Lewis Sex and the Automobile: Pedestrian locomotion, horses, boats, trains, bicycles, streetcars, automobiles, buses, and airplanes have brought lovers together, or sped them to the Elysian fields for idyllic pleasures. If on a familiar road, a rural Romeo could tie the reins lightly about the whip socket, and expect Dobbin to maintain a steady clippity-clop down the middle of the road.
And two hands then, as now, were better than one. Moreover, some of the buggies, especially those equipped with canvas tops, side curtains, cushions, and comforters, could be cozy; and none was encumbered with bucket seats, gear shifts, consoles, and other Berlin Wall-type features that keep couples apart in modern cars.
But the horse drawn conveyances had disadvantages. The buggy admitted mosquitoes in the summer and the cold in the winter, and the horse sometimes made noises incompatible with romance. Efforts were made to have horse push, rather than pull, buggies.
Cars fulfilled a romantic function from the dawn of the auto age. They permitted couples to get much farther away from front porch swings, parlor sofas, hovering mothers, and pesky siblings than ever before. In motor vehicles, couples could range far afield for picnics and swims in the summertime and to dances and other forms of entertainment year-around.
Courtship itself was extended from the five-mile radius of the horse and buggy to ten, twenty, and fifty miles and more. Sociologists duly noted that increased mobility provided by the motorcar would lead to more cross-breeding and eventually improve the American species.
Autos were more than a mode of transportation. They were a desti- nation as well, for they provided a setting for sexual relations including intercourse. The earliest cars offered little improvement over buggies insofar as courtship was concerned. Most models were open, and couples, seated on "high-rise" seats, were highly visible to onlookers and exposed to the elements except when tops were put up and curtains fastened around.
Heaters were nonexistent, or as primitive as heated bricks. But by the early s most cars were enclosed; and passengers were less illuminated and rode lower, half-hidden by doors and side panels. Efficient heaters provided wintertime comfort. Seats, front and back, became progressively longer, wider, and more comfortable. Most seats also were detachable, and thus could be removed for ground action. In addition, many cars were equipped with long, wide running boards, and, starting in the mids, increasingly long, sloping fenders, some of which gained reputations as automotive chaise lounges.
When covered with pillows or blankets, running boards and fenders provided an emergency or novelty setting for sexual encounters. Running boards were phased out in the mid- and lates, and fender love tapered off in as fenders were extended into front doors. But others made love in cars because they found it exciting, sometimes dangerously so.
Lovers' lanes abounded in parks and off lesser streets and roadways in and around most communities. Ideally, police officers did not harass lovers, vet provided a sufficient presence to discourage bushwhackers, Peeping Toms, and worse. Most communities officially ignored sex in cars, but some passed laws which prohibited intercourse, even kissing, in vehicles To this day, Chicago, by legislating against any "indecent act in public" and defining sexual intercourse as "indecent" and a car as a "public place," forbids lovemaking in cars.
Deerfield, Illinois, prohibits kissing within part of the drop-off zone at its commuter station, while sanctioning kissing within the other part.
Signs which picture a kissing couple, one with a stripe drawn through, indicate which zone is which. In any event, laws against sex in cars are so rarely enforced, that any attention paid to them makes national news. Police officers on the contrary, are more likely to be amused by romantic interludes they discover in cars. The link between cars and courtship was immediately evident to everyone not wearing blinders. Songwriters, Valentine and post-card sellers, cartoonists, advertisers, and others rhapsodized endlessly on the connection.
Most of the lyrics, simple and syrupy, spoke of the joys of having or being a queen for one's machine, or motoring off for a lark to spark in the park.
Many songs had couples embarking on auto honeymoons, and several automakers commissioned tunesmiths to make sure that the honeymooners used their models. A few songs were provocative, and likely would have been banned on radio had the medium existed at the time. In a tune, a "ladykiller," foxy Johnny Miller, at the slightest hint of rain and over the feeble protests of his queen, would put up the cover and fasten the side curtains around. The song, when played in parlors and at dances, invariably produced guffaws.
Cars themselves occasionally were described as sex partners. Most of the love tunes were eminently forgettable, and only one, My Merry Oldsmobile, the best known song ever written about the automobile, endures. Almost every reader should be able to plug the melody into these Lyrics: Come away with me Lucille, In my merry Oldsmobile, Over the road of life we'll fly, Autobubbling you and I, To the church we'll swiftly steal, And our wedding bells will peal, You can go as far as you like with me, In our merry Oldsmobile.
Every auto-related Valentine, many in the shape of cars, inspired illusions of romance. Most were no more complicated than the line, "You auto be my Valentine," but some waxed poetically on moon, spoon, and love-in-bloom. Picture post cards, highly popular through the s, ranged widely in theme. Many were as innocent as a picture of a couple on a joy ride, the lady waving her handkerchief to onlookers. Out-of-gas cards, many tied to romance, always sold well, as did cards which linked romance to auto parts, especially the starter, crank, and spark plugs.
A female motorist-in-distress hopes the mechanic will "start something," and not necessarily the engine; a lady asks her escort to "crank up"; a pretty girl, standing next to a car, "gets the brakes.
A mechanic, looking up from beneath the rear of a lady's car, assures his nearby client that "your rear end is in great shape. My ass is tired. A girl wants her beau to "use both hands. A pair picnics beneath the legend: The auto inspired more newspaper and magazine cartoons than any other artifact during the first three decades of the century, and many had sexual connotations.
Many jokes also centered around detachable seats. The most famous of them, appearing in the New Yorker in , shows a bedraggled couple carrying a rear seat cushion, and informing a police officer of a stolen car. Sex, especially as related to masculine virility, has been emphasized in auto ads since early in the century. Pierce-Arrow's ads make no mention of price or anything else about the car; just show a sketch of a brutish machine and a couple of strong, handsome dogs whom every father's daughter had to hope were accessories that came with the car.
Oldsmobile's most famous advertisement pictures a dashing figure hunched over the steering wheel of a huge Oldsmobile Limited, in the foreground, racing alongside an onrushing train. Ads featuring masculine virility eventually gave way to campaigns showing pert girls at the wheel or seductive women draped over the hood.
Automakers, according to some psychologists, not only advertised their cars as sex objects; they also consciously or subconsciously designed dreams of sex into their vehicles. Buxom headlamps and bumper guards and radiator grilles notably the Edsel's were perceived as female sexual symbols. On the other hand, Henry Ford, according to widespread rumor, sought to discourage sex through car design.
The auto king allegedly limited his Model T's seat length to 38 inches so as to inhibit lovemaking in Tin Lizzies. If that was Ford's intent, he failed, for a thirty-eight-inch seat was simple for determined couples, the more so when the seat was removed from the car. Besides, said wags, given the Model T's seven-foot height, short couples could have intercourse standing up. If car makers sought to design and sell their vehicles as sex symbols, they have succeeded in doing so in the minds of psychologists Dr.
Joyce Brothers and Dr. Brothers maintains that cars, to many men, have been "an extension of themselves and a powerful symbol of masculinity and virility. The more immature the male, the more his sexuality is apt to be linked to. In their minds," she adds, "there is a link between horsepower and sexual prowess. They may also equate driving with sexual function which leads to the assumption that the bigger the car the better.
Hoffinan, director of a New York guidance center, maintains that a mall's hidden sexual fantasies may be determined by the kind of car he wishes to own. Whether or not automakers have tried to design dreams of sex into their products, they have incorporated features which have lent themselves to sex.
Long before the van era, manufacturers designed beds into their vehicles by folding front seatbacks into rearseat cushions. The Jewett, typically, slept two persons in comfort, as long as neither stretched out more than six feet, one and one-half inches in length. Nonetheless, knowing people winked at owners of "rolling dormitories," and inquired how fast the seatback could be folded back, whether the springs squeaked, etc.
Nash president George Mason, usually a dour man, invariably chuckled as he described his firm's post-World War II Statesman, equipped with a many-splendored bed, as the "young man's car. A number of foreign-made cars have seat beds, giving them, in the minds of some, yet another competitive advantage. Albeit short on beds, American car makers offer many accessories which are a boon to courtship and romance.
Air conditioners, along with heaters, have made sexual relations a more pleasant year-round diversion. Tilt-steering wheels provide for additional frontseat maneuverability. Lighted vanity mirrors facilitate freshing up in the event of battle fatigue.
Radios, supplemented by stereo units, help set the mood for romance. Citizen Band radios enable couples to arrange get-togethers. But the use of CB radio could backfire.
CB also helps prostitutes attract customers. Autos have done more than enable couples to meet and make love and to inspire songwriters, Valentine and card designers, cartoonists. They also have influenced American culture by abetting prostitution, creating the "hot pillow" trade in tourist courts and motels, providing an impetus for drive-in restaurants and movies, and inducing many motorists to wear their hearts on license plates and bumpers.
Pimps, especially, advertised their profession, and their status within it, by the kind of cars they drove. Desiring distinctive vehicles, they created them. They were, in fact, the first post-World War II motorists to customize their cars with opera windows.
This design feature was almost exclusively associated with pimps until the mids, when Detroit began offering the feature on its tonier models. Car buff's disparagingly referred to the vehicles as "pimpmobiles. But the scope of that trade was not revealed until the Federal Bureau of Investigation's J. Edgar Hoover publicly assailed "camouflaged brothels" in Hoover cited a Southern Methodist University study which found that many big-city motels refused accommodations to anyone from outside their home counties because they could make more money with the faster turnover of the "couple trade.
The first drive-in restaurant, Royce Hailey's Pig Stand, was opened in Dallas in , and thousands of its brethren sprouted around the country during the s and s.