For Volume 4 of this series exploring travel-related ads with automotive themes, we’re firmly in the 1960s, and we’ll travel to the US West Coast and South, as well as to Italy, with a generous gas discount. Get ready for a bumpy ride back in time!
SAN DIEGO, 1960
The 1960s were likely a peak of an ad trope involving drivers asking directions from horseback riders. Here we have a tourist couple perched atop a Corvette and chatting with a charro (a Mexican term for an expert horseman).
Charros and Corvettes have a few things in common. They’re both fun and flashy, and both have demonstrated great staying power in the 60+ years since this ad was published. Corvettes are among the few 1960 car models that are still made, much in the tradition of its earlier forebears. Corvette still follows the same formula it has for decades… an exclusive, flamboyant and fast 2-seater sports car. Similarly, charro culture still thrives in Mexico and in the American Southwest.
Like the Corvette, charro culture is almost timeless. A main feature of charro culture is the charreria, similar to a bullfight or rodeo and featuring all the machismo one might expect. Different than North American rodeos, the charreria features multiple events such as bull riding, bronco riding, horsemanship demonstrations and more. The illustration above shows the capstone event, called El Paso de la Muerte (The Leap of Death), where a rider leaps from his own horse onto the back of a running untamed horse and rides it until it slows down.
Come to think of it, Corvettes are the Machismo Car, so there we have another similarity. Plus, central casting here did a great job of matching the Classic Cream Corvette with a palomino horse.
The thought of visiting Europe had some of the same drawbacks for Americans in 1960 as it does now – the price of fuel, for instance. Italy, however, offered an incentive to lure travelers who would otherwise be unnerved by high gas prices, namely a coupon scheme where tourists pay less at the pump than do Italian drivers. While not featuring any actual cars, this ad, with its inviting open road scene (and very artistic animated sun) aimed to catch the attention of magazine readers who were wishing for a European road trip vacation.
Through this program, tourists received a reduction in the price of gas by buying coupons at border fronts or at Automobile Club of Italy offices, at certain banks, and at the Italian State Tourist Office, which paid for this ad. Each tourist car was allotted 4 gallons of gas per day (down from 7 in 1950), and could save drivers 25-30% of the price of gas. Millions of dollars of coupons were provided to tourists annually.
Whether it was due to gas coupons or something else, Italy did something right in attracting tourists. This 1963 French cartoon lamented how within a few years Italy became the dominant Continental Europe tourist destination. I doubt Italy’s success was attributable solely to gas coupons, but the program was deemed successful enough to be continued into the 1980s.
I’ve been told that long ago, a family of four could embark on a camping trip without an SUV. It’s hard to believe, but this family of four seem to be having an enjoyable time with their compact canvas tent and their Buick. It’s tough to tell from this picture, but the Buick happens to be a convertible as well.
Another ad in the same series shows the same family enjoying the Magnolia State’s many offerings, but pay attention to the photo in the upper-left. Not only are they taking their vacation in a convertible with the top down, but it sure looks like Junior is sitting up in the back seat and gazing at whatever’s behind them.
I was born ten years after this ad was published, and by the time I was these kids’ age, convertibles were nearly extinct, and the thought of standing up while a convertible’s in motion was almost unfathomable. Times change awfully quickly. In the early 1960s, however, convertibles still accounted for between six and eight percent of US auto sales. After this period, it would seem truly unrealistic to feature a convertible on a family vacation.
This Virginia ad also featured a convertible, though it’s a couple in this shot along the Skyline Drive, and not a family. Still, romanticized travel ads featuring convertibles were becoming much scarcer.
What’s also interesting is that this ad highlights (in the text beneath the beach scene) the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, billed here as “Virginia’s newest world wonder.” For those not familiar with this roadway that connects Virginia’s Eastern Shore with the Hampton Roads region, it’s a 12-mile long engineering marvel completed in 1964. As its name implies, the connection contains a series of both bridges and tunnels, and itself was a tourist attraction for years following its dedication.
Once again, times change awfully quickly. A few decades later, it’s hard to imagine even the biggest public works project being either a source of civic pride or a tourist attraction.
Other installments in the Auto-Related Travel Ads series: