In 1911, an ad for the Brush Runabout, dubbed “The Everyman’s Car,” promised that “after six days of close application to your work–confined within four walls, perhaps–it is a blessing to be able to re-create yourself on the seventh day–in the open air.” The cost for such freedom? $485.
Taschen’s book 20th Century Classic Cars: 100 Years of Automotive Ads offers a curated look at over 400 images of vintage car porn, with print advertisements culled from graphic design historian Jim Heimann’s collection. These ads, along with a beautifully designed timeline, present a visual history of the race to design a car that was better, faster, and stronger than the one that came before.
The most stellar of the advertisements from the first half of the century were, for the most part, hand-painted. Even after color photography became mainstream, designers clung to painting as a preferred medium, as it could fantastically embellish their subjects. “Painters could render effects that photographers in that pre-digital age could not,” writes author Phil Patton, who covers car design for the New York Times. “They made cars seem futuristic; they elongated and widened them, romanticized them by emphasizing highlights and shadows and bringing out their sculptural qualities.”
By midcentury, romantic, painterly posters were replaced by ads that depicted cars as rock ‘n’ roll accessories. Elvis and the Beach Boys crooned about their wheels; American Motors offered a “blue jeans” edition of their vehicle; and one ad featured a tiger’s hide stretched over the hood of a Pontiac GTO (“Purrs if you’re nice. Snarls if you prod it.”). But after the rise of gas-guzzling Hummers and SUVs helped tip us into global warming, one suspects that this century’s car ads will have a decidedly different spin.
20th Century Classic Cars: 100 Years of Automobile Ads has just been re-released in a new size and price from Taschen. You can order it here for $19.99.