Philip K. Dick's The Man In The High Castle has been a masterpiece of alternative history for decades. So when Amazon announced they were going to make a series out of it, many were excited. And sure, it seems promising so far, but how are they doing with the cars?
The pilot episode displayed some pretty significant differences than the book, but the fundamental tenets are the same: this is a world where the Axis won World War II, and what was once the USA is now divided between Japanese rule (on the Pacific coast) and the Nazi Reich (from the East coast roughly to the Rockies, where a small buffer state exists.)
There will undoubtedly be a great deal written about how this show portrays these alternative nations, but I want to focus on how cars are used to tell the story, and how well the producers and automotive-casters of the show have done their job. Since this will likely be full of spoilers for the actual show as it is, I may as well throw in one more: the car-casting people did their job pretty damn well, with a few notable exceptions. Here's some notable cars I spotted, and what I think of their inclusion — we'll start with the Nazi-controlled territory, then move on to Japan's Pacific States:
This one was probably the easiest one to cast for the Nazi-dominated world. Even in our world, before the war was even fought, the idea for a German "people's car" was well underway. It makes sense that a world where the Axis won would be filled with Volkswagens. Hell, they lost in reality, and the world was/is still full of them! Some things are just constants, I suppose.
In this scene from Nazi-controlled New York, we see what appears to be a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air. While I think that GM would have survived the war, even with a US loss, I don't think a car like the Bel Air would exist. It's styling is too exuberant, too tied to American 1950s power and security and ambition. Even if we could look close and see that this car is in fact badged as an Opel Bel Air, I don't think American car styling would have gone down this flamboyant route in the event of a WWII defeat.
This New York scene seems more plausible. If we look at Germany's recovery after the war, we find that the decade following their defeat was one of austerity and recovery — lean times. That's where these cars — this Messerschmitt KR200 and that Isetta — were born. These were bubble cars, minimal transport designed to get a family motorized and mobile as cheaply and efficiently as possible. With the US swapping places as the losing side in this alternate history, it's not unlikely that there would be a healthy market for such cars, even extending into the year this show is set, 1962.
This one is a little more puzzling. This scene takes place in Reich-controlled New York, but that car is a Japanese Nissan Patrol jeep-like vehicle. With the story setting up the Reich and the Japanese Empire locked in a cold war, this would be like having Soviet GAZ jeeps in New York in the 1960s — not a likely prospect. This vehicle doesn't really make sense in this scene.
During WWII in our reality, the VW Beetle design was modified for war use and became the very effective Kubelwagen, which served a role equivalent to the US Jeep. This Kubel looks pretty much just like the WWII ones from the '40s, but the show takes place in 1962. This may not be an issue, as even American Army Jeeps looked pretty much the same as their WWII counterparts in 1962. Maybe this one has improvements and changes we just can't really see, and it's generally the right choice for this role, I think.
It's not unlikely that the US would get back to making big trucks even if we lost the war, and this mid-'50s GMC is a fairly likely candidate in either reality. The styling is a bit baroque, but not quite in that same space-age way as many '50s US cars in our timeline. I think this works.
Since that GMC truck (and that improbable Bel Air) has established GM as still extant in this dark alternate world, having a general-use Chevy sedan doesn't seem unlikely, and the more understated '60s design vocabulary of this Biscayne seems probable for even a defeated, but still stylish, America.
Now, let's move to the Japanese-controlled Pacific States of America:
This one is especially interesting. We see a Messerschmitt in the crowd there, which I find improbable for the same reason I found the Nissan Patrol improbable: Japan and Germany are in a Cold War, and I think that makes a lot of trade like this uncertain.
More interesting is that Citroën 2CV. It's the only French car seen so far, and while France is under Reich control, it's not exactly part of the Reich. This may also reference France's pre-war colonies in Asia and Indochina, and even hints at the early development of the Japanese car industry in our world, where companies like Hino (later part of Toyota) built French Renaults in the post-war years.
The Subaru 360 makes a lot of sense for the Pacific States in the same way that the VW Beetle makes sense for the Reich-controlled US. The Subaru 360 was, in many ways, Japan's Volkswagen, the first real affordable car that put Japanese families on the roads. I'd fully believe that a Japanese Empire-controlled country in this 1962 would have plenty of 360s buzzing around.
The Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman shown here is de-badged, which makes me think that the producers of the series didn't want it to be identified as a Mercedes-Benz, which is sensible: a Benz in this context makes no sense. The car here is used as an official Japanese government vehicle, and using a Benz in this world for this purpose would be like the Secretary of State in our 1962 reality riding around in a ZIL Soviet limousine. The car is too distinctive looking as Benz, even if they tried to hide it, and the wrong choice.
These Mercedes Benz 600 Pullman weren't even around until 1963 in our reality, anyway. They should have hunted down a nice 1962 Toyota Crown Limousine. I mean, come on — Amazon has the money, right?
Still, overall, an impressive effort. Room for improvement, sure, but unlike so many television series, it's clear someone actually cared enough to at least try to do this right, automotively.