Vintage Ad Tropes: The Joy of Driving

1961 Oldsmobile F-85 Ad

After staring at literally thousands of vintage car ads, one of the most striking differences between vintage and modern ads is how much vintage ads focus on the simple pleasure of just getting in your car and driving. People are always smiling, often grinning from ear to ear in vintage ads! The activity being depicted was originally called motoring, and later generations called it cruising. Whatever it goes by, it is all but extinct now (at least on four wheels).

1905 Ford Model F ad

The genesis of this trope is as old as the auto itself. At the dawn of the automobile era, every car was a luxury car, even Ford, and every drive was a thrilling adventure for driver and passengers alike.


1937 Buick Ad

This driving for the sake of driving (joie de drive, if you will) permeates almost every automotive ad from the early 20th century until roughly the 1960s. Of course, like all ads, these are pure fantasy. The protagonists in the ads seldom have to deal with blowouts, boiling radiators, vapor lock, and breakdowns, all of which were common occurrences when traveling by car well into the mid-20th century. But it doesn’t matter, because look how much fun everyone is having!


1946 Mercury Ad

What is joie de drive? It is the simple act of getting in your car and driving for the sake of driving. The destination, if there even is one, is secondary at best. For most of these ads, no destination is shown, implied, or even necessary.


Joie de Drive takes many forms. On nice Sunday mornings after church, Dad would sometimes take a long way back home, detouring to some back country roads. There was no purpose to this, no extra stops. Just enjoying the drive, and maybe a chance to listen to a few extra Neil Diamond songs on the 8-track player.


1960 Studebaker Lark Ad


You don’t have to have an open-top car to experience joie de drive, but it helps.


1958 Chevrolet Ad


You don’t have to roll down the windows to experience joie de drive, but it helps.



You can even experience joie de drive in an Edsel.


The joy of leaving your car behind.


Alas, I think we (both advertisers and consumers) have largely lost the concept of joie de drive, as colorful cars with grinning drivers have given way to utilitarian SUV and trucks in dour, colorless shades of gray. Nothing wrong with SUVs or trucks, but such vehicles are inherently more about the destination than the journey: Dropping off the kids, going to the store, returning home with a few bags of mulch, or driving up to the campsite or trailhead. What happens between the departure point and destination is now considered a chore best left for Elon’s AI to handle – certainly nothing to be enjoyed. No one jumps in an SUV or pickup just to go for a joy ride.


1957 Chevrolet Ad

And yes, I realize that most 1957 Chevrolets spent most of their time being used for the exact same mundane purposes back in the day. But at least the ads at least focused a little more on the joy of the journey and not just the joy of the destination.


1958 Plymouth Ad

I feel blessed that I still own a car that exists simply for the pleasure of driving. On a nice summer evening, Mrs. H. and I (not pictured above) will still put the top down, drive around to nowhere in particular and, if we’re very lucky, get to experience a little bit of joie de drive.