10 (more) masterful Pontiac ads from Fitzpatrick and Kaufman
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. They don’t call ’em power couples for nothing. And when it comes to automotive art, Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman were the undisputed kings of 1960s advertising.
As we wrote the last time we focused on the work of this uniquely talented pair of artists, when Pontiac placed its new “Wide Track” advertising campaign in the capable hands of Fitzpatrick and Kaufman in 1959, it was the start of something special. Or the continuation of something special, since the two had been working together since 1949.
Fitzpatrick drew the cars, Kaufman the backgrounds and people, and together they created 285 memorable advertisements for Pontiac from 1959–71, which, in our opinion, means they created 285 masterpieces. The duo gained fans from all over the world, including a very important one right in their own backyard. “I wish some of your talent could be spread around our corporation,” General Motors styling boss Bill Mitchell once wrote to Fitz-Van. “This time I don’t have enough words in my vocabulary to tell you how I and my entire staff feel about the artwork.”
Obviously, narrowing the list to the best of the best is easier said than done. We first gave it a go about a year ago, and since so many amazing pieces of Fitz-Van artwork didn’t make the original cut, we’re back again for round two. And even with 10 fabulous ads already out of the way, the process wasn’t any less difficult.
After another joyfully excruciating journey through the archives, here are 10 more masterful Pontiac ads from Fitzpatrick and Kaufman.
1959 Bonneville, Horsepower
One of Fitz-Van’s earliest Pontiac ads, this one arrived at the height of the tailfin craze—literally and figuratively. Although the fins on the ’59 Pontiac Bonneville pale in comparison to those on the ’59 Cadillac Eldorado (arguably the greatest of all time), they were certainly worth placing in the spotlight, and Fitz did a marvelous job of doing just that. Kaufman’s backdrop brilliantly places the car at a weekend equestrian event, although the rider holding the saddle seems to be standing a tad close to the front fender.
1960 Bonneville, The Winner
As we move closer to the 2020 presidential election, this Fitz-Van ad seems not only timely, but 60 years later it still seems fresh. As elegantly-dressed supporters joyfully exit a victory party, an equally classy 1960 Bonneville awaits the newly elected politician—accompanied by a motorcycle cop. Fitzpatrick and Kaufman rarely showed an automobile at night, since it’s more difficult to see the car’s attributes, but this artwork perfectly sells the image that Pontiac was going for.
1961 Bonneville, Georgetown
One year later, Fitz and Van continued to portray the Bonneville as the would-be choice for those in the successful and influential crowd. While the previous ad suggested that the location was in Washington, D.C., this one makes it clear: the ’61 Bonneville is in swanky Georgetown. The car is gorgeously depicted, of course, but Kaufman extended the scene horizontally, giving it more depth and adding to the visual story. This one should be framed and hung on your wall—or, better yet, on mine.
1964 Catalina, Arnaud’s
Fitzpatrick and Kaufman are trying to sell a car here, of course, but this evening scene showing patrons outside New Orleans’ famous Arnaud’s Louisiana restaurant also sells the experience—as does almost every other Fitz-Van ad. Arnaud’s, located in the heart of the French Quarter, is the largest restaurant in New Orleans and has been serving classic Creole cuisine since 1918. The famous eatery is currently closed to sit-down patrons in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but don’t worry, you can still get take-out. And, as Fitz-Van clearly showed, a ’64 Catalina can get you there in style.
1968 Catalina, Pebble Beach Golf
Rarely will you see a 1968 Catalina associated with Pebble Beach—certainly not when it comes to the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance—but this ad effectively captures that ol’ blue feeling you get when life rains on your parade or, more appropriately, your golf tournament. And, let’s face it, if you don’t feel blue when you look at this ad, you may be colorblind. In this case, blue is good.
1968 Executive Safari, Roundup
In the wonderful world of western art, you aren’t likely to find one in which the only form of horsepower is a car. This ad, which features a 1968 Bonneville Executive Safari, plays well in both western and automotive genres. It reminds me of an old Sons of the Pioneers record album that was in my grandfather’s record collection when I was a kid. Cattle, cowboys, and a wood-panel wagon—what’s not to like? And did you catch the modern touch that Kaufman added, which foreshadowed life in 2020? Yes, that cowboy is speaking to someone on his new-fangled car phone.
1969 GTO, Cortina
Shhhhhhhh. I know that snow in springtime is a no-no, but come on, this ad is awesome. If you live in the mountains or the Midwest, you’ve experienced many mornings like this—a truly magical scene that makes your jaw drop… clean and cold, fresh snow hanging from the trees, Mother Nature beckoning you to come out and play. This ’69 GTO answered the call, although taking on snow-covered roads in a rear-wheel-drive muscle car might be a little, shall we say, adventurous.
1970 Firebird, Silver
Bond. James Bond. Wait a tic! That’s not 007—nor is that an Aston Martin. Fitzpatrick and Kaufman did their brilliant best to channel the legendary British spy, and the guy in the ad looks pretty happy with his silver ’70 Firebird. I would be too.
1970 Trans Am, Boys Toys
Given the choice between the Firebird above and this 1970 Trans Am, however… Aptly named Boys Toys, this ad screams speed, even though the car is clearly parked. What is happening here anyway? Is the owner entering a race? Going through an emissions inspection? Signing a petition before stealing this gorgeous car, while his buddy watches for cops? We’ll never know. Nor should we care. This ad does exactly what it’s meant to do—it makes you want a Trans Am of your very own. Nicely done.
1971 GTO, Road to Eze
Kaufman, a world traveler, placed Fitzpatrick’s cars in exotic, romantic locations with beautiful people having the time of their lives. They even traveled around the world looking for possible locations. “As Van and I used to say, ‘I can’t believe they’re paying us all this money to have so much fun,’” Fitzpatrick once explained to Hagerty. Obviously, their travels led to the southern coast of France and the Road to Eze. It may be the road less taken, but it’s one we’d all like to be on right about now—better yet in a 1971 GTO.