Custom Car’s Scantily-Clad Cover Girls

Blinged-up cars and near-naked girls – what 1970s teenage boy could resist?

I’ve often said that the people who whine and moan about ‘sexualisation’ and the proliferation of ‘explicit’ images – you know the ones, the people who fretted about their kids being corrupted by Nuts magazine covers in supermarkets – would’ve passed out in shock if they’d seen what the 1970s was like. In the Seventies, nudity was everywhere – on record and book covers, in advertising and Page 3 (or similar) in every tabloid, on postcards and peanut packaging – everywhere you looked, half-naked girls were on display. Now, you can see that as shameful sexism or glorious liberation, but the fact remains that bare flesh was shown in a far more relentless and exploitative way than we ever saw in recent years.

A great case in point is Custom Car magazine, which launched in 1970 and quickly learned that topless girls were a great additional selling point. Ostensibly a publication for fans of souped-up cars – which some of the readers probably found just as sexy and arousing as any naked girl – the somewhat anarchic style and fascination with American drag racing and legally-questionable car enhancements quickly attracted the sort of readership that more staid automobile publications didn’t reach. This readership – primarily teenage boys, many of whom were probably too young to actually drive – was just the sort to respond to the addition of topless models, not just on the cover but also in centrefold shots and scattered throughout the rest of the magazine. It was the ideal combination for the target audience – these horny teens could pretend (possibly even to themselves) that it was the cars that they were interested in rather than the barely-dressed girls, and newsagents were probably not going to turn them away in the way that they might if they tried to buy a copy of, say, Mayfair.

The nudes fitted in with the magazine’s irreverent approach and certainly boosted sales – in fact, they might have been just as important as the hot cars in helping the magazine find an audience and a style. Of course, it couldn’t last. By the early 1980s, the tide was turning and the cover girls were becoming less naked – the Indecent Displays Act, ostensibly brought in by the Thatcher government to control Soho sex shops and their ‘exuberant’ signage and window displays, had the additional (and, quietly, very intentional) effect of also controlling just what magazines could put on their front covers – nipples were now very much forbidden. Custom Car would continue with its laddish approach over the years, albeit with less raunchy imagery, but the demise of the Lad’s Mag under the cosh of Radical Feminist moral outrage finally saw an end to the glamour girls. The magazine is still going but the covers now only feature cars – or possibly a grizzled old collector if the human touch is needed. It would require a particularly brave or tone-deaf publisher to even consider reviving this cover style for the modern age.

Still, the glory days of Custom Car’s gratuitous nudity is quite something to behold. We’ll likely never see such sights again.

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