I just got my copy of David Apatoff's long-awaited book about Bernie Fuchs, who many of us consider the greatest illustrator active in the waning days of large-circulation, general-interest magazines. Actually, Fuchs can be ranked as one of the very best American illustrators ever.
During his brief career-building phase (he rocketed to the top by the time he was in his late 20s) Fuchs spent a few years in Detroit working on advertisement and brochure illustrations for automobiles. He mostly did backgrounds and settings, leaving rendering of the car to a specialist. But Apatoff's book suggests that he might have illustrated cars from time to time: he definitely paid close attention to how that was done.
Because of that background, he wasn't afraid to include cars in some of his advertising and editorial assignments, and those cars were easy to identify. That is, he didn't invent his own designs for generic cars.
This is in contrast to the depiction of automobiles on covers of the Saturday Evening Post, the leading American general-interest magazine for most of the first two-thirds of the 20th century. I did a Google search for usable images of Post covers that included automobiles for inclusion in this blog post. I didn't turn up every Post cover from 1945 through 1959 (my target era). All covers can be found on the Post web site, but they are watermarked and therefore not usable here. What I found was that most car designs were totally made up by the illustrator. In a few cases, cars pictured were close to actuality, but partly hidden by other subject matter.
Why did this happen? The Saturday Evening Post was a favorite "ad buy" for advertising agencies with automotive clients. Every issue could be counted on having a number of car ads. So my guess is that the magazine's editors and art directors instructed illustrators to avoid portraying actual cars, this so that advertisers would not be offended. ("Hey, guys, we spend tons of money on Chevrolet ads and your latest cover featured a Ford!! Are you giving them a free plug or something? We just might switch more of our budget to Life and Collier's.")
If anyone knows for sure why the Post featured generic cars, please let us know in Comments.
This wartime illustration, when no American cars were being built, shows a 1941 Ford. A reference book of mine has a photo of what seems to be this car -- same police sign, same license plate.
This police car is a 1949 or 1950 Ford. However, clipping off the front and rear ends and placing the man in front of the car make it hard to identify for many people.
One last Post example of an identifiable car. It is a 1954 Mercury with some distinctive side trim abaft of the door missing. Placing all the camping stuff in front of the car also helps to disguise it. The image's watermark is because this is a slightly cleaned-up cover by a poster-selling firm.
Now we show what was typical for the Post. The front of the car is somewhat like a 1950 Cadillac, but the rest is nondescript.
These cars look vaguely like early '50s General Motors models, but they lack brand identification ornamentation.
The cars pictured in this cover are totally contrived (though the side trim on the red car is similar to some 1956 Fords).
The wraparound windshield is similar to 1954-56 General Motors "C" body cars, but the rest of the car illustrated here is imaginary.
A totally imaginary design. However, in the background is what looks like a Jeep station wagon.
The cars in the foreground are imaginary, but farther away I notice shapes and trim that remind me of mid-50s production cars. But their images are so tiny and partial that it doesn't matter.
I used this Coby Whitmore cover in another Art Contrarian post. Whitmore was a total car guy and knew full well what different brands looked like. But had to come up with his own designs here.