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 – or even liking it at all? 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 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 real-life Mad Man 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 it couldn’t tear up a quarter mile like a tri-power, high-compression V-8 GTO, but the pugnacious Rabbit GTI was agile, light and quick enough to be very 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” –

Mustangs have been around continuously since 1964, Vietnam and LBJ. That’s a long run in a business with a four-year model cycle and ten years is considered a gealogic epoch. Selling Mustangs has never been very hard, though – because good looks and (usually) good performance is always in style. So is Wilson Pickett, whose classic R&B hit, “Mustang Sally” was the no-brainer choice to serve as the theme song for Ford’s pony car and its 1994 revival.

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 no. 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.

Ride, Sally, ride!

* Plymouth Arrow and “Me and my Arrow” –

Unlike “Mustang Sally,” this ditty was invented out of whole cloth just to promote a new car, in this case the long-since-defunct Plymouth Arrow of the declining days of Disco. But the late ’70s/early ’80s commercial and the accompanying soundtrack worked because of the nonthreatening, breezy quality they had – which matched the car just right.

Plymouth wasn’t trying to convince you that the Arrow was the mightiest sports car ever – just that it could be a pleasant traveling companion. If you recall the initial spate of ads for Honda motorcycles about 30 years ago  – “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” – you’ll note the familiar motiff. Sensible, even-tempered – not likely to cause you any hassles. That’s appealing on a certain level. And: Don’t forget the Copper Houndstooth upholstery over deep foam padding!

“Me and my arrow, taking the high road.” A nice jingle. Darrin Stevens on Bewitched might have come up with something like it.

* Mitsubishi  “wake up and drive” campaign –

Good-looking young people, hip-hop music, strobe-light photography and a party atmosphere – “little pieces of pop culture,” in the words of Vinnie Picardi, associate creative director of Deutsche LA – the firm that came up  with the 2002 advertising campaign for Mitsubishi Motors.

Did it work? In short, yes. The company’s aggressive marketing of its Eclipse sports car and other models seems to have helped sales – which had been hovering torpidly around 200,000 for the years preceding the ’02 product campaign – and which jumped to nearly 350,000 afterwards. The question is: Was it the cars – all of them brand-new redesigned models – or the commercials? Probably it was a combination of the two – as Picardi admitted – because no commercial, and no hip music track in the world, is going to transform an uninteresting, unhip ride into one that is. The Eclipse – and much more so,  the Lancer EVO  – were appealing on their merits. So while the stop-motion, glittery, hip-hop beat helped – it wasn’t the only thing fueling the resurgence of the Mitsubishi brand.

* Nissan Pathfinder “Naturally Capable”  –

This Aussie ad for Nissan 4x4s never made it stateside – unfortunately. A Pathfinder transforms into an arctic wolf  lunging up a rocky, snow-covered hillside, then morphs into a mechanized tarantula as it carefully makes it way back down the boulder-strewn grade before once more shifting shapes into an aquatic  reptile for a river crossing.

It’s refreshing to see an automaker touting what its vehicles can do – not just how “safe” they are.

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

As the new century dawned, it had been a long time since Caddy rocked n’ rolled. Unless the pallbearers dropped the casket and it rolled down the hill, anyhow. Enter new models like the angular (and muscular) CTS and the attempt to associate it with youth, via hard-edged metal music – and style, via flashbacks to the ballsy Cadillacs of old, like the finned and chromed ’59 model featured in the first few moments of the commercial.

It’s a great commercial because it speaks the truth:

Cadillac is hip again.

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

Bob Seger’s blue-collar anthem-singing ad campaign for ’90s-era Chevy trucks worked really well.  Seger’s voice complements the specifications sheet – as well as the promise of the bow-tie badge. If good taste can be defined as “that which is appropriate,” these ads are in good taste. They got the message across in a no-nonsense, straightforward way that fit the American pie image of Chevy’s trucks perfectly.

* Buick Rendezvous  and “Frankenstein” by Edgar Winter –

The Pontiac Aztek-based Rendezvous has been a tough sell – and the jumbled confluence of cartoonish imagery, Tiger Woods and the “Frankenstein” theme didn’t help much.

In the first place, while GM was trying to convey the multi-purpose capabilities of its sort-of SUV, associating a vehicle with a freakish monster assembled from left-over bits and pieces is probably not a good concept. And Tiger Woods? A young, single guy who needs a minivan?  A Buick minivan?

Epic Fail for Buick. Though not for Tiger, who made as much money off these ads as he did on the green.

* Mercury Marquis  Imagine TV and The Grand Marquis

This was one of those commercials that’s catchy but didn’t do much to tout – or sell – the actual product. But it was a fun little ad.

First, cops pull a guy over to take his Mercury for a test drive; the cops offer the driver a donut. Then there’s a trial scene. It seems she was out all night with the Grand Marquis – pan to wig-wearing 18th century fop. No, the Mercury Grand Marquis – pan right to the car.

Cute. But it didn’t help sales much. Not just the Grand Marquis,either. Mercury itself sleeps with the fishes now.

Too bad.


  1. 1960 – The Corvair In Action

    1957 The Ford Fairlane Retractable Roof Convertible

    1937 – Around the Corner – How Differential Steering Works

  2. Remember These?

    Pontiac – We Build Excitement (1987-1988) Commercial

    20 Minutes of 50’s & 60’s Car Ads

    10 More Minutes of 50’s & 60’s Car Ads

    – It’s almost painful to look at how awesome cars used to be before Merica completely Sovietized itself.

  3. Your assessment of the Plymouth Arrow jingle is egregiously un-researched … You wrote – “Me and my arrow, taking the high road.” A nice jingle. Darrin Stevens on Bewitched might have come up with something like it. – “Me and My Arrow” was a song written by Harry Nilsson in 1971, five years prior to Plymouth releasing their Arrow in America. The musical which that tune comes from – The Point – is a profound commentary on society, growing up, and alienation. Plymouth might have benefited from that message instead of manufacturing this God-awful car, but that’s for another discussion.

    I get that you were writing about cars and songs – but do your homework. Nilsson deserves credit, and so does anyone professing to be a proper blogger.

    • KC,


      Who wrote the song? Who cares? It was an article about a freaking car; I mentioned in passing the jingle used to hawk it.

      Why do you think it was necessary for me to research the stupid jingle’s history/authorship when the got-damned article was not about a got-damned song?

    • Sorry KC, the research team is on holiday.

      Do Nilsson fans feel he has been unjustly treated by society? I’ve noticed every person(usually a female in her late 40s) who plays a Nilsson song in a bar becomes indignant when people inquire about who they are listening to.

      Would you agree that a mere “commercial” intended to induce commerce, and an album about existential conformity are two different animals?

      This commercial is indeed about as well thought out as would be an ad campaign within an episode of Bewitched.

      Please tell me what the Plymouth Arrow and Oblio have in common? Is the Arrow the one and only round vehicle in a village where all cars are pointed? Is the Arrow really a transformational game changer, or is it for the most part, just another vehicle aimed at a target demographic?

      Ni1sson – The Point – Fu11 Album

      An Album by Nilsson telling the story of Oblio, the only round-headed person in the Pointed Village, where by law everyone and everything had to have a point.

      The round-headed Oblio has had to wear a pointed hat since birth to conceal his “pointless” condition from his pointy-headed peers. However, Oblio is accepted in the town despite his nonconformity until one day when the son of an evil count is unwittingly dishonored by Oblio.

      The count’s son challenges Oblio to a one-on-one game of Triangle Toss where participants catch triangles on their heads. Oblio wins with the help of his dog Arrow. In a fit of rage the count, who wants his son to rule the land one day, confronts the good-hearted but timid king to reaffirm the law of the land, which states that those who are pointless must be banished from the kingdom and into the Pointless Forest. A jury reluctantly convicts both Oblio and Arrow leaving the king no choice but to send the pair away.

      Oblio and Arrow are sent to the Pointless Forest, but soon discover that even the Pointless Forest has a point. They meet curious creatures like giant bees, a “pointed man” pointing in all directions who proclaims “A point in every direction is the same as no point at all”, a man made of rock, three dancing fat sisters, and the man made out of leaves who helps Oblio see that everyone has a point, though it might not be readily displayed.

      Oblio and Arrow spend the night in the Pointless Forest, then awaken to a large stone hand with the finger pointing to their “destination”. They take the road indicated by the hand and make their way back to the Land of Point, where they receive a hero’s welcome from the land’s citizens, and the king. Oblio begins to tell his story but is interrupted by the furious count, who is then silenced by the king.

      Oblio tells the king and the people of the land that everything has a point, including the Pointless Forest, and himself. Angered, the count pulls off Oblio’s pointed hat but is taken aback when he sees a point on top of Oblio’s bare head.

      Upon this revelation the points of everyone else in the land disappear and pointed buildings become round.

      The Point! – H. Nilsson!

      1975 Plymouth Arrow Commercial

        • This is one of my favorite articles. KC probably likes it subconsciously. He most likely meant egregious in the original sense of the word, which was: “rising above the flock.”

          KC may ironically be channeling the pointy headed count in The Point! and missing Nilsson’s “point” entirely.

          egregious (adj.)
          1530s, “distinguished, eminent, excellent,” from Latin egregius “distinguished, excellent, extraordinary,” from the phrase ex grege “rising above the flock,” from ex “out of” + grege, ablative of grex “herd, flock” (see gregarious).

          The disapproving sense, now predominant, arose late 16c., originally ironic and is not in the Latin word, which etymologically means simply “exceptional.”

          Related: Egregiously; egregiousness.

          “Malone, a carrion eater, like all of his kind, was porcus ex grege diaboli, a swine from the devil’s herd.” – The Lost World – A. C. Doyle

          – stay Ex Grege my friends.

        • Eric,

          I know this is off topic, but this is too good to not pass it along.

          Five surgeons from big cities are discussing who makes the Best
          patients to operate on.

          The first surgeon, from New York , says, ‘I like to see accountants
          on my operating table because when you open them up, everything
          inside is numbered.’

          The second, from Chicago , responds, ‘Yeah, but you should try
          electricians! Everything inside them is color coded.’

          The third surgeon, from Dallas , says, ‘No, I really think librarians
          are the best, everything inside them is in alphabetical order.’

          The fourth surgeon, from Los Angeles chimes in: ‘You know, I like
          construction workers…Those guys always understand when you have
          a few parts left over.’

          But the fifth surgeon, from Washington , DC shut them all up when
          he observed: ‘You’re all wrong. Politicians are the easiest to operate on.
          There’s no guts, no heart, no balls, no brains, and no spine..
          Plus, the head and the butt are interchangeable.


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