You know those strange, generic-ized car-chimeras you see in things like insurance company advertisements and body shop ads or ads for acessories like floormats? We usually think of those as products of the era of Photoshop, but they’ve actually been around much longer. I think these may be two of the earliest examples of this fascinating subspecies, automobilia generica.
I should do a bit of qualifying, here. To be a real example of this sort of generic no-brand car, the car should attempt to appear to be fairly convincing and close to photoreal. Old paintings and drawings of, say, racecars in motion don’t really count, since their goal is not primarily the erasure of any distinguishing traits like these generic cars are.
Does that make sense? An image like this one, for example, a promo poster for a 1935 race, has a car that’s not rendered to be absolutely identifiable, but that’s not the same as making a car with the primary goal to be of unclear and undefined origin. That poster’s car, for example, is not in the same category as, say, something like this:
See the difference? I’m sure you do.
So, the earliest, mainstream example of the Deliberately Generic Car I can think of is likely this 1968/1969 Volkswagen ad:
The ad is interesting, because it’s one of the few ads from the famous Doyle Dane Bernbach-era that’s not advertising an actual car—it’s an ad for Volkswagen’s dealer-approved used car sales.
The ad shows what appears to be a car that resembles a late ‘50s American car, but with all branding removed (a series of six diamond-shaped chrome whatevers is in the place where a brand name may have been) and a pair of sinister fang-like protuberances growing from the grille.
It resembles any number of American cars of the era, but isn’t exactly any of them—in short, the ideal Generic Car. In the era before Photoshop, it’s possible this image was made using old-school photo-manipulation techniques, but I wouldn’t rule out an actual, physical car being built just for this photoshoot.
While there may be earlier examples, the huge scale of VW’s ad campaign makes me want to say that this was the birth of the Generic Ad Car.
Another interesting example from about a decade later can be found in this 1979 Volvo ad:
This one is interesting, I think, because the Other Car shown in the ad isn’t the main focus, and there’s pretty minimal effort taken to make the car look different, but it’s worth noting that Volvo’s ad people did take the time to do it.
The car is clearly a Renault 5, sold here in the U.S. as a Le Car, because we knew how to have fun back then. It looks like the photo-manipulators airbrushed out the taillights and vents on the C-pillars, the badging, and the reversing lights, and took the lower portion of the taillamps and duplicated them alongside the originals to make it look like the car had small, low, horizontal rear lamps.
The result was probably good enough.
In some ways, you could argue the results were better than some of what we see today; here’s a modern commercial with a generic car:
And while, sure, now we can genericize cars in actual video, look at this bit of half-assery:
An empty badge? With a surrounding wreath? What is that, a 2015 Voidspace Black Hole GL?
There’s a long history to these enblandified vehicles. Respect that.