the view through the windshield car blog

Old Ads From Car Magazines

Whenever I look at an old issue of a car magazine, I often look in the back where the columnar display ads reside. These small ads mostly represented the hopes and dreams of struggling entrepreneurs to develop a market for their products and inventions. These ads were from companies all over the U.S., although many had Southern California addresses.

Perusing ads in the back of old Road & Track magazines, I found sports car hardtops from Astro Fiberglass of El Monte CA, genuine leather steering wheel covers from King of Cherry Hill, NJ, tuned exhausts for VW and Porsche from Exhaust Equipment Engineering of Los Angeles, safety harnesses from Ames Automotive Imports of Westfield, NJ, reupholstery kits from Fill-Mark of Warwick, RI and imported crystal gear shift knobs from Crystal Knobs of LA, Vertex magnetos from Ronco of Blue Bell, PA - probably not infomerical-king Ron Popeil's Ronco - and many more. Most of these companies have disappeared.

The more successful companies took out larger, more elaborate ads, such as Cibié driving and fog lights, Vilém B. Haan auto accessories and MG Mitten, one of the pioneers in accessories.

In the early 1950s, Marion Weber fabricated a cotton car cover for her husband Charlie's MG. His buddies were so impressed that they asked her to make covers for their cars. This was the beginning of MG Mitten in 1952 - a mail -order company making car covers for sports cars. Early ads had a PO Box but Marion put together a mail-order catalog of other sports car accessories - such as Tartan plaid seat covers and a giant key that bolted to the rear deck lid and made British cars look like big toys.

Marion soon established a retail showroom in Southern California. She had an engaging personality and a great entrepreneurial spirit, owned her own MG sports car and hired like-minded employees to run the store and answer the telephone. The store was initially located in San Gabriel; it later moved to Pasadena.

Early MG Mitten columnar ads had the usual "Hi there" greeting from proprietress Marion but carried an actual photo of Ms. Weber, not the pen & ink caricature used in later issues. By early 1967, she had hired cartoonist/illustrator Dave Deal to produce artwork for the ads and catalogs. By the late 1960s, MG Mitten was running full-page, two color ads in R&T and C/D. Later, MG Mitten had two-page spreads, sometimes in full color.

The popularity of British sports car began to wane in the mid-60s, due to a number of factors: the rise of Interstate highways, competition from US pony cars and Datsun sports cars and the consolidation of formerly-independent British manufacturers which resulted in more problematic car offerings. For example, U.S. sales of MG peaked in 1964, with 24,128 imported to the U.S. that year. MG Mitten had already expanded their offerings to include other sports and sporty cars so the firm continued to do well.

By 1987, Marion Weber was ready to retire - after running MG Mitten for 35 years - and sold the business to three investors. The men filed for bankruptcy the following year and MG Mitten closed its doors for good.

While researching this article, I flipped through a lot of old magazines, mostly Road & Tracks. I had forgotten about all the cigarette ads the magazine used to carry. "There's never a rough puff once you come up to Kool, with the smooth taste of extra coolness." "Tareton smokers would rather fight than switch." "Get hold of honest taste ... Old Gold." "Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should." "Salem refreshes naturally." And so forth.

Most car mags saw their sales peak in the late 1980s and have attempted to maintain circulation levels by offering deeply-discounted subscriptions. With declining subscription revenue, auto mags have become more advertiser-dependent than ever.

The overall decline in print media due to online competition has affected the car magazine biz as well. Many titles have disappeared or gone all digital. Everything changes, nothing stays the same. (posted 2/3/21)

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