DRIVE-THRU DREAMS: Car Culture Reigns Supreme


Vintage McDonald’s “Welcome” double-sided drive-thru light-up sign.

On December 1, 1913, Henry Ford implemented the first moving assembly line to mass-produce a vehicle. This revolutionizing concept took vehicle production from more than 12 hours down to an hour and 33 minutes. This led to an assembly-line hunger that began to rage across America. By 1921, White Castle adopted this model and applied it to its first restaurant in Wichita, Kansas. The little square hamburgers were prepared quickly in a highly systematized way with efficiencies built into it that spoke to the technological fascinations of the era. The goal was for the customer’s experience to be the same every time they went to White Castle and that they would always order the same food – it was a cherished part of the experience.

1960s Kentucky Fried Chicken light-up sign with a rotating message panel.

As car ownership spread across the United States, drive-in movies and drive-in restaurants became all the rage, taking convenience to another level. Despite the early adaptation of the food assembly line and drive-thrus, fast food didn’t take off until the 1950s after President Eisenhower signed legislation funding the construction of the U.S. Interstate Highway System – it was something Americans had dreamed of since Detroit began building cars. Fast food was a natural business response to the American on-the-go lifestyle that began to take hold at the time. America started driving more, and society began collectively rearranging cities based on car travel.

Having previously run a pit barbecue drive-in restaurant, the McDonald brothers understood how that setup encouraged customers to linger rather than spend their money and be on their way. While McDonald’s did not invent the drive-thru, they did revolutionize it in the post-World War II era with a stripped-down menu and a streamlined cooking process. Every element was engineered for speed above all.

According to Barrett-Jackson Automobilia Director Rory Brinkman, McDonald’s is notorious for ensuring that all their signs are destroyed when a restaurant is shut down for any reason. “They don’t want anything to tarnish their brand, and they require the sign companies hired to take down the sign to send photos proving the signs having been destroyed,” Brinkman said, adding that because of that, when a McDonald’s sign does come to auction, it is an incredibly special and rare opportunity.

1950s-60s Big Boy diner three-dimensional statue.

“McDonald’s is an iconic brand that is part of the American experience,” he pointed out. “Everyone has eaten at McDonald’s at some point in their life, and it’s part of American car culture – people remember loading into the car with their buddies after a baseball game and going to McDonald’s.”

As Americans traveled across the country by car, fast food chains spread far and wide, leading many founders to accomplish the quintessential American dream with impressive stories and humble beginnings that hold up as the ideal of American success. An example is Colonel Harland Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, later known as KFC. Brinkman said that many collectors search for KFC memorabilia featuring Colonel Sanders because of his success story. “He was a very interesting individual that reflected the American dream. He went broke several times in his life. And then reinvented himself as Colonel Sanders, started hustling chicken and grew that into an international brand. His first franchise came in 1952.”

Among the top-selling fast food memorabilia pieces sold during Barrett-Jackson’s Automobilia Auction over the years were an early 1960s Kentucky Fried Chicken light-up sign with a rotating message panel that crossed the block for $27,600, a 1960s Kentucky Fried Chicken Colonel Sanders wind vane, a vintage McDonald’s light-up sign and a vintage McDonald’s “Welcome” double-sided drive-thru light-up sign. Other notable sales have included a 1950s-60s Big Boy diner three-dimensional statue.

1960s Kentucky Fried Chicken Colonel Sanders wind vane.

Fast food chains and their iconic symbols have become integral to the American experience, symbolizing the nation’s love affair with cars and on-the-go lifestyles. From the pioneering assembly line of Henry Ford to the advent of drive-in movies and restaurants, convenience became paramount. Fast food chains have flourished, leaving an indelible mark on American culture, car culture and culinary history.

Register to bid today for a chance to own one or more of the nostalgic pieces of automobilia that will be crossing the block with No Reserve at the upcoming Las Vegas Auction, June 22-24 in the West Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center. (Those registered to bid on collector cars are

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By: Barrett-Jackson
Title: DRIVE-THRU DREAMS: Car Culture Reigns Supreme
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Published Date: Thu, 25 May 2023 15:40:39 +0000


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