want to put the F-88 into production, but GM, lobbied heavily by Chevrolet, put a stop to it.

        Chevrolet correctly realized that the F-88, with a body similar in size and style to the Corvette, but powered by a Rocket V-8, would have killed the early Corvette.

        At any rate, the early Corvette was a sales flop, so GM wasn’t too keen on adding more two-seat sports cars to the corporate roster.

      • 0 avatar

        And of course there were the Oldsmobile Holiday and Buick Skylark, which were actually short-lived, very expensive (limited) production models, and advertised as sports cars (although they obviously weren’t).

  • avatar
    HEATHROI

    This leaves me to wonder if the Five brand thing actually existed in the marketplace, not just looking through the GM glasses at what they thought was happening. Alfred Sloan was a odd fish for coming up with a system much more suited to Britain than the US.

  • avatar
    ixim

    Excellent recap. You forgot the 1953/54 Road Race Lincolns that also ran in the Carrera Panamerica.

  • avatar
    obbop

    Subliminal advertising content “did us in.”

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