Great Moments In GM History: The Bel Air Was "An Impala That Didn't Quite Make It"

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
great moments in gm history the bel air was an impala that didn t quite make it

Last week, Jalopnik ran a story bemoaning the loss of Joel Ewanick, complete with some appropriately DeLorean-esque winks towards possible conspiracy and a note that Mr. Ewanick just busted out a $1.4 million mortgage for a home in Detroit. This doesn’t seem like a good deal; surely $1.4 mil should get you, oh, I don’t know, 1,400 homes in Detroit.

What was so great about the guy who apparently green-lit “Chevy Runs Deep”? Perhaps a look into what GM once considered to be good marketing copy will offer some insight.

The image at the header of this story is part of the catalogue for 1972’s full-sized Chevrolets. Most of the text is pretty standard garbage:

We’ll let the pictures do most of the talking. They can help you settle on what you might settle in much faster than words alone can.

The phrase “settle for” is not entirely nimbly avoided here.

Just keep in mind that all the Impalas you see here have all the important Impala features we’ve talked about

Those features include — I kid you not — dual windshield wipers and frame rails with strategically-drilled drain holes to let the rust out.

And keep in mind Bel Air.

When I went out the door on dates with my high-school girlfriend, my mother used to shriek, “And keep in mind all the things you could catch!” It made me tremble a bit during the very chaste good-night kisses, I tell you, just wondering what the hell was likely to happen. So, keep in mind Bel Air.

Now don’t get the idea it’s an Impala that didn’t quite make it


Bel Air is Bel Air.

Is that so.

It’s its own car.

How so, exactly? Like, it’s attained consciousness? And really, I hadn’t thought about the idea that a Bel Air was an Impala that didn’t quite make it until YOU PUT IT IN MY HEAD. Now I’m envisioning the following scene:

An ASSEMBLY LINE in DETROIT. A wide variety of AUTOWORKERS are passed out drunk, or copiously vomiting, or engaged in sabotage of the monstrous hulks which slouch listlessly along, suspended by rusted metal jaws from a chain that jerks periodically like a roller coaster lift chain at a third-tier country fail. Only two men are upright and sober: a RANDOM WORKER and an IMPALA QUALITY INSPECTOR. As a large CHEVROLET wobbles past, the IMPALA QUALITY INSPECTOR takes notes.

RANDOM WORKER: How about ol’ 876102 here? Did she make the grade? Is she… an Impala?

IMPALA QUALITY INPSPECTOR: (shaking head sadly, slowly) No. She didn’t quite make it.

RANDOM WORKER: Then that means…


RANDOM WORKER: Fuck. We haven’t managed to knock out an Impala yet this week. And it’s Thursday.

IMPALA QUALITY INSPECTOR: Not to mention a Caprice.

RANDOM WORKER: Yeah, but who’s stupid enough to buy one of those?

Just to make sure you get the point about the Bel Air, it’s presented in that unique shade of olive that those of us who grew up in the Seventies will forever associate with three-millimeter-deep cracks in the lacquer finish. That’s right. The Bel Air sucks.

If only GM had known Joel Ewanick back in the day. He would have had Bel Air sales through the roof, courtesy of a tie-in with Jalopnik or a Special Advertising Video featuring Jean Jennings. Plus he would have put it on social media, which back in those days meant waiting for Bob Guccione to come up with OMNI Magazine so the Bel Air could have its own weird personal classified ad.

Next to this stuff, “Chevy Runs Deep” seems bad in a pretty tame way, like the singer who swears during “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” in that one movie. But as bad as Chevrolet was, Cadillac was worse. Here’s proof:

Cadillac! The Spirit Of The Seventies! But wait a minute… the Seventies also sucked! Much harder than the 1970 Cadillac!

I tell you, that Ewanick guy is worth whatever they paid him.

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2 of 83 comments
  • Numbers_Matching Numbers_Matching on Aug 16, 2012

    I learned to drive in a '72 Biscayne, blue 4 door, 350 V8. It was nicely equiped with creature comforts like....carpeting. I remember the one advanced feature it had (and the only thing I could show my friends) was the 'mist' wiper feature that would pulse the washer fluid nozzles and wipe at the same time.

  • Gottacook Gottacook on Aug 19, 2012

    When the "downsized" full-size Chevys for 1977 appeared, the ad campaign was really not bad; this was the jingle, as I recall: Now that's more like it That's more like it That's more like it, that's much more like it The new...!! Of course this was an implicit admission that the 1971-76 cars (one of which, a '72 with the experimental soft front end cap, I drove as a taxi for a few weeks in Lexington, MA, at age 19) were awful, as indeed they were. Even if such a sharp transition were possible today between an outgoing and an incoming model, I don't think any modern ad copy would dare to suggest such a thing about the superseded car.

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