Car advertising is in a really fun place right now. We have hamsters in KIAs, Honda Rube Goldberg machines, and Gigi Hadid hiding in a new BMW M2. If you’re feeling interactive and not too unsettled about technology’s erosion of personal privacy, Chevy has installed a billboard in Chicago that identifies your competing sedan and calls you out about it. Yet for all the amazing computer graphics, celebrity spots, and kickin’ hip-hop music, we have a sneaking suspicion that advertising in the Forties still hit harder—right in the gut, as it were, with Norman Rockwell paints and poetic odes to the beauty of spring. Or maybe spring was just better back then? One of those things are true, if this vintage Nash Motors Division advert is any indication.
Take the leading line: The Hounds of Spring are at your heels! Come now, what is this, Wordsworth? Nash Motors Division, are you trying to seduce me? That’s not the end of sexy lyricism time. How about that transmission, with a novel Fourth Speed Forward!, as “fleet and soft as the wind you’re racing.” A new suspension allows drivers to “ripple across space,” and the Nash’s sturdy construction permits “no whining of the wind or booming from beneath” to “break the spell of this glorious hour.” Technicalities aside—how is a gear ratio soft?—it’s poetic.
There’s also a delighting wonder in simple things: new shock absorbers, whitewall tires, and the Nash “Weather Eye,” an early interior thermostat and air-conditioning system. The price, $770, is just over $12,000 today—cheaper than any new car sold in America, and these chariots came with full-chrome grilles! Jesus. Today, cars are $35K on average, and the only feature we’re excited about at this point is full autonomous driving.
But the thing about this vintage ad that makes us melancholy is the way it evokes the world around the car. Back in 1940, when this page ran, 44 percent of the population lived in census-designated “rural” areas, as opposed to only 19 percent today. A car that could “iron out winter-rutted roads” was valuable indeed, as was a cabin that featured convertible seats (essentially sleep-ready) for camping. Today, if ad copy talked about colts kicking in the spring, folks would picture blue uniforms and footballs. “Revarnish[ing] a trout rod” sounds pretty alien, too. That bevy of illustrated cherry blossoms sure looks a lot fresher than the ones seen in Central Park—they’re pretty, but soiled.
Just as you reach peak nostalgia, the Nash copywriters hit you with a reality check. To quote: “The Nash is as catching as measles.” Oh, right. Exploits of the anti-vaccine nuts aside, today we live in a world absent measles, mumps and typhoid. Heck, when this ad was circulating, the first polio vaccine was 15 years off. Guess intrusive banner ads are a fair trade.