In previous columns derived from postcards in my “Vacation” file, we have considered the early days of the camper and the way cartoonists saw American automobiles moving from squarish to rounded to squarish again. I have a few postcards left in this stack and noticed a separate phenomenon which the cartoonists can help us meander through. I refer to the prevalence on postcards of the roadster.
“Roadster” is a type of automobile which the dictionaries and car lovers have been very definite about, though it is a word few people use nowadays. (The party was over when they updated the Nancy Drew books so she no longer drove one.) It is an open-top conveyance of “sporting appearance or character” which is designed to hold, at most, three people (two is more comfortable.) Roadsters (sometimes known as runabouts, spiders, or city cars) differs from other sportscars in its complete lack of a roof, which may explain why you don’t see a whole lot of them offered to the general public today.
It also differed from modern sportscars in that some models were available at a low price to people who wanted to drive only when the weather was good or just for errands around town (this was a long time ago, when wheels were not essential to adulthood.) A small car with a reputation for joyrides and party excursions, it could be made even smaller for the purposes of the cartoonist.
The roadster was a godsend to cartoonists anyhow: it was compact, and didn’t take up space the postcard could use for other things.
For many, the roadster was the vehicle for singles, people who were carefree and without a lot of emotional baggage to be loaded in the vehicle along with groceries or family members.
It was the perfect vehicle for someone who just hankered after a nice, long road trip, or someone who was pulling up stakes and headed for whatever life offered somewhere down the road.
The roadster was also perfect for those quick trips by the young and the reckless.
The freedom to climb into a car with one other person and set off with the breeze in your face made a driver feel affluent and care-free.
There are plenty of postcards featuring traffic jams, but you hardly ever see roadsters on these: THOSE drivers have roofs over their heads and troubles on their mind. Traveling light and free was a part of the American dream.
Motels were clean and frequent along the dream road, and postcards were available all along the way so that the roadster lovers could make progress reports along the way.
Some cartoonists were willing to hint that even in a road trip, that dream could be hard to realize.
And even in a roadster, certain necessities could make your road rougher.
Reality and the roadster, however, were not an ideal match, As the occasional cartoonist pointed out.