Car Stuff

How We Used To Buy Cars

16 Photos That Show How Auto Retail Has Changed. And How It Hasn't.

BY Liz KnuevenMarch 8, 2019

Cars have changed a lot over the years. How we’ve gotten them? Not so much—until Fair, of course.

Check out these photos for a peek into the past of the auto sales biz. Which looks a lot like the present of auto sales, minus the inflatable flailing tube man.

Pierson UsedCars16 1. The Used Car Origin Story?

During World War II, new cars simply weren’t available due to metal rationing. So here, Mr. Pierson is doing his civic duty (and keeping his doors open) by selling used cars. This would eventually become kind of a thing. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Worthington UsedCars17 2. Mad Men, Big Cars

The year was 1947 and times were good for men in bulky pinstripes. The Big War was over, briefcases came built to last FOREVER, and this guy was celebrating it all by scoring a great deal on this brand-new Ford. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Chestnut UsedCars13 3. Tail Fins For Everyone!

In Chestnut Motors’ heyday, 1950s Fords, Buicks and more lined the lot. There was no shortage of bright, eye-catching colors and tail fins. After all, there’s no need for flashy signs when you’ve got a lot full of these babies. (Source: Flickr/Alden Jewell)

SafeBuy UsedCars14 4. Timeless Classics At A Discount

Sure, early-era used car advertising was pretty bland… but just check out those white walls! These used Lincolns and Mercurys are truly timeless—especially the convertibles. (Source:

50sFriends UsedCars6 5. Bringing The Thunder(Bird)

Calling the Thunderbird simply “the car that everyone would like to own” really doesn’t do this stunner justice. These second-generation Thunderbirds put out a slick 300 horsepower with a V8 engine and look damn fine doing it. (Source: Flickr/Alden Jewell)

Glen UsedCars11 6. Glen's Gems

Say what you want about the significant infrastructure issues at Glen’s Used Cars, but our attention is squarely focused on the light-colored Dodge Hornet in the front here. Seriously, can we talk to Glen, please? We’d like to make a deal happen here. We just don't want to, like, have to go inside… (Source: Twitter/OldCarsWeekly)

Nash UsedCars1 7. Flash Of The Nash

Nash made some interesting vehicles from 1937 to 1954—from the European-inspired Metropolitan to the overly futuristic Airflyte. E.W. Ralston sold them here—all direct from the factory. (Source: Flickr/Alden Jewell)

Koda UsedCars7 8. Rebels With A Cause

You may not have heard of the Rambler Rebel, but most muscle car fans know that it paved the way for the medium-sized performance segment. Long before the likes of the Dodge Charger, there was this little guy—made for those looking to pack some punch while still being practical. (Source: Flickr/Alden Jewell)

60s UsedCars21 9. OK To Consider A Used Chevy

OK Used Cars is a pretty understated name for Chevrolet’s used car division. But in the ‘50s, seeing the “OK” sign was actually a good thing, despite its lacking creativity. It meant that the cars were inspected and reconditioned to be ready for their next family. (Source: forums)

Footsray UsedCars18 10. That '70s Showroom

This Chrysler Hardtop is from the early ‘70s, and was made as a luxury car by Chrysler’s Australia branch. It’s likely this photo was taken just outside of Melbourne. Also: Footscray. (Source:

Paul UsedCars8 11. Ford's Falcon Ahead Of The Curve

This Ford dealership in Los Gatos, Calif., offered all the best models of the time, including the blue Falcon seen inside the showroom. The Falcon got 32 miles per gallon—as good or better than many cars today. (Source: Flickr/Alden Jewell)

Calif UsedCars3 12. California Dreamin' In SLO

This dealership in San Luis Obispo, Calif., is curiously short on signage, but a Gran Torino or two outside can work wonders for a lack of custom aesthetic. (Source: Flickr/Alden Jewell)

WM UsedCars10 13. Mid-Century Madness

The only thing that tops beefy ‘60s engines is high-booted ‘60s fashion. Put them together and you get this ad promoting the innards of a muscle car that you can imagine would be pretty cool when completed. (Source: Flickr/Alden Jewell)

Oregon UsedCars19 14. Oregon In The '70s

The only brand left of the three this dealership sold in 1972 is Chrysler. Today, this lot in sleepy Eugene, Ore., sells Hyundais. (Source: Flickr/Alden Jewell)

Showroom UsedCars4 15. Showrooms Of The Show-Me State

The ‘70s brought us not only this new-at-the-time Camaro, but also a distinctive Earth-toned taste in interior design as shown here at this ketchup-and-mustard Missouri dealership. (Source: Flickr/Alden Jewell)

Pontiac UsedCars20 16. A Real '80s Throwback

In the 1980s, domestic automakers faced a host of inexpensive rival imports from overseas. Dealerships that sold Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs and more were now competing with lower-priced brands like Toyota and Mazda—and slashing prices to do it. (Source: Flickr/Alden Jewell)

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