5 most significant cars of Mad Men

Depicting American society and the culture of the 1960s, the award-winning television drama  Mad Men tackled prominent and controversial cultural issues of the time in addition to showcasing the heyday of the American auto industry with some of the most beautiful and iconic cars of the decade.

Winning 15 Emmys and four Golden Globes over the run of 92 episodes spread over seven seasons, the series followed Don Draper, an ad guy, but more importantly for us, a car guy, as his career reaches new career heights. While cars played a significant part of his characterization and others throughout the series, they also played a role in moving the plot along.

So what cars caught our interest during the seven-season stretch of Mad Men?

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1962 Cadillac Coupe DeVille | Photos provided by AMC

For a man on the move up the corporate and social ladder, the 1962 Cadillac Coupe DeVille was perfect. After Draper admitted to the Cadillac salesman that he drove a Dodge, the salesman responded, “Those are wonderful if you want to get somewhere… This is for when you’ve already arrived.” Triggering his insecurity, Draper flashed back to his days as a used-car salesmen. Later in the episode, to celebrate an invitation that ultimately proved to be validation of Draper;s rising stature, Draper bought the car without even taking a test drive.

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Lincoln Continental

Evoking the best of the early 1960s, Lincoln Continentals appear throughout the first three seasons. In Season Three, a Continental played a huge role in establishing a generational bond between Draper’s father-in-law, Grandpa Gene, and his granddaughter Sally, whom he let drive the family’s 1961 Lincoln Continental while he worked the pedals.

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Jaguar XKE

While the cars played an important part of the characters’ personal lives, they also established a leading role in the business side of things. In Season Five, Draper went on a research mission to scout a prospective client at a Manhattan Jaguar showroom. The showroom is eye candy to any enthusiast as we see XKs, a MK2, a 420G and a stunning red E-type. Landing the British brand as a client of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, Jaguar E-types continued to play a role in Season Five.

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Chevy Vega

In Season Six, Draper worked to land a Chevy account for a prototype code named XP-887, which would later be known as the Chevy Vega. In real life, the Vega went on to win Motor Trend Car of the Year in 1971 only to earn a notorious reputation as one of Detroit’s lousiest lemons after six years of recalls due to engine fires and a rust-prone body.

1989 Chevy Camaro Z--28 before the crash
1989 Chevy Camaro Z–28 before the crash

Also appearing in Season Six was a beautiful 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 that became the object of some inter-office drama between characters Pete Campbell and Bob Benson. Campbell tried to exclude Benson from a meeting with Chevy and GM executives, only to be upstaged by Benson who has encyclopedic knowledge of the Camaro. Pressured, Campbell agreed to a drive in the Camaro only to smash it into a display, which showed the upset GM guys that he couldn’t drive stickshift.

2 thoughts on “5 most significant cars of Mad Men”

  1. if JFK were alive he was partial to the Mercury Monterey series. For sure the 65 and 66 defines the Mad Men generation.

  2. The Vega wasn’t known for engine fires but engine failures. It was prone to overheating, quickly, which ruined the engine block. Later iterations had the Iron Duke engine which ran fine. I suppose if you ran the engine hot for an extended period of time the engine could catch fire, but I never heard of one that did. Almost all of the early ones went through at least one engine.
    My 1972 Vega went through an engine and at the beginning of year two, the windshield wipers rotted out of the cowl. I later heard from a steel buyer friend that the GM steel buyers for Vega would wait until the best steel was bout and then would bid on the lower quality steel rolls. Those had varied thickness and quality which would explain the terrible rust out problems they had in the first 3 years. I suppose it was an effort to keep costs down but it cost them far more than using good steel would have
    The aluminum block engine in the early Vega was without a doubt the worst engineGM ever manufactured in my opinion.

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