Vintage Detroit: Festive holidays with the Big Three

From Christmas-themed advertising to lavish displays and decorations, Detroit’s Big Three—Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler—have a long history of celebrating the most wonderful time of the year in style.

This amazing collection of memorabilia, vintage artwork, and historic photos bring the glory days of Christmas in the Motor City back to life.

Special thanks to GM Media Archives, Ford Motor Archives, and FCA Heritage for sharing their heartwarming memories with us.

More amazing classics from Motoring Research:

1932 Dodge Eight Coupe

This 1932 Dodge Eight featured a new innovation called “Floating Power,” an engine mounting system that isolated the driver from vibration. Price for the whole shebang was $1,115, F.O.B. the North Pole.

Ford News, 1940

Ford had its monthly publication called “Ford News” throughout much of the 20th Century. This shot appeared in the 1940 Christmas edition. With the amount of pearls, diamonds, and mink on Grandma, that has to be one fancy present.

1941 Nash 600

The 2.8-liter in this full-sized Nash 600 was one of the thriftiest sixes ever to come out of Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Also, winter driving is hard enough in the year 2018 with traction control and all-wheel drive. Can you imagine the nerve it would take to do it in 1941?

1941 Chevrolet Special Deluxe Sport Sedan

The Special Deluxe Sport Sedan was a luxury car for the working elf. Under the hood was Chevy’s legendary 216-cid stovebolt six.

Henry and Edsel Ford, 1941

Henry and son Edsel Ford look reflective in this Christmas card photo from 1941, though the bench, fireplace, and cauldrons might be more appropriate in 17th Century Salem.

Plymouth, 1940s

Little Johnny is clearly gaming the Santa naughty-or-nice system by selflessly giving away his Christmas wish. We see right through you, Johnny.

1946 Chevrolet Stylemaster

Chevy produced their 19,000,000th vehicle in 1946. The milestone was marked by festively boxing up the notable Stylemaster and tying it up with a bow for Christmas.

1946 Oldsmobile Ninety Series

This merry Oldsmobile Ninety sedan is part of the Christmas display in front of the Olds Motor Works in Lansing, Michigan.

GMC Holiday Card, ca. 1948

This appears to be the original artwork for holiday advertising from GMC trucks. After all, what says “Buy our new automatic transmission!” more clearly than an adorable pig munching on a Christmas apple?

1948 The Beautiful Chrysler Winter Ad

The Beautiful Chrysler shown provocatively unclothed is showing off “her” (according to the ad copy) smooth new independent front suspension. Language has changed since then, and now referring to machinery as “her” is met with a Frosty reception.

Pontiac advertising card, 1950

This spectacular original Pontiac advertising artwork suggests the perfect gift idea for people whose friends are going to be wearing the “I’m totally NOT disappointed” smile on Christmas morning.

1953 Ford Crestline Convertible

Not to completely nerd out here, but the Christmas ornaments in the foreground are Seafoam Green, Fern Mist Green, Greenbriar Green, Bronze Chrome, Flamingo Red, Coral Flame, Sheridan Blue, and Sungate Ivory.

See? There are bigger nerds that adult Harry Potter fans.

GMC Holiday card artwork, ca. 1955

More fantastic original holiday advertising artwork. Though the date is a reasonable estimate based on the logotype, the bus coming up the road in the background is a Scenicruiser, built for Greyhound between 1954 and 1956.

1955 Buick Roadmaster

The fourth Venti-Port (Buick porthole, for non-nerds) on the flank of this Roadmaster demarks it as a deluxe Nailhead V8 model.

Also, they’re sticking an entire tree in the trunk. Anything on the West Coast in 2018 with that much room is a $200 a night AirBnB.

Children’s Party at Henry Ford Hospital

Santa making the rounds at the Henry Ford Hospital. The Detroit health center was one of the nation’s pioneers in open-heart surgery, transplants, and antibiotic research, and still exists today.

The hospital performed the first open heart surgery using a heart-lung machine in 1956. The patient was a 15-month old infant.

1957 Pontiac Star Chief Convertible

This Jet Age Pontiac is on display in the lobby of the General Motors Design Center. You can throw this one in along with our Fairlane, Santa.

1958 Cadillac Fleetwood Series Advertisement

This bewinged 1958 Cadillac is dropping off passengers at the Winged Foot Golf Club, which still exists today in tony Westchester County, New York.

1960 Chrysler Windsor

Chrysler’s impossibly long and low 1960 Windsor introduced unibody construction to the line. It was also one of the first vehicles that used computers to help with design and engineering.

1961 Pontiac Bonneville Safari Station Wagon and Tempest Sedan

GM invited holiday revelers to begin their Christmas shopping at a Pontiac dealer in December, 1960. We have to admit, either of these vintage cuties would make an excellent present.

1962 Ford World Headquarters tree and carolers

Ford’s indomitable Christmas spirit continued even after the November 1962 fire that destroyed the Rotunda and Christmas Fantasy exhibition. Carolers gathered in front of Ford World Headquarters to wish each other Merry Christmas.

1964 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray Convertible

Across town, GM showed off its prized Corvette Sting Ray at the Design Center in December of 1963. Interestingly, the Sting Ray didn’t become the Stingray until 1968.

Corvette Display, 1965

This shot was taken in early January 1965 at the GM Design Center. There are a few details on the vehicle like the chrome gills that look wonderfully like design studies.

GM-X Concept Car, 1965

Parked next to the Corvette is the GM-X Concept Car that was displayed at the 1964 New York World’s Fair as the GM-X Stiletto. The aircraft-inspired vehicle had a yoke rather than a steering wheel and an interior littered with myriad gauges, switches, and control knobs to complete the jet fighter look.

GM Styling Lobby, 1965

No cars here, but this 1965 photo of the GM Styling Center lobby is just so delightfully Mad Men that we had to share.

GM Styling Lobby, 1966

Yes, it actually got even more amazing the next year. We’re stealing every idea in this picture.

Oh, and for the car nerds out there, that looks to be the rear quarterpanel of a 1967 Ford Galaxie.

1968 Pontiac Firebird Convertible

The Design Center showed off again with an achingly pretty 1968 Pontiac Firebird 400 convertible, which inspired what might best be called peak automotive Christmasgasm in several of our staffers.

1971 Chevrolet Vega Station Wagon

After the Age of Aquarius crashed and burned at Altamont, Santa downsized his sleigh to this compact Vega station wagon and ushered in the Malaise Era.

1976 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Coupe

This disco-perfect C3 Stingray looks like a perfect gift for the holidays. Alas, the Malaise Era was in full swing and horsepower numbers rivalled a sick reindeer.

1989 Dodge Grand Caravan Christmas Ad

The Eighties were good to Chrysler and the Dodge Grand Caravan created a totally new segment. Santa found it so useful he reportedly busted the reindeer union and fired the whole reindeer team. Reaganomics in action, right there.

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