Auto columnist Greg Zyla gets some more details about the “Highway Patrol” TV show in his latest column. Follow the link to read the article. If you have a question or comment on auto nostalgia, collector cars or old-time racing, email him at Greg@gregzyla.com.
Greg, I read with interest your article in the Hornell Evening Tribune about the “Highway Patrol” show and the Buicks used by Broderick Crawford. I was about 10 years old when the program aired and remember it well.
I used to work for a man named Fred Wilkins, and he shared with me that he worked for RKO Studios back in the ‘50s, and his job was to rig the cars with plastic bolts in the fenders and doors to allow the parts to fall off as part of the stunts. He also was busy repairing all the body damage to get the TV cars ready for the next filming. Too bad the program was in black and white, as we may have seen some of those tri-colors on the Dodges and so forth. Cars seem so plain now.
I worked in a Chrysler dealership in the 1960s and early 1970s and remember how big the new car showings were. We would hide the cars until the big opening, and, wow, what a day it was. We had flowers in the showroom, free coffee and doughnuts and special signs on the showroom windows. Literally hundreds of people would show up to get their first look at the new cars. I got to work on many Plymouths, including Roadrunners, Hemi Cudas, GTXs and Furys with 140-mph speedometers. What fun that was! I enjoy your articles very much as they bring back fond memories. Jerry Clark, Arkport, N.Y.
A: Jerry, first thank you so much for the kind words and interesting info on the "Highway Patrol" Buicks. I sure do appreciate it.
I, too, remember how the manufacturers and dealers would work together for the "new car previews" every fall. Back in 1959, I clearly remember how Chevrolet promoted the new 1959 Chevy, especially with those wide wings on the back. In addition to newspapers and radio, Chevy used TV in a way that had previously impacted moviegoers.
Specifically, General Motors made commercials that gave 1/8-second "quick views" of the 1959 Chevy, especially those big rear airplane like fins across the back of the car. These "quick views" were somewhat related to "subliminal cuts," where a subconscious message would appear on the screen so quick (in milliseconds) that the conscious was not aware but the subconscious was. Moviegoers were shown extremely quick photos of popcorn, snacks and soda, and although not clear to the conscious, the subconscious got the message. America outlawed any subliminal (below the threshold of consciousness) advertising in 1958.
Yet it was Chevy's "quick views" in fully conscious 1/8-second formats that sure got my attention and interest flowing for the new car. And you are totally correct that when the new models were delivered to the dealers, they hid them as best they could. On the highways, the new models were transported in car covers, intensifying interest. I used to play "cat and mouse" at my dealer lots, as I'd follow them when they were hiding the cars and look under the covers.
As you note, the new car dealers really knew how to promote the "fall showings." By the time the big day arrived, every person had already read about the event in the local newspaper via ads and newspaper releases, and the dealer giveaways were numerous. I remember Chevy used to give away postcards, refreshments, hot dogs, special handouts, and you could even buy a "dealer promo" built AMT1/24 model car for less than $3.00. I still have several myself.
Today, the fall new car showings are a thing of the past as manufacturers release new models sometimes a year ahead of time. Still, those new car days of the past were the best, and I appreciate your letter as we looked back at some golden days in auto history.
Greg Zyla writes weekly for GateHouse Media and welcomes reader questions or comments on auto nostalgia, collector cars or old time racing at 3003 Roosevelt St., Sayre, PA 18840 or email him at Greg@gregzyla.com.