Despite being about 40 years too young to be a target demographic, I enjoyed reading Reader’s Digest a lot as a young boy. My mother had every copy from around 1979 to 1997, and I read every one of them until they fell apart. Much to my mother’s chagrin, I would also trade them with Ms. Ruth, then the librarian at my school. And trading with her was the best, because she had even older magazines in her collection. And crucially, older ads.
One day not too long after I had started middle school, I smuggled a copy to school in what was my first, and no doubt dweebiest rule violation ever. In my defense I was in the middle of reading about a man called Eugene Zebre, who got stuck for a couple of days in his Chevrolet Cavalier because of snow. I simply couldn’t wait to see if he actually had made it out alive (because the Internet seems to have forgotten about Mr. Zebre’s ordeal, yes he did). Ms. Ruth noticed and told me he that I was welcome to come to the library and pick out from this huge collection, which dated back to 1960. It was there that I discovered the joy of painted ads.
Whereas the ads that I was used to employed photography and shiny, electric colors to convey motion, joie de vivre, and a sense of accomplishment that would stem from buying the product; the ones found in those old magazines were pastel-colored snippets of joy. Page upon page of advertisements for radios (they have transistors in them; high-tech!), typewriters, cigarettes (scandalous!) and the ones that piqued my interest the most, cars. It was one of those ads that first caught my attention while leafing idly through a well-worn 1960 edition.
And here is the ad in question. It took me a couple of days to find it but it’s all worth it just to see it again. I’ll be the first to admit that if you actually lived when this ad was released and were looking for a compact from the Big Three the Falcon was probably the least likely to get your blood pumping with excitement. The Corvair was rear-engined and the Olds F-85 had a novel Aluminum V8. The Pontiac Tempest had rear independent suspension with swing axles, which resulted in exciting handling; not always the right kind, though.
If you wanted novel styling or just were weird, the Valiant was for you. But if you were born in the early ‘90s it was a completely different and interesting car. And look at the people driving it. One of them is wearing a hat; have you ever seen someone in the city wearing a hat. That’s so cool!
I was quite an impressionable kid, to put it mildly. And I didn’t know or care about the endless revisions and extensions the Falcon platform would go through over the decades, much less about its long lease on life granted by Ford’s South American division. All I cared about was that it didn’t look like anything I had seen on the road and that made it instantly cool.
The Falcon was for the uptight citizen that had decided these godforsaken machines have become too big and too flashy and just wanted sensible transportation. In other words, the VW-Studebaker-Rambler crowd. This seemed to work, as of all the vehicles listed above the Falcon was the fastest selling one and more than a few have survived to this day. Like this 1961 shot and uploaded to the cohort by Joseph Dennis in front of the Willis (nee Sears) Tower. As far as I can tell the only differences between it and the one in the ad of my dreams was the requisite yearly revisions to the grille. Being a 1961 there could either be a 144 or 170 cubic inch inline-6 bringing power to the rear wheels through a three-on-the-tree or a two-speed Ford-O-Matic.
Here’s a 1960 example in much better condition by Yohai Rodin to show what I am on about. Miss Ruth and I kept interchanging magazines throughout the school year until summer vacation. She passed away in the middle of it. I was…more shaken than my less literary-inclined classmates. My mother’s collection got flooded and so only a few magazines survived. They’re destroyed and ragged by now. Years after her death and through the magic of networking I found her granddaughter and tried to make a bid for her collection. Naturally, someone had beaten me to it. Hopefully they’re taking good care of them, who knows what other kid may be fascinated by old articles and ads.