In the midst of perhaps the strangest spring in our collective generations, I have been struggling to overpower my natural cynicism by focusing on things I love: spending more time in the garage and with my lovely bride, finally finishing Bleak House, staring at Venus in the evening sky, and perusing my room full of classic ads and toys. As I thumbed through the April 1963 issue of Car and Driver recently, I found some classic ads that we all can enjoy.
On the back cover was my favorite, the ’63 Triumph Spitfire. Long an item on my list of favorite cars, I’ve never owned or driven a Spitfire, but I discussed them at length here. Motoring is always the most romantic when there are difficulties to be faced, such as a cool, damp day with a lukewarm heater and a folded top. The handsome couple enjoying their handsome new Triumph seems to be weathering the gale with aplomb.
Most advertisements in the “buff books,” however, were in black and white. In film, black and white sets a mood; in print, it bears the guilty fingerprints of the accounting department. In 1963, Shelby American was barely on the plus side of the ledger, so this cool half-page black and white ad was probably all they could afford. A few stats and an address was all ye got, and ye needed.
In glorious color, on the other hand, was an eight-page spread on Porsches that must be one of the most exciting pieces of marketing of the 1960s.
My only experience with a Porsche was a ride in a 928S when I was a young child, and although that super-speed limit rush through the gears was the most exciting of my first decade, I’ve never quite understood the Porsche cult. In fact, I’m so sick of seeing 911s on the covers of contemporary magazines that I don’t even read the articles.
Nevertheless, nothing in the storied history of the German car enchants me like a 356 coupe does. This colorful cutaway drawing is a ghostly image of a car I love: see here.
Porsche’s advertising approach was certainly different from that of other automakers. Mountains of text, graphs, specifications, and vaguely technical drawings gave prospective buyers more than a hint of what they could expect from their new swoopy air-cooled purchase.
To learn more in 1963, you were invited to write to Porsche of America itself, a slower but perhaps more romantic way to learn about a car than a flashy website.
Speaking of air-cooled German cars, Champion spark plugs claimed that you should use Champions because Volkswagen did. OK.
As a guy with some experience with Ford small-blocks, I appreciate this ad that touted the virtues of the new 289, which was a bigger-bored 260, which itself was a bigger-bored 221. The pictured engine was a high-performance version, something that an astute reader can ascertain not only from the text, but also from the lack of a vacuum advance canister on the distributor, a larger pulley on the generator, and the open air cleaner. This engine was available in the ’63 Fairlane.
Another of my favorite cars was in the April issue: the ’63 Riviera. The Riv needed little text; a picture is worth a thousand words.
A few weeks ago, Paul discussed the history of Studebaker’s V8 engine. This advertisement for the Lark invited interested customers to write directly to Andy Granatelli himself if they wanted to own a hotter version of the Lark.
Another of my favorite cars is the Volvo P1800. Jensen of England bodied the early versions, but their build quality and rustproofing was apparently not up to Volvo standards, so Volvo soon took responsibility for that task. The P1800 is one of those cars that shouldn’t have aged well but did. Its long lifespan belied the fact that its design said more about the 1950s than it did about the 1970s.
MG advertised regularly in the buff books. The 1100 was advertised as the “Sports Sedan” in this ad, probably because an 1100cc engine sounds more like something one would find on a Harley-Davidson than in a new family car. Instead, the MG has a “sports car power plant – the world’s number 1 competitive engine.” Well, the BMC B-Series did power a lot of race winners, but it might not have been the first choice for a population more accustomed to five-liters or more under the hood.
Dodge got their big 426 wedge-powered drag cars involved, even though the more obvious buyer might have been more inclined to read Hot Rod rather than Car and Driver. I wonder how many 426-powered Dodges found buyers in 1963, in America, compared to MG 1100s.
FIAT was a common advertiser in the early-’60s. The 600 is an icon, but I’d prefer the 1200 Spider.
The E-Type, ahem, XK-E, fits right in. I’ll take a coupe over a roadster, and I’d rather not think about the later 2+2 (personal preference).
Although the Tiger was hot on the heels of this ad, Sunbeam wanted the reader to wax nostalgic about its old sporting machines, and even a ’55 T-Bird of all things; could the ad men have known that a Ford engine was soon to find its way under the hood of the lesser Alpine?
Speaking of American small-blocks, Pennzoil recommended its Pennsylvania crude for your Fuelie Vette, and even did Chevy a solid by listing the specs of its hottest mouse motor.
I think we’ll complete our magazine thumb-through with a glimpse of the future: the Datsun SPL-310 (?). Within seven years, Datsun would take the sports car world by surprise with the gorgeous 240Z, but they were still establishing their presence, one small used car dealer and gas station at a time, in 1963.
I prefer to buy old Life, Look, and Saturday Evening Post magazines for their colorful ads for my beloved American cars, but the racier rags of the time offered ads where the cars were often more exciting than the copy or the photography. If I were a prospective new car purchaser/Car and Driver subscriber in April 1963, I’d be tempted by more than a few of these magnificent machines.