Few things capture the aura of a bygone time like a photograph of an everyday scene. And this picture of a restaurant in Fairfax, Virginia from 1980 serves as a good illustration. Readers from the U.S. East Coast may recognize the restaurant as a Roy Rogers franchise, a fast food restaurant popular in the 1970s and ’80s. The parking lot provides a good snapshot of cars at a bustling restaurant 36 years ago.
The first car that jumps out from this picture is the Plymouth Fury taxicab in the foreground. This appears to be a 1972-73 model, making it the equivalent of, say, a 2008 Crown Victoria taxi today… still relatively common, but it won’t be for long.
In the row in front of the restaurant sit 7 cars – and 6 of them are two-doors. How many years has it been since two-doors outnumbered four-doors in any parking lot? First on the left is a Fox Mustang, which would have been virtually a new car when this picture was taken. Next to the Mustang sits a 1978-79 Corolla painted a shade of mustard yellow that had its brief moment in the sun during the late 1970s, along with kitchen appliances of a similar color. Although only two years old at the time this picture was taken, the Corolla looks downright dated sitting next to that new Mustang.
An avocado green Ford Maverick and a brown early-’70s Grand Prix come next – continuing our trend of two-door cars. Given that Roy Rogers was a family restaurant, it’s likely that several of these two-door cars carried families with a few kids – something that’s rarely seen any longer. Wrapping out the row is a Datsun B-210, a Monte Carlo and a Ford LTD, the row’s sole four-door.
As it name implies, Roy Rogers was a western-themed fast-food restaurant promoted by its namesake actor/singer. The exterior sign featured a covered wagon, and on the far side of this sign was apparently the designated parking area for full-size Oldsmobiles.
Rogers teamed up with the Marriott Corporation on the restaurant deal, and many Roy Rogers restaurants were re-branded from some of Marriott’s other chain restaurants. With an advertising/promotion boost from a celebrity, the Roy Rogers chain became very popular – and (speaking from experience) the roast beef, fried chicken and burgers were all very good.
As one would expect, Roy himself did much of the promotion work. Here he is shown at a Marriott hotel in nearby Arlington, with the hotel’s shuttle car (not a van as would be customary today, but rather a Ford Country Squire wagon), en route to a restaurant grand opening.
Times change for both cars and buildings. Today, the former Roy Rogers building contains an Einstein Bagels franchise – similarly popular, but with a vastly different focus. The cars are vastly different as well. One striking difference is that it looks like the world has been covered in volcanic ash – look at the somber paint colors. No more harvest orange or avocado green, just mostly austere hues of gray and blue. Six of the nine vehicles have a hatchback of some kind, while the Dodge Challenger is the sole two-door car in the lineup.
There’s something to be said for both old and new scenes here – both have their own sets of qualities. But if given a choice, I think I’d take a Roy Rogers roast beef sandwich with a side order of avocado Maverick.