The rise of cruising--automotive not ships

A couple of interrelated questions here.

First, I’m looking for data on cost of cars say from 1958-1965 (give or take a few years on either side. No particular make or model, just a general idea of how much $ it would take to buy a car during this time.

Second, my perception was that cars were relatively affordable, thus large numbers of teenagers could afford them, which then gave rise to the phenomenon of cruising. In general, the affordability of cars, the growth of suburbia during the Post WWII years, baby boomers reaching driving age combined to give rise to cruising as a popular recreation option for teenagers. Is this relationship born out? Any other factors I’m missing?

Third, does anyone have any resources (books, articles, web sites) which describe cruising?

And fourth, does anyone know of legislation enacted to restrict or eliminate cruising?

Thanks in advance.

For question number 2, I think because of the ‘3 years and trade-in’ trend in car ownership during the 50s and 60s, there were quite a few decent second hand vehicles on the market by 1960, affordable by many teenagers who at least worked a part-time job.

Hmmm… I wasn’t aware of this strategy by car dealers. Do you have any suggestions on further reading.

Thanks! :smiley:

A new Chevy, Ford, or Plymouth in the early 1960s could be had for around $2,000. Minimum Wage was just under $1.50 an hour. So even after taxes, a kid with a 40-hour a week job, living at home with no expenses could earn enough for a new car in half a year. Of course, no one has no other expenses, but with a depreciation on the first year that was 30%-40% of the car’s value, cars that were not too old could still be purchased with two years’ financing.

In industrial towns where wages were higher (and where factory jobs were often 58-hours/week instead of 40 hours/week with the last 18 hours at time-and-a-half) a kid could conceivably buy a new car after a single summer of work, but older cars were not difficult to find at cheaper prices.

Insurance could be a kicker, but it was not mandatory in most states in those days and if one bought a really old car, there was always the PL/PD option that cut the cost significantly. At wages of $1.50 an hour, gas was three gallons per hour worked and at 15 mpg, an hour’s work paid for 45 miles of driving–not very far if you wanted to take a trip, but plenty to cruise a few miles of burger joints each Friday and Saturday.

Hmmm… I wasn’t aware of this strategy by car dealers. Do you have any suggestions on further reading.

It wasn’t the dealers, it was the manufacturers. By changing body styles every year, they provided an incentive for folks to keep getting new cars. The strategy was called planned obsolescence. Desmond Morris wrote about it in one of his books, I belive it was “The Status Seekers.”


Where did you get those figures (wages and automobile cost)? I’d like to have a citation I can turn to.


And just to keep things going…

Can anyone offer suggestions on where the topic of cruising appeared in popular culture? (I know this sounds like a MPISM or Cafe Society question, but I really am seeking out factual information).

For instance, the movie American Graffiti was set against the backdrop of cruising. And songs such as Fun, Fun, Fun and Thunder Road seem to evoke the cruising image as well. Any others?


Fun Fun Fun certainly spoke of cruising. Thunder Road was about running moonshine, nothing at all about cruising.

Cruising was an archtypal California thing. Check out other Beach Boys songs, e.g. I get around.

Well, I’d disagree on two points. Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road most certainly has cruising images, if not exactly a song devoted to the subject. And cruising was far more widespread than just a California phenom. Most of the websites I’ve come across with regards to cruising are actually associated with Detroit area towns (birth of the automobile and all that). And teens here in southeastern Kentucky continue the tradition every weekend of the year.

Thanks though for the I Get Around reference–I knew there was better Beach Boys song than Fun, Fun, Fun.

My recollections of cruising in the '60s suggest that an examination of the phenomenon might benefit from taking a look at the history of drive-ins, such as A&W Root Beer, whose website states:

This was around 1922. And,

IIRC, McDonalds started ~1954. You might investigate drive-in theaters, as well.

Gary T’s thinking of the Robert Mitchum movie, which is what came to mind first for me.

As for #4 (anti-cruising legislation), here’s a link to a page describing Virginia’s beaches ordinance, which I would presume is similar to other laws - the interesting thing is the law prohibits passing certain points within a specified time period (3 hours) - what if you’re circuling the block looking for parking?

Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road…–Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road!? Who cares about Springsteen? Robert Mitchum’s Thunder Road (the song) is what I was talking about. :slight_smile:

To clarify, I don’t maintain that cruising was exclusive to California, just that it is inextricably linked to its car culture. Whether it began there or not, I don’t know, but I think it’s safe to say that California teens contributed mightily to the phenomenon.

Just a note - “The Status Seekers” was by Vance Packard, who also wrote “The Hidden Persuaders”, and other books of that ilk. He generally is credited with coining the term “planned obsolescence”.

To be more correct about it, Packard popularized the term. He probably got it from some of the industry insiders he was writing about.

Thanks, yabob. I had a brain fart–it certainly was Packard. One of those two books you mentioned is where he discusses planned obsolescence.

What!? What’s wrong with geezer memory?

OK. I haven’t (yet) found a site that simply lists car prices by year. This index site links to a number of pages with prices for various Plymouth, Chrysler, and DeSoto cars for a wide number of years. (Note that the page names sometimes begin 1957 and sometimes 57.) The prices are a bit higher than I recall–pushing $3,000–but most of the cars featured are higher end stuff. For example, all the Plymouths listed for that period are the Fury model which was their most expensive one.

Here is a page describing the markup on a 1957 BelAir convertible that starts (with an engine and a steering wheel) at $2,511. Of course, the Biscayne and DelRay models were cheaper, as would have been a hardtop in place of the convertible. (It also notes that a trade-in on a 1955 Chevrolet Tudor Bel Air to the dealer would have brought $824.00.)

Here is the History of the Minimum Wage.

I think that just in the past couple of weeks Nashville, TN has approved a no-cruising law – especially in downtown Nashville. I can’t wait to see how long that one stays on the books. It will probably go the way of “no loitering in the park” in the 1970’s.

The first use of the term "cruisin’ " in print was by Max Shulman in his 1957 novel Rally round the Flag, Boys. He is usually remembered more for creating Dobie Gillis.

If Shulman used it, expecting his audience to understand it, it certainly was in use some time before. The fact that you don’t see it in much post-war literature or even some of the early '50’s works suggests that it wasn’t a phenomena in the late '40’s.
At least, not known by that name.

Carlisle PA has signs on the street that no cruisin’!!!