By Craig Fitzgerald
The creative minds (read: drunks) at ad agencies have always had to figure out how to make you want to buy a car when it’s snowing.
They could sell you a car in Palm Springs all year long, but try selling a convertible in January to some guy in a poorly insulated shack in Duluth, Minnesota, using a picture of a couple of sunkissed models on their way to the beach.
That picture’s not going to point you toward the dealership. That’ll point to the hardware store for a length of rope to hang yourself.
So the ad guys cooked up ways of making their cars look just as appealing in the snow as they did in the sun. Here are a few from the 1960s and 1970s we came across that illustrate the point.
In the 1960s, Volkswagen made hay out of the Beetle’s ability to negotiate the snowy weather. Thanks to its rear-mounted, air-cooled, horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine putting all its weight over the rear wheels, the Beetle was legendary in its ability to climb a hill in deep snow.
Also thanks to its rear-mounted, air-cooled, horizontally-opposed, four-cylinder engine, the Beetle was legendary in its ability to freeze its occupants to death after the first 11 miles.
As this ad depicts, the Australian National Research Expedition decided to drive to Antarctica in a car that provided all the warmth of a hamster on your foot.
The little-known backstory of this print ad is that the guy waving from the passenger seat is still frozen in that position.
International Sno Star, Dodge Sno Commander, Dodge Sno Fiter
Here’s some history trivia for you: In the 1960s and 1970s, typographers the world around were battling a drastic shortage of the letter “W.”
“It was a difficult time,” says master typesetter Garamond Verdana nearly 50 years later. “At the height of the Cold War, the Kremlin had cornered the market on ‘W’ and they were making a serious run on the heterogeneous digraph ‘gh,’ which is how we got ‘Dunkin’ Donuts’ and ‘Titebond’ glue.”
The shortage hit truck manufacturers particularly hard, leaving them bereft of the abillity to properly spell “snow” when they were trying to hock their trucks with snow plow prep packages.
The good news was that the extra space afforded by the missing ‘W’ allowed a ample room for rust to really take hold.
I have a personal story about a Jeep CJ-7. In the winter of 1995, I went on a weekend trip to Vermont with my girlfriend Lisa, who is now my wife (and coincidentally still named “Lisa”). We left our apartment early on a snowy morning. The ambient temperature was about a hundred and forty below and snow was falling so hard it was bouncing up.
My trusty CJ-7 trundled through the snow with aplomb and, unfortunately, with absolutely nothing resembling heat. On its best day, the CJ-7 has an R-Value that rivals a tin shed. Compounding the problem, I had changed the thermostat the night before, outside, under the light of a flashlight bulb. I didn’t realize that the gasket I got didn’t have a hole in it to route hot water to the heater core.
No heat. NONE.
Lisa got pneumonia and missed two weeks of law school, which is probably why I still have to work for a living. Moral: Don’t change your thermostat the day before a trip, and buy a real car, you idiot.
A Wagoneer is just the kind of vehicle you want when the weather turns lousy, but I only mention the ad here because of the profligate use of quotation marks in the copy. I don’t know what the hell is going on here.
Plow out with twice the “grip.”
Twice the “bite.”
Even the name of the car is in quotes, for crying out loud. It’s like they’re trying to pull one over on me.
Dear “Valued Customer”: Enjoy your “Jeep.” I’m sure you’ll have “many” years of “faithful service.” You made the “right choice.”
Warning: If you attempt to drive a 1969 Pontiac GTO in the snow today, the president of the Pontiac Club International will fly to your house, punch you right in the windpipe and take your keys away.
But in the late 1960s -- as this ad attests -- a 370hp, Ram Air IV, rear-drive, Goodyear Wide Oval-shod GTO was the very best choice for cars to take skiing.
In 1969, before Subaru came along and locked up the market, the Pontiac GTO was the “Official Vehicle of the U.S. Ski Team.” Coincidentally, it was also the “Official Vehicle of Getting Towed Out of a Ditch Near Lake Placid.”
Interestingly, at the 1972 Olympics, the U.S. Ski Team only won two medals, because they never made it to ski practice the whole time the Goat was in the garage. It could also have been because the ‘72 team was sponsored by Newport cigarettes. Tough to tell.