In his 2012 book Fractured Times: Culture and Society in the Twentieth Century, historian Eric Hobsbawm noted, “In terms of literary pedigree, the invented cowboy was a late romantic creation. But in terms of social content, he had a double function: he represented the ideal of individualist freedom pushed into a sort of inescapable jail by the closing of the frontier and the coming of the big corporations.”
If Hobsbawm is correct, the Western/cowboy boom of the Fifties and Sixties represented, to some extent, pushback against the societal homogenization of life in the suburbs, jobs in offices, and shopping in big plazas. Perhaps.
As an avid watcher of Maverick, Gunsmoke, Have Gun – Will Travel, and Rawhide, I can say that it is the simplicity of cowboy life that appeals to me. That, and the clearly defined characters who respond to adversity in predictable ways. The best Western TV shows were parables, and watching them was—and still is—catharsis.
It’s easy to understand why advertisers would want to associate their products with cowboys. Once you get past the poor hygiene and complete disregard for personal comfort, what you see is grit, determination, and a uniquely American cultural moment.
Gathered for you here is a gallery of classic car ads featuring cowboys. You can decide for yourself whether the association with The Old West and dusty trails served to enhance the image of the vehicle presented. The art in these ads, for the most part, is wonderful. Enjoy!
1957 Avis Rent-A-Car
1957 Ford Ranchero
1961 Mercury Comet
1964 Buick Wildcat
1970 Dodge Adventurer
1979 Ford Ranchero