LOOK Magazine's 1969 Automotive Preview

Automotive Mileposts
Image: Detail of 1969 Automotive Preview

Above: 1969 Mercury Marquis (left) and 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix

Photographers had to take unusual steps to photograph some of the new 1969 models for the magazine's annual new car preview section...

...really unusual steps!

Who knew a black vinyl top would blend in with a black background?

For 12 years, LOOK Magazine (published 1937-1971) featured an Annual Automotive Preview in one of its fall issues. Published bi-weekly, LOOK was a large magazine (measuring 11 by 14 inches) that focused on photographs rather than articles. LOOK had some of the best photographers of the day on its staff, and helped film director Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey) get his start as a staff photographer.

Since the 1969 models would be the final new cars of the decade, LOOK Senior Editor Al Rothenberg (1919-2004) wanted to do something different for the Thirteenth Annual LOOK Automotive Preview in the October 15, 1968 issue. In addition to taking a look back at the decade of the 1960's, Rothenberg also made predictions about what was to come in the seventies. Since the magazine emphasized photography, it wanted to make sure the pictures of the cars didn't look like catalogue shots.

Photographer Robert Huntzinger was up to the challenge, and devised a concept of double and triple exposures for the major pictures in the article. The new models were pictured with backgrounds that consisted of shots of a 1969 Imperial LeBaron Two Door Hardtop sprouting out from the tail panel of another car, a 1969 Ford LTD Two Door Hardtop silhouetted in a rear view mirror, a 1969 Mercury Marauder riding along on the tread of a tire, or perhaps a 1969 Chevrolet Impala Custom Coupe superimposed on the outline of an engine. This creative touch gave the special feature a distinctive look.

Some of the shots had a solid, dark background which is normally easy enough to shoot against, but when Huntzinger saw the cars to be photographed, he realized there was a problem. Many of them had black vinyl tops, which meant the outline of the car would be lost against the dark background. Since the car was the focus of the shot, something would need to be done so that the car would have the definition it deserved.

The answer? Huntzinger and LOOK photographer John Shearer ended up spending hours attaching white masking tape to the cars with black vinyl roofs! In all, 30 rolls were used for the job. And you would never know this had been done, just by looking at the pictures.

Rothenberg closed the article by pointing out that the sixties had been great for the car makers. Anything less than 8,000,000 units per year was considered a slump, and he expected the seventies to be even greater, with the norm being between 10 and 13 million a year. What he didn't predict was the United Auto Workers (UAW) strike, early in the decade, which reduced output by a million vehicles, the onslaught of the imports, which was increasing its market share in the U.S. on an annual basis, and the oil embargo crisis that hit in late 1973, a year of record production for the industry. The result was that by 1975, just 6.4 million vehicles were built by domestic auto makers, a decrease of 24.5 percent from 1974.

Image: LOOK Magazine

Above: LOOK Magazine's October 15, 1968 edition featured their 13th Annual Automotive Preview of the new 1969 model cars.