Remember These?

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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. It usually comes down to whether the car or truck in question lives up to the background music and images. Otherwise, it’s just a cool (or not) video/song.

Here’s a list of some car-tunes that worked – and also some that didn’t:

* 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  ’80s-era Madmen 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 triple-carbed, high-compression V-8 GTO, but the pugnacious little VW was agile, light and quick enough to be entertaining. 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.

And that’s why the commercial worked so well.

* 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 Ford’s pony car.

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.  “Mustang Sally” just fit the groove.

In 1983, when the newly re-muscled Mustang 5.0 GT was enjoying a fresh surge of popularity, the theme returned once more:

Ride, Sally, ride!

* Chevy trucks and Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock” –

Bob Seger’s anthem-singing ad campaign for ’90s-era Chevy full-size trucks worked really well. Handsome half-ton trucks armed with manly V-8 engines and capable of doing almost anything – the oversized Chevy bow tie centered on the grille leading the way.  Seger’s backtrack complements the specifications sheet – as well as the promise of the Chevy badge, too. The trucks were tough and dependable …  like a rock.  If good taste can be defined as “that which is appropriate,” these ads are in good taste. Chevy got the message across in a no-nonsense, straightforward way that fits the image of Chevy’s trucks perfectly.

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

It’s been a long time since Caddy has rocked n’ rolled – and the attempt to associate the then-new CTS sport sedan with both hard-edged metal music and the ballsy Cadillacs of old (like the finned and chromed ’59 model featured in the commercial) worked miracles.

The classic Zep song song is a head kicker – and so is the ’59 Caddy.  And CTS? At launch, it was easily the most interesting car that Caddy has built in years – unless you’re  a subscriber to Modern Maturity.

* Mercury Grand Marquis –

This one may not have helped sell the car much but it was creative. And pretty damn funny, too. “She was out all night with the Grand Marquis!” – camera pans the courtroom to the guy in the 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. The Grand Marquis is gone – and so is Mercury itself.

* Nissan Z-car/GI Joe and Barbie –

Scene: a kid’s room, strewn with toys. A GI Joe figure comes alive – and jumps behind the wheel of a lipstick red miniature 300ZX, adjusts his look in the rearview mirror, pops the clutch and fishtails across the floor to the girl’s room, where Barbie awaits. Metrosexual Ken gets left on the balcony as the 300ZX peels out, blasting past a smiling “Mr. Z” – father of the original 1969 240Z.

That’s what it’s all about!

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  1. Damn, I hated those “Like a rock” commercials! Seemed like that was right around the time too when Chevy trucks started getting wimpy. At the time, I had been driving Chevy trucks- both for personal transportation and for tow trucks- and was pretty much disgusted by the wimpyness of my new-style ’91 Chevy car-carrier. I then made the switch to Ford. Their trucks of the same class were actually really like a rock. It was then apparent why Chevy needed the slogan- to compensate for their inability to deliver on the actual vehicles. I’ve driven nothing but Ford trucks ever since.


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