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10 Most Cringe-Worthy Sexist Car Ads Ever Published

Updated May 23, 2018

Sex has been used to sell new cars for years. More so in the past, but it still occurs. Here are 10 of the most egregious examples sure to make you cringe.

Some times is blatant and other times it relies upon innuendo and double entendre to trick the reader into them thinking they are reading something more racy than what it actually is. Many are older, and rely upon old-fashioned stereotypes, while some are fairly new and are even more aggressive than the ads from the past. Read on …

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Subaru GL Coupe

I would have expected better from Subaru, and I’m sure the folks at their HQ in New Jersey are shaking their heads about this one. But this was issued during the time period when Subaru took over from original importer Malcolm Bricklin, so maybe we can cut them a little slack here. What cracks me up about this ad is that they compare the 1.4 L Subaru GL to a “spirited woman who yearns (really?) to be tamed”. With only 58 hp it’s more “Like a Cocker Spaniel that yearsn to be tamed.”

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Volkswagen Type I

I’m not sure where the myth of the woman as bad driver started. I remember as a kid watching talk shows on TV where comedians would come on and make jokes about women drivers, so maybe that’s how it spread. Again, like Subaru, I would have expected Volkswagen to have risen above that stereotype, given the breakthrough advertising created for the original Beetle (which is still studied in college advertising classes). Double fail VW and go fix those diesels.

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Dodge Charger

Ralph certainly has his girlfriend wrapped around his finger. Not only is she not jealous about the new “love” in his life (the Dodge Charger) but she’s thankful he lets her pick the 8-Track tapes and clean the upholstery. And oh my, he even taught her how to use that manly shifter! Even better is her subservient position in the photo – not just to Ralph but to the car as well. I hope she figured out where she fit in Ralph’s life before it was to late.

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Pre-owned BMW

This 2008 BMW ad caused a great deal of outrage, as it was a complete throwback to the 1950s and 1960s when women and sex were used to sell cars. This ad was created to drive traffic for pre-owned BMWs.  The ad reads “You know you’re not the first but do you really care?” It caused a great deal of heat for BMW for a time, it probably sold a number of pre-owned cars, and in the end may not have lost them as many customers as they gained. So what have we learned here?

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Willys Aero Deluxe Coupe

From the company that first brought you is the Willys Jeep is among the creepiest of car ads I’ve seen. The implication is that the husband is having an affair with the woman stepping into his Willys car. Upon reading the find print, its made clear that the call to action is for the husband to bring his wife to the Willys showroom so the salesmen can convince her that buying a Willys Aero is a smart idea (which is not, and she already know better – which is probably why they want he in the showroom)

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Daihatsu HiJet MPV

Here’s an ad from the UK for a vehicle not sold in the US, but it shows that sexism isn’t limited to the US of A. It’s an ad that at first glance appears sort of anti-sexist, but in truth it’s not. The ad is actually based on the assumption that women are so shallow that they’ll jump into a Lamborghini with just about anyone driving. The part I find humorous is that no woman is dumb enough to get into a van with someone they don’t know.

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Oldsmobile Toronado

Here’s a very subtle form of sexism at work here. There’s no woman pictured in the ad, no reference to the “fairer sex, just the message that men are the only ones with drive. Our world is very different today. There are women who head some of the largest corporations (including General Motors), there are women who lead countries, and we have two women candidates for president. I think there’s plenty of drive demonstrated there. Oh, one more thing. What’s a man-sized trunk? Is that where the woman stashes the man after he comes home with a new Oldsmobile Toronado thinking that he’s a man with push?

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Pro-Trac Tires

We all know that sex has been used to sell cars, but to sell tires? Yes, even those round, black somewhat smelly things that hold up your car have been sold using sex. Check out this ad from Pro-Trac Tires to sell their line-up of tires for muscle cars, hot rods, buggies, and trucks from the 1970s.

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Fiat 1500

What’s striking about this ad for the Fiat 1500 sports car is that once you get past the image and headline, it’s a straight read of product features. There’s no innuendo or double entendre in the body copy. However, the imagery and the headline are enough to make our list.

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Fisker Karma

Here’s an ad for the original Fisker Karma. Exactly what a model dressed in what appears to be a leather bikini has to do with recharging the vehicle is completely lost on me. You’d think in this day and age that we’d be past this type of advertising, but apparently not.

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Chris Riley
About Chris Riley

I have been wrecking cars for as long as I've been driving them but I keep coming back for more. Two wheels or four, I'm all in. GearHeads.org gives me a chance to give something back to the automobile community.

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