Let’s Take A Drive – 1953 American Car Advertising

Those Spiffy 1953 American Cars & What They Cost

1953 Le Sabre concept car to be built with aluminum

There was a time when you looked at a car and a Ford looked like a Ford, a Plymouth was a Plymouth and a Buick a Buick.

American cars all had very distinctive looks, and each brand could be readily identified by their lines.  Today without looking at the nameplate or symbol, it is difficult to tell automobiles apart with many generic lookalike models.

In the 1950s, there were relatively few foreign cars purchased in the United States. For the vast majority, Americans bought American cars, made entirely in the U.S.A. by American workers,

These ads from the May 16, 1953 Saturday Evening Post, show an optomistic America where car ownership is a status symbol to shoot for. In these wordy ads, not one mentions the manufacturers suggested retail price (MSRP). That’s because buying a new car meant spending the equivalent of an entire year’s salary.

In order to put 1953 new car prices in perspective, let’s look at the median average annual income (prior to taxation):

women farm workers:                    $500
women rural non-farm workers:  $900
men farm workers:                         $1,400
women urbanized areas:               $1,600
men rural non-farm workers:       $3,200
men urbanized areas:                    $3,700
(source: U.S. Census Bureau May, 1955)

An alternate way to look at this would be:

American wealth as broken down by family income:

Family Income        Number of Families (Total 41,900,000)
Under $1,000           3,700,000
$1,000 to $1,999      4,600,000
$2,000 to $2,999      5,000,000
$3,000 to $3,999      6,400,000
$4,000 to $4,999      6,500,000
$5,000 to $5,999      5,000,000
$6,000 to $6,999      3,600,000
$7,000 to $9,999      4,700,000
$10,000 to $14,999  1,800,000
$15,000 and over       600,000

The Ads

As this ad tells you Plymouth is the number one brand in Chrysler’s line of automobiles. This two door convertible Cranbrook retailed for only $2,220,

“Golly Jim – why doesn’t that pretentious floozy have to use the parking lot like everyone else?”

Today, every televised car advertisement carries a ubiquitous warning. Even though there is no “Do Not Attempt” beneath the ad copy, I’m pretty sure the Shadow Mountain Club, near Palm Springs, CA would not have allowed you to drive your car right up to the pool.

Here is the stylish Chrysler New Yorker Deluxe Convertible. Emphasizing a V-8 engine and power in their ad. Power steering, power brakes, etc.. It was Chrysler’s top of the line auto. Cost: $3,950. The Chrysler New Yorker Town and Country Wagon: $3,898.

Ford still meant the man himself.  Henry Ford had died only six years earlier in 1947, so Ford wasn’t just a car name. Three different Ford station wagon’s are featured here including one with exterior wood paneling.

The Ford Country Sedan 4 Door Station Wagon was a bargain compared to Chrysler’s station wagon with an MSRP of only $2,267.

Ford’s 1953 Lincoln Capri retailed for $3,450. This price did not include power steering, 4 way power seat, power brakes, or white side-wall tires. Price not withstanding, the Capri was still a success for Ford selling 12,916 coupes, 11,352 sedans and 2,372 convertibles.

The brand new, innovative Buick Skylark from General Motors. They made only 1.690 of these beauties for a reason – few people could afford it – the retail price started at $5,000.

General Motors other advertisement doesn’t tout a specific model, but hypes their engineering and testing of cars.

The two page spread is an appealing way to differentiate the quality of the end product from the other auto ads.

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2 thoughts on “Let’s Take A Drive – 1953 American Car Advertising

  1. Brian

    Back in the day, buying a new car was, as the kids say today, a BFD. When a family brought home a new car, it was the talk of the neighborhood… especially if it was a luxury model. When my family bought a car, we went to the dealership dressed in our Sunday best.


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