Vintage TV: Dinah Shore for the 1959 Chevrolet

So I have a YouTube channel. There’s not much there – a few DashboardCam™ videos from my road trips and several vintage TV clips I, um, appropriated from around the Internet. By far the most popular video on my channel, with more than 80,000 views, is this commercial for the 1959 Chevrolet starring singer Dinah Shore.

Readers north of a certain age will remember that Dinah was synonymous with Chevy in the 1950s. Chevy sponsored all of her various variety shows on NBC during those years, and the song “See the USA in Your Chevrolet” became Dinah’s signature piece. (See her sing it in grand style here.)

What a grand portrait of American living this video paints! And the key to achieving this joyful lifestyle is, of course, the gullwinged 1959 Chevrolet.

This video has attracted a ton of comments over the years. They’ve taken on a life of their own! It’s been amusing to see them fall into three general categories:

  • “Cars of the 1950s were great! I wish I had a ’59 Chevy!” I didn’t have the heart to point them to this crash-test video of a 1959 Chevy crashing into a 2009 Chevy. The dummy in the ’59 would have died instantly. The dummy in the ’09 would have suffered only a broken foot. (One commenter finally pointed it out for me.)
  • Ongoing arguments over whether or not the 1950s were America’s golden age. Those affirming the resolution seemed mostly to be lost in nostalgia. Those negating the resolution tended to bring up one or two examples of Not Good things from the era and extrapolated wildly to claim the whole era was bad. I tried to suggest that there were as many problems then as today, and promptly got clobbered for it.
  • Disturbing rants, often racist or homophobic, which I promptly deleted. Sheesh.

I keep thinking I should tell them all to just listen to Dinah. She could sing.


25 responses to “Vintage TV: Dinah Shore for the 1959 Chevrolet”

  1. Denny Gibson Avatar

    Hey, that’s my car. I had a white 1959 Chevrolet convertible in 1965-66. So what if mine had a red interior? That could have been changed after Dinah traded it in.

    1. Jim Avatar

      So… did yours have the six or the eight? I hear that with the six this car was a real dog!

      1. Denny Gibson Avatar

        283 V8 automatic and it wasn’t exactly a speedster. Eventually, though, it could get rolling too fast for the steering, brakes, …

  2. ryoko861 Avatar

    Well, being a car geek, this was awesome! Did you see how big that steering wheel was? You could put an entire house in the trunk of those cars!

    I see those cars occasionally at car shows. And they’re in pristine shape! I wonder how they fit them in the garages!

    That is the epitome of simpler living. I love the neighborhood they drove through. The start of a development. The cookie cutter housing. And of course Dinah Shore! Everybody’s sweetheart! She had a beautiful voice as well!

    Great post!

    1. Jim Avatar

      Steering wheels used to be huge! Do you remember how they used to be large even in compact cars? I had a ’75 Pinto once, and its steering wheel touched my legs.

      1. ryoko861 Avatar

        Oh, you mean those cars that would implode upon rear end impact? LOL!!

        Never noticed the steering wheel in those cars, but I know the larger FORDS had big steering wheels. Even when I get into one of my Mustangs, it’s an adjustment to get used to!

        1. Jim Avatar

          It was a great little car! I wrote about it.

  3. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    Oh, you can’t fool me. Dinah Shores lived millions of years before TV.

    I remember that video of the crash test… that still amazes me. Like most people, I assumed the 50s car would, in the words of “Doc” Brown from Back to the Future, “rip through us like tin foil”. It was truly instructive to see the ’59 shredded and the ’09 crumple and come through intact. Maybe “Doc” never heard of Ralph Nader. :)

    I have a friend who used to work in a photo lab in Northern Ontario and they had the regional contract to develop the Ontario Provincial Police’s crash photos back in the 60s and 70s. The job fell to my friend. What he saw made him a firm believer in seat belts long before the law made them mandatory. Sadly, one of the things the 50s was lacking. Combined with the fact that characters like Otis the loveable drunk were still just objects of mirth and driving drunk was still funny, it’s amazing anyone survived being on the road in those days!

    1. Jim Avatar

      We weren’t as safety-crazy then as we are now. I think the pendulum was too far one way in 1959, and too far the other way now. We’re trying to protect ourselves from every possible thing that can hurt us, even if the probability of it happening is infinitesimal.

      I have a theory about the 1950s. I think it is when the US started to become the mobile, suburban society it is today. Cars got fast in the 1950s, faster than the network of roads could handle in many cases, and there were way more fast cars on those roads than there had ever been. Accidents became more severe; more people died. It took people like Nader to bring the right attention to the problem.

      1. Jona Denz-Hamilton Avatar
        Jona Denz-Hamilton

        Being a traffic reporter for years, I can tell you that the likelihood of being in a vehicle accident is way more possible than you imply. Many people I know would be disabled or dead if not for modern safety features. That’s why my Volvo is on the road and my ’64 GTO convertible sits in my garage.

        1. Jim Avatar

          I was in an accident about a year before I wrote this where the safety features in my car allowed my whole family to walk away unharmed. The car was a total loss, in large part because it crumpled to absorb the impact. So you’re absolutely right.

      1. Lone Primate Avatar
        Lone Primate

        I love that post. :) What a nice piece of reflection. Like you, I tend to prize what was… I think many because it “was”. There’s a kind of romanticism in thinking that something essentially abandoned was one actually essential, and trying to connect with a time and mindset when it was. I’m particularly fascinated by one-lane bridges that once served roads I know that now have 4, 6 lanes, etc. But your encounter with the older man is telling. These things change for a reason and most people — the people who prompted those changes — are glad to see them.

        People like us have the “luxury” of getting wistful about narrow roads and narrow bridges that caused someone ELSE a lot of bother, but not us. ;)

        1. Jim Avatar

          I’m thinking about repeating that post, edited for brevity, here soon.

          My dad used to talk about this one-lane iron bridge on (now old) US 31 south of my hometown and what a “pain in the pratt” it was with stoplights on either end. Me, I just wish I could have seen that bridge before they tore it down in the 80s!

  4. vanilla Avatar

    The blessing, and the curse, of nostalgia is that we remember clearly things the way they never were.
    Enjoyed Dinah’s drive and song. Who, today, though would sit still for a two-minute commercial?

    1. Jim Avatar

      Who will sit through a two-minute commercial? Apparently, readers of this blog!

      1. vanilla Avatar

        Got me there. Self included.

      2. Lone Primate Avatar
        Lone Primate

        You bet. :D

        Is GM still hiring?…

        Here’s a car we hope you’ll dare!
        Drive around in your Corvair!
        Take the curves “at any speed”,
        Safe or “unsafe”, that you need
        Feel the wheels beneath you folding
        As the steering wheel you’re holding
        Brisky impacts with your chest
        (It’s the 60s; can’t say “breast”)!
        Ernie Kovacs would agree
        When it’s wrapped around a tree
        What a stylish way to go!
        So drop by and say hello!

        1. Jim Avatar

          I LOL’d at line 8!

  5. Nancy [ Roe ] Stewart Avatar
    Nancy [ Roe ] Stewart

    If the one lane bridge you mentioned south of your home town, is the one down at Rochester , which happens to be my home town, of course I have memories of it. Crossing that old bridge was just a part of daily life. I don’t even remember there being stop lights at it. It was just whoever got there first went first and you hoped the other guy waited. If I remember correctly and you were very careful and the vehicles were not too big you could squeeze past at the same time. There were a few teenagers that I “might have known” that thought that was sort of a challenge!!

    1. Jim Avatar

      Yep, that’s the bridge! Maybe my dad encountered some of those teenagers and that’s why he called the crossing a pain!

      The south abutment still stands. Here it is:

      One-lane bridge approach

    2. Lone Primate Avatar
      Lone Primate

      “It was just whoever got there first went first and you hoped the other guy waited.”

      Wasn’t there a scene in “Ode to Billy Joe” that highlighted the perils of that philosophy? :)

      Yeah! There is!

      1. Jim Avatar

        Holy frijoles!

  6. Malerie Cohen Avatar

    Hi Jim –
    What a fun blog! Thanks for reading and commenting on mine. Yes, roadways have come along way since those gravel days, though of course, cars have, too.!

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thanks! It’s hard to imagine now what the highway system was like in its early days!

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