Best Car Commercials Ever

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If you can’t get the tune out of your head, does that mean you’ll end up buying the car? Rich, corinthian leather will only take you so far.

Here are some of the most memorable car commercials of the past 30 years.

* Volkswagen “Little GTI” –

If you were around in the mid-1980s, you probably know the song, even if you don’t know any German. Some exceptionally clever ad men took the 1960s hit single, Little GTO by Ronnie and the Daytonas – “Little GTO, you’re really looking fine; three deuces and a four-speed, and a 389 … listen to her taching up now, listen to her whine, yeah, yeah. C’mon on and wind it up, blow it out, GTO!” – converted it to “Kleinem GTI . . .” and ran with it all the way to the bank.

Maybe the GTI couldn’t tear up a quarter mile like a tri-power 389 GTO, but the spunky little VW was agile, light and quick enough to be as fun as an M80 with a too-short fuse.

Also, VW did not make the mistake of suggesting the GTI was equivalent to the classic ’60s Pontiac muscle car – and thereby over-reaching and embarrassing itself. The ads simply let people know the GTI was a fun car, like the GTO was.

* Ford Mustang and “Mustang Sally” –

Wilson Pickett’s classic R&B hit, “Mustang Sally” was the no-brainer choice to serve as the theme song for the launch of Ford’s pony car back in the mid-1960s.

If you read the lyrics – “I bought you a brand new Mustang, ’bout nineteen sixty-five” -* you might think that the song was written specifically for the car by a Ford advertising and marketing firm. But it wasn’t. Like Ronnie and the Daytonas’ “Little GTO,” the song arose spontaneously, in appreciation of the car. Ford just got lucky; the Mustang sold itself – and “Mustang Sally” simply fit the groove.

In 1983, when the Mustang was enjoying a new surge of popularity, the theme returned.

Ride, Sally, ride!

*Cadillac CTS (Led Zeppelin) “Rock n’ Roll” –

By the late ’90s, it had, indeed, been a very long time since Cadillac had rocked and rolled. Hearses tend not to do that. But GM was determined to resuscitate the brand. New, less oldster models like the CTS were designed to appeal to buyers who knew that Led Zeppelin isn’t a heavy dirigible.

And it worked.

The heavy metal soundtrack complemented the new sheetmetal, which was as brassy (and edgy) in its own way as previous Caddys that also rocked and rolled – like the ’59 Eldorado Elvis drove (and which is featured in the commercial along with the new CTS and other new Cadillacs, like the XLR roadster).

* Mercury Grand Marquis –

This one may not have helped sell the car much but it was creative.

“She was out all night with the Grand Marquis!” – camera pans to the guy in the powdered 18th century wig and sequined outfit sitting in the witness box. “No, the Mercury Grand Marquis!,” the testifying witness exclaims.

The ad was part of Mercury’s Imagine TV campaign.

It got people’s attention; it just didn’t do much to get them into Mercury showrooms.

* Nissan Z-car/GI Joe and Barbie –

Scene: a little boy’s room, strewn with toys. Cue Van Halen soundtrack. A GI Joe action figure comes alive, jumps behind the wheel of a miniature T-topped 300ZX turbo, adjusts his look in the rearview mirror, pops the clutch and fishtails across the floor to the girl’s room, where Barbie awaits.

Ken gets left on the balcony as the 300ZX peels out, blasting past a smiling “Mr. Z” – father of the original 1969 240Z.

* Chrysler Cordoba, “Rich, Corinthian Leather” – 

Everyone knows this commercial – or at least, has heard about “rich, Corinthian leather.”  The commercial is the apotheosis of ’70s cheese. Ricardo Montalban, leisure-suited, wide-collared, holding forth in his bedroom voice about his “needs” while cruising around in a chocolate brown, vinyl-roofed ’78 Cordoba.

He “requests nothing beyond the thickly cushioned luxury of seats available even in (wait for it) rich, Corinthian leather. By way of Joliet, IL – or wherever it was that Chrysler obtained the hides. It wasn’t from Spain, in any event.

Even funnier than the dialogue, though, was watching the sea-sick Chrysler’s nose rise and fall as Montalban rolled to a stop. This was with brand-new shock absorbers (one assumes). Imagine how the car wallowed after 50,000 miles or so. “Yet, it is on the highway where Cordoba best answers my demands,” Montalban tells us.

Cue picture of him (off camera) mashing the pedal to elicit some signs of life from the flaccid two-barrel “lean burn” 318 under the Cordoba’s hood.

A classic. Never to be topped.


  1. Listen closely at the 32 second mark. He doesn’t say “rich” Corinthian leather he says “soft” Corinthian leather. The funniest part is after watching him drive that ungainly land yacht that has bumpers in different zipcodes he calls it a “small Chrysler” at the 54 second mark.

    • Yeah,I caught that about the”small chrysler ” also.When he is talking about the fine Corinthian leather ,the car he is in lacks it.You think they would have caught that.My friend had a fine 1977 Doba back in like 1986 and my god did we torture him about it,we were relentless and horrible to him about that jalopy.One night we went out and stole the coins off 26 doba’s and made jewlery from them.I can honestly say that was the worst car I have ever driven by far.As my friend says they are the only car with a factory rebate on thew front fender.

  2. “like a rock…” been 20+ years and it hasn’t left my head when I pass the chevy dealer, even if it is no longer true…

    • eric, except, the lyrics to Little GTO are turn it on, wind it up, blow it out GTO.

      anchar, I always liked Like a Rock and could Identify with it. My Chevy trucks were much like that too. I dropped a boat off the end of a ramp that was barely under water. Sumbitches didn’t bother to make the ramp longer than the concrete so it just fell off into the depths. Not bad for the boat since it was turned loose but the trailer practically disappeared. I didn’t worry about it, just jerked it out over the edge of the concrete and fished till midnight.

      And then the SHTF . How to get the boat out. I balanced the tires of the trailer on the edge of the concrete ramp, set the brakes and my buddy ran the boat up on the trailer as a fair high speed and lots of power. We winched it on up till the bow hit the winch stop and let er float. Then I gets into the old Chevy(heavy half, tough sumbitch) and I nail the brakes as hard as I can and rev hell out of the engine and let off the brake gradually. This wasn’t something you could do with a Ford Slushomatic, good thing for us. I jerked that 2000 lb+ boat and trailer out of the water and also pulled my brake pads and holders off the brakes doing it. But it came out and we all went home and got further toasted. It was time for brakes anyway so no harm done.

      I once pulled a test hole drilling rig around in the sand from one spot to another with my 3/4T 454 4WD ’82 Chevy, and like me, it never said die. The driller couldn’t believe it since he had Ford’s, and knew they wouldn’t do it. He was so impressed the next time I saw him he had new Chevy’s and was nothing but impressed over them. To this day he still raves over those pickups and continues to buy Chevy’s.

      Getting back to the song though, that seemed to me like a great theme song. A vehicle akin to a bulletproof young man who never gave up.

      I’m now 65 and lament those days and my strength and fortitude. Like a rock was something that did not go through my head today when I almost, but not quite, didn’t avoid a big piece of concrete(huge)dropped in the highway and obscured by some dick driving a new Tahoe who had gone around me and slowed down(I don’t get it, this seems to be the order of the day)so I was on his ass toot sweet just with my cruise on, no increase at all in my speed. When he makes this violent move only 100 feet in front of me, I see what he didn’t see until too late almost for him, but too late for me with 40 tons (of rock…..and big rig ha ha). I tried to swerve but the trailer purchased last week leans to the low side with some malady in the suspension and wants to wag the dog on a straight and level road. I was going around a curve at 70 and had little swerve left if I wanted to stay upright and not plow pasture so I hit that thing with the edge of the new chrome front bumper on Step Child, the old Pete, my best bud truckwise.

      But me and Step Child kept on keeping on and we were rock-like I suppose. After over 700 miles since 5 am, a blowout and backtracking at low speed, a trailer mal-function that delayed me and all those fools who are intent on killing everyone, I finally made it home 16 hours later. Sure, I’m not 20 year old but I can’t get past being, in my pea brain, like a rock. I’d be dead in a week if my attitude changed. And that’s the reason I have always like the song and equate it to something strong that keeps on keeping on.

      Some people can make Love Me Tender seem perverse but when Norah sings it she’s singing it just for me. And now I’ll shut up. I’m so damned tired and wired I don’t even know what I’m saying.

  3. The 300ZX is one of my favorites – it’s so fun to watch I don’t resent the commercial intrusion.

    Whatever happened to “Mr. K”?

  4. “Rich Corinthian leather” sounds special and expensive, except Corinth doesn’t produce exceptional leather or any kind of leather at all. But it sure sounded classier than Newark leather, as in New Jersey.

  5. The GTi tune was always fun to listen.

    The Mustang Sally commercial — The voice over at the end sounded very similar (if it isn’t him) to Casey Kasem.

    Do you want a doughnut? 😉

    Poor Ken. Nice cover by Van Halen.

    Ricardo had a great tv presence. Will miss him and his rich Corinthian Leather.


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