By on May 6, 2013

MM_606_MY_0116_1330 Picture courtesy of amctv.com

I was a late comer to Mad Men, AMC’s highly successful and critically acclaimed drama that airs on Sunday nights. It was only as the fifth season was underway and I started to see reports on the interwebs that Jaguar was playing heavily into their story line that my curiosity was piqued. When my wife suggested that we try it out on Netflix last summer, I agreed. And quickly became hooked.

POTENTIAL SPOILERS BELOW THE JUMP

   In case you’ve managed to live under a rock for six years instead of four the way I did and have no idea what Mad Men is about, hit this link to AMC’s website and get caught up.

Cars figure heavily into the plots and subplots of the show and have since the very beginning. An ad agency is defined not only by the clients it already has, but also by the ones it doesn’t. The fictitious firm, Sterling- Cooper- Draper- Pryce, that the show is centered around is a small firm, working hard to grab clients and earn it’s place with the bigger firms. By far the most prized account for one of these small firms is an automotive advertising account.

Automotive accounts are pursued like the Holy Grail of advertising in the series. More than once one of the main characters has bemoaned the fact that SCDP has been playing in the advertising bush leagues, with clients that include regional airlines, baked beans, and various other food stuffs.

In season five the firm managed to land their first “car,” when they secured an account with Jaguar in return for pimping out one of the lead female characters to the head of the Jaguar dealers’ association. It was a loathsome move that tarnished what should have been the firm’s greatest triumph.

The opportunity to dump Jaguar finally presented itself in the May 5th episode. (If you haven’t watched it yet and ignored the other SPOILER ALERT, stop reading now.) Through a series of machinations by one of the founders of SCDP, the firm managed to score a chance to pitch a sales campaign for a new “top- secret” Chevrolet. The car, although not explicitly named as such at this point in the series, is the lowly Chevrolet Vega.*

Part of the fun of watching Mad Men is the knowledge that we, the viewing audience, have of the historical events that are right around the corner for the characters. In this case we know that history will judge the Vega (and it’s main competitors: the Ford Pinto and the AMC Gremlin) to be a total piece of crap, but we ‘re going to get to vicariously experience the hope and wonder of the characters as they work on selling the new car.

We don’t think of the Vega as a bright spot in automotive history, but at the time it was seen as cutting edge, from the Vert- A- Pac vertical rail shipping method, that turned to the cars on their noses to pack 30 units to a railcar instead of the standard 18, to the new Lordstown, OH assembly plant that was the most automated auto plant at the time.  It was also extremely popular, selling over a million units in it’s first three years of production.Detroit was finally taking a growing piece of the automotive market, the sub- compact car, seriously after decades of leaving it to VW and Honda.

It’s also the perfect car for the fictitious advertising agency of SCDP to be hustling. So much of the show centers around the conflict between the brash, forward thinking ad men and their conservative, traditional minded clientele. Almost every pitch meeting shown on the show begins with the SCDP creative team pitching a daring, non- traditional approach to selling the client’s product, the client balking at the pitch, and the SCDP team either selling out and coming back with a boring alternative that meets the client’s expectations, convincing the client to take a chance, or telling the client to get bent and throwing away the account.

Since the Vega is new, one can expect that SCDP’s flair for edgy, provocative advertising would have a better chance of being accepted and used. But they’re also going to be confronting the largest, most conservative client that they’ve ever worked for. The conflict between the creative teams and Chevrolet’s management should make for a lot of drama.

Personally I’m waiting to view the Vega through the characters’ eyes. Like I said before, we know from history that the Vega  is doomed by rust, labor strife at the new Lordstown plant, and numerous quality issues that will all but lock GM and the rest of Detroit out of the small car market for a generation. But on the show it’s 1968. The Vega is known as the XP-887.  Things we take for granted like using a computer to design a car and then building it on an assembly line populated by robots is exciting and new, bursting with possibility.

It’s going to make for quite a show.

* I am 99% sure that the car has to be the Vega. During a scene in which one character was informing the creative team about the pitch, I think he referred to the secret car as the “XP-8 something something.”  It’s an all- new car, designed by computer, and the SCDP staff talks about getting the chance to “name it.” The Vega is the only thing that fits.

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23 Comments on “Mad Men Season 6: For Immediate Release...”


  • avatar
    kjb911

    just watched the last episode today, as I usually work too late on Sundays to see it then, but definetley has to be the Vega. They are given the name XP-887 and don asks that they find out everything they can about the mustang and that it won’t be like anything else they’ve seen before. Love the ending and as usual makes me wanting to watch the next episode immediately. Love the Jaguar bit in the 5th season especially how they kept poking fun of the unreliability especially during the suicide scene where the car fails to start. Such irony.

  • avatar
    April 5

    I’m pretty sure the timeline of the show will end before the debut of the Vega.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Like you, I finally got curious, fired up my Blockbuster-by-mail subscription and pigged out on all five seasons in a period of about a month. Which set me up for finally watching the current season real time.

    As soon as they started talking “XP-887″ the light went off (timeline wise it’s May 1968, Bobby Kennedy is still alive, and there’s hopeful talk about McCarthy winning the Democratic nomination). I am really looking forward to how they go about dealing with GM.

    And yes, I howled at the failed suicide attempt when the brand new Jaguar E-type coupe refused to start.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Detroit had been leaving the subcompact market to imports in the late ’60s, but Honda wasn’t really one of them. They launched the 600 in 1970 to an indifferent public and didn’t gain any traction until the Civic arrived in 1973. Their earlier efforts at export were tiny roadsters that sold about 25,000 world-wide over five years. They built a larger car, the improbably fast 1300, during this time, but it didn’t come to the US and didn’t set any other markets on fire. IIRC, Renault was the second biggest import sedan vendor most of the ’50s and ’60s in the US. I understand why you forgot them, as their survival rate into even the ’70s was minuscule. British Fords and German Opels also factored, as did various Fiats and Saabs. Toyota was starting to make their presence felt, and Datsun had some brand awareness too, but Honda was still only a problem for Triumph and BSA motorcycles.

    I got sucked into Mad Men by the promise of the Jaguar story line. Alas, when I watched it on Netflix that season hadn’t been added yet. Or else I OD’d and gave up before I got to it.

  • avatar
    Virgil Hilts

    The agency almost got Honda a few years back when they were asked to design a campaign for the Honda SuperCub motorbike. It led to one of the show’s funniest moments when the Japanese execs were ogling tall, buxom Joan and one turned to another and said, (in subtitles), “Why does she not fall over?”

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    I’ve been living under a rock :S. Didn’t know about this show.

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    Is it worth watching now? It kinda jumped the shark for me when they added more relationship drama and got away from the business aspect.

    • 0 avatar
      April 5

      I thought it was always about relationships.

    • 0 avatar
      JSF22

      Totally agree. If I want to watch unhappy characters with unpleasant secrets who are screwing each other, I’ll go to my own office. This week’s “Mad Men” episode was the best in ages precisely because it focused on the business and the times. I just hope they can keep this up until the show ends next year.

      The producers pride themselves on historical accuracy and they rarely fail. Indeed “XP-887,” to which they refer, was the internal GM code name for the car that turned out to be the Vega. Since they introduced it in late summer 1970, they would have been working on the naming and the marketing in ’68. The lobby of the old GM Building in Detroit really looked as they showed it (though it was wider); the lobby did have a row of cars in it; and the Corvette and Chevelle they showed were ’68s (though the Corvette didn’t have a stock hood, and when I worked there they wouldn’t have parked two Chevrolets in a row). The Northwest Airlines livery they depicted was indeed the one NW used in ’68.

      And when the writers are on, they are really on. I loved the line, “I’m completely opposed to this idea, unless it works.”

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        Except that there were tons of unhappy characters with unpleasant secrets screwing each other in this episode. Witness Pete Campbell and his father in law. Witness the people in the room during the IPO talk (not Don, not Roger, not Ken, and certainly not Harry, not surprising given his blow-up last week).

        There was always a bit of relationship drama in Mad Men, and it’s definitely part of the story line (Pete and Peggy in the first season is just one of the obvious ones…).

  • avatar
    Zackman

    The first two seasons were the best, as the period styles and all had the most impact on me, but being 62, that was a vastly different era before the Kennedy assassination. Even though pretty young at that time period, I recall the styles very well, even my parents buying me a suit to wear on Sundays complete with a fedora!

    I refused to wear the hat back then, and I hated the suit, too because it was wool and was like wearing sandpaper, especially in the summer.

    Funny…I wear fedoras every day, now… just switched to summer straw last week.

    We still look forward to the show and will watch it Friday, as we DVR everything we actually want to see.

    Right now, our favorite show is “Revolution”. I get a kick out of seeing long-abandoned cars cut up and used as carts and recently, a steam-powered bus and especially recently, a Cutlass Ciera being referenced and called out by name!

  • avatar
    SimRacingDan

    I think it’s the Camaro. They specifically reference it as being a Mustang competitor. Yes, it’s 1968 and the Camaro should be out already but I think they’re altering the real world’s timeline a little bit to fit it into their story line.

  • avatar
    corntrollio

    XP-887 is definitely the Vega hatchback. That’s probably also why Don benchmarks Mustang, since it’s a hatchback.

    Incidentally, it appears they did use Don’s idea for advertising the Vega in reality, according to Curbside Classic:

    www dot curbsideclassic dot com/blog/mad-men-take-on-the-xp-887-vega-and-what-the-hell-is-hypereutectic/

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      There weren’t any Mustang hatchbacks sold in the ’60s. The Mustang II of 1974 was the first with a hatchback. It still makes sense that they’d look at the Mustang, as it was about the smallest American car being sold in 1968.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        Good point — it wasn’t a hatch back then. It probably was one of the smallest cars sold in the US back then, as you said, however. The profile is probably the most similar too.

        • 0 avatar
          dolorean

          As per the definition; hatchback (n), a type of car which has both a sloped back and a rear door that swings upwards when opened. Even Mustang aficionado’s like myself hate to admit it, the Mustang Fastback was just a nifty marketing gimmick to not say ‘hatchback’. And they had those in the ’60s.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    I love the way the writers added the ’62 Cadillan Coupe de Ville, gorgeous Ice-Blue with the white top, as more of a character than a prop in the second season. Its a symbol of the lifestyle that even the great Don Draper can’t sustain and ironically signals the beginning of the end of the life he had build for himself.

    Truly love the scene at the sumptous Cadillac dealership. Don is pondering being there at all and is promtped by the pretentious Cadillac salesman that “most people buy cars to get them where they’re going, but a Cadillac says you’ve already arrived”; both iconic and ironic. As a child of the late ’70s/early ’80s, it always amazed me that anyone would believe that Cadillac was ever the standard of the world, let alone a car that would suggest success. The show is so good at getting the feeling and the soul of the time correct, more so than the character development.

    • 0 avatar
      David Hester

      My favorite scene (and probably my favorite scene of the whole series) with that ’62 Caddy was later in that same episode when Don takes the family for a Sunday drive in the new car and they stop for a picnic by a picturesque pond. When it’s time to go home, Betty just flips the paper plates and other garbage off of their picnic blanket onto the ground and they drive away without a care in the world. For those of us who grew up with Woodsie Owl reminding us to give a hoot and weeping Indians preying on our guilty consciences over trash and pollution, that one scene is like looking in on an alien world. It really captures just how different that time was compared to today.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        Yeah, wifey and I cracked up at that scene! It was as funny as the Draper’s daughter serving drinks – I actually used to do that in the early 1960s once or twice, and for a brief time, I had my young kids get me a beer on occasion in the mid-80s when outside BBQ’ing!

  • avatar
    Brunsworks

    As marvelous as this article is to the car nut in me, the copyist in me must point out, as ever, that “it’s” is not a possessive.


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