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The Absolute Cheesiest New Car Ads From The ’70s

Updated May 23, 2018

The ’70s were a low point in car advertising as well as for cars. We’ve collected some of the cheesiest ads from the period, including everyone’s favorite.

These ads range from celebrity endorsements to outlandish claims to comparisons between cars that have no business being compared. Best of all is one of the first cross-promotions between a car company and a clothing company. Neat stuff. Click Next to view our list.

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Chrysler Cordoba

What may be the most famous car commercial from the 1970s (and perhaps one of the most famous of all ads from the 1970s) are those done by Ricardo Montalban for Chrysler. In those ads, the Mexican-born actor smoothly delivered the pitch for the Chrysler Cordoba personal luxury car, including his now famous line about “rich Corinthian leather.” What’s funny about that is one, that although everyone thinks the line is “rich Corinthian leather”, it’s actually “soft Corinthian leather, and two, there was no such thing as Corinthian leather, or at least there wasn’t until it was invented by Chrysler’s ad agency.

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Audi 100

Check out how Audi tries to align itself with a much more expensive car (you’ll see more of that later). Apparently the feature – that the Audi was fitted with rack and pinion steering – was the only point of differentiation that the copywriters could come up with. And it’s certainly not likely that Audi and Ferrari were the only two cars sold in the US with rack and pinion steering at that point, so clearly it was simply an attempt to align the Audi name with a more premium brand (not such a problem today).

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Chrysler Imperial

This ad stretches our date range a bit, but it’s worthwhile to include. Lee Iaccoca, who was then running Chrysler, was personal friends with Frank Sinatra. To launch the new Imperial, Iaccoca asked Sinatra to participate with a special Frank Sinatra Signature Edition. But this was more than a name tag and a special paint color. The Sinatra Imperial came with a storage case that matched the interior of the car packed full of special Frank Sinatra recordings on cassette.

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Buick Riviera

I’ve always been a fan of the boattail Buick Rivieras. They’re among the last of the GM cars that truly had its own identity. Soon all models would be homogenized to the point where you’d need to walk up to the car and read the badge to determine the make and model. But let’s put all that aside for a moment. Take a look at the headline. Would you really put your faith into a 1971 Buick? I didn’t think so.

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AMC Levi’s Gremlin

As the smallest of the car companies in the US (the Big Three plus little American Motors) the company searched for ways to leverage their products in such a way that information would travel socially, and not just through mass advertising (and in that way they were ahead of the curve). AMC forged a partnership with Levi’s to provide their denim material and their name for the upholstery first of the AMC Gremlin (and later in the Pacer). Seems hard to believe now that a denim interior would be a selling point for a car.

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Ford Cruising Wagon

A few weeks ago with shared with you the Ford Pinto Cruising Wagon and we thought you’d like to see its partner, the Ford Cruising Van. I love the fresh-faced young people in this ad, clearly law-abiding, non-promiscuous young adults who use their Cruising vehicles just to meet up with friends and never do anything in the van or wagon that they wouldn’t tell their parents about. Yeah, sure.

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Ford Granada

This is one of my favorite ads of the era. In the layout Ford compares the Granada to a Cadillac, based on a slight similarity in appearance, and then  compares the price of the Granada to the price of a Volkswagen Rabbit. The goal is to lead the consumer to believe that for the price of a compact car they can head on down to their local Ford dealer, purchase a Granada, and their neighbors will believe that they’ve purchased a Cadillac. That is as long as their neighbors live at least one-half mile away and their view is at least partially obstructed by bushes and trees. Did anyone really buy this story? Did the team that created the ad even believe it themselves?

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Mazda RX-3SP

Cool car and cool imagery. There’s, of course, no way that you’d ever be able to run an ad like this today unless your car’s tires actually set fire to the pavement. The part of this ad I find strange is the subhead: (Please don’t tell your mother you’re going to buy one). OK, this isn’t a ZL-1 Camaro or a Boss 429 Mustang, it’s a 95 hp compact car. And besides, what’s mom have to do with this? Were they targeting young men who lived in their mother’s basement?

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Renault R12

In an effort to convince Americans that Renaults weren’t flimsy European cars unsuited for American roads they enlisted the Unser brothers, Al and Bobby, who together had won the Indy 500 seven times. After all, two All-American race car driving brothers should hold sufficient sway with the public to convince them their perceptions of Renault were incorrect. Take a minute and read the copy and see if you think its sounds like race drivers fron New Mexico, or a copywriter in NYC attempting to write text that reads like it was written by race car drivers from New Mexico,

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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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