With the Tour de France such a hit in the UK it seemed the perfect time to do a post which I have been planning for some time… publicity vehicles. I’ve touched on this subject a couple of times in the past with the Tour de France parade at the Revival last year, the Rome Olympics and the Mercier Champagne promotions but I’ve come across so many brilliant images it deserves a post of it’s own.
The Tour de France was created in 1903 by the Newspaper L’Auto as a way to sell more papers. In the 20’s bicycle manufacturers became more important than the riders, and with few Frenchmen winning enthusiasm wained. In 1929 Henry Desgranges, the race director together with the marketing director of Menier Chocolates created the ‘Caravan’, made up of cars promoting products. In that first year nearly 40 vehicles were seen by nearly 10 million people on the route promoting various goods.
The size of the caravan has grown over the years and it even had it’s own competition for the best idea for advertising vehicles. As TV ownership grew it became even more important as the stand out vehicles were seen by millions worldwide.
These first two images show vehicles on the 1930 Caravan.In the 1950s and ’60s, one of the Tour’s most distinctive attractions was an accordion-playing Serbian immigrant woman named Yvette Horner, she serenaded the bystanders and played at the podium presentation following each stage. A dummy woman was carried on the vehicles between stops. Many of the vehicles were built by the great coach builders of the time on standard chassis by French manufacturers such as Renault, Citroen and Simca. The development of electrical products led to more and more elaborate vehicles.A collection of 50’s and 60’s promo vehicles was sold at the Bonhams Retromobile Auction in Feb 2009. I believe many were purchased by one Frenchman who has built up a collection of the vehicles which he displays during the modern tour.Interspersed between the more elaborate vehicles were fleets of branded cars, often Renault 4cv’s like Mario’s ‘brother’ Regie, vans and even motorbikes – in the 60’s the Cinzano team did acrobatics on their bikes for more than 5 hours at a time. I’m not sure if this wonderful pig was actually part of the caravan but couldn’t miss it out as it’s built on a Fiat 600 Multipla – a new look for Mario! There must have been an original one in the 1960’s as it’s available as a die-cast model but with different graphics.The modern Tour
With the modern peloton coming past in a matter of seconds the Caravan is as important today as it’s ever been as a way to entertain the captive crowd. Technology and modern materials have meant that it is more something stuck onto a car than a specifically created vehicle but they still make quite an impression… Although the tour is well known for it’s caravan it isn’t the only place that promotional vehicles show up. Here in the UK we have a few famous ones of our own… The Cadbury Creme Egg… The Birds Eye Pea car from the brilliant 2005 TV commercial The Outspan orange, a modified 1972 Mini, if it goes more than 30mph it risks toppling over!There is also the Duckham’s Q, the 10 foot high oil can was used in a commercial with Paddy Hopkirk in the early 70’s.In more modern times a fleet of Smart Cars were covered in artificial grass to promote Easigrass.
Publicity mad America had more than their fair share of wild and wacky promotional vehicles. Hotdog brand Oscars Mayers has been using their Wienermobile in one form or another as promotion since 1936, their drivers are known as Hotdoggers! General Motors produced a fleet of Futurliners, stylised buses designed in the 40’s. They were used on the Parade of Progress which travelled across the US exhibiting new cars and technology.This amazing ‘Burger’ Chevy S-10 Pickup drives around Kansas City to advertise a bar and grill, the ‘toppings’ make it very difficult to see where you are going.The original Zippo car was commissioned in 1947. Within two years it had visited 48 states. It vanished in the 50’s until in 1998 the company had another one created from scratch.
This post could go on and on as I keep discovering more and more interesting vehicles but I think we’d better call a halt now for the time being. Apart from this cute little Multipla being used to advertise shoe and luggage repairs as a Media vehicle on the Mille Miglia.