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11 down-and-dirty GM action ads of the 1960s

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Ads courtesy of the Automotive History Preservation Society.

Add dirt, add drama! It was a simple and effective recipe for 1960s new-car ads at General Motors and some other automakers. A dirt road or sandy beach would allow a Division’s latest offering to produce a cloud of dust that would make its performance and appearance seem a bit larger than life. After all, it wasn’t just quick, it was also creating its own sandstorm. The same tactic could be applied to piles of leaves being blown off the roadside by the power and agility of that new model speeding past them. How about rooster tails of water surging off of the rear tires, as the vehicle hurdles through a rainstorm?

Flying dirt, sand, leaves, or water served to intensify the sense of motion in static print ads. It also conveyed functionality by demonstrating that the featured car was capable of being driven on those surfaces and/or under those conditions. And when done well, these images commanded attention.

The ad agencies servicing GM’s divisions also created appealing layouts featuring static photos and illustrations, and they explored diverse artistic concepts during this era. Nevertheless, my favorite examples of their work are still the action photos of legendary cars of the day with clouds of something being created by their spinning rear tires.

GM curtailed depictions of explicit exhibitions of speed in its advertising as the 1960s progressed and safety groups put the pressure on, but there are still enough examples to provide a worthwhile few here for your viewing pleasure. The ads are in no particular order, other than the color ones being first.

This 1963 Corvair Monza kicks up some dirt for the camera while negotiating a tight turn.


A 1966 Chevelle SS 396 displaces a little bit of dust while speeding down a tree-lined backroad.


The 1968 350 H.O. Tempest Custom throws some sand. Note the optional hood tach…and all the tire marks, possibly from previous passes in front of the camera before this particular photo was taken.


Billowing dust, blowing leaves, and a slightly blurry 350-hp 327-equipped 1965 Malibu SS all contribute to imparting the feeling of motion in this ad.


Lots of scenery blur and a cloud of dust trailing this 1962 Tempest Le Mans makes it look like its traveling at a dizzying rate of speed. Cutting out appears to be no problem for this Pontiac.


Fullsize cars played in the dirt as well. A 409-powered 1965 Impala exhibits some of its off-pavement skills.


Pontiac stuck to the asphalt for this ad, but illustrated how splashing through the rain with its 1963 Tempest 326 H.O. (appears to be the Le Mans) while traveling so fast that nose of the car is a little blurry, could have a similar stirring effect to making dust clouds on a dirt road.


This famed 1964 GTO ad depicts action in all four of its panels. Of course it wouldn’t be complete without a spinning tire kicking up some dirt.


Taking the concept to the extreme, a dust trail is the focal point of this ad with just a hint of a car having left a few streaks upon its launch. The car handles so well through the curves that the camera wasn’t quick enough to capture it, implied Pontiac, regarding its suspension option for the 1963 Tempest.


Oldsmobile provided its take on the idea two years later with this 1965 4-4-2 ad.