Vigor: For Men. The Story Of The Strangest Automobile Ad
Murilee’s piece on the Acura Vigor brought back some fond memories for me involving that car, and an utterly bizarre bit of automotive trivia that was thought to be lost forever – a Japanese-market commercial for the Honda Vigor that features sexual deviancy (panty sniffing, anyone), Italian art house cinematography and the requisite badly-garbled English slogans.
My father’s old job as General Counsel for Honda Canada didn’t preclude him from enjoying some of the fringe benefits of the job; an NSX company car that was passed around to executives, the chance to drive pre-production prototypes and right-hand drive engineering mules, and a steady supply of Japanese language brochures and magazines, most of which would be passed on to me, in an attempt to placate my unrelenting, Aspergers-like obsession with the automobile.
At some point in my early childhood, my Dad got his hands on a copy of a TV commercial for the Japanese-market Honda Vigor, and brought it home for my Mum to watch. In her words, the ad remains “unlike any other car commercial I’ve ever seen. It’s more like a men’s cologne ad.” My father made a VHS copy of the tape, and the ad’s tagline “Vigor: For Men” (yes, much like a fragrance) became an inside joke in my family.
The VHS tape containing the ad was lost for a number of years, until one day, when I searched Youtube on a whim for “Honda Vigor”, in the hopes of finding the theme music used in the ad. Instead, I found not only a series of 30 second spots for the Vigor, but also the original, long-form advertisement. I was floored.
Yes, it really was unlike anything I’d ever seen. The plot seems to revolve around a courtesan who is being chauffeured to an appointment with a wealthy client – who happens to be a woman. This may be blasé in an era of MTV-broadcasted same-sex smooches, but in 1991, it must have been pretty racy. Amidst all the smouldering shots of stocking-clad gams, we see that the working girl’s chariot of choice is the JDM Honda Vigor, or the “FF Midship Straight-5 4-Door Hardtop Speciality” as the title card shows. The video ends with an implied Sapphic rendezvous and the client’s butler inexplicably getting a whiff of the call girl’s undies.
To this day, nobody really has any answers as to the genesis of this ad. My parents likely chalked it up to the ahem…strange predilections that permeate certain regions of Asia. But the biggest question, still unanswered, is “why in God’s name did they let their 3-year-old son watch this ad?” Perhaps it explains a lot.
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I think I just witnessed the convergence of Blade Runner, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Hart to Hart and Ronin.
I'll be in my bunk.