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America’s love affair with cars, as viewed in 1966

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Some people think that cars might be too dangerous, expensive, and bad for the environment. What may surprise you is that some people thought that back in 1966. The Great Love Affair, preserved and presented on YouTube by Periscope Film, “looks at the impact cars have made on families, the U.S. economy (including the process of purchasing a car), marketing and media, and entertainment during the mid-1960s.” Scroll down to watch the embedded video.

Narrated by CBS News correspondent Harry Reasoner, the various aspects of automotive culture are looked at through a curious, almost anthropologic lens. The film starts by noting that 9 million cars were made the previous year, while only 4 millions babies were born. “You might conclude that we love cars more than twice as much as babies,” says Reasoner with an extra-dry delivery. From there, The Great Love Affair covers everything from traffic, drive-thru services (including a church), youth culture, and the various aspects of the car economy in an attempt to understand “this thing we have about cars.”

This being 1966, the car as the primary means of transportation wasn’t yet considered a fait accompli. The film features a dinner party scene featuring David E. Davis Jr., John Fitch, and Tom Wolfe all in thoughtful conversation. Davis questions, “Why should anybody be allowed to drive a car in and out of New York City?” and Fitch theorizes that the automobile could be reduced to a means of sport, similar to the fate of horses and boat.

More than 50 years ago, the same questions we have today about the purpose, benefits, and future of the automobile were being asked. Even car commercials received a critique that’s still valid in modern times – the cars are always depicted without any other traffic around it. The Great Love Affair doesn’t provide any answers, or cast any judgement, it just looks at all the ways the automobile has worked its way into the fabric of American life. It’s not just an entertaining walk through the past, it’s also a reflection of our present.