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Ads From the Past

The Art Of Speed 2

By Steve Magnante

Many car-magazine readers still aren't hip to the fact that without advertisers, there's no way to pay for the rest of the magazine, let alone the paper and the ink. Newsstand sales and subscriptions are nice bonuses, but the major revenue comes from faithful advertisers hoping that exposure to readers will lead to sales.

With the passage of time, everything takes on an extra level of interest. Today's car-magazine reader enjoys learning about what came before. Witness the exploding interest in the world of nostalgia drag racing and the history of hot rodding. Well, guess what? Thumbing through vintage magazines in search of information on the cars, races, and personalities of that era also offers a second look at the advertisements of the day.

Let's explore some neat ones from the past and evaluate how, in those pre-Internet days, vendors went about the task of attracting business. Remember, manufacturers' websites didn't exist, so the pressure was intense to provide enough information to spur a phone call or postal inquiry from prospective customers.

Zoom used the technique of forced perspective (courtesy of a wide-angle lens) to create this attention-grabbing layout in 1970. A leader in street-and-strip gears, clutches, and pressure plates, Zoom employed clever print advertising to establish a strong brand identity. Another successful tactic was the purple paint on its stamped-steel pressure-plate covers. The same vivid shade was also used in the company logo (though not seen in this black-and-white ad). Of interest is how the Top Fuel dragster depicted in this October 1970 ad is a front-engine job. In the wake of his historic March 1970 accident, Don Garlits led the movement to rear-engine diggers. Incidentally, Zoom components played no role in the transmission failure that severed Garlits' Swamp Rat 13 dragster—and right foot—in half. The failed "Garlitsdrive" two-speed was entirely of Big's own making.


The early 1970s saw an upswing in the use of cartoons and illustrations. Often capable of conveying moods and energies absent in photography, stylized cartoon renderings have their place in this exciting, youth-oriented realm. This 1973 ad for Mickey Thompson tires predates the M/T ET Street line of DOT-approved rubber by more than a decade but carries the same message: If you want your car to hook, you need soft-compound tires. Marketed under the Pure Stock brand, the ad copy says these 9-inch-wide skins are "...tough enough to be driven daily and then to the strip to be wailed on."


The NHRA Pro Stock division was in its fourth year when this artistic Hooker Headers ad appeared in September 1973. Intentionally under-exposed, the grainy image of Dyno Don Nicholson's 1973 Pinto Pro Stocker and Webster's dictionary definition of the word "pacemaker" add intrigue and spur curiosity. Though Don's name has been obscured from the Pinto's doors, his NHRA competition number (755) is clearly evident. This element serves as a subliminal reward from Hooker to in-the-know viewers—Don's Pinto won three consecutive national events in 1973 (AHRA Winternationals, NHRA Winternationals, NHRA Gatornationals), so there's a touch of reverse psychology here. The Hooker Headers red-heart logo is also barely recognizable, while Sig Erson cams, Accel, Mr. Gasket, and Lee filters logos are more legible than Hooker's own. This seemingly counterintuitive detail may be intended to conjure a sympathetic response on the part of the viewer/customer.


Durachrome combined hand-drawn and photographed elements in this 1969 ad for its Dura-Mag II and Mag-Slot one-piece aluminum wheels. A Los Angeles–based company, Durachrome catered to two distinct markets in the 1960s—the muscle-car set and the hot VW crowd—and offered dress-up items for both. One of its smartest sponsorships was Warren Gunter's Durachrome Bug, a fiberglass flip-top Beetle powered by a blown-nitro Rat. Oddly, Gunter's 7-second bug wasn't equipped with Durachrome wheels. It rolled on Halibrand 12-spokes and custom-made 16-inch-diameter, four-slot aluminum dish wheels.


Though first known for its line of street-and-strip soft compound tires, Casler entered the header market in 1970 (Hooker had acquired the Casler name in 1969). This ad artfully takes the viewer on a subliminal journey. The running man seems to have been racing through parched, arid land in his 1969 Camaro Z/28 (note the trunk stripes). He spots a set of Casler headers and can't stop fast enough (note the still-open door). Like water to a dying man, he urgently sprints toward the promise of life—Casler headers. We just hope he's OK with the fact the big-block pipes depicted won't fit the 302 in his Z/28.

By Steve Magnante
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