What's Wrong With This Picture: Truth In GM Advertising Edition

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

The introduction of the C7 Corvette is almost certainly the biggest splash expected at this year’s Detroit show. It will almost certainly be a good car; no surprise there, the Corvette has been a pretty good car for nearly its entire production run. By common agreement, there are two “dark period” in the model’s history. The original “Blue Flame Six” cars were priced above the Jaguars of the era and couldn’t come close to catching them on a track or open road. It took the why-didn’t-they-think-of-that addition of Chevy’s then-new small-block V-8 to make the ‘Vette a legend. Corvette fanciers are also eager to forget the later “C3” cars, which were awfully heavy, rather indifferently assembled, and frequently found sporting “PRNDL” markings. The nadir was probably the 1980 California Corvette, which offered buyers a mandatory encounter with the much-despised 305-cubic-inch V-8 and automatic transmission.

When they aren’t ruthlessly dissing their own stuff, GM marketing and advertising people almost universally react to the arrival of disastrous products by placing said products into ads with classic cars — anybody remember those Cadillac ads which juxtaposed the great old Caddys with a Zep tune and the rather sterile early-2000s lineup? The above effort isn’t a surprise, then… but how accurate is it?

The 1953 ‘Vette was far from rapid, so it’s odd that GM would choose a drag race to showcase it next to the new-for-’78 aeroback model. Why not a car show? A classic diner? A pair of hydraulic lifts inside a Chevrolet dealership’s service department? I mean, is this the message they want to send? The new ’78 Corvette Silver Anniversary — it’s just as f**king slow as the old ’53 was!

Make no mistake, that ’53 was slow. Performance times for that initial run of 300 cars are hard to find, but Road&Track tested the 1954 model, which had major performance improvements and a higher-pressure two-speed Powerglide, and only got a quarter-mile of 18.6 seconds at 74mph. If you’re in any of the six-cylinder Corvettes and a Prius pulls up next to you, the best course of action is to put on your turn signal before you accidentally lose your pink slip to a woman with bushy armpits and a registered emotional support dog.

By those standards, the ’78 was a rocket-powered NASA test sled. R&T managed 15.2 seconds at 95mph; that ET and trap speed are so incompatible I had to check the original article to make sure. Car and Driver got a 15.3@95mph. They also complained about the super-greasy tire on their test car, which makes me think that with modern rubber a ’78 Vette might turn a low fourteen. Either way, the Silver Anniversary Edition was a Prius-eater with power to spare and could probably hunt down a variety of non-hybrid Toyotas at stoplights as well.

Those of us who vividly remember the two-tone Pace Car and Silver Anniversary Corvettes sitting in dealerships won’t like the following fact: only twenty-five years separated those cars from the original Corvette, but they are now a full thirty-five years in the rearview mirror. If you walk back thirty-five years from the ’78 Vette, you get Vichy France and the Flying Tigers. Sic transit gloria mundi, homie.

The plain-Jane C6 Corvettes run quarter-miles in the high twelves now, so the C7 should do a fair sight better than that. GM’s unlikely to use any 1978 Corvettes in their advertising, but perhaps they should: Chevrolet sold four of those crappy old two-toners for every one of the outstanding 2012 C6 Corvette that left Bowling Green. The car gets better, but the sales get worse! Quick! Somebody get a ’53 on the drag strip and schedule a photo shoot!

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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  • Bufguy Bufguy on Jan 08, 2013

    You guys never fail to criticize GM. It was a celebration of the 25th anniversary...They weren't comparing performance. And by the way the 78 Vette with the L82 was a pretty credible car. I was a senior in High school and remember the Road & Track road test...0-60 in 6.8 seconds...not bad in 78...It was a signigigant gain from the previous V-8s that were struggling with emissions controls from the early 70's. The 78 seemed to have gotten it right. Plus the car looked great. The first big change in body style with the bubble rear window and the the two tone paint looked great. A car I wanted to asspire to!

    • West-coaster West-coaster on Jan 08, 2013

      I have fond memories of being a passenger in a family friend's then-new '77 Vette with essentially the same powertrain. He was a semi-pro race driver through the years, and found a way to bring an L-82/4-speed car into California, where they were not sold due to emissions restrictions. He added aftermarket wheels and tires, and it was pretty quick. I vividly remember him getting the thing up to about 90 on a four-lane road near our house pretty rapidly (it was at night and the streets were deserted). Most impressive was the way he was able to slow the car down via heel-and-toe downshifting and threshold braking for a 90-degree right turn. The braking performance was as impressive as the acceleration, especially considering what else was in showrooms - ANY showroom - at the time.

  • Beken Beken on Jan 11, 2013

    Back in 1978, I was attending university and my then girlfriend's brother tossed me the keys to his 1978 Silver Anniversary Corvette with 4spd manual and told me to drive it for the summer as he was shipped overseas for a summer job. He didn't want the car sitting in the garage for so long. I still remember the car to this day. Eventually, he exported the car overseas and sold it for more than the cost of a Ferrari. I could never justify owning a Corvette for myself(well, maybe I could in the future but I've moved on to other cars now) but I've always liked Corvettes and still find them desireable. Nothing like driving one. When I test drove a 1986 Corvette, a 1994, and then a 2004, the sensations are the same. Credit GM for maintaining that "feel" throughout the generations.

  • Varezhka I have still yet to see a Malibu on the road that didn't have a rental sticker. So yeah, GM probably lost money on every one they sold but kept it to boost their CAFE numbers.I'm personally happy that I no longer have to dread being "upgraded" to a Maxima or a Malibu anymore. And thankfully Altima is also on its way out.
  • Tassos Under incompetent, affirmative action hire Mary Barra, GM has been shooting itself in the foot on a daily basis.Whether the Malibu cancellation has been one of these shootings is NOT obvious at all.GM should be run as a PROFITABLE BUSINESS and NOT as an outfit that satisfies everybody and his mother in law's pet preferences.IF the Malibu was UNPROFITABLE, it SHOULD be canceled.More generally, if its SEGMENT is Unprofitable, and HALF the makers cancel their midsize sedans, not only will it lead to the SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST ones, but the survivors will obviously be more profitable if the LOSERS were kept being produced and the SMALL PIE of midsize sedans would yield slim pickings for every participant.SO NO, I APPROVE of the demise of the unprofitable Malibu, and hope Nissan does the same to the Altima, Hyundai with the SOnata, Mazda with the Mazda 6, and as many others as it takes to make the REMAINING players, like the Excellent, sporty Accord and the Bulletproof Reliable, cheap to maintain CAMRY, more profitable and affordable.
  • GregLocock Car companies can only really sell cars that people who are new car buyers will pay a profitable price for. As it turns out fewer and fewer new car buyers want sedans. Large sedans can be nice to drive, certainly, but the number of new car buyers (the only ones that matter in this discussion) are prepared to sacrifice steering and handling for more obvious things like passenger and cargo space, or even some attempt at off roading. We know US new car buyers don't really care about handling because they fell for FWD in large cars.
  • Slavuta Why is everybody sweating? Like sedans? - go buy one. Better - 2. Let CRV/RAV rust on the dealer lot. I have 3 sedans on the driveway. My neighbor - 2. Neighbors on each of our other side - 8 SUVs.
  • Theflyersfan With sedans, especially, I wonder how many of those sales are to rental fleets. With the exception of the Civic and Accord, there are still rows of sedans mixed in with the RAV4s at every airport rental lot. I doubt the breakdown in sales is publicly published, so who knows... GM isn't out of the sedan business - Cadillac exists and I can't believe I'm typing this but they are actually decent - and I think they are making a huge mistake, especially if there's an extended oil price hike (cough...Iran...cough) and people want smaller and hybrids. But if one is only tied to the quarterly shareholder reports and not trends and the big picture, bad decisions like this get made.