Earlier this week TTAC ran an insightful post by Abraham Drimmer on the history of autonomous cars that featured a promotional film about General Motors’ Futurama exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. That film was produced by the Jam Handy Organization, the Detroit based motion picture studio famous for its educational film strips and promotional films. GM executives must have liked the “ama” suffix because a few years later in the 1950s they used it to name their annual touring display of concept and show cars the “Motorama”. Just as the Futurama gave Americans a look at the highways of the future, in its day, Motorama became synonymous with cars of the future. Perhaps that’s why Chevrolet decided to use the word “Motoramic” to describe their all new 1955 models and again hired the Jam Handy studio to promote them.
Nineteen-fifty-five was a big year for Chevy. It marked the introduction of Chevrolet’s first V8 engine, then called the “Turbofire V8”, what would become known as the “small block Chevy”. Chevy’s chief engineer, Ed Cole, led the talented team that developed the lightweight, compact and powerful motor, the first time a modern, high compression, overhead valve V8 was available in something that wasn’t a luxury car. Motoramic, according to Chevrolet meant, “More than a new car, a new concept of low cost motoring”.
It may seem quaint today, when hardly anyone in the U.S. market describes their products as economy cars, but in the 1950s Chevy, Ford and Plymouth were not embarrassed to call themselves the “low cost three”. The ’55 Chevys were landmark cars. Not only did they introduce the OHV V8 to the masses, they were some of the first popularly priced cars that were available with a wide variety of trim lines and optional features. They also had more style than one might expect in an economy car. Almost 60 years later, the ’54 Chevys still look dowdy next to the ’55s (and later ’56 and ’57 models). Advertising touted “show car styling” and “43 new interiors”. By offering a variety of body styles (convertible, two door, four door, station wagon etc.) and trim lines, GM gave Chevy dealers a showroom full of different “models”, even though they were all pretty much the same car.
As with the Futurama, GM commissioned the Jam Handy Organization, in this case to produce a series of 10 television commercials used to launch the 1955 Chevrolet line. While each has a different opening tagline, all ten of the ads use variations on the same script, to make sure that new car’s selling points, the show car styling, the three new engines, the three new transmissions, and the new Glide-Ride front suspension etc. get mentioned.
We’ve seen plenty of retro styled cars over the past couple of decade. Even the recently introduced 2015 Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger use design cues that are at least 40 years old. With the appeal of Ad Men, a show placed in the mid 1960s, and the growing interest in “mid-century” collectibles I won’t be surprised if, in a fit of hipster irony, Chevy, or another car company, reprises the look and feel of these Jam Handy produced ads.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS