There really was an American car that left the factory with a purse as standard equipment -- the 1955-1956 Dodge La Femme. Many people of car-buying age in the mid-1950s never heard of it, so perhaps it's not surprising that more than a generation has gone by with hardly any mention of it.
Yet it was significant because it mirrored the patronizing mid-1950s phenomenon of offering women's versions of just about anything, in this case a production car designed specifically for "Her Royal Highness The American Woman."
The gestation period of the Dodge La Femme can be traced back to the early 1950s. By then, pent-up demand for new cars had been filled, turning the postwar seller's market into a highly competitive buyer's market. An exciting era was thus born, as auto companies unleashed a flood of new cars loaded with new ideas to attract the attention of car buyers.
In the process, designers were given more power and freedom to experiment than ever before. The stylists were fascinated with flashy lines, chrome, tailfins, swivel seats, and wraparound windshields -- and apparently so was the American public. Exotic show cars appeared with great regularity from the major companies, almost always sporting new (and often highly impractical) styling and all sorts of doodads.
But the car-buying public had an insatiable appetite for those "dream cars," which served as shiny bait to lure people into purchasing the more mundane (and practical) production-line cars.
In most cases, of course, the public never got to buy such snazzy features as turbine engines, power-assisted hoods, and rain-sensing convertible tops. However, there were a few examples of show cars that became production cars, such as the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham and Chevrolet Corvette.
Those cars are well known and coveted by collectors today, but they were among the very few show cars that made good, selling in small numbers and, more importantly, increasing their makers' prestige. More common is the tale of the show car that hit the marketplace and sank without a trace. Among the failed experiments is the Dodge La Femme: a woman's car that women didn't seem to want.
To get a feel for the cars that were being designed specifically for women during this era, continue to the next page.
For more information on cars, see: