It’s time for Volume 3 of this series exploring travel-related ads that feature automotive themes, as well as some of the backstory for each ad. For today’s installment, we’re journeying to South Africa, to Malta and then to the British Isles. Enjoy the adventure, and the cars!
SOUTH AFRICA, 1959
When one thinks of the Plymouth car brand, South Africa probably isn’t a market that jumps to mind, yet Plymouths were sold there since the 1920s. Information about exactly what models were sold in South Africa prior to 1960 (when Chrysler Corporation took an ownership stake in a Cape Town assembly plant) is somewhat sparse, but this ad showing an early-1950s right-hand-drive Plymouth sedan on a Kruger National Park self-guided safari gives some indications as to what was available.
South Africa’s parliament established the South African Tourist Corporation shortly after World War II in order to bring more American and British tourists to the country. While this agency’s mission included domestic projects such as incentivizing hotel and road development, the most significant thrust of tourist promotion included advertising in overseas magazines. With South Africa’s biggest tourist draws being its game preserves, driving safaris emerged as a common ad theme. As such, many of these ads featured native vehicles mingling with native wildlife.
Chrysler products popped up in several 1950s South African travel ads. Interestingly, one of Chrysler’s most notable legacies from its early decades in South Africa was what was likely the world’s most innovative vehicle showroom. Johannesburg businessman Sydney Clow built a 15-story art-deco masterpiece in 1938 to serve as a Chrysler showroom. Known as Chrysler House, the fully air-conditioned building was entirely devoted to auto sales and service. An airy new car showroom occupied the first floor, while large elevators moved cars to the upper stories. Used cars were sold on the 2nd floor, parts and service occupied floors 3 through 5, and the upper stories contained vehicle storage, plus administrative and mechanical space. Though no longer used for automotive purposes, the building still stands.
In 1960, the British government launched a multiyear effort to spur tourism development for the Crown Colony of Malta, with the intention of diversifying the colony’s economy. Stressing Malta’s proximity to well-known Italian tourist destinations, and the island’s unique history, the ads in this series published in American magazines called Malta “Europe’s Oldest New Place.” A picture contrasting old and new here in one of the first ads showed the 12th century St. Paul’s Cathedral with a newer masterpiece – a Mercedes-Benz 190SL.
190SL’s were probably rare on Malta at this time, since the island was just emerging from its wartime austerity (in fact, the standard of living during the 20 years following WWII low enough that nearly a third of Malta’s population emigrated). Still, the car fits picturesquely into American tourists’ perceptions of a glamourous European vacation.
A more typical Maltese street scene might have looked like this – a tightly-packed city street with just enough room to maneuver a car. The assortment of vehicles is interesting here too – an Opel Rekord, a Fiat 850, and a red Citroen DS parked to the side.
GREAT BRITAIN (England), 1960
Nothing in travel ad photos is happenstance, yet elements of this 1960 ad promoting British travel to Americans left me scratching my head. First, the viewer’s eye is drawn to the large dead trees in the background (at first I thought it was a winter scene, but the tree in the foreground is fully leafed). And then there’s the Series I Hillman Minx convertible. Already several years old when the ad ran, the Minx hardly seems like a vehicle most Americans would immediately associate with Britain. After delving into this ad a bit more, however, I realized the Minx served a purpose in this context.
This ad specifically promotes driving tours of Britain, and urges readers to write to the British Travel Association requesting a booklet called Seeing Britain by Road. That publication, published annually, contained basic travel tips as well as plentiful ads from rental car agencies. Vehicles such as the Minx were common rentals at the time. In fact, the Minx was not completely unknown in the US, as the Rootes Group sold about 28,000 of them in the States in 1960 – so its prominent placement in the ad suggests to magazine readers that one could visit the UK on a budget, and still get around the country in a stylish, and classically British, car.
Our featured ad’s photo itself was taken in the village of Ashmore, located in Dorset, about 40 miles west of Southampton. The water behind the Minx is a centuries-old dew pond located in the village’s center. And as one would expect from rural England, things haven’t changed much in the 60 years since the ad was published. In the Google StreetView image above, we see the thatched-roof cottages and the pond itself are both very much intact – all that’s missing are the ducks, the honeymooners and a blue Minx.
GREAT BRITAIN (Wales), 1967
If there were such a thing as language tourism, then Wales would have to be the leading player. The baffling Welsh language is one of the country’s most well-known characteristics. Throughout the decades, the Welsh language and place names have featured prominently in tourism ads, but what vehicle could possibly go along with this signpost, the 16th century inn, and the smiling, map-reading couple in an ad for American audiences? Well, a Sunbeam Alpine with a hardtop is a good choice.
In my opinion, the Alpine represents excellent automotive casting here. Sunbeams were sold in the US, where the ad ran, but were uncommon enough to be intriguing. Its styling, uniquely British, was classy, and Sunbeams appealed to a young and relatively affluent demographic who would likely consider vacationing in Europe. The ad’s text also featured some good, subtle British humor, such as saying that “the Welsh are basically polite.” It’s hard to imagine that type of resounding endorsement of a nationality appearing in any advertisement nowadays.
The ad’s image itself was taken in the village of Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog in Northern Wales. One of the endearing aspects of the Welsh countryside is its timelessness, and this scene is no exception. The four scenes above were shot decades apart (both older and newer than our ad’s image), and aside from some minor details, it’s all essentially the same. Today, the black-and-white signpost still stands, and the West Arms Inn in the background is still accommodating guests just like in 1967. Or even just like several centuries ago.
Other installments in the Auto-Related Travel Ads series: