In 1972 LIFE magazine went on a road trip with Flip Wilson. Wilson, one of the top TV performers of his day, drove a Rolls Royce with the personalized license plate KILLER, after the never-seen boyfriend of the Geraldine character on his show, on a care-free jaunt through the beautiful Southwest. On the road trip writer P.F. Kluge observed “Flip’s enjoyment of driving is almost palpable. He leans back against the headrest, props a foot on the dashboard, holds his hand in the air, waving at nothing but the breeze.”
It’s a scene from a different era. Today the piece of personal technology that people are more likely to be infatuated with is their phones. But for much of the 20th century, the car occupied an exalted place in the American imagination. With the beginning of mass production in 1927 and the spread of suburban living after World War II, cars became the new place that we spent our time, and the expression of both status and style.
Now people care about fuel efficiency more than fins. The push now is toward cars in which people hand the driving over to a computer. But Flip and the people in these photos took joy in being behind the wheel.