Story of the Week

Posted: 02.10.2014
A History Of African -Americans Featured In Automotive Advertising 1957-
By- Robert Tate-Automotive Historian/Researcher.
Images-courtesy of Bob Tate's collection.
The journey of African Americans in automotive advertising starts with the year 1957. The 1950's was a period of change and style within the automotive market as more people of all cultures were beginning to purchase new homes as well as new automobiles. After the war had ended, many African Americans migrated from the south and were now working for the automobile manufacturing companies.

It seemed as American dream had become realized and many people wanted their families to experience better lifestyles as well. Automotive companies took note of the changes happening during this period of time and sought to include more diversity in their marketing strategies.

In 1957, Chrysler began to use African American female models as part of their new advertising campaign to sale automobiles. Mr. Virgil Exner, responsible for styling, created a new line of Chrysler products that consumers thoroughly enjoyed.

The first image in this story is a 1957 Plymouth convertible which featured one of the first African American female models to be used for a great advertising campaign during that year. Later, 1957 Imperial advertising soon followed suit. Chrysler, was also one of the first manufactures to feature automobile advertising in an Ebony magazine publication in the early 1950's ,which was soon followed by GM and Ford.

In the 1950's, there were certain models which were very popular within the African American community for example, Cadillac, Buick Electra 225, Ford, Chevrolet, Plymouth, Dodge and Studebaker's. Studebakers were very common because of Mr. Ed Davis, who managed the only African American car dealership in Detroit and who had owned "Davis Motors Sales, " since 1939. Davis Motor Sales was located at 421 East Vernor in Detroit’s east side.

Chrysler, continued to have much success with their African American female models and in 1959, Dodge advertising campaigns began to use African American families as part of their advertising campaigns. This created a great marketing campaign for Dodge in 1959 and increased sales among the African American community.

The 1960's introduced more positive change and the relationship was an even greater success because General Motors, Ford and Chrysler were now introducing more African Americans in their automobile advertising.

For Studebaker, in 1960 and 1965 the automobiles were highlighted with young African American women who appeared in Ebony magazine or automotive catalogs.

The 1960's was also the beginning era of the muscle car advertising which African Americans were included in the great and popular 1968 Camaro advertising campaign. This ad was aimed toward young men of all races.

The 1970's - 1980's featured many African American actors including Bill Cosby, the great man of comedy, who became one of the great spokespersons for Ford Motor company. Another was Reggie Jackson, who was not only a great Baseball player but also was featured in many popular Volkswagen advertising during the early 1980's.

One of the two greatest automotive illustrators of all times, Arthur Fitzpatrick & Mr. Van Kaufman, who created many great Pontiac advertisements in 1971, featured a young African American couple in their Pontiac Bonneville ad for General Motors.

Today, African Americans have spent over $ 400 billion dollars on goods and services along with the purchases of new automobiles. In 2012-13, Dodge marketing came up with a powerful advertising strategy which featured Ralph Gilles, President and CEO of the company's Street and Racing Technology brand (SRT). Mr. Gilles is also behind the Chrysler 300 design and works with the 2014 SRT Viper design team.

The advertisement campaign that included Ralph Gilles was designed to spotlight the new level of performance for Dodge. It is also representative of the journey of African Americans in automotive advertisements.

A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for donating the story to the MotorCities Story of the Week program. Photographs are courtesy of the Robert Tate’s Personal Collection.

Please do not republish the story and/or photographs without permission of MotorCities National Heritage Area. For further information contact Robert Tate at If you have a story that you would like to donate to be featured as a MotorCities Story of the Week, email Desirae Tolbert at

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