By on July 2, 2013
Your Author, All American Boy

Your Author, All American Boy

July 4th is almost upon us and all you bashers of things American made can suck it. We won the wars with our All American can-do attitudes, our American know-how and our All American steel. If it wasn’t for us you’d all be speaking German and Japanese and be using the metric system to measure things other than just cocaine. We are the most powerful nation to ever stand astride the Earth and the best part about us is that, no matter who you are or where you live, our government is interested in what you are doing and will take the time to listen to everything you have to say.

The year 2013 is a confusing time to be an American. The economy continues to struggle forward and the signs are mixed as the stock market surges forward and then falls back. Leaks and revelations have aired our government’s dirty laundry and it has become ever more apparent that we have over the past decade been slowly trading our liberty for an increased sense of safety. Recent discussion on this site have raised the specter of license plate readers tracking people’s movements and, although I am by no means one of the tin foil hatters who like to comment on so many of our posts, even I am beginning to wonder just what the hell we are doing to ourselves.

The last time I can remember our national mood taking this big a hit was in the 1970s after the Watergate scandal broke. Our national adventure in Vietnam had failed spectacularly and the experience had left us deeply divided. The economy was headed into the dumps and thanks to the Arab oil embargo fuel prices were hitting new highs. Cars of that era, the reliable ones at least, were big, simple machines that for the most part relied upon aging technology. They were inefficient, ungainly and had a lot more in common with old tractors than they did with the rockets our government, in a fit if fiscal restraint, had decided to stop sending to the moon. They were, for the most part, out of date before they left the factory but they still needed to be sold so the ad men went to work.

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Chevrolet has long played upon it’s All American image to sell cars and the “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet” is one of the earliest ad campaigns that I can actually remember. Looking at the commercial on You Tube today, it seems a little saccharine sweet as it attempts to connect the cars of 1975 with the more storied cars of the brand’s past but given the context of the times it worked well. Of course, I can tell with 20/20 hindsight that almost every one of the cars on display was a total dog. Unless they rolled right off of the set and into the corporate museum my guess is that every one of those cars were in the junkyard before The Captain and Tennille dropped out of the top 40, but buy them we did.

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You know that campaign worked because in the late 1980s Chevrolet took another shot at our heartstrings when it pulled out its “Heartbeat of America” campaign. This time the cars weren’t bloated disco barges with landau tops, they were instead smaller, more efficient and generally unremarkable front wheel drivers. The images in the ad are unabashedly blue collar America and I can’t help but look at them and see reflections of real people that I know. Looking back now I can still see that most of the cars are unsophisticated crapwagons but Ronald Reagan’s America was a different, leaner time and after the excesses of the 70s a return to a more utilitarian, if not Spartan, mode of transportation seemed warranted. At the very least, it felt like the General was trying to get with the times and, although we bought less of them than we had of their predecessors, a great many of us still took the plunge.

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In the new millennium Chevrolet hit us in the gut yet again, this time with its Chevy Runs Deep campaign. Chevrolet’s products were better than they had been in years and it seems to me that there was very little actual need to rely so heavily upon a connection to the brand’s storied history to generate sales. The ads did not, apparently, generate the amount of sales that the company had hoped for and the campaign was quietly dropped at the beginning of this year. The ads do a good job of showing us the connection Chevrolet has with the hearts and minds of many in middle America, but I think the lack of sales the campaign generated may be a result of the fact that, over the past four decades, fewer and fewer Americans have actual long term memories associated with the brand.

The future is forever rushing forward and its arrival banishes those things we once knew and loved to history. We will always continue to hold the memory of those things in our hearts and so long as we do, advertisers will continue to attempt to access the positive feelings associated with them. As more and more American families have moved into imports, fewer young people feel strong connections to the American brands. When nostalgia becomes useless, I wonder then what will replace it? Happy Independence day…

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80 Comments on “Reeling In The Years: Tugging Americans’ Hearstrings...”


  • avatar
    Austin Greene

    I bow in your general direction, America: “the most powerful nation to ever stand astride the Earth”.

    • 0 avatar
      FirebombDetroit

      Those days when that held true sure seem like a long time ago. Actually, it wasn’t very long ago at all – which only shows how quickly our fragile republic has been subverted by the likes of Dubya and Barry-O.

  • avatar
    tonycd

    “the best part about us is that, no matter who you are or where you live, our government is interested in what you are doing and will take the time to listen to everything you have to say.”

    Nice.

  • avatar
    rnc

    “When nostalgia becomes useless, I wonder then what will replace it?”

    The original ford taurus (explorer as well) were homerun answers at the time (even though ford did almost drive itself into the ground again after running out the management team that saved it the first time around).

    GM has never, ever seemed to have those answers, and after 3 decades of being a day late (or early), a few unresolved flaws before release or just throwing crap out hoping that thousands of dealers and cheap financing would take care of everything while running itself into the ground financially because it was never going to admit to those mistakes. Like Ford did long ago, GM should just ditch the nostalgia thing altogether, (seems the a large part and purpose of the original taurus and the aerobird (aero-design themes) was to make people forget about the ford past, versus just making commercials trying to hold to it.)

  • avatar
    Summicron

    Another home run by TK.

    My roots are too close to his to be unmoved by this.

    Plus, I owned the next-year’s version of that Impala.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    The past is always best viewed through rose-colored glasses. What was good for GM, as it turned out, wasn’t what was good for America “… but buy them we did”, because there wasn’t much of an alternative. “…more and more American families have moved into imports”, because when given a choice we’ll pick what’s best for us. I am thankful for one thing unprecedented in world history, access to information. No longer do we have to accept the truth as told to us through the propaganda of whoever is in charge. Our leaders may still pee on us, but at least we’ll know the difference when they tell us it’s just rain.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Hindsight isn’t even 20/20 in this case. When GM ruled the automotive world, until the early 70′s, they were the best cars made… but only by virtue of the fact that everything else was sheer and utter crap.

    Cars in those days were used up by 60,000 miles. If your 2013 whatever-mobile was used up by 60k, you’d bitch and moan from the highest mountain.

    Cars got a lot better starting in the mid-70s – that is, everyone’s cars but GM’s. They rested on their laurels and everyone else passed them by.

    • 0 avatar
      April

      My Dad bought lots of GM iron but he was burned by his new 1979 Pontiac Gran Prix. It was nice looking car (much slimmer than the bloated gas guzzlers until then). White with a tasteful (really!) red vinyl interior. He selected the 301 V8/automatic combo because it should be adequate to occasionally pull a small 2-horse trailer. Turned out it had the same transmission as in the Chevette. Something that would not handle the added load. He quickly traded it off and never bought a new GM car since.

  • avatar
    Summicron

    Best opening sentence evah!

    And that ’56 he’s leaning against is just tits.
    Can it be a Pennsylvania car….so clean in, what, the early 80′s?!

    • 0 avatar

      In 1987 I got a job with Schuck’s Auto Supply, a regional chain in the Pacific NW, when they opened a store in my town. The car was a prize in a raffle that the store was running to bring in customers.

      My first day on the job the corporate office brought the car up to our store for the grand opening and I heard the vice president wondering aloud what he could do with it overnight. Since it didn’t seem like a good idea to leave it downtown, I stepped up and volutneered to take it home.

      Naturally I took the longest way home possible…

  • avatar
    April

    When your product is crap and you don’t want people to notice wrap it in the flag.

    That and nostalgia.

    • 0 avatar
      Austin Greene

      April, is your real name Karl Rove?

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      It is safe to say that we have the undivided attention of both GM and Ford these days. And their products are better.

      Regrettably, Chrysler has gone foreign and is now an Italian car maker.

      All in all, cars of the forties, fifties and sixties do bring out the nostalgia in me, at least until I remember the points and plugs changes, minor and major tune-ups, drums with brake shoes, zerk fittings, waterpumps, fuel pumps, carburetors and DC generators I had to change out to keep them running.

      • 0 avatar
        Summicron

        Heh.. and trying to see out of the damn things in the winter.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          I grew up in Huntington Beach, CA, so smog was a problem for everyone, although winters were very, very mild. So mild, I wore shorts all year ’round.

          But good windshield wipers were a must because it doesn’t rain in Southern California. It pours!

          • 0 avatar
            Summicron

            I was born in ’54 so 50′s cars are a dim memory, but I owned several 60′s rides and in the snowbelt that meant literally driving with an ice scraper in one hand on really cold days.

            And that was just to keep a patch of the windshield and side windows clear on the inside. The rear window was always going to be opaque. The lowliest new car today is God’s gift with improved heaters, vents and defroster grids.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            I can see where that could be important. I live in the Southcentral desert of New Mexico now where rain is scarce, winters are warm, and summers extremely hot.

            What I require in my vehicles is a killer airconditioning unit, cruise control and satellite radio to traverse the many miles of open desert.

            I honestly cannot remember when I last used the heater or the defrost in any of my cars since I moved back here in Jan 1980.

            I’m cold weather averse.

          • 0 avatar
            Juniper

            Ha that’s funny. The only time I have been stuck overnight was due to snow in NM and Tex last winter while trying to get home from San Diego. Fortunately we were in the motel when it hit and just stayed another long boring day.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            Juniper, you must have been quite a bit North of where I am.

            We rarely have snow where I hang my hat, and when we do, it’s usually gone by mid morning.

            I’m about 60 miles NE of El Paso, TX, smack dab in the middle of the desert. A gas&sip I prefer over city living.

      • 0 avatar
        KixStart

        Their products are better than they once were. They’re not better than the competition.

        I think Ford’s realistic about how they measure up but I think GM is still fully capable of lying to itself and to us.

      • 0 avatar
        Juniper

        Santa Rosa on I-40, At least it has a small car museum.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          That’s more than 200 miles north of where I am.

          But I know it well, since I travel to Colo Sprgs by way of US54/US84 and cut North to I-25 before I get to Santa Rosa.

          That’s along the infamous I-40 corridor with only a snow fence between it and the North Pole.

          • 0 avatar
            Juniper

            You must work for the Chamber of Commerce since the average low in El Paso in Dec Jan & Feb is in the 30s with highs in the 50s. Been there done that.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            I don’t work at all but whatever the CoC is doing is bringing in people from CA, NY, NJ and other East Coast states by the droves to just my gas&sip.

            I can only imagine the mass-migration that must be taking place to places like Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces, all of which are seeing a boom in new housing construction.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Most car ads are inane, and they serve far less purpose than they did before the internet. Their only utility today is to inform you of special deals.

  • avatar
    ajla

    B-O-P > Chevrolet

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    LOL @ the 80′s commercial. Just seeing the video (no sound – at work) “Chevy! You can have… A Lumina, or a 2-door Lumina, or a Lumina… or a Lumina MPV. Also a Caprice. Or a Coro-Nova. Also we have a 2-door Lumina. And we got a Camaro, and a Cavalier. Oh, also we have a Lumina.”

    • 0 avatar
      flameded

      +80 ;)

      And the one where the kids searched for 5 years to get the dad’s 65 Impala back after he sold it years ago…Touching story, But can you imagine them goin through all that trouble if it was a chevette,or a lumina..or a citation?..sheesh. Yeah, there was a time when American cars were cool.Didn’t matter if they ran like poop, were hard to steer around corners..or stop for that matter. They were friggin cool.

      A lumina is not cool. (I owned one)
      A chevette is not cool. (also owned one)
      a new malibu is not cool.
      It just sucks that the only “cool looking cars” these days ,are super expensive.
      Everything else looks like a 96 maxima.(except a new maxima, those look kinda cool) ;) heck even the altima looks like a maxima now.

      O well, theres always nostalgia, and it’s always better each time I remember it. ;)

  • avatar
    threeer

    Ah…Kreutzer, what irony…what timing! GM just announced their attempts to pull at America’s heartstrings with the launch of the new Silverado. Sad part about that is that a fair number of them are Hecho en Mexico. Don’t even get me started on the Encore (18% Chinese, thank you). While I don’t want to start the “what makes and American car” debate (there are way too many ways to measure that metric), I will say that I am looking at my next purchase much more carefully when it comes to content and manufacture. Call me a dinosaur (perhaps a patriotic one at that), but I was born in this country, and prefer to see this country prosper. Sigh…now if the Mustang just came with an American manual transmission…

  • avatar
    jhefner

    Great story, Thomas; and enjoying the comments as well.

    I thought about you when the article came up about the metric system and Canada. A “non-story” that generated over 140 comments — don’t let the comment count bother you.

    • 0 avatar

      I am the guy who wrote the “non-story” about the metric system and Canada and I actually agree with your designation. It is an oped piece and I have written thousands of them since my start in 1985 as a freelancer.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    THANK YOU Mr. Kreutzer ! .

    As a Bowtie Guy to my shoes , I applaud your efforts as well as your writing .

    Ever notice how every one always wants to come to America but not the other sh*tholes around the world ? .

    Nostalgia still works for me , my 42 Y.O. Chevrolet pickup truck is parked outside ready to take me anywhere I want to go in comfort , economy , style and a cloud of blue oil smoke .

    You’re correct about the imports thing too : I also drive a 1940′s Tech Mercedes Diesel .

    Lastly , I appreciate everyone in America taking the time to celebrate Mom’s birthday Thursday .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Really, the stupidity of these ad campaigns is that lots of people with memories do not have particularly fond ones of Detroit iron. For good or ill, I can remember back to the first new car my parents bought, a 1952 Ford. I also remember that it seemed to need lots of repairs. My parent’s second new car, a 1957 Chevy 6-cylinder, was actually quite good. It handled the rough roads of 1950s Spain without a mishap and survived on Spanish allegedly 90 octane gasoline. We lived two years in a minor city in Spain with no issues with the car; and my dad kept it 3 years more when we returned to the States in 1960. The next Chevy — a 1963 with a 6 and three on the tree — was not so good. It bucked like a mule when it was cold, although it always started reliably and did manage to get a righteous 20 miles per gallon on the highway. Finding it inadequately powered, my dad replaced it in 1966 with a Chevy and the 283 V-8 with a 2-bbl. The car was delivered with a missing rear main oil seal and several other significant QA problems. All of these cars had uncomfortable bench seats. Having had his fill of Detroit iron, in 1970 my dad bought a Volvo 144S . . . and never returned to Detroit.

    For the most part, these cars were carelessly designed and carelessly assembled and far, far below the state of the art with two big exceptions: air conditioning and automatic transmissions (except the 2-speed Chevy powerglide). Detroit couldn’t even bother to put a front/rear proportioning valve in the braking system. With the increasing use of (unnecessary) vacuum assist on drum brake systems (which, unlike discs are self actuating), it was nearly impossible to stop a car from highway speed without locking up the rear wheels and putting the car into a terminal spin. Ralph Nader was/is a jerk, but if you had ever driven a 1964 Corvair in the rain, you would appreciate how difficult it could be to keep the back of the car behind the front . . . and not hooning. Sure, the VW Beetle was hardly any better and would roll more easily, but it never claimed to be anything other than an economy car.

    So, I’m not surprised the GM “heritage” ads have limited success. For those who actually remember, the heritage was not good and was what drove people into VWs, Toyotas and Datsuns in increasing numbers at the cheap end of the scale and into Volvos, Saabs and Benzes at the pricier end.

  • avatar
    April

    I always thought the Chevrolet “Like A Rock” ad campaign was especially stupid.

    • 0 avatar
      Summicron

      Those were paeans to working-class machismo that would have been nonsensical to anyone outside that demographic. The man who gets his ’65 Impala back is an example of that demo.

      Staunch, family oriented, obsessively hard working at medum-skilled jobs, they were able through selfless dedication to raise functional, single-income families in the Old Economy with every facet of post-war American society assisting them because their dogged reliability was needed by industrial America.

      Down side was inheriting values and expectations from their WWII era parents and conservative communities that had them starting families too early to ever fully avail themselves of educational opportunities that might have lifted them out of the working class. Which was too bad because they were about to be dumped like spent shells from a chain gun as we transitioned to a service economy for which they couldn’t have been less prepared. Hence the “hard times” that required selling the Impala.

      Chevy was appealing to those men and their hourly wage sons, promising a vehicle to match Dad’s heroic and tireless solidity. Impala Dad’s sons however appear to have risen a rung or two above that. Bet they don’t drive Chevys.

      But that demo is pretty much all gone now leaving only broken wards of Human Services in its place. And wards of the Veteran’s Administration, but that’s another story.

  • avatar
    jaron

    “I miss the days when I used to be nostalgic.” – Steven Brust

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    “our government is interested in what you are doing and will take the time to listen to everything you have to say.”

    Especially when you don’t know about it.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    Excellent piece. Looking back, I understand what the ads were trying to do.
    I was too much of a right brain person to let emotion sway me. These ads and a familiarity with GM workers – I grew up and currently reside in western NY – just pushed me into the arms of imports that much faster.

  • avatar
    50merc

    Nice article, but to my mind all the slogans together can’t match Dinah Shore belting out “See the USA in your Chevrolet”. Tens of millions did just that, which is why Chevy is a significant element in America’s collective memory. You know, like baseball, hot dogs and apple pie.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      And for all those years that we bought into that we didn’t really know just how bad the American cars were, until the foreigners came ashore in the US.

      Some, like the Brits with their Lucas gear, were worse than our American cars. But others were consistently better and won the battle for our hearts and minds.

      It was all part of growing up for people of my generation.

      It is up to the people of the now-generation to determine what tugs at their “Hearstrings” (Heartstrings) for their future nostalgia.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Let us not forget that during the sixties and early 70′s the Japanese imports were not so great and that a lot of American iron was still reliable for its time. After the Arab oil embargo that brought the Japanese to our shores had ended, gas became plentiful and cheap. Many Americans dumped their small imports and by ’77 or ’78 IIRC, GM had a banner year. But by then the typical Detroit product was in major decline. When Oil Crunch II hit, the Japanese had improved markedly while Detroit had slid back. One can only imagine how different things would have been had the Citation era cars been better built and reliable. The millions of people burned by them would have instead set the seeds for a healthy auto industry.

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          Very good point. In the early ’70s, even Consumers’ Reports was downgrading the early Japanese cars, and touting Detroit’s full sized, V-8 engined cars as a best choice.

          The X cars were a space efficient design package, a little bigger than the Japanese econoboxes. They were put on the market before the bugs were worked out, and the smog rules of the day favored Japanese small engine expertise.

          Imagine a better-built Citation with the later Buick 3800 engine and 4-speed auto. As it was, the X cars sold in huge numbers, but the bloom came off the rose quickly, and can mark the end of GM dominance.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          All true, golden2husky, but I wasn’t just referring to Japanese cars.

          At that time we also had for sale in the US the VW Bug and its various sibs, the Mercedes-Benz line of sedans, the BMW-line of sedans (ahhh, the 2002) and even a few NSUs, DKW, Citroen, Peugeot, and early Audis.

          People who had access to those brands chose to buy them instead of the domestic brands in spite of their often higher prices. I remember GM coming out with the Corvair to directly challenge the VW Bug. Ouch!

          In the case of the VW Bug, at one time my dad had four of them, old and used, without air, so that his kids wouldn’t bug Mom and Dad for the use of their cars.

          This is in addition to the used domestics he had as well. I was the oldest kid and I drove a domestic most of the time, and had to maintain and repair it as well.

          Living the Southern California lifestyle, we all went our different ways, doing our own thing, and one car per person, albeit old and used, was better than thumbing it. No self-respecting kid at that time rode the bus. You thumbed it or bummed rides from friends.

          Things were different back then, but not by much, since, I, too, ended up providing a used vehicle for each one of my children when they still lived at home and needed mobility and transportation of their own.

          Difference was, I bought all of them a foreign-brand used one, except my daughter for whom I bought a new 1996 Saturn. What a terrible, terrible disappointment that POS was!

          Replaced it with a 2000 Corolla, and all was well again. She still loves me.

          So I wonder if what tugs at MY children’s heartstrings will be the fond memories of their (foreign brand) cars, since they were spared the agony of driving the domestic brands that I was saddled with in my youth.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Back then commercials must of had a greater impact on the public then they do today because I remember seeing the USA in our Chevrolet as we drove to Florida to escape the northern winter. The following winter we flew to southern California and my father let Hertz put him in the driver’s seat of the Impala convertible he rented, though I don’t quite remember him flying through the air and landing in the front seat like the commercial portrayed… I must have been really disappointed when he opened the car door and sat down like regular people

  • avatar
    Scribe39

    Sorry, but I don’t buy the idea that anything but GM cars were crap in the ’60s, or even the ’70s. Too many people look at what they drive today and compare them to those days. Yes, today’s stuff is better, but I lived through — and drove through — everything from the mid ’50s right through today. There were a lot of good cars — of all makes — in every decade.

  • avatar
    vaujot

    Kudos on the Steely Dan reference.

  • avatar
    walleyeman57

    While these Chevy ads faded into the background from my youth, the Chrysler ads with Lee Iaccoca stand out for asking the buying public to support them and help them out by buying a crappy K car. I am not sure if I was the ad campaign or the cars themselves, but the buying public did save them. They paid back the government loans (early) and were successful enough to sell themselves to Daimler a few years later.

  • avatar
    Junebug

    The last Chevy I owned was a 2002 Chevy Alvalanche, it wasn’t bad, but, fast forward to 2013 – the interior has moved at glacial speed ahead!

  • avatar
    JaySeis

    Most of the vehicles I learned to drive where wagons and trucks: ’49 Chev 1 ton, ’53 Chev panel, 53′ Chev 1 ton, ’55 Ford 2dr wagon, ’56 Ford PU, ’51 GMC 1 1/2 ton. They were used on my grandfathers farm though we used the station wagon as a beach & hunting rig. I doubt any of them saw 55 mph. After decades on the coast they got recycled as rusted out shells.

    So…my memories of seeing the USA are logging roads during elk season, flying down the beach during clam season, and the transmission whine as a truck made the hill with a load of cranberries totes headed for the plant. Our tractor was a ’58 Ford 641 converted to a tractor loader backhoe, the dump truck…a ’58 F8 and…even the train (yes…we had a train) was powered by a Ford flathead. Our family vacations where in a ’56 Ford Ranch Wagon with a 312 & 4 barrel towing an 18′ travel trailer to the Olympics, Crater Lake, Yellowstone.

    Sedans and the concept of suburban living were decades away and I always liked vehicles of utility, working rigs. (I did eventually see the USA (and Canada)….on the seat of a French bike during a 4K mile coast to coast trip)

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    In the late 70s and early 80s, the vehicles appeared to be made out of particleboard. But instead of wood chips, they used compressed rust instead.

  • avatar
    johnny ringo

    Someone once said that nostalgia was looking at the past while wearing rose colored glasses and blinders. Frankly most of the domestic cars in the 60′s from a quality standpoint were not that great, but there was not much to compare them against; and the quality of domestic automobiles continued to decline through the ’70s; it wasn’t until about 1985 or so that the quality of domestic automobiles began to improve.
    In all fairness, Japanese cars in the 60′s were not especially great, their main attraction was price. In my humble opinion the improvement of Japanese cars in the 1970 can be traced to the idea of statistical quality control taught by Edward Demming. He gained almost rock-star satus in Japan where his teachings were followed with an almost religious fervor. In the United States he was a prophet without honor, it wasn’t until well into the 80′s that the domestic auto manufactures began grudgingly accepting his ideas.


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