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Car advertising in the 1960s and 1970s

Updated on September 22, 2014
Car and automotive advertising in the 1960s and 1970s,
Car and automotive advertising in the 1960s and 1970s, | Source

Automotive advertising in Britain the nineteen sixties and seventies

When I was in my early teens, the family would visit the London Motor Show every year.

My dad had a Ford dealership and was obliged to visit; we were taken along for the ride.

When I say he was 'obliged' to go, I don't think that he or any of the men who attended saw it as any sort of hardship - and this was especially the case because each new car model was shown with a female model draped all over it in various states of undress; often complete undress.

That was completely normal for the UK in those days. The adage 'sex sells' was applied to a huge variety of products and vehicles and automotive products were no exception. I imagine that in those days, ad agencies thought that they were being quite modern and so it's surprising how amazingly dated the concept is today when we look back at the ads.

The ones you see here were published in Car magazine in the 1960s and 1970s.

The images are iPhone photographs from my copy of 'The Best of Car Magazine. The '60s & '70s'.

A most attractive proposition

This ad isn't for a car, it's not even for lubricants (although that very word was subjected to a lot of advertising wordplay when marketing a simple oil change), it's an additive.Pretty boring, really. But as you can see, it was spiced up by the addition of a blonde in a bikini. Standing in an 'available' pose, she is holding a somewhat phallic tube of the product in question.

The bikini looks remarkably innocent today and the shoes are rather incongruous (you can't see them in this photograph but she is wearing ludicrously high heels), but you have to admit that the ad would have had less impact without her. What's interesting is that if you read the wording of the ad, it is very straightforward with no innuendo.

However the presence of the bikini girls makes phrases such as 'easier starting', 'smoother running' and 'unique penetrating action' worthy of schoolboy sniggers.

Yeah, yeah

I imagine that the agency that created this example would hold up their hands and say 'but we're trying to sell to the female audience'. I don't believe it for a moment. 'Oh yes' I'd say 'then why doesn't the ad show a smartly-dressed businesswoman or a young trendy mother with a couple of kids?' No, this photograph was taken with the male buyer firmly in mind.

The copy reads 'your Mini will still love you' - is that referring to the car or the seductively-posed mini-skirted blonde? But in the same way that the model in the last example was wearing unsuitable footwear, I do find this girl's shoes a little strange and a little 'grannified'. Oh and if you want to get a flavor of what the London Motor Show was like in those days, scroll right to the bottom of the page (mild nudity alert).

But not all ads had photographs - see the next example. Sometimes words were enough...

Get her going

Does this still have the same meaning today? I'm not sure that cars and ships are naturally accorded female status in this day and age but it was common back then. However, I imagine the phrase 'get her going' is still in common use and I'm not talking about starting a car on a cold morning.

This ad was,of course. But it's a typical headline of the times.You can see why.'Do you have problems starting a cold engine?' wouldn't have had quite the same effect. I wonder if feminists would object to a headline like that today?

A few years ago there was an outcry when PETA had a billboard suggesting that being vegetarian was a good way to lose weight and it showed a cartoon fat woman. That was seen as weight-ist or fat-ist or some other -ist. So would the ad above be seen as sexist, I wonder?

Five exciting things

The girls are very respectably dressed and there's hardly any bare flesh in sight. But it gives the impression that it was de rigeur to show young and attractive females in car ads in those days (And just wait until you see the next one; the raunchiest of the lot. Ah - will anyone read anything else I write here or scroll down to see it?)

Note that the car takes up far less space in the advert than the girls. They are there simply to attract attention. However, this example pales into insignificance compared to one for Pirelli Tyres which read 'of all the hazards facing Italian drivers, two in particular stand out and showed a photograph of a partially covered pair of large ... um ... you know ... to make sure that we were in no doubt about what they meant.

Sorry, I can't show it here, it's too blatant and I don't want to get into trouble. An interesting side note: The tyres being advertised were called Cinturato but in the copy,they were referred to as 'cints'.

The eye of the beholder

I know that everyone sees things differently but I think this is the most blatant of the ads on this page. The girl is fully clothed - well, as fully clothed as we were in the days of the micro mini skirt - but she's certainly in a suggestive pose and she's concentrating very intently on the handbrake she's fondling.

Despite being demurely dressed and having her eyes discretely lowered, the messy just-out-of bed hair and her pouty lips are not as chaste a look as the white lace dress would suggest. And as for the tag line - 85% of MG Midget owners are men - what does that mean? According to the ad 'it means that lots of girls will be relaxing in our new, thick, contoured rake adjusting seats'.

Incidentally, as far as Google knows, the phrase 'rake adjusting seats' is only used when describing this car. Is it a coincidence that 'rake' is also a description for a man who is a womanizer? In fact the copywriter likes the word so much that after describing various features of the car he (it must be a he) finalizes by saying 'We've given you all this (rake adjusting seats included) for £838. The girl you'll have to get for yourself.

Further reading

If this subject fascinates you as much as it does me, then here's a great selection of books. I've included one about my favorite 1970s British car too, the Ford Capri.

What a lovely car this was.

Check out this Ford Commercial from the 1960s:

Now I know that once you start looking at things in a certain way, you see all sorts of things. (Well,I do anyway).

First, the man looks up and sees the girl. Then he's chasing her in his car and note that to manoeuvre herself she briefly grabs a [phallic] pole. In the next shot, we see her moving up and down, again holding only a pole.

Then we have the whip and, if you're thinking along suggestive lines, the car bursting through the paper ring is - well - you know.

A sexy-girl-fondling-something shot, then we repeat the up and down motion as the couple head down a fairground slide - so smoothly and ecstatically. And that's before we get to the music....

The Motor Show

This is a huge subject and I'd love to know your thoughts. Were cars advertised like this where you come from? Do you find them sexist? Do you think these ads exploit women? (I don't. I think that the girls were exploiting the men actually, probably getting well-paid for showing bits of their bodies whereas otherwise they'd be working for peanuts in a typing pool or in Woolworth's).

  • Could you imagine seeing ads like those today when we are so much more 'modern' and 'liberal'?
  • Are they politically incorrect?
  • Is it wrong or is it OK to use sex to sell?
  • Do you think they are subtle or obvious?
  • I just think that they are funny period pieces. Tell me what you think!

What do you think?

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    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @David Stone1: Oh you're right - I hadn't noticed that about trucks Dave, but yes! I suppose that in the seventies (had there been ads for such pills) they would have shown Mr Before with a car with a stubby little hood and Mr After in something like an E-Type Jag :)

    • David Stone1 profile image

      David Stone 

      4 years ago from New York City

      I think advertisers will use whatever gimmick they can come up with to sell the buzz instead of the product. In those less sexually open times, girls in swimsuits were a hot item for guys for whom cars were a substitute for not so sure of yourself masculinity. They made you feel like a man, that was the message, and the girls loved the car in you.It's a funny twist now, but trucks are used to sell erectile dysfunction products to out of shape men who, by the appearance of the ads, can't keep up with their much younger wives.

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      5 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @anonymous: Those days were certainly very different, that's for sure. That's an interesting point about what ad agencies think will work and what really works.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Interesting approach to selling cars. Wonder if the approach actually worked or maybe the manufacturers and ad people just thought it would / did. I know one thing, that approach sure would not work today...Very educational lens, fascinating glimpse on a different place and time.

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      5 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @UKBusinesses: Amazing, isn't it? Mind you, political correctness didn't exist then :)

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Quite shocking! Wouldn't have thought they would have got away with that back in the day!

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      5 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @injuryatty: Interesting!

    • injuryatty profile image


      5 years ago

      So sexy for a car. But indeed this is really an effective way. Until today there are some advertisers that does the same strategy.

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      5 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Grifts: Haha - it works then? :)

    • Grifts profile image

      Devin Gustus 

      5 years ago

      Love these ads, especially the lubisyl one. I cannot, safely, look at the MG advertisement for too long.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      @BritFlorida: I think it is that society wants to see women and not men? For every 20 women that gets into modeling only one man can get in.

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      5 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Susan Zutautas: Oh, I'm so glad about that! I like chucklable lenses :)

    • Susan Zutautas profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Yes they're politically incorrect but if it works why not. For sure they're obvious. I got a good chuckle out of your lens :)

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      5 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @jimporsche86: I'll look forward to it, Jim:) Good point - why don't we see hunky blokes draped over the hood in ads??? I see nothing wrong with the ads at all, they are just cool period pieces. Thanks for dropping by!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I need a cold shower now, ;) Sex does sell about anything I think. If it is right or wrong, who knows. Some say yes, some no. Personally I don't see anything wrong with it, if it works use it. Someday when I get into male modeling you might see me selling something. You know what I mean. =)


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