It’s brutally, absurdly cold outside in much of the U.S. When it comes to your car, however, things could be worse. While a merciless polar vortex has left nearly 90 million Americans dealing with sub-freezing temperatures—including 25 million who’ve experienced lows of -20 or below—just imagine what it was like trying to keep your car on the road during cold winter months a century ago and even into the 1940s and ’50s.
Starting your car was a crap shoot. Batteries were bad. Spark plugs were not much better. And for years an alcohol fuel additive to absorb the moisture in your carburetors so they wouldn’t freeze was a common thing to keep on hand (these days, fuel-injection solves a lot of that problem, plus modern ethanol gasoline is less likely to freeze thanks to detergents that make it more stable in the cold). And conventional oil doesn’t flow as reliably in the cold as today’s synthetic oil does.
The tires were also worse (get out the chains! Or liquid chains!). And the heaters? They were ridiculously inefficient—if your car even had one in the first place. Now we can start our cars with a push of a button… before we leave the house.
After looking at some vintage automotive advertising, we’re reminded of just how good we have it these days.
Ford really put its batteries to the test. In this 1953 ad, tester Jack Frost notes, “Yup, it’s cold alright.”
In 1954, Ford used a great visual to illustrate what winter does to your engine. This ad actually looked ahead to spring maintenance, when you could finally “Lift winter out of your Ford.”
In this vintage ad, British Petroleum boasts that it tested its Visco-Static oil in “typical Artic winter conditions” in Swedish Lapland. The “intense cold” only reached -10 degrees Fahrenheit, however, which would have been considered a warming trend in the Midwest this week.
Heaters were so bad—or non-existent—in pre-war cars that aftermarket heaters were big business. Not only that, Francisco is fun to say.
What better way to warm up your engine (or assistant it in starting) than adding some Heet to your gas? “Now she’ll really start!”
Mobiloil Arctic provided “triple-action engine performance” by protecting your car’s radiator, gears, and chassis. Did you know that your friendly Mobilgas dealer could provide “Scientific Mobilubrication”? Mobilneither did we.
An early Mobilgas advertisement asked, “What did winter do to your car?” How much time do you have?
Prestone sounded a lot like your mother in this anti-freeze ad: “Remember last winter.”
Texaco used a little humor to provide an alternative to old-school cold-start methods. Instead of sling-shotting your car and popping the clutch, “Somebody ought to tell him about Sky Chief gasoline.”
This young lady is thankful for South Wind heaters, because “Mommy doesn’t put me in my snow suit every time we go out.”
As far back as 1917, you could buy aftermarket “Steer Warms” that attached to your steering wheel and supposedly kept your hands toasty warm. Considering that the manufacturer was located in New Orleans, which isn’t exactly a winter wonderland, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the product didn’t catch on.
Texaco Sky Chief was at it again in this ad, which shows a chauffeur attempting to warm the engine by pouring boiling water on it. Did that actually work?
Tire chains were much more common back in the day. The company that manufactured Weed Tire Chains must have used the same advertising agency as Prestone did, since we’re immediately reminded, “Remember last winter?” You people keep reminding us all the time, so how could we forget?