Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


SALES PITCHES for early automobiles evolved quickly indeed, with lines of persuasion that have come down through the years. My source for this is Floyd Clymer’s Historical Motor Scrapbook, 1944. The following pitches all arose in 1902–1910, yet they’re as timely as “I’ll have to check with my manager….”

The Negative Pitch. In 1902, Ransom E. Olds warned prospective customers, “You can pay more money for an Automobile and get more smoke, smell, noise, trouble and profanity than we can offer you. If you are anxious to experiment, don’t send for our Catalog.”

Oldsmobile is noteworthy for being the first automobile company with standardized parts built in mass production; Olds’ patent for the concept dates from 1901. Nineteenth-century New England manufacturers of firearms preceded Olds with standardized assembly; in 1913, Ford moved the car down a production line for enhanced efficiency of production.

The Technical Pitch. A 1903 ad stressed the technical benefits of Oldsmobile ownership. “Power is transmitted to the rear axle by a roller chain of 4000 pounds working strength, running direct from the motor shaft. Operated by a single lever from the seat and responds instantly to the will of the operator.”

The Oldsmobile’s price of $650 was the equivalent of $17,900 in today’s dollars. There were less expensive cars back then, but many more costly ones as well. Olds notes, “The Oldsmobile is not a racing machine, but the speed records show it can go about as fast as the average man cares to travel.”

The Price Pitch. “A Thousand Dollars” in large print certainly caught the eye. However, the rest of the sentence read, “more than the Knox price will not buy a motor car of greater all round ability than is possessed by the Model ‘H’ Knox Waterless.” In somewhat smaller print, price of a Knox Waterless was listed at $2500, the equivalent of $62,200 in today’s dollars.

As its name implied, the Waterless was air-cooled. Its engine’s bristling array of cooling elements gave it the nicknames of the “Hedgehog” and “Old Porcupine.”

The Mass Marketing Pitch. Beginning in 1888, Sear, Roebuck and Co. sold watches through mail order catalogs. By 1895 its catalog grew to 532 pages. And in 1905 the Sears Business Man’s Car was added.

The nine Sears models were at the lower end of the automobile price range, $325 to $475 ($8585 to $12,550 in today’s dollars), “Sold on 10 Day’s Trial.” The sales pitch was directed to the business man who, among other things, “has tired of home life in a congested neighborhood and yearns for a cottage in the suburbs for his family.”

The Aftermarket Pitch. The wish to improve one’s motor car is as old as the industry. Buick built its Model 10 Runabout between 1908 and 1910. Its peppy performance and initial run of off-white livery gave the Model 10 a nickname “The White Streak.” But why not an enhanced blue streak?

In 1903, Henry Ford had advised George and Earl Holley to apply their pattern-making and casting skills to carburetor manufacturing. Before long, the brothers were producing original-equipment and aftermarket components for the industry, including the 1908 Holley Venturi Tube Carburetor. For a not inexpensive $8.50 ($216 in today’s dollars), “We Guarantee the Following Results: Will start the motor on the first turn of the crank. Will give a speed of from 5 to 50 miles per hour in high gear. Will give instant acceleration without skipping or ‘choking.’ ”

Perhaps you’ve heard of Holley carbs? ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

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