I recently watched seasons I, II, and III of the series Mad Men, broken down by all the buzz to finally see what friends have at times gone into great detail to describe. Watching a few episodes I instantly understood the attraction, despite the cringe factor regarding the treatment of women, a sense of a time of innocence where we didn't know everything about everything; and a feeling of boundless optimism of bigger and better days ahead. Couple that with the inner turmoil of the lead character, Don Draper, and it is compelling TV.
Last weekend I attended a car show with my photography group and all that I described was apparent when you looked at the cars of that era. Below are a few that illustrate that sense of "the sky is the limit" optimism. As usual, click each photo for a better view.
The Chevrolet Bel-Air was the forerunner of the era in that it was a "full size" car, chrome was everywhere, and it boasted the luxury of an automatic transmission and the option of power steering. Just riding in it gave the feel of having arrived because there was now less work involved in driving.
We jump a few years to the Cadillac Coupe de Ville which truly embodies the Man Men mindset. It is huge and could almost be considered a land yacht. The long sharp tail fins with dual bullet tail lights telegraphed a shark like "top of the food chain" image. I could see Don Draper wanting one as part of his list of things he thought he needed to live the life he thought he wanted. He was not alone in that feeling because it represented 37% of all Cadillacs sold in it's first series year.
And, what the Coupe de Ville said on its own the convertible seemed to scream. It was the height of excess piled upon excess to let those around you know that the "big dog" had arrived ready to play, either himself or his wife as proxy.
Not to be outdone, Ford decided to enter the arena with their luxury model Thunderbird. While not a land yacht, it provided the luxury image only with a sleek and nimble feel. The Coupe de Ville might telegraph money, but the Thunderbird said: "Money that was cool!"
Didn't want the moneyed Thunderbird image? Along came muscle cars like the Mustang that spoke power for the common man. They were sleek with big engines that roared when you stepped on the gas. Driving was not only for the moneyed class but also hinted at a different kind of power, the power of the streets! If you have ever watched Steve McQueen in the classic "Bullitt" car chase sequence, you realize the person driving one of these muscle cars had no desire to sit behind a desk. The Mad Men world was gradually changing as the country finally drifted into the 70's.
And, with the 70's came the realization that things were not limitless. The Mad men would go on, only now in a different form. Gas shortages reinforced the concept that there were excesses and order had to be restored. In restoring that order, the new car of the era was the Volkswagen. It was not flashy, but rather small and simple. Gone were the long fins and miles of chrome. The people's car of Germany was now one of the most popular in America, based on its humble simplicity and ease of operation.