Vintage Ads: Automotive-Related Travel Ads Vol. 1 – New Mexico, Germany & Oregon

Vintage automotive-related travel ads

Vintage travel advertisements are often delectable to admire.  Awash in sentimentality and devoid of any hassles involving travel, they conjure up exactly what they’re supposed to – a longing to get away and enjoy some other place.  The only thing better is when the visuals themselves include automotive or driving imagery.

Travel ads featuring cars (or at least roadways) were relatively common from the 1930s through the 1960s, and I have collected some particularly interesting examples for this multi-part series.

This series will go in roughly chronological order, and in Volume 1 here we’ll look at advertisements promoting New Mexico, Germany and Oregon – all beckoning tourists to drive on over and spend some time.  So enjoy spending some time admiring these ads and their backstories.



1937 New Mexico Travel ad

Illustrated travel art often evokes a yearning for bygone days, and this 1937 ad from the New Mexico State Tourist Bureau is no different – with its deliberately anonymous streamlined roadster, dreamy scenery and friendly public servant.  However, the most interesting part of this ad is that it subtly addresses a quirk in US interstate travel that has been lost to time.  Several states, including New Mexico, operated border checkpoints called “ports of entry” where drivers were often hassled and squeezed for money by state authorities.  This ad, published shortly after the state eliminated such checkpoints for noncommercial vehicles, tried to restore the state’s reputation among American travelers.

New Mexico, and several other western states operated ports of entry on major roads.  At these checkpoints, officials would collect fees from travelers (drivers license fees, gasoline taxes, etc), even for private vehicles.  New Mexico’s ports of entry were particularly onerous – tourists often reported being “cross-examined” by port employees and charged arbitrary fees.  Some travel guides even advised cross-country drivers to steer clear of New Mexico to avoid these extorsions annoyances.

New Mexico liberalized its Port of Entry laws in 1937, exempting tourists from most fees, and in the process rebranded the facilities as “Ports of Welcome” instead.  Doing so ushered in what we now refer to as welcome centers.  In their early years, these Ports of Welcome were staffed with uniformed state employees who provided tourist information and assisted travelers in trip planning.  This Gateways ad was an attempt to publicize that New Mexico now welcomed those tourists it had once been thought to repel.

New Mexico still operates ports of entry – mandatory stops for commercial vehicles on major routes – and these are sometimes co-located with tourist information centers that distribute maps and brochures to travelers.  Modern drivers don’t quite expect to be “welcomed as would befit a royal traveler,” as stated in the 1937 ad, but folks are likely glad to see clean facilities and helpful staff.   Few travelers, though, who wander into a visitor center such as this one can imagine the history of these stops, or how their creation was worthy of a national advertising campaign.



1938 Germany travel ad with Audi 225 Front Roadster

When one thinks of late 1930s Germany, “tourism” isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind.  It wasn’t for most Americans at the time either, and Germany’s government created the German Railroads Information Office to address negative perceptions of their country.  Of course, this was no ordinary tourism agency.  It was an arm of the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda – its mission wasn’t primarily to bring American visitors across the Atlantic, but rather to counter what it saw as critical disinformation against the Third Reich.

Throughout the 1930s, this Office became increasingly busy, and at around the time this ad was published, its staff moved to the Renaissance-style Manhattan building shown on the bottom-right.  The building itself, incidentally, had an automotive background.  Since its construction a decade earlier, it had been used by the Uppercu Cadillac Corp. as a “salon” for custom-built cars.

For its promotional shot here, the Propaganda Ministry used a view of Heidelberg Castle from across the Neckar River.  But more prominent than the castle or Heidelberg’s Old Bridge is the car in the foreground… and this isn’t a typical workaday car.  It’s an Audi 225 Front Roadster, one of only two built (as prototypes) for the 1935 Berlin Motor Show.  Though one of the most beautiful designs of the 1930s, this roadster is a bit of an oddity in a tourist shot, being a concept car from three years earlier.  And with only two built, a tourist – or anyone else for that matter – would be rather unlikely to see one.  Still, it made for a picturesque scene and the Propaganda officials likely thought it highlighted Germany’s technological prowess and aesthetic qualities.

But let’s end on a positive note here.  Although neither of the original two Audi 225 Front roadsters survived, Audi re-created this spectacular car for its 2009 centennial celebration.  The re-creation now resides at the Audi Museum Mobile in Ingolstadt – so unlike in the 1930s, visitors to Germany today can easily find one of these cars if so desired, and admire it up close.


OREGON, 1948, 1952 and 1955

1948 Oregon travel ad with DeSoto

Following World War II, advertisements seeking the attention of American tourists proliferated, as families found themselves with more resources, and an increased ability to travel.  Oregon was among the most prolific advertisers in this era, with the State Highway Commission (parent agency of the Travel Information Division) setting aside $175,000 in 1949 alone for print advertising.  Similar ad outlays were made throughout the early 1950s.  Advertisements like these appeared in magazines such as National Geographic, The Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan and scores of other publications.

The 1948 ad above was one of the first in this series, featuring two tourists photographing Salt Creek Falls next to their DeSoto.

1952 Oregon travel ad with Studebaker

This 1952 ad, showing two couples parking their Studebaker in a meadow beneath South Sister Mountain, is an example how some things have barely changed over seven decades.

Panoramic Google image located here.

Here’s a modern scene from the same vantage point, courtesy of Google.  Seventy-one years later, tourists still wander the same meadow enjoying the mountain views… though the parking area is cordoned off, and there are no more grazing cattle.

Our third Oregon ad here was published in 1955, though it features a Plymouth woody wagon that was at least 6 years old at the time.  The picnicking couple seem to be waving at the woody’s driver, so maybe they’re thinking “Wow, out here in Oregon, people still drive those old cars!”  Not too many six-year-old wagons would serve as suitable focal points for a tourism ad, but this woody accomplished its job well.

And this is another example of time-stands-still scenery.  The photo was taken at a lodge along the Metolius River near Camp Sherman.  That lodge property is now a resort, and a 2013 Google review photo (left, above) was taken from exactly the same vantage point – notice even the mountain snow line is the same.  It would be awfully tempting for a Plymouth woody owner to head up there and try to re-create the shot!



Other installments in the Auto-Related Travel Ads series:

Volume 2: Canada, Bermuda, Las Vegas & Valley Forge

Volume 3: South Africa, Malta, England & Wales

Volume 4: San Diego, Italy, Mississippi & Virginia