Friday Fun Feature: Lady Drivers

                                                                  By: Patrick Smith

  For the most part, Madison Avenue was content to portray women in car ads as accessories or eye candy. The lady driver was seldom seen in an ad unless the car was a station wagon, family sedan or perhaps some kind of sports car with feminine appearance or image. Hot, powerful performance cars with women drivers were just not seen often. This is a shame because when handled adeptly it could be a devastating marketing tool, not just for lady customers either!

  No an ad that sends the message that the lady is in charge of her performance car without any input from a guy was a fairly rare ad in the 1960s. We saw this more often in the Women's Lib 1970s, but even then the message was muted by other ads showing the same old sexism. Let's start off with a neat one from Oldsmobile circa 1968. They're promoting the Olds 442 here shown as a yellow convertible with black sports stripes. A very Mod woman rests jauntily on the windshield header bar wearing Roman strap sandals, a florid blouse, a wicked braided pony tail and mod sunshades.

  The car is one of the hotter models, sporting a Rocket 400 4 barrel V8 with super sport wheels and red line tires. No male is in sight anywhere in the ad.Clearly she's the driver, if not the owner of car. The rest of the ad is devoted to guy talk such as the mechanical specs of the car and its various configurations. The ad isn't really aimed at women buyers, in other words. It's for men. The tag line below the pic says, " Olds 442- Here's What's Behind the Reputation" So who's faster, the car or the lady driver?

Cool looking Saffron 442 is clearly the apple of Miss Mod's Eye. 
  Also of interest is the mid 1960s GTO campaign for the 1965-66 era. Women were prominently displayed with GTOs and Tigers. No men were seen in these ads. In one image the woman is posing with the car in a possessive manner. It's clear she is the owner-driver. In another image in the same ad, the woman disappears and a Tiger is in her stead. It's an interesting bit of psychological reversal going on. GM president James LaRoche hated these ads and demanded John DeLorean to drop that campaign in late '66. You can see more of them in our "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Burnouts, GTO Ads in  the 1960s " article. Link for it is right here:
First you see her, now you don't. Women GTO drivers apparently turn into Tigers in Madison Avenue Land. Don Draper
would be impressed.
  Anyway, I thought I'd show you one of those images. A nice 1966 hardtop is shown with an intense blonde posing in the open driver's door. She's wearing a Tiger vest and black blouse. In the images below where the windshield is, a large Tiger stares at you. The woman is nowhere to be seen.

  We see some aggressive women motorcycle drivers in Triumph and BSA ads even a few Asian bikes, but not Harley Davidson. For some reason, that company always made sure the gender roles were preserved strongly. Likely a part of their over all strategy as patriarch of the Vee Twin world. Things changed of course once the Asians got rolling but it was status quo in the 1960s. It was left up to the competition to show us equality among bike owners. Suzuki for instance, led an enlightened ad showing how their X-5 Invader bike was capable of mixing it up with bigger bikes yet weighed less and offered tame around town performance.

Two ladies, one bike. Suzuki led the way for women's equality for bike driving.
    Hey, it's a 200 cc engine, how radical is it going to be? The ad shows a blonde, leather jacketed babe with race goggles and gloves hunched against her silver X-5. On the right, a demure brunette with blouse and purple mini skirt poses coyly. They're suggesting a split personality theme here in accord with the bike's all around capability. The way I see it, Suzuki was just covering all the bases here!
"Turn in your Man Card, you're busted."
  It got better in the 1970s with Women's Lib and all that. Here's a neat ad for BAP GEON auto parts. A lady Porsche owner shows off her black Carrera with Fuch wheels, whale tail and all. The man in the foreground is content with his banana yellow Volkswagen Beetle. He's wearing a hat and goofy expression that would force him to turn in his man card in most parts of USA. An interesting role reversal situation of another kind different from the Suzuki ad.
GM went all out to show ladies can buy and drive their own cars.
  Here's a typical mid 1970s ad from GM showing a variety of cars and owners to match. This was an interesting ad because it emphasized the personal choice factor in car selection and GM's capability of building a car just for you. To drive home the point, they had men, women from every background and even black people in the ad mix. It was the start of acknowledging that people other than WASPS bought cars. We learn slowly.

The car matches her outfit. OK this one was a bit hokey but the over all theme worked.
  Back to my main point. Women are featured in the ad campaign prominently. I rather like the Laguna S3 owner shown above. She strikes me as a person I'd like to know. She's dressed fashionably in red and white and her car matches.The Laguna S-3 was about the sportiest Chevelle going. The nose was a NASCAR approved package since it was a production option. OK, a bit too cute for reality but it sells. They did the same thing for the Buick Riviera and Olds Toronado owners.In each photo it is clearly made that the car belongs to the person. There are 10 images and six of them are lady drivers. Take that!
   * Article (c)2017 by Patrick Smith. images from PHS MEDIA ARCHIVES.


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