Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


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.”

1959 Volvo three-point belt. Image of engineer Nils Bohlin from Volvo.

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 2000 TC Sports Sedan ad, R&T December 1966.

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.)”

Rover kids ad, R&T February 1967.

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….”

Rover nanny ad, part of the same campaign, R&T appearance unknown to me.

Of course, we all had well-meaning nannies for our kids. And Nanny should know best.

Rover wife ad, R&T March 1967.

S-e-x always sells. Don’t you love her headgear?

Rover husband ad, R&T April 1967.

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.

Rover ad recap, first page, R&T November 1967.

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.”

Rover ad recap, second page, rotated for fine-print examination. R&T November 1967.

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,, 2017


  1. Bill Estill
    September 4, 2017

    Hi Dennis.
    Ah, the sainted 2000TC. Nearly my very first car, that honor going to a 1963 Spitfire. Not sure if it was the car mag tests, clever print ads or the enthusiastic radio recommendations of raconteur Jean Shepherd that caused me to gravitate in that direction. Probably some of each. Being seventeen at the time it certainly wasn’t about the safety.
    Perusing my copy of the October 1967 issue of R&T, I came across a single Rover ad promoting their automatic transmission. Wonderfully sexist too; “You can tell the salesman it’s for your wife.”(!)
    But, thanks to you, there went a sizeable portion of my morning. From a hilarious Ted West tale on owning a 1955 Chevrolet, entitled “After the paint wears off” to a preview of the new NSU Ro 80, a Richard Corson piece on Freddie Dixon and the Riley Nine, a brief bit on the Squire, Jacky Ickx and Jean Pierre Beltoise; a couple of up-and-coming racers to keep an eye on, two Manney GP reports… Must accomplish something at least semi-productive today!

  2. sabresoftware
    September 5, 2017

    My first car was my father’s 1967 Rover 2000 (Automatic unfortunately), which I inherited in 1974 when my parents decided to retire to the UK. It was a great car, and one that I had persuaded my father to buy when we lived in the UK in the mid sixties. It was a left hand drive export model, and if it was removed from the UK before one year, and imported into Canada after one year, there were no UK taxes or Canadian import duties. I guess that the sailing trip home was planned to achieve the necessary overlap.

    I learned to wear seat belts in that car (and compared to modern belts they were a pain to use as there were two separate belts that met at the tab, not the continuous belt used today and each had to be adjusted to fit) and have used them ever since.

    Although somewhat dated, it is still a good looking car 50 years later.

    • simanaitissays
      September 5, 2017

      Agreed about the Rover’s multibelt fiddling. I had a 1967 Volvo 122S with its one-piece belt. Adjusted initially for length, it was exemplary from then on. That oversize latch plate incorporated its easy release as well.

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