Design Notes: 1940 Oldsmobile
Since I’m on a historical note already, here are a few other interesting Oldsmobile anecdotes from the time period I stumbled upon:
- In 1940 the company was still called Olds Motor Works. The name was officially changed to the Oldsmobile Division of General Motors on January 1, 1942. That happened to be the same day the U.S. government banned sales of civilian cars in preparation for war-related production.
- In 1940 Oldsmobile introduced the Phaeton (shown above right), a top-of-the-line 98 that documentation repeatedly referred to as Oldsmobile’s “first four-door convertible.” A mere 50 were built that first year and around 120 in its second; it saw no third year as four-door convertibles were already going extinct in 1940 when the Phaeton was curiously introduced.
- For 1941 Oldsmobile’s product line branched from three to six models by adding the cylinder count, either 6 or 8, to each series (e.g., the 60 Series body styles were subdivided as a 66 or 68). This led to a well-known top-of-the-line model name, the 98. By 1949, the 66, 68, 78 and 96 were gone but Oldsmobile’s fusion of the 98’s new and powerful Rocket V8 with the smaller, lighter 76 created a new, fleet-footed third model, the 88.
Also somewhat pertinent to the setting is what life was like in 1940. So, I dug up some information about the period. In 1940:
- average wages were $1,725 per year
- the average new house cost $3,920
- average rent for a house was $30 per month
- the cost of a gallon of gas was 11¢
- a First Class stamp cost 3¢
- Life magazine cost 10¢
- McDonalds opened its first restaurant with a 25-item, mostly BBQ, menu
- Walt Disney premiered Pinocchio (its second full-length movie) and Fantasia
- Woody Woodpecker and Tom & Jerry debuted, and a certain rascally rabbit officially became known as Bugs Bunny
- the first televised basketball and ice hockey games were aired
- the U.S. was still comprised of 48 states
- the federal debt was $50.7 billion
- the Fair Labor Standards Act (40 hour work week) went into effect
- an election victory made Franklin D. Roosevelt the U.S.’ first three-term president (he was actually elected to a fourth term but died months into it; subsequently, in 1947, Congress passed the 22nd Amendment that established the current two-term limit)
One more thing before moving onto Oldsmobile’s 1940 styling. It was Oldsmobile that stood alone in the industry with the first fully automatic transmission available for 1940. In recent years others had come close but all prior systems required manual clutching at some point in the shifting process (competing transmissions only automated the forward gears).
Besides that, Oldsmobile’s Hydramatic transmission, complete with four forward gears, was available on all of their models for a mere $57. It was a great success for the brand. The option eventually filtered to other brands, including Cadillac. (Left is an ad for a 1940 Olds 90 Series with Hydramatic transmission, “It’s a thrill on a hill!” Click to see a larger version.)
So how about some of those behind-the-scenes pics, huh? They’re right below.
I didn’t get any information with the pictures but the selection sheets usually have bits of information that can clear up or add to the confusion. (Must obtain decoder ring.) In this case there was a good nugget of text with each so I will just share what was written. Also, I claim no correlation between the order in which I show them and their actual age or date of shoot.
This first one is the most daring of the bunch. For some reason, it seems strange to see cars of that design being molded out of clay. (Click on the thumbnails below to see the full size versions. There are two of each angle because I zoomed in on both for a better look at the details.)
The memo for the first two pictures (remember there are two close-ups) is the same and reads, “October 19, 1938; proposal 1940 Oldsmobile front end #1.” They also have an indexer note that reads, “1940 Oldsmobile proposal clay model; note retractable headlights.”
Continue to page 3, below.