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SEAT BELTS came late to the automobile, as we will see here from a series of 1967 R&Ts. In the earliest days of powered mobility, no one thought of securing oneself in the contraption, even if it was an aeroplane flying hundreds of feet off the ground. Indeed, aviatrix Harriet Quimby and her passenger perished at a 1912 airshow when both pitched out of her Blériot because of turbulent air. Fortunately, by the Twenties, aircraft seat belts were de rigueur.
Yet, thirty years later, automotive race drivers preferred to be “thrown clear.” And ordinary motorists gave nary a thought to being held in place by other than their own strength. Today, only dolts fail to buckle up their cars’ three-point seat belts.
By the mid-Fifties, the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory and other facilities had demonstrated the efficacy of seat belts in automotive applications. Bill Milliken was one of its researchers, and his aviation background had already led him in the late Forties to mount an aircraft seat belt in his Bugatti Type 35A race car.
Ford “whiz kid” Robert McNamara persuaded Henry Ford II to introduce optional lap belts in 1955 Fords, as Nash had done in 1949. The optional belts were part of Ford’s Lifeguard package and heavily advertised in its 1956 and 1957 ads.
New car buyers flocked to Chevy dealers and Ford’s Hank the Deuce allegedly said, “McNamara is selling safety; Chevrolet is selling cars.”
Swedish automakers Saab and Volvo fitted three-point seat belts as standard equipment in their 1959 cars. The Volvo belt, invented by engineer Nils Bohlin, had a steel latchplate that attached to a ring on the center console. Volvo waived the patent rights on its design so that other automakers were encouraged to follow suit.
As Ford found in the mid-Fifties, it was a hard sell.
But in 1967, British carmaker Rover based its U.S. ad campaign on safety. It was a risky activity, though leavened with extreme cleverness.
Rover began this print campaign with a truism: that a light switch shouldn’t electrocute you. Fair enough; and later in the ad it read, innocuously, “(Please fasten your safety harness, though.)”
Haven’t the kids heard this message before? The one about “five miles to school, in the snow.” I also like the way the ad bleeds off the page with “fasten them you will blister….”
Of course, we all had well-meaning nannies for our kids. And Nanny should know best.
S-e-x always sells. Don’t you love her headgear?
General Sir Samuel James Browne VC GCB KCSI, 1824–1901, was a British Indian Army cavalry officer. He served in both India and Afghanistan, and may well have known Dr. John H. Watson at Maiwand.
During the Indian Mutiny, Lieutenant-Colonel Browne lost his left arm while succeeding in cutting down one of the rebel force. It’s said he fashioned his eponymous belt to stabilize his sword scabbard employed one-handed. The belt became popular with the British Army after Browne’s retirement in 1898.
The 1967 ad’s nonchalant cigarette wouldn’t be PC today, though it does add to the devil-may-care scarf, aviator helmet, and goggles.
Wife Dottie’s R&T bound volume for 1967 is inexplicably missing October, and it was in November that the Rover Motor Co. of N. America Ltd. summarized its Safety Harness campaign with a two-page ad beginning, “We Have Been Severely Criticised…” (I love the British spelling.)
It noted, “…if our advertising causes even a few drivers to be more prudent, then surely it is worth the effort. Besides, we thought you already knew all the good things about this car. Apparently we were wrong.”
The ad concluded with “Unselfishly, we can’t help pointing out that a car that doesn’t sell can save no lives. (Neither can a safety harness that you neglect to fasten.”
Amen to that. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017