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Body By Fisher

The emblem of quality was an important part of General Motors history

Jim Maxwell - June 28, 2012 10:00 AM

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The original “Fisher Body Corporation Plant 1” building in Detroit, Michigan, where the closed bodies werefirst built.

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This quaint body, a forerunner of modern streamlined bodies, was hand-built and represents early bodybuilding of the Fisher Company.

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One of the numerous innovations of Fisher Bodies was the introduction of the solid steel Turret Top, a great advance in construction and a move away from fabric tops. Other car manufacturers were said to have spread rumors at the time that this type of seamless metal roof would drum at speeds (with the windows rolled up) and cause damage to the passenger’s hearing. The Turret Top became the industry standard and eventually used by all manufacturers.

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The “Unisteel” Body by Fisher provided double-walled protection to occupants, formed by welding the inner and outer panels at all strategic points, offering greater stress resistance than in the past.

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Integral bodies for the rear-engined Chevrolet Corvair in 1959 pass through the paint booths at Willow Run plant in Michigan.

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There were several different “Body by Fisher” emblem styles over the years including this beige-hued one that was fitted on 1932-’50 Buicks.

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Cars from the ’60s and ’70s featured this style of emblem, as used on Cadillacs, Chevrolets (except Corvettes), Buicks, Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs.

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Body by Fisher created this “Napoleonic Coach” logo on July 10, 1923. It is said that this coach design was as commonly known to Americans as the face of the penny until the decision was made in 1984 to discontinue its use.

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This is a uniform patch as worn by the thousands of Body by Fisher workers in the assembly plants. Many Body by Fisher memorabilia items can still be found at automotive swap meets and on eBay.

 

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The Fisher Company also promoted a “Body by Fisher Craftsman’s Guild” where thousands of boys all over America would build miniature model Napoleonic coaches in nationwide competitions for university scholarships of four years each.

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“Look to the Body!” were the opening words on this November, 30, 1929 Body by Fisher advertisement that ran in the Literary Digest magazine. Artist McClelland Barclay was the artist and the “Fisher Girl” theme was very successful and generated lots of attention to General Motors products.

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This 1936 Buick was the feature vehicle on this ad promoting the all-new Turret Top design of General Motors cars. The copy read: “Clearly as a date line, this single feature unmistakably marks the modern automobile for the cars of even the recent past.”

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Children were often featured in Body by Fisher ads and this particular one is titled “Breezes are fun – but Drafts are Out!” The selling point was the new GM Fisher No Draft Ventilation system, which pioneered the addition of a small pane of glass pivoted on top and bottom to control air inside the car.

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Women were often the driver in Body by Fisher ads and perhaps it was used as a subliminal way to reach females as a means to attract them to the “safe and secure” family of GM vehicles.

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Evening by Nob Hill, Gown by Pierre Balmain, Star Chief by Pontiac, Body by Fisher.” This ad features a beautiful woman next to a ’54 Pontiac in front of The Fairmont Hotel.

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A 1958 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Holiday Coupe flying through the air with the new “Sound Barrier” Body by Fisher. The message here: Body by Fisher’s Life-Span Build with roof structure, side members and steel foundation integrally joined into one unit, to shrug off the shakes and shuts out road noises.

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Gown by Larry Aldrich and a theatre filled with Fisher Body seats in an infinite variety of colors and fabrics, all covered in rich materials, deeply upholstered and hand sewn, made for an interesting ad.

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“Basic Black: the secret of Fisher’s silent ride.” The theme here is more than just an attractive woman dressed in black and holding a black feline, it’s about Fisher bodies and the Sound Barrier Silencing, where the cars feature asphalt, felt, vinyls and black rubber, like riding a carpet of black velvet! It was a very creative use of the color black and how it directly relates to the Body by Fisher products.

 

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“Step into 1965” was the opening line and the featured vehicle wasn’t a new General Motors car but a classic Napoleonic coach with a beautiful woman dressed in a gown from Henri Bendel. “This year, step up to the only car body known by name. The solidly constructed, carefully crafted, longest-lasting car body ever. Remember, so much of the buy is in the body. And Body by Fisher makes a better buy: Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac.”

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This on the go ad featured a Pontiac Bonneville from 1968 with an open trunk, a girl in a wet suit and a trunk load of sports gear for a weekend of fun. “Perhaps we’ve inflated the point a bit — but we’re trying to demonstrate how much usable trunk space built into a Body by Fisher.

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A ’65 Impala, woman in gown by Christian Dior and these words: “Fisher gives you the red carpet treatment (in 26 beautiful colors).” The message here was that their deep loomed, contour-fitted carpeting of your choice completes a truly elegant living-room-on-wheels.

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The original Fisher Body Company was formed in Detroit, Michigan, in 1908 by brothers Fred and Charles Fisher, who were experienced coach craftsmen of the third generation.

Their grandfather had been skilled in the art of building carriages in Germany before the family moved to America in 1835, eventually settling in the area of Norwalk, Ohio. Their father, Lawrence Fisher, was a carriage builder and trained them in the craft at his blacksmith shop, and stressed craftsmanship above all else. Their uncle, Albert A. Fisher, had become a successful carriage maker and was based in Detroit.

Uncle Albert helped finance the endeavor but soon wanted out. Fred and Charles had wild enthusiasm and ambition towards building inexpensive closed cars, which had previously been only available on luxury cars of the day, as open cars with wooden frames were common in the early days of the industry.

Legend has it that Henry Ford had once told Albert that there was “no one in their right mind who would ride behind that much glass” while other critics claimed motorists would not want to be “cooped up” inside a totally enclosed automobile. However, the Fisher brothers felt the need to mass-produce entirely enclosed bodies that would protect drivers and passengers from the elements. They especially felt this style of all-weather automobile would be considerably more marketable to women and families. Eventually, they brought their other brothers (Lawrence P., William, Edward, Alfred and Howard) into the business.

The Fisher brothers also knew that these new automobiles — which put power to the ground via its rear wheels — needed an entirely different technology to deal with the greatly different stresses on the body as compared to the horse-drawn carriages which were pulled from the front. In addition, these new bodies would require suitable engineering advances to deal with the greater vibrations and higher speeds that went along with the motorized vehicles. As Fisher’s volume went up, their unit price per closed body went down, which greatly helped make these closed cars more popular with the customers.

The names of the cars that were equipped with Fisher bodies in the early years was an honor roll of the automobile industry: Buick, Cadillac, Chalmers, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Churchfield, Cleveland, Dodge, Essex, Ford, Hudson, LaSalle, Maxwell, Marquette, Oakland, Oldsmobile, Peerless, Pontiac, Regal, Scripps Booth, Studebaker, Viking and Wills St. Clair. In 1916, the company became the Fisher Body Corporation and it had become one of the world’s largest manufacturing outfits, with over 40 plants and in excess of 100,000 employees. Fisher Body Corporation owned 160,000 acres of land (used for timber) and was said to have, at that time, used more wood, carpet, tacks and thread than any other company in the world. Part of their winning formula for building closed bodies was their development of interchangeable wooden body components that didn’t require hand fitting. The company earned a reputation for quality craftsmanship at low prices.

In 1919, a deal made between William C. Durant of General Motors and Fred Fisher gave GM three-fifths interest in the thriving Fisher Body Corporation. The 300,000 shares of common stock was worth some $27.6 million, and General Motors now could be assured that Fisher would build their car bodies in the future.

Constant improvements in body design and engineering were imperative in holding the leadership that Body by Fisher had attained. By 1920, Fisher had developed scientific insulation to reduce road noise as well as providing greater occupant comfort against the weather. In 1923, Fisher Body made one of its most important contributions to the automobile world when it pioneered the use of lacquer instead of paint and varnish for the bodies. This proved to be one of the greatest advantages toward attaining volume production, thereby helping to bring the closed car within reach of the average buyer. This new painting process meant that instead of taking four weeks to paint and trim a body finished in varnish, it now took only six hours. This new method also permitted a greater variation in color finishes, which greatly helped satisfy the growing public interest in colors. The use of a lacquer finish greatly contributed to the new possibilities in automobile styling.

Fisher adopted a Napoleonic coach as its company logo in 1923. The emblem was designed to symbolize the ultimate in hand-built craftsmanship. The design itself was a combination of two French coaches — one used at Napoleon’s coronation ceremony and the other at his wedding to Marie Louise of Habsburg-Lorraine, Arch-Duchess of Austria.

Fisher was the first to slant windshields to eliminate glare for oncoming drivers and install safety plate glass in 1927. Adjustable sun visors were taken for granted later, but Fisher was the first to use them.

In 1926, General Motors purchased the outstanding minority interest in Fisher Body, making it a division of GM. According to reports, 664,720 shares of stock were purchased for the remaining 40 percent of Fisher Body stock and the deal was big with a market value of $208 million.

The 1930s saw a number of “Fisher Firsts” which included “No Draft Ventilation” in 1933, which was the addition of side vent windows that utilized air currents generated by the forward movement of the vehicle to prevent inside window fogging, cool the interior in hot weather, remove smoke and to bring in fresh air. Another development came in 1935 with the one-piece Turret Top, where the roof of the car was drawn and formed from a single sheet of seamless steel.

In 1936, the first “Unisteel” Body by Fisher, created by welding the steel inner and outer panels into a permanent shock-resisting structural unit, came into being. That same year brought dual windshield wipers, front door arm rests and inside door locks as Fisher firsts.

After General Motor’s involvement in Fisher Body, there was a big push in the way of national advertising of the complete line of GM automobiles with “Body by Fisher.” The campaign was truly legendary and brought beautiful art from McClelland Barclay (in the earliest ads) to the attention of the buying public. The artwork showed fashionable women to promote the “Body by Fisher” products. Later the ads switched to photographs to promote the line of GM cars and then in the 1950s, photographer Edgar de Evia used high-end fashion as a part of the presentation.

To anyone who has owned or ridden in a General Motors product over the years, they would have seen the oval-shaped “Body by Fisher” Napoleonic emblem that was usually mounted in the doorsill area of the vehicle, or on the sides of the seat frame.

The last of the Fisher brothers died in 1972 and the seven brothers left a legacy that will long be remembered. In 1984, someone at General Motors felt it would be best to disband the Fisher Body Division and just identify it as the General Motor’s own assembly plants. By doing this, and dissolving all of the famed “Body by Fisher” legacy, a great deal of the history that was such an important part of General Motors growth from the 1920s all the way to the early 1980s could no longer be communicated.

The move came to eventually remove the “Body by Fisher” insignias on General Motors vehicles. Muscle car era GM cars being restored today and those prior still wear the Body by Fisher script. It is a rich legacy of a once huge (and proud) division of the company. Many of its advertising campaigns provide a window into the times that should never be closed for the automotive heritage.

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