Mad Men & Mustangs: The Cars Missing from AMC’s Hit Series
I’m an extremely late adopter of AMC’s swinging ‘60s series Mad Men, but I’ve spent the last few months getting myself caught up. While I was midway through Season 5, I heard Marc Maron’s interview with Dick Van Dyke on the WTF Podcast, and the iconic sitcom star — steeped in the design ethic of Mad Men — mentioned he liked the show, but thought the clothes were all wrong. And then it hit me that the cars were, too. Here’s the thing about Don Draper: He’s a car guy. He made his bones pushing iron on a used car lot. In Season 2, Episode 12, there’s a scene where Don’s in California, visiting with the wife of the man whose identity Don assumes. It’s just after he’s driven down the Pacific Coast Highway in an Imperial Crown Convertible. He introduces himself to a couple of guys working on a 1933 Ford Tudor V-8 powered hot rod and you get the sense that he’s spent some spinning wrenches himself.
I guess, given the timeframe of the series, that a ‘62 Cadillac is an appropriate car for a guy who’s worked his way up the ladder at a New York ad agency. In Season 5, he’s behind the wheel of a 1965 Coupe DeVille. But by 1968 — in which we arrive during the earliest episodes of Season 6 — Cadillac had not only delivered the most tailored, svelte, chiseled Coupe DeVille in its history, it had also produced the 1967 Cadillac Eldorado, one of the most revolutionary automobiles available to the general public. And Sterling Cooper Draper Price reps Jaguar. Where’s the XKE? Maybe later in Season 6 we’ll see the agency expand its relationship with Jaguar as British Leyland comes into being.
Of course, the whole premise of the program is that Don Draper is a man for whom time has stood still. You can see it in the final minutes of the season finale of Season 5, when Don Draper drops the needle on the final track of the Beatles’ 1966 release, Revolver, and completely misses the point of “Tomorrow Never Knows.” But it’s hard to believe that a guy who’s at the top of his game is going to be driving an almost four-year-old Cadillac in 1968.
It took a look at IMCDb.org to confirm a few other things that don’t sit right. Where are all the Mustangs? In 1965 — Season 4 in Mad Men parlance — Ford sold an astounding 559,451 Mustangs. There were only 93 million licensed drivers in 1965. One in 167 of them were driving a Mustang in 1965. Yet IMCDb.org only shows two: One as a background vehicle across from the Draper residence, and one in the background in the episode that takes place at Howard Johnson’s.
Where are all the Volkswagens? VW of America was truly hitting its stride by 1967 and 1968. Just a few years later, Volkswagen would capture seven percent of the US vehicle market. Yet only one 1958 Volkswagen appears early in Season 1. The odds of seeing a Volkswagen in New York by 1965 or 1966 would be greater than seeing a Camry in that city today. Yet, nobody seems to drive one. But in Mad Men’s universe, there are exactly as many Volkswagen Typ 1 Sedans plying American highways as there are Henry J Corsairs (Season 1, Episode 13) and Packard Patricians (Season 2, Episode 3).
Part of the reason you don’t see a whole lot of exterior shots at all came up in Terry Gross’s interview with series creator Matthew Weiner on Fresh Air last week. He mentioned that a lot of scenes take place in elevators first because a lot of interesting conversations do happen there, but also because they work on a tiny budget and elevators are cheap to shoot.
Once you’re past the great writing and fantastic character development, part of the fun of watching Mad Men is dissecting minutiae like this and seeing if it passes the sniff test. It’ll be interesting to see where the rest of the episodes lead.
This story was originally published on Craig's personal car site, Clunker Nation.