Despite its plain, utilitarian design and basic functions (mainly stop, go and turn) Henry Ford’s Model T was the first automobile the average American could afford, and as more people became drivers, the romance with the car began. The steering wheel became a metaphor for independence: choosing one’s own path, one’s own itinerary and ultimately one’s own destiny, and the lure of the open road was irresistible. Gradually, as the practical aspects of car ownership, getting from one place to another, became taken for granted, the desire for style and luxury took presidence, and the car became so much more than the sum of its parts. Depending of the needs of its owners, the car provided comfort, adventure, adrenaline, individuality, spontaneity, class, security, danger, fantasy and, of course, sexiness. Naturally, manufacturers encouraged the romance with marketing strategies designed to appeal to these desires, from the patrician convertible sedan, to the family-friendly station wagon, the rugged truck, the sporty roadster and the exotic import.
Billboard announces the 1937 Auto Show (Herman Schultheis/Herman Schultheis Collection, order #00097769)
The Automobile Dealers Association of Los Angeles presented the first Auto Show in 1907 at Morley's Skating Rink on the corner of Ninth Street and Grand Avenue, with ninety-nine new models on display. As its popularity grew, the Show moved to increasingly larger spaces, and it continued to announce the flashy new models until the onset of World War II. When it returned with much fanfare in 1952, it included the addition of pretty young women stroking the upholstery and flanking the bumpers, which only added fuel to the already raging postwar desire for faster, bigger, shinier and sexier. Besides the girls, other popular attractions were the X-Ray car, which showed the inner workings through a transparent shell, and tricked-out prototypes. There was something for everyone, and admittance to the event was like entering another world, the world of the future. Throngs of news reporters and amateur photographers enthusiastically captured each unveiling with their Kodaks and Speed Graphics as evidenced with the images here, and dozens more can be found on the LAPL Photo Collection database: http://tessa.lapl.org
Over the decades, much has changed in the evolution of the automobile; they've become smaller, more fuel effcient, easier to handle, and infinitely safer. Yet, for the sake of nostalgia, and for the youngsters who did not grow up with gleaming chrome, molded steel and 12 cylinders, behold yesterday's Cars Of The Future!
Crowds at the 1935 L.A. Auto Show at the Pan Pacific Auditorium. (Art Streib/Security Pacific National Bank Collection, order #00012616)
Visitors to the 1938 Auto Show. (Herald Examiner Collection, order #00105773)
Three beauties: Shirley, Janet, and the 1952 Jaguar convertible. (Herald Examiner Collection, order # 00105777)
Movie star Jayne Mansfield atop the 1955 Buick Wildcat. (Herald Examiner Collection, order #00105802)
Actress Sally Mills demonstrates the "female-friendly" accessories, such as built-in vanity and phone, in the 1964 Sunbeam "Lady Imp". (Herald Examiner Collection, order # 00105884)
At the much-anticipated 1952 reopening, a model poses with the X-Ray car. (Herald Examiner Collection, order # 00105778)
The 1955 Chevy Bel Air is made more intriguing with a cutaway view, and the addition of models in swimsuits. (Herald Examiner Collection, order #00105789)
A prototype 1966 Camaro with V8 engine actually upstages the models posing beside it. (Howard Ballew/Herald Examiner Collection, order #00105904)