Old Cars, Photography

Imagining the stories behind old photographs of cars that weren’t that old yet

66FordFalcon

Even for someone who doesn’t love cars like I do, a new car can be a point of pride of pleasure. How many of us have photographs of ourselves with our new cars shortly after we got them? Perhaps that’s why this smiling woman was photographed with her 1966 Falcon. The Kodachrome slide from which I scanned this image is dated October, 1968, so if my guesses are right she bought this car used.

67MercuryColonyPark

This slide from January, 1967, shows that the same family also bought a brand new 1967 Mercury Colony Park. At least in the late ‘60s, this family was loyal to Ford. About 30 years later I bought a Mercury wagon, too – but it’s the only car I’ve owned that I never photographed. I wasn’t terribly excited to own it so I didn’t take a “look at my new car!” photograph, and I didn’t own it for long enough for it to end up in the background of a photograph of something else.

50Chevrolet

Our cars do commonly wind up in the frame as we photograph the scenes from our lives. This young couple, newlyweds perhaps, look to be ready to load this box into their ’50 Chevy. The ’64 Falcon that lurks in the background of this undated slide makes this Chevy a very used car, just the kind of thing two kids starting out would own.

60Ford

Just-married kids who do well eventually move up to a newer car and a starter home, like this ’60 Ford parked in this driveway. Not that this Ford was all that new; this slide was taken in February of 1967. But this photo is just the perfect image of the kind of suburban conformity that was starting to be challenged at this time.

65FordF100

Kids come sooner or later, and of course we take copious photographs of them. Sometimes our cars are the backdrop, or are even an integral part of the photo. This fellow proudly holds up his child in the cab of his ’65 F-100 in a slide dated July, 1968. This kid is about my age now! Of course, this young’un lived a more rural experience than the suburbanites above. And you know he’s from Illinois because it says so on his truck. I guess it was the law in Illinois for many years that farm trucks had to have such identification painted on the door.

Karmann

This undated slide of a Karmann-Ghia looks to have been taken on a military barracks. Could this be a German-spec Karmann photographed on a US base in Germany by a soldier who decided not to ship his car back home and wanted to remember his good times driving it? Probably not; the cars in the background don’t look very European. But it’s fun to imagine the stories behind old photographs and slides that you find.

50PontiacSilverStreak

I recently bought an inexpensive negative and slide scanner to quickly scan in all my old negatives, which go all the way back to 1976. It doesn’t do pro-quality work, but it’s good enough for my shoebox full of snapshots. I decided to review the gadget here in an upcoming post, so I bought these old slides on eBay for a few dollars to round out the review. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to find old slides featuring what are now very old cars. I saved what I think is the best for last – the oldest slide I bought, undated but based on the style of the slide mount from no later than 1952, of this woman showing off her 1950 Pontiac Silver Streak convertible. My smile would be a mile wide, too, if I owned such a gorgeous car.


I posted a version of this on the old-car site Curbside Classic, too.

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20 thoughts on “Imagining the stories behind old photographs of cars that weren’t that old yet

  1. Carole Grey says:

    Gee, that was fun! Good write ups. The slides scanned amazingly well and I want the Pontiac too!

  2. Christopher Smith says:

    Intresting set of photos and nice write up I enjoyed reading. The Pontiac is my favorite too.
    They don’t make cars like they used to.

  3. Steve Miller says:

    The abandoned Kodachromes are sad, but sad too are the billions* of cabinet cards, snaps, and framed formal portraits found in “antique” shops. Grandma as a young woman in her wedding gown… Young men off to war, perhaps never to come home… The family’s first Model T (bought well-used by its prior owner)… All these stories abandoned by their memorialists, and with little way to reconnect history to circumstance. A perfect example: http://www.shorpy.com/node/5274. What was their story?

    *Only a slight exaggeration.

    • My mom has a bunch of old family photos hanging in the house. I don’t know most of the people in them; she barely knew some of those people. There’s no family tree recorded anywhere, and the photos themselves don’t say who’s who — when I get these pictures, they will not mean much to me. That’s how pics like these end up for sale — or, worse, thrown away.

  4. Wes C says:

    Seems to me that the majority of restored vintage cars today never quite look the way they do in old photos. I guess a lot of restorers tend to use larger diameter wheels and modern tires, or change to a non-original color. Or maybe it is that you don’t see too many of the more utilitarian cars these days? My favorites are the Falcon, the F-100 and the Karmann-Ghia. Thanks for posting these!

    • I think that a lot of restorers also improve the cars they restore. Sometimes I see cars restored to well beyond factory tolerances. But you’re right, sometimes they get restored to non-original colors, or get options added during the restoration that weren’t there. I would think that if you are restoring a car but then plan to actually drive it, that you might consider switching to wheels that take modern tires.

      I think you’re right that the more utilitarian cars got used up and scrapped. I imagine that those that somehow survived and got restored got improved as described above, rather than being restored to original. The best example of this is probably the number of Pontiac LeManses that got restored into GTOs.

  5. I suppose people are still snapping pictures of women standing beside newly acquired
    cars with their iphones to post on Facebook. It seems unlikely, though, that they will evoke the same feelings of nostalgia that are brought forth by the slides and prints from times past.
    My own favorite found photo shows a woman standing in front of a new 1949 Mercury. The print’s colors are all faded and shifted, but the pride of ownership still comes across time undiminished. The picture also reflects the sense of optimism and a belief in a future of progress and prosperity which those survivors of difficult times thought would go on forever.

    • I theorize that even film snapshots from days gone by were not destined to survive the ages. They got shoved in shoeboxes or laid into albums and placed on high closet shelves seldom to be seen. In this way, they are not much different from the iPhone shots most people take today – enjoyed briefly but then forgotten.

      The important difference, of course, is that we eventually stumble upon our shoebox or album. There is something physical that might survive. The digital images we post on Facebook might as well be lost forever after a time, as it is not terribly easy to sort back x number of years on Facebook to review anything.

      I wonder how the photo of the 49 Mercury will be interpreted after everyone who remembers that postwar optimism has passed.

  6. Buying those old slides sounds like something I would do. It does fascinate me how once important memories end up discarded and forgotten. I had forgotten how it once was law in Illinois that a farm truck had to have the name of the farmer on it. I can remember my Father doing that to his trucks when it became law. I don’t know what the reasoning for it was, however no one seemed to mind doing it.

    • It was an unusual law, to be sure.

      I bought these slides entirely to test a digitizer I bought, but now that I’ve done it I’m intrigued and may buy more.

  7. Eric Nicolai says:

    I like the explanation of scanning the old Kodachrome slides. I have tons of those. My question is whether this device (Wolverine) requires you to unmount them, or can they be scanned with the mount on?

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