It may be hard to believe, living as we are in today’s hyper-competitive global automotive marketplace, that General Motors used to sell a little over half of the new cars and trucks in the United States. And as many experts will claim, that was largely due to the fact that GM’s individual brands weren’t just competing with those of Ford, Chrysler, the independents and a small smattering of imports, but they were also competing with each other. Up until the mid-1970s or so, Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac all designed and built their own engines (and occasionally transmissions too) and used body shells and chassis of differing overall and wheelbase lengths for their full-size passenger cars. Sure, some sheetmetal stampings and certain components like axles and window glass were shared, but in the erstwhile biggest and richest company on earth’s heyday, its five American car divisions basically behaved like five small car companies unto themselves.
However, it should be noted that the five divisions did share a few assembly plants, as well as the same in-house coachwork subsidiary: Fisher Body. This fantastic promotional film from 1950 gives a brief history of Fisher Body (including its landmark creation, the mass produced “turret top” – a.k.a. fully-enclosed, as opposed to fabric-roofed – steel body), as well as taking viewers through the process of crafting a then-new, now-classic Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick and/or Cadillac body. For anoraks like us, it’s neat to see where the car manufacturing process has changed since 1950 (e.g. exponentially more automation and joining the cowl and floor pan to the roof and rear sheetmetal, rather than creating the sides as single stampings with the roof and floor sandwiched between them), and where it hasn’t (e.g. mammoth presses smooshing flat sheets of steel into body parts and workers guiding the seats into place).