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Mad Men on Wheels: Vintage Car Ads

Babes, bumpers and Bentleys, or what Don Draper would’ve looked like on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

After last weekend’s Mad Men season premiere, we felt a certain pang of nostalgia for an era we never actually lived in. Today, we’re celebrating this nostalgia with an intersection of two of the era’s greatest cultural landmarks — cars and advertising — with five fantastic collections of enough vintage car ads to make Don Draper’s portfolio look paltry.


Unassumingly and almost dryly titled, American Car Brochures offers an impressively vast archive of vintage car brochures and original factory documentation, equal parts eye candy, tech time machine and economic reality check. (Care for a “gay, young-looking” Aero Willys at $1,499, circa in 1943?)

Culled by Norwegian IT consultant Hans Tore Tangerud, the collection is catalogued by brand name and dates as far back as the early 1900’s.


While Don Draper was busy selling Cadillacs to the American classes, his Soviet counterpart — someone, we imagine, named Doncho Drapkov perhaps — was busy selling Ladas and Nivas on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

The always-excellent English Russia has a fantastic roundup of vintage Soviet car ads from the 1960’s-1980’s.


It may be just a single piece of collateral, but this Volvo booklet from the 1950’s is a pinnacle of old-school art direction and storytelling. Aiming to introduce a foreign car into the American market, the book follows the journey of American couple Philip and (of course…) Janis Benson on their trip to “Volvoland” in (of course…) Sweden.


Once you get past the crummy site design and awkward navigation, British Car Brochures is a treasure trove. Since he was a child, Romanian car enthusiast Hermann Egges has been collecting vintage car ads, brochures and articles. Now, his massive collection of over 1,250 brochures and 2,800 ads is available online for all to ogle, ranging from rare retro gems (1940’s Bentley, anyone?) to recent-vintage aesthetic atrocities (90’s Land Rover ads, we’re looking at you).

For more of the British vintage car advertising world, we recommend Heon Stevenson’s excellent illustrated anthology British Car Advertising of the 1960s.


A museum and gift shop of mid-century illustration, Plan 59 has a formidable collection of vintage car ads from the 1930’s through 1950’s.

For a closer look at the fascinating history of car advertising, look no further than Classic Cars of the 20th Century: 100 Years of Automotive Ads, 1900-1999, which explores the lush visual language of automotive ads, decade by decade, in more than 500 advertisements from the collection of Taschen editor Jim Heimann.

Published July 27, 2010




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