2009 is the year that Barbie turns 50 years old, and looking back over her 5 decades of pop culture dominance, not only has she kept girls of all ages entertained throughout their childhoods, but she's also owned some pretty cool rides. When first introduced at the end of the 50's, Barbie was portrayed as a girl on the go, someone who was glamorous but also someone who hovered just far enough outside of the jet-set that girls could realistically dream about having her lifestyle. This meant that most of the various accessories that were sold alongside the doll itself had to embody an 'attainable' quality.
Any independent woman - Ken aside, of course - needs a set of wheels, and Mattel, the company responsible for Barbie dolls realized this early on. The very first Barbie vehicle to appear on the scene was a 1962 Austin Healy roadster. Available in pink, of course, as well as a much more subdued brown, the sprightly little British drop top perfectly captured the carefree nature of the toy. The lack of roof also made it much easier for kids to actually seat their dolls inside the car, a practical characteristic that would lead to the majority of future Barbie cars being of the convertible variety.
While the Austin Healy might have been fun and thrifty, it didn't exactly match Barbie's All-American posturing, and it wasn't long before she acquired her first Chevrolet Corvette. Pink Corvettes have been a fixture of Barbie's garage since the 1970's, although yellow, red and blue versions of the sports car icon have also made an appearance. Barbie's Corvettes have largely moved with the times, with the latest edition matching the C5 model that appeared in the late 1990's. Remote-control versions of the Corvettes were also popular, although they are harder to find nowadays on the market. To give Barbie an off-road edge over the competition, her rock-crawling urges were satisfied by the inclusion of a pink Jeep, Barbie's SUV of choice for the next 20 years. The 70's also saw Barbie acquire her first practical vehicle, a GMC motorhome that came in 3 different versions, ranging from the yellow 1976-77 version to the lavender touring edition released in the mid-80's to celebrate Barbie joining the 'Rockers' band.
When the high-spending 1980's kicked into high gear, the executives at Mattel decided that Barbie needed a few status symbols in order to hold the attention of children bombarded by the conspicuous consumption of the 'Me Decade'. A convertible Ferrari 328 GTS seemed to be the perfect upscale roadster for the newly minted millionaire Barbie, and the guardians of the prancing horse brand managed to convince Mattel to not slather the vehicle in pink but instead keep it Italian red. Rolls-Royce, on the other hand, were not nearly so particular, so balancing out Barbie's need for speed was an enormous pink British land yacht complete with an open top and the Spirit of Ecstasy prominently featured on the hood. Towards the end of the decade, a retro turquoise '57 Chevy Bel-Air convertible would also be made available for Barbie lovers who wanted to relive the hot-rod 50's.
The 90's saw the gloves really come off in terms of opening up Barbie's automotive possibilities. By entering into a number of licensing and promotional agreements not only with car companies but also with movie studios and other entertainment organizations, Mattel vastly increased the number of cars in Barbie's stable. For the most part, convertibles still dominated the mix - a BMW Z8, a 2003 Ford Thunderbird, a Lexus SC430, a 2005 Ford Mustang, and a Ferrari 360 and 430 Spider were some of the most notable rag tops available. Barbie's Porsche Boxster even included a motorized roof that would open and close at the push of a button. However, Barbie's practical side once again received some attention, with the production of a more family-oriented lineup of vehicles that included a Volvo V70 station wagon, a Volkswagen Vanagon and a Mercedes-Benz M-Class. A fold-out party bus, a Volkswagen New Beetle and pink golf cart rounded out her post-Millennial offerings. In addition to the variety of different automotive brands sold under the Barbie name, the palette of colors these cars could be purchased in had also dramatically increased, with a wide range of blues, greens, whites and purples being added to the traditional red, yellow and pink motif that had so far dominated the Barbie line.
Given that Barbie's 50th anniversary is being celebrated by the production of special models by Volkswagen (a pink, rhinestone-studded New Beetle cabriolet) and Fiat (a pink Fiat 500), it's clear that the doll that has captured the hearts of millions of children is still a cultural powerhouse.