- 1921- General Motors was in a state of organizational disarray regarding their manufacturing divisions and the products they were marketing. They had seven car divisions producing 10 different car models. However, GM did not have a product in the low price range to compete with Henry Ford’s Model T.
- 1921, April 6: – Alfred Sloan convenes a special committee meeting to address these organizational and marketing challenges and set a future course for GM. At the meeting were: C.S. Mott, (Group Vice-President of the automotive divisions), Norval Hawkins (former chief of sales Ford Motor Co.), Charles F. Kettering (Head of DELCO), H.H. Bassett (General Manager of Buick), and K.W. Zimmerscheid (General Manager of Cheverolet). It was decided at the meeting to assign specific car price ranges that each car division would specifically target their automobile for. From low price range to high price range, the new car divisional order was: Cheverolet, Oldsmobile, Oakland, Buick, and Cadillac. Chevrolet was to now compete with Ford’s model T. This line-up had what Sloan described as “gravitational pull” meaning customers could still buy a GM automobile if they wanted a more luxurious model.
- 1923 – Sloan, however, was concerned that there were two price ranges that were not adequately covered in the new line-up. One gap was between Chevrolet and Oldsmobile, and one gap was between Buick and Cadillac. Addressing the Chevy-Olds gap, Sloan, years later would state, “From the strategic standpoint at that time the most dangerous gap in the list was that between the Chevrolet and the Olds. We made one of the most important decisions in the history of General Motors, namely to fill the gap above Chevrolet with a brand new car with a new six cylinder engine. . . We concluded, therefore that the new car must be designed in physical co-ordination with Chevrolet so as to share Chevrolet’s economies and vice-versa.” This new car was code named “X-car” and it was a corporate program initiated by Sloan.
- 1923-Sloan gave the responsibility to draft engineering plans for the X-car to Chevrolet, reasoning that Chevrolet engineers would be inclined to use Chevrolet parts for the new X-car which is what Sloan wanted. Chevy’s Henry M. Crane would design the engine, while Chevy’s chief engineer O. E. Hunt supervised the overall development. When the plans were finished, they were sent to both the Oakland Division and Oldsmobile Division. Both Oakland and Oldsmobile rejected the plans as unworkable at the projected price.
- 1924 – Oakland’s General Manager Hannum, wrote to Sloan asking to have Oakland engineers design the new X-car, essentially scraping Sloan’s Chevrolet design plans. Sloan rejected Hannum’s request. The X-car program stalled. However, Sloan reactivated the program when William S. Knudsen became the new General Manager of Chevrolet. Chevrolet engineers, Crane and Hunt, reviewed the original plans. The engine was changed to L-Head six cylinder from the Chevy Overhead Valve six cylinder.
- 1924- Oakland’s “True Blue Six” – Oakland produced a significantly improved automobile for 1924. Perhaps the most noticeable improvement was the new paint used on the body of the car. The paint was named Duco and it was the idea of Charles Kettering, Director of General Motors Research. The new paint was a joint development project by GM Research, DuPont, and Oakland Motor Division. The new paint was more durable, longer lasting, and cured in an hour after it was applied, versus 30 day cure times of all other automobile paints used at that time. Duco paint was first used exclusively on late 1923 Oakland car models and then on 1924 Oakland automobiles. It came in one color – blue. To highlight the new paint, the 1924 Oakland was nick-named the “True Blue Six”. The 1924 Oakland automobile also was equipped with a new L-Head engine, automatic spark advance, four-wheel brakes, centralized controls in the steering wheel, and a permanent top. Oakland Motor Division produced 37,080 cars in 1924.
- 1925- Sloan fired Hannum and on February 1, he appointed Alfred R. Glancy as the new General Manager of Oakland Motor Division. Glancy, an engineer by training, had previously worked for Pierre du Pont, President of General Motors 1920-1921, having the responsibility to close down under performing and unnecessary assets acquired for GM by William Durant. Glancy very much wanted to use his creative abilities and viewed Sloan’s new X-car program with enthusiasm. The final X-car design was turned over to Oakland Motor Division in July. By September, two working prototypes had been built and were being tested at the GM Proving Grounds. The new “Pontiac” car began regular production on December 28, 1925.
- 1926- The new Pontiac Series 6-27 was introduced to the public at the January New York Auto show.
- How the X-car name changed to Pontiac – There are several versions as to how the new X-car got renamed Pontiac. (1) Glancy stated upon his arrival as the new Oakland General Manager, “When I got to the plant I found designs for it hanging on the wall and over them someone had written ‘Pontiac’.” (2) Charles S. Mott stated on two occasions, “I was responsible for the Pontiac car.” “Well at least they built the car, which I named, and had it at the 1926 New York auto show in Lexington Avenue.” (3) The popular “noble red man” was enjoying something of a vogue in popular culture at the time in the 1920’s and this undoubtedly helped the advertising department promote the new car, since Pontiac was the name of a real past Indian Chief. (4) The name of the city the car would be produced in was named Pontiac. (5) Internal GM documents of 1924 show the X-car was often referred to as the Pontiac.
“Pontiac! They Build Excitement, The Story of an American Automobile Company, 1926-1992”
by Thomas E. Bonsall.
“Charles Kettering and the True Blue Oaklands” by Tim Dye (POCI Smoke Signals December 2016)