This week, let’s spin the clock back 60 years and check out the January 1959 issue of Motor Trend, which they dubbed their “World Show Issue!” Coverage took a look at all the core automotive segments (no trucks, sorry, those were just workhorses back then) and the broad range of models from an array of countries all trying to woo the American car buyer. The split that would impact Detroit for decades to come is also plain to see, as big, dramatically styled showboats were the primary domestic offerings, while imports served up an array of more practical and sporty machines.
Both the front and back covers were emblazoned with images of the array of cars that would covered inside the issue. Back in the days before easy online searches, Motor Trend was one of the best sources for details on cars for the budding car enthusiast. Annual subscriptions cost $3.50 ($30 adjusted), so the issues weren’t the cheap throwaways that we think of today when it comes to magazines (Motor Trend now costs $10 for an annual subscription). Such are the woes of the publishing world….
Motor Trend was also a good source source of information on “new” engineering features to be found on cars, though in 1959 at least, there really wasn’t much consequential news to cover. From Detroit at least, engineering features really were more about comfort and style than control, efficiency or safety.
Let’s see: swiveling seats, “wide tracks,” revised suspensions for cushier rides, smoother automatic transmissions, trying to extract more “efficiency” from big motors towing heavy cars–but minimal emphasis on improvements in subpar brakes. Yep, that was automotive innovation Detroit-style circa 1959.
Soft lighting, romance and a white car–perhaps this was Buick’s attempt to downplay the “angry” new look of its ’59 design, with the “frowning” headlights and “frowning” rear fins.
VW meanwhile was focusing on accessories. While the Bug’s appearance seemed never changing, the cars could be personalized with low-cost add-ons, a smart marketing approach to broaden the brand’s appeal.
Personalization was also a buzz word at Chevrolet, through a huge array of choices in models, engines, colors, trim and accessories. Hard to envision this large, bat-winged Biscayne as much of an “economy” model though …
Oddly, Pontiac’s ad in the January 1959 Motor Trend also emphasized economy rather than style, though at least there was mention of the new wide-track stance.
One of the more bizarre ads was from Skoda, touting its steel body and compact dimensions. However, in America circa 1959, any car from behind the Iron Curtain would have been a tough sale, no matter its attributes.
And of course it is funny to see a brake ad actually touting the benefits of asbestos! Ah yes, 1959 when the public was mesmerized by the “progress” of “man made innovation,” without a care in the world as to the environmental or health ramifications….though as we gleefully hurtle toward 5G mobile, for example, an argument could be made that history is repeating.
Here was an a “new” compact car from a domestic maker in 1959. Pity that Studebaker was seen as “damaged goods” but much of the buying public at this time.
Fabulous then, fabulous now–the crown jewels of Mercedes-Benz were among the most impressive cars available.
This practical little wagon pre-dates the small economy wagons that helped Japanese makes gain a foothold in the American market a few decades later.
Talk about an unusual “lifestyle” ad–no product beauty shots, just a tough looking guy with his bulldog, an expression of the “no nonsense” engineering-oriented types that Mopar was known to attract.
One of the pillars of the Auto Union group, the DKW was actually one of the pre-cursors to today’s Audi–in fact, it accounts for one of the four “rings” in the Audi logo, the others being Horch, Wanderer and of course Audi.
Harley Davidson got in on the advertising action as well–after all, many car enthusiasts probably also got into motorcycles.
Saab only ponied up for a small 1/4 page ad, but Motor Trend probably represented a wise use of their advertising dollars given the car fanatic composition of the magazine’s readership.
Another grouping of struggling Automotive brands, this time British–Rootes was ultimately sold to Chrysler in 1967 and then the battered remnants went to Peugeot in 1979 as Chrysler teetered on the edge of bankruptcy.
The Citroen was arguably the most advanced mass market car available anywhere in 1959. Likely too edgy for many Americans, it was still a quirky triumph of engineering with uniquely French attributes.
Based on this glamorous full color ad on the inside back cover of the January 1959 Motor Trend, it was hard to fathom that the DeSoto brand would be gone within a few years.
Be sure to check back tomorrow to see Motor Trend‘s run down on 1959 Family Cars and Luxury Cars, segments that included most of the output from Detroit’s Big Three.