Chrysler autos looked like this in 1939
Reproduction of 1939 De Soto advertisement
Reproduction of 1939 Dodge Advertisement

Three different Chrysler brands — Chrysler, DeSoto and Dodge – in three very similar advertisements but with clear differences in appeal

Chrysler autos looked like this in 1939
The snobbery in the Chrysler advertisement is palpable

“Decid­ed­ly ..we’ll dri­ve a Chrysler,” she pro­claims. “Yes, FRANK—that new Chrysler looks to me like our kind of automobile.”

And if you didn’t know who makes the deci­sions in that fam­i­ly,  she says: “You see dear, I believe we should exer­cise as much care in the selec­tion of our motor car as we do in choos­ing our home fur­nish­ings and clothes. Sure­ly one, as much as the oth­er, reflects good taste—and one’s posi­tion in life.”

Reproduction of 1939 De Soto advertisement
The De Soto buyers may not be “upper-class” but they certainly are upper income

We learn they live in love­ly homes out of town. To get home  they “roll joy­ful­ly over the country-side…nip through crawl­ing traffic…silently glide ’round cres­cent dri­ve to state­ly home aglow with mer­ry welcome…luxuriously relaxed in a car as mod­ern as a penthouse…serenely aware of admir­ing eyes.”

Reproduction of 1939 Dodge Advertisement
Dodge buyers ideal 1939 “custom” car

 comes with “NEW deep cush­ioned chair-height seats…gorgeous new upholstery…stunning new hardware…and the most beau­ti­ful instru­ment pan­el Dodge ever built make this new inte­ri­or a “Leader in Lux­u­ry” in every sense of the word.”

The Dodge adver­tise­ment includes depic­tions —in words and illustrations—of tech­ni­cal fea­tures like the Handy con­trol Gearshift, the Indi­vid­ual Action Front Springs, and Safe­ty Sig­nal Speedome­ter. The DeS­o­to boasts it has the same fea­tures as well as the new “Dual Pow­er Trans­mis­sion” and the “famous De Soto Float­ing Pow­er engine.” 

Chrysler doesn’t stoop to the com­mon pro­mo­tion of fea­tures. It quotes that snob­by woman: “JANE and BOB dri­ve a Chrysler—and they tell me they nev­er have owned a motor car that makes its pres­ence felt so much. Every­where they go, some­one is sure to remark…I see you dri­ve a Chrysler!

Let’s com­ment upon these three adver­tise­ments for Chrysler auto­mo­biles. Let’s begin with the illus­tra­tions.  They con­note action. They are leap­ing off the pages. They are excit­ing. They are dra­mat­ic, giv­ing the read­er the sense that dri­ving these auto­mo­biles will be extraordinary. 

Were the images trans­ferred from pho­tographs? Pret­ty good pho­tog­ra­ph­er! These are not pho­tographs; these are draw­ings. In 1939 it would have been very dif­fi­cult, if not impos­si­ble to stage these auto­mo­biles for a pho­to shoot.

The wealth of detail is worth not­ing: the gleam of the chrome, the reflec­tions in the hub caps; the depic­tion of move­ment. It took con­sid­er­able artis­tic skill and tal­ent to cre­ate these illustrations.

Were the con­tour lines of the illus­tra­tions trans­ferred by trac­ing? Trans­fer­ring images has been a tech­nique used by artists to save time and ensure accu­ra­cy in rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al art. Was that done using light tables or devices with mir­rors to facil­i­tate tracing?

Could there have been more than one artist? Prob­a­bly not, since the illus­tra­tions are sim­i­lar in artis­tic style, and the faces of the dri­vers, the admir­ers and the fam­i­ly mem­bers are not drawn with care. Peo­ple are not the focus of these adver­tise­ments. These are just “peo­ple” – not par­tic­u­lar peo­ple. They could be any­one. They could be the poten­tial buyer.

The art depart­ment of every adver­tis­ing agency would include artists who were spe­cial­ists: the let­ter­ing artist, the fig­ure or fash­ion artist, the gen­er­al artists. Agen­cies who had par­tic­u­lar clients—such as car com­pa­nies, jew­el­ers, food manufacturers—would employ artists who spe­cial­ized in pro­duc­ing out­stand­ing draw­ings of the clients’ products.

And the copy­writ­ing? The tran­scrip­tions above show that the copy­writer used exact­ly the right words to dis­tin­guish one car from the oth­er and to estab­lish that each auto­mo­bile has been pro­duced for a dif­fer­ent mar­ket. Spe­cial­ized markets—Chrysler for the wealthy, De Soto for the upper mid­dle class, Dodge for the upward­ly mobile family.

The letter­press print­ing is excel­lent. The col­or reg­is­tra­tion is spot on. Col­or print­ing in 1939 was achieved with just four col­ors of ink—Magenta (a red), Cyan (a blue), Yel­low and Black. Each illus­tra­tion required four engraved zinc or cop­per plates—one for each col­or. The plates were pre­pared by fil­ter­ing one or oth­er of the col­ors in the illus­tra­tion.  These four engrav­ings were locked on the print­ing press and inked with the desired col­or. The plates must be aligned exact­ly, oth­er­wise the col­ors will bleed. Where blue and green meet “out of reg­is­tra­tion” the illus­tra­tion will be green; where blue and red meet out of reg­is­tra­tion the colour will be pur­ple. Orange will be the col­or when red and yel­low are off kilter.

Spe­cial addi­tion­al prob­lems were posed for the print­er because the illus­tra­tions are spread across dou­ble-page spreads—two adjoin­ing pages. Those adjoin­ing pages were not print­ed togeth­er as would hap­pen when the dou­ble page spread is the cen­tre-fold. The print­er matched the pages so per­fect­ly that the illus­tra­tions are in almost per­fect registration.

And the copy­writ­ing? The tran­scrip­tions above show that the copy­writer used exact­ly the right words to dis­tin­guish one car from the oth­er and to estab­lish that each auto­mo­bile has been pro­duced for a dif­fer­ent spe­cial­ized market.

(For more detail on auto­mo­bile adver­tis­ing:   Amer­i­can Auto­mo­bile Adver­tis­ing, 1930–1980: An Illus­trat­ed History)