Oakland Motors was an interesting start up auto company in Michigan that was in existence for only a few years. The Oakland automobile may be a vintage car you don't hear a lot about. In that respect, it's almost like a forgotten car brand. One reason perhaps is that the automobile company wasn't around long before it was absorbed into a much larger company.
The Oakland automobile was first manufactured in 1907 by the Oakland Motor Car Company in Pontiac Michigan, just a few miles north of Detroit. It's founder was Edward M. Murphy. Prior to that time, Murphy had been running what was called the Pontiac Buggy Company and was turning out carriages. It became apparent to Murphy that the days of the horseless carriage were starting to come to an end and if his company's sales were to continue in the right direction, he would need to build and sell what some would call motor carriages. The writing was on the wall.
After only two years of building his Oakland cars, in 1909 Edward Murphy ended up selling half of his shares of both his car and carriage company to General Motors and suddenly died the same year. After Murphy's death, GM picked up the remaining shares, which were about 50 percent of the company, and turned the Oakland Motor Car Company into the Oakland Motors Division of General Motors Corporation. This quick merger with GM just a few years after the Oakland Motor Car Company was founded is probably the main reason not a lot is known or written about about Edward M. Murphy. Unfortunately, his involvement in motorized transportation lasted only two to three years. He certainly can be credited with understanding the changing times in public transportation.
The very first Oakland car produced by Murphy used a two cylinder engine that rotated counter clockwise and was popular at the time in France. One year later, the car came with a four cylinder engine and sales were running about 5,000 vehicles per year. These early sales figures no doubt attracted the attention of General Motors. Since GM took over the company so young in it's existence, most of the history of the car brand involves General Motors design and innovation.
See our article on the 1935 Rolls Royce Phantom II
When GM picked up the Oakland brand they placed it, on a price point basis, above the Chevrolet yet below the higher priced brands such as Oldsmobile and Buick. The top brand for GM was Cadillac. As an example of Oakland's early sales figures while under GM ownership, about 5,800 cars were sold in 1912. To give you an idea of how the division grew, in the year 1926 there were an estimated 133,000 Oakland's and Pontiac's sold and just two years later 240,000. To put this in perspective, in 1928, Chevrolet sold about 1.2 million vehicles. Out of the entire GM line, the Chevrolet was the lowest priced vehicle with every other brand rising up the ladder.
Each automobile moving up the chain had different appointments and luxury items that would justify a higher price. As far as the oakland was concerned, the car reached it's highest annual selling level in 1928 with more than 60,000 cars built and sold. Obviously, the same method of selling cars along an upward price chain is ongoing today.
The car shown in this article is the 1929 Oakland which is obviously not restored and is greatly deteriorated. I found it interesting in as much as you really don't come across unrestored cars of this vintage and certainly you don't see a lot of old Oakland's around. This particular Oakland automobile is at a garage at a mining museum along with many more non-automotive artifacts of the 1910's and 1920's. The 1929 Oakland sedan was a moderately priced automobile and was considered by buyers as a luxury car.
It had fine luxury appointments and really was priced for a middle class buyer looking for something special and higher end without breaking the bank. The Oakland Motors Division of GM also introduced a companion vehicle in 1926 named the "Pontiac". Companion vehicles for a single brand was quite in vogue during the twenties. The original Pontiacs came on the market with a 40 HP Straight 6 cylinder engine. Pontiac soon attained impressive sales figures and by 1933 the Oakland brand nameplate was discontinued in favor of the Pontiac. The division name was changed to the Pontiac Motor Car Company. With the economy as it was during the early 1930's, there understandably were a lot of changes in pricing and models and what was offered at a particular price. In other words, while cars were being sold, it was a tough environment.
There are a few around the country displaying restored 1929 Oakland automobiles. One is the Smithsonian Museum Auto Collection in Washington DC. Another is the Pontiac-Oakland Museum in Pontiac Illinois.
(Advertisement image is from the public domain. Oakland sedan photos from author's private collection)