The Truth About Cars » television The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 16 Jul 2014 04:01:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » television Mad Men Season 6: For Immediate Release Mon, 06 May 2013 21:07:07 +0000 MM_606_MY_0116_1330 Picture courtesy of

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.


   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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1979: You Asked For It, You Got… a Toyota Corona Liftback Sedan? Wed, 04 Apr 2012 14:15:35 +0000 The Junkyard Find ’79 Corona we saw earlier was a pretty nice car, but it was a regular sedan with an old-fashioned trunk. Just as Chevrolet buyers could buy a Nova with a hatchback in 1979, Toyota shoppers had the option of getting a Corona Liftback. Let’s tune into the old days of analog television and watch how Toyota USA’s marketers pitched this fine automobile.

So, we have a mean-looking tough old guy with a combover— probably just got back from advising the Proceso on interrogation techniques in Buenos Aires, from the look of him— driving a ’79 Corona Liftback around a suburban American neighborhood. Through clenched teeth, he commands the viewer to get with the program and buy this extremely sensible car. Few viewers did.

Now, let’s watch an ad for a same-year Detroit (or, rather, Franco-Detroit) hatchback. You get facts and figures, twisty roads, interesting camera angles, and a voiceover that doesn’t sound like Dick Cheney as president of your homeowners’ association, berating you over the dandelions on your lawn.

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Adventures In Badge Engineering: Mercury and Oldsmobile SUVs! Mon, 21 Mar 2011 15:00:44 +0000
As Detroit was skipping a decade or two of car R&D by concentrating on packing increasing numbers of 128-ouncer-ready cup holders and faux-wood trim into big trucks, it became necessary to make it clear to the targeted buyer demographics that these trucks really weren’t, you know, trucks. In fact, they were more about protection from street crime and potholes than anything else, which is where slapping Mercury badges on the Explorer and Oldsmobile badges on the Blazer came in.

Who better to show off the Blazer’s— wait, make that the Bravada’s— civilized nature than Ernest Hemingway’s granddaughter? Right! Sure, the good ol’ Olds 98 got better mileage, was much more comfortable, and smoothed out bumpy roads better than any truck, but so what?

By 2002, focus groups had made it clear that residents of suburban Fear Enclaves felt that sport utility vehicles somehow shielded them from the depredations of urban criminals, and so this ad for the Ford Explorer Mercury Mountaineer features the reassuring voice uttering the words “more security” as sirens wail in the background. Those sirens are for the hapless victim who was foolish enough to bring a Grand Marquis to a combat zone!

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El Diablo Went Down To Georgia: The 1981 VAM Rally AMX Thu, 03 Mar 2011 18:00:20 +0000
Sales of the Gremlin-based AMC Spirit in the United States were pretty dismal, but perhaps that was just the result of the suits in Kenosha choosing the wrong ad agency. Let’s head south of the border to see how VAM, which built certain AMC models under license for the Mexican market, pitched the ’81 Rally AMX.

You still see a fair number of VAM-built AMCs in Mexico these days, as I discovered during a visit to Nayarit last year. Sadly, Renault ended up taking over VAM and shutting down the operation in the late 1980s, which is why you don’t see ’03 Javelins.

Yes, it’s a pair of VAM Rally AMXs terrorizing a once-peaceful Mexican village, while Satan saws at his fiddle and chickens flee in terror!

Let’s compare that excellent piece of marketing to what Los Norteamericanos got in their ads for the Spirit: a tedious comparison to the Chevette, a machine that can hardly be called an automobile.

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Adventures In Marketing: Ancient Buster Keaton Forces Lion Into Flat-Nose Econoline Thu, 17 Feb 2011 23:00:24 +0000
Buster Keaton reached the height of his fame in about 1927, but Ford’s 1966 marketers must have figured that nostalgia for the allegedly wholesome silent-film era would be big, what with all the not-so-wholesome madness heating up in the United States at that time. How about we put Buster Keaton in the Econoline?

Keaton died of lung cancer later in 1966, so this may well have been his final acting role. The flat-nose Econoline had but one more year to go, so perhaps the choice of actors was a fitting one.

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Roger Moore Gets 10,000 Pounds of Turbo Boost In His ’82 Corona GT Tue, 15 Feb 2011 18:00:44 +0000
American car ads of the early 1980s came up short in several departments: Burning rubber, jet-engine-grade turbocharger sound, and blatantly sped-up film that made the cars appear to be going 300 MPH. Oh, and they also lacked James Bond!

Since my very first set of wheels was a 50-buck ’69 Corona sedan, I have a soft spot for the not-so-sporty rear-drive Toyota sedans. Not-so-sporty in North America, that is; 1982 car shoppers could still buy a new Corona— in theory, though almost never in practice— but the versions we got were hopelessly stodgy, more suited for the regional sales manager of a faltering plumbing-supply company than, say, a Yakuza enforcer in a $10,000 Italian suit. Not so in Japan, where you could buy a mean-looking Corona GT coupe with “TWIN CAM TURBO” in bright orange letters on the steering wheel and ten billion whistling horsepower under the hood. Well, maybe not quite ten billion horsepower; with the 3T-GTE, Roger Moore was getting 160 PS (about 157 HP) when he leadfooted it out of the TWIN CAM TURBO 18-wheeler in search of baddies. That’s still plenty of power for the time, especially in a 2,500-pound car.

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Adventures In Global TV Marketing: The Citroën AX Thu, 10 Feb 2011 20:30:10 +0000
Sure, Internet video is mostly about dental-fetish porn (particularly the very stimulating “spit sink” subgenre), but when the novocaine wears off and the last vinyl-clad hygienist has put aside her last stainless-steel scraper, you’re ready to explore the other great thing about Internet video… old television ads for the Citroën AX. The AX had quite a run, being built for model years 1986 through 2000 (counting the Proton-built version, the Tiara), and— who knows?— its tooling may yet be brought back into action in some out-of-the-way corner of the world.

Since assembling this collection of Citroën ads a couple years back, I’ve associated the AX with this early French-market ad showing a woman using the Great Wall of China as an exclusive highway for her AX. She catches some serious air, then stops short when a couple of ancient Long March veterans express their revolutionary approval. Down with the Four Olds!

Continuing the “revolutionary Asian locale” theme, Citroën then headed to Tibet, where an AX shows its off-road prowess on the way to a visit with a holy man. No doubt the Chinese government wasn’t so happy about this one, but Citroën sales in China didn’t amount to much in the late 1980s.

As the AX matured and a GT model came out, French-market advertisers decided they’d head over to New York City— like China, a place not known for street-driven AXs— and show off the car’s ability to get through madhouse traffic. In fact, the AX GT can squeeze through traffic even faster than a super-hip bike messenger with a willingness to ride down stairways and over the roofs of gridlocked cars.

In Spain, potential AX buyers must have focus-grouped as being fascinated by the American Southwest, because we’ve got a Harley-riding thug stalking a beautiful, AX-driving young woman from a desert greasy spoon to a railroad crossing. I won’t give away the surprise ending, which apparently is meant to show that the AX is practical as well as sexy, but it sure looks like the start of a made-for-TV serial-killer drama to me.

Citroën UK’s marketers decided to go with cuteness for this 1992 advert; a cartoon cupid’s arrows can’t catch the nimble AX and melt the cold, cold heart of the protagonist’s female companion. Thwarted! But wait! The AX itself gets the job done, and the camera fades to black as the couple prepares to make with the bouncy-bouncy on the road shoulder. Yes, the AX makes a man a real bull on the springs, if I may rip off a Bukowski-ism; it’s the Frenchness that does it. Hey, wait a minute, isn’t that car left-hand drive?

Mazda’s short-lived Eunos brand sold the AX in Japan for a few years in the early 90s, and the JDM-car-ad requirements of jaunty music, sexy foreign woman, and macho voiceover are all met in this ’91 AX ad.

But you really need to bring the AX to Malaysia to unlock the true advertising potential. This two-minute-long special-effects extravaganza for the Proton Tiara features a canoe-paddlin’ hero, a tiger that morphs into a tiger-striped muscleman, and an attractive— though modestly dressed, no doubt in deference to Malaysia’s Muslim population— woman who uses magical powers to summon a Tiara from the ether.

It’s for the CX and we’ve all seen it before, but it seems wrong to talk about classic Citroën ads without showing the what-the-hell-were-they-thinking “Robot Grace Jones” ’84 CX ad.

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Why “Top Gear USA” Is Unlikely To Succeed Sun, 08 Aug 2010 17:02:06 +0000

Watch it if you must, and if you haven’t already: this is “Top Gear USA”. The three people involved are:

  • Rutledge Wood, a television personality best described as “professional douchebag”;
  • Adam Ferrara, stand-up comedian and character actor;
  • Tanner Foust, a fanatically self-motivated and successful individual who has made a name for himself participating in a variety of low-talent driving events such as X-Games Rally and “Formula D”.

Even if you don’t watch the trailer, you should be able to figure out that this series will be an absolute train wreck. With that said, the original Top Gear has never exactly been compelling television, yet it’s found a worldwide audience. The USA version won’t, and here’s why…

The English didn’t invent the idea of a TV show about cars, any more than the Japanese invented the basic ideas behind the Honda Civic. We’ve had American TV shows about cars for decades, and they’ve all been unwatchable garbage. “Motorweek”, with its endless pans of Toyota Camrys doing five under the speed limit on rural two-lane roads, is a perfect example. I double-dog-dare you to get through an episode of Motorweek without picking up a book, checking Twitter, or changing the channel. It’s unbelievably bad.

The original Top Gear succeeded in the UK because it had no competition and because it was on one of the default-choice BBC channels. Motorists in the UK, as a group, are an endangered, persecuted species, endlessly taxed, regulated, and humiliated by everything from a national network of speed cameras to a Byzantine inspection process which fails perfect-condition Jag XJSes off the road because the handbrake doesn’t work better than it did when the car was new. Driving in the UK sucks. It’s much easier to watch a show about driving, so Top Gear became a success.

Add in a sprinkling of the usual fawning British celebrity culture, and there was no stopping it. If you think the American celebrity culture promotes idiots to fame, you will be flabbergasted by the Brits; Google people like “Katie Price” or “Jade Goody” to find out what our oh-so-sophisticated cultural betters like to do with their time. “Jezza” Clarkson almost seems like a reasonable individual compared to some of these folks.

As with their compatriots in print journalism, American video autojournalists set the bar so low that this relatively flaccid English product had no trouble high-stepping over it. Unlike Motorweek, Top Gear at least showed the occasional spinning tire or racetrack action. The hosts appeared to be living people, not cadavers bolted to a stake and shocked into speaking by repeated electrical stimulation. It’s not great stuff, but it’s better than what we got here.

Naturally, the “Mr. Euros” of the world loved the snob value that came from watching a British TV show. (These people were apparently all too young to have seen Fawlty Towers.) Watching TG became a must-have status badge in the world of Internet car forums and “Cars and Coffee” circle-jerks. This is amply demonstrated by the fact that the anti-American episodes of the show are usually some of the most popular and most discussed episodes with American audiences. The folks who watch TG here consider themselves to be better people than the “Amurricans” lampooned on the show.

The final inspired addition to TG was “The Stig”. I’m continually surprised at just how impressed non-racers are with this person and the glorified-autocross “test track” he uses. When we lampooned him at Speed:Sport:Life by having me put on a mirrored helmet and present myself as “Mr. Roboto”, we got some nasty, threatening emails from it. Even if TG itself doesn’t take The Stig seriously, the viewers sure do.

For the record, the whole “Stig” deal is a joke. The race course is a joke. The vastly differing weather conditions are a joke. If you think that “fast lap” times mean anything on that show, you are mistaken. It’s all about entertainment, plain and simple.

Can an American version of this English show succeed? Of course not. It’s missing the three crucial factors that made the UK one work. It will not have a large audience as the original show did, it will not benefit from American celebrity culture due to the complete and utter nonentity status of all three hosts, and it won’t benefit from the snob appeal of being an overseas product. I promise you that the vast majority of potential viewers will simply continue to watch the original. Why would they switch?

If an American show about automobiles is to succeed, it has to be American. It should incorporate all the American automotive and racing traditions, from quarter-mile circle tracks to rallycross. It should provide accurate, fair information and have hosts with both crowd appeal and respectable resumes. Top Gear USA fails on all counts, and it will fail anyway for the simple fault of not being British.

If any of you watch the premiere when it comes out, feel free to let me know your thoughts. I won’t bother; I’ll be out driving. For that matter, you should be, too.

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