Streets Awash In Similitude

Is it just me, or do all cars look more or less the same? Is it a Hyundai or a Honda? A Kia or a Chrysler? From the side, all SUVs — especially the smaller ones — look virtually identical. It could be my eyesight, or the loss of my young self’s focus on such matters, but now I can’t tell one car from another.

Time was when Fall meant two things to me: the World Series and the unveiling of the year’s new cars. The announcement of the new models was a big deal. Would there be an improved GTO from Pontiac? What would the new Mustang look like? And what’s this I hear about a restyled Corvette? I remember eagerly awaiting the “Bonanza” episode when they unveiled all the new Chevrolets. The days that followed would be spent vying with my pals to be first to spot a new model on the street.

In those days it was easy to distinguish one car from another. I could tell the difference between a Ford and a Plymouth at two blocks. And even the different models within one manufacturer were easy: no keen observer could mistake a Chevrolet Bel Air for a Biscayne.

Back then it was mostly about styling. Cars were specifically designed to look different from one another. However, on occasion, some brands would try something else.

For example, one year Chrysler offered the  “Highway Hi-Fi”: a record player fitted into the dashboard of any Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth or DeSoto model. Only two problems: it required special records that could only be used on their system, and any bumps in the road would the needle to skip. It vanished the next model year.

Undaunted, Dodge introduced the La Femme, a car ostensibly designed specifically for women. Need proof, ladies? How about a tapestry upholstery featuring pink rosebuds on a pale silver-pink background, set off nicely with pale pink vinyl trim?

What’s that, gals? Still not sure this is the car for you? Each one came with a keystone-shaped, pink calfskin purse that matched the interior of the car. But wait! Look inside: each purse was outfitted with a coordinated set of accessories, including a face-powder compact, lipstick case, cigarette case, comb, cigarette lighter and change purse.

If M’Lady is still unconvinced, consider this: on the back of the driver’s seat was a compartment that contained a raincoat, rain bonnet and umbrella, all made from a vinyl patterned to match the rosebud interior fabric.

Dodge marketing brochures boasted that the car was made “By Special Appointment to Her Majesty… the American Woman.” Not surprisingly, Her Majesty was not amused…nor impressed. The La Femme was dropped after 2 years of dismal sales.

Nowadays, such innovations might seem silly, but give the car makers of yesteryear their due: they knew how to make one car look different from another.

Even Volkswagens don’t look all that different from every other car on the road…at least, not the way they did in the days of the Beetle. Maybe that explains why they decided to market cars that rigged the emission tests.

Just trying to be stand out from the crowd…


Today’s Fact Cetera

Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to own a car. William Howard Taft was the second, but he was too fat to drive it.


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