Throwback General Motors Ads Show A Simpler Time: Ad Break7
Advertising has changed a lot in the last 40 years. Before the internet ushered in the era of algorithms serving ads for a spoon we browsed three days ago on Amazon, a team of creatives would design a commercial to appeal to a broad range of consumers while attempting to sell to a wide range of potential customers. As a result, we got commercials with both humor and heart. Take a look at these old commercials for various A-Body vehicles from General Motors that Autoweek compiled. They all hail from the early- and mid-1980s, and they’re fascinating to watch.
The most interesting ad out of the bunch is the one from 1983 for the Buick Century. A robot butler is delivering a cup of coffee while the narrator talks about all the great benefits technology adds to our daily life. It ends with a gentleman getting behind the wheel of the Century, the narrator droning on about how technology won’t replace the joy of driving a Buick. In hindsight, the hubris is hilarious. Oh, and even the Century’s base engine was electronically fuel injected, just so you know.
The ad for the Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera is as equally aspirational. Here, it’s all about the Oldsmobile’s sharp styling in an era of boring cars. Apparently, the boxy, cookie-cutter appearance of the Cutlass Ciera and other GM A-Body cars was lost on the commercial’s producers.
The Pontiac 6000—such a futuristic nameplate—takes a humorous approach to sell the family car to the masses. Here, a family of crash test dummies takes the Pontiac for a spin as the commercial tires to sell the 6000’s interior roominess to the masses. The final commercial for the A-Body quartet shows off the Chevrolet Celebrity Eurosport. The two-tone paint scheme of the car in the ad looks sporty enough with the purpose of the add celebrating the Celebrity’s sportier handling.
Old commercials are always fascinating to watch. On the one hand, they are windows into the culture of the time, showing the lifestyle Americans aspired to achieve. On the other, old commercials illustrate how consumer tastes have changed. Before, it wasn’t unheard of for a commercial to sell a new vehicle based on simple mechanical features like its suspension or aerodynamic design.
Boy, times have changed.
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Indeed, times have changed. GM is but a mere shadow of the market ruling company that existed when these FWD A-Body cars launched in 1982. Pontiac is gone, Oldsmobile is gone, Buick is largely a Chinese brand that produces only one domestic model (Enclave) now. Chevrolet appears to be morphing into just a truck and SUV brand. Yeah, times have changed.
Like so many failed CEOs that’ve come and gone at GM since GM launched these cars in 1981, Mary Barra still believes in the ethos of shrinking GM to return it to profitability. That’s never going to work.
At the time these cars launched, GM was King-of-the-Hill having crushed Ford and Chrysler with their aggressive downsizing between 1977 and 1981. They’d redesigned every car in the fleet except the Chevette and Corvette and their market share was near 60 percent. Chrysler was driven to bankruptcy and Ford wasn’t far behind. GM had gambled and they’d gambled big. It’d payed off handsomely. These new A-Body cars were the beginning of Round 2 that would transition their fleet to even smaller forms and essentially all FWD transverse-engine configurations. Round 2 was disastrous. GM has never recovered. They’ve eliminated brands and are still eliminating models and plants trying ‘realign capacity’ (aka shrink capacity) to match demand.
Yes, GM has fallen. They are still falling and these look-alike sedans, derided by Fortune Magazine, were the first tremors in the fall.
when I was growing up you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a cutlass sierra, 6000, or celebrity. In my family alone there were 4. They were everywhere.
As far as choice goes these were the good old days. One could walk into any Chevy, Pontiac, Olds or Buick showroom and had the option to buy a 2 door coupe, a 2 door personal luxury coupe, a sedan and even wagons. Yes a station wagon was offered in the J-body, the A/G body and the full sized B-body. Then you had the option of a 2 door, 4 door or 5 door hatch in the X-body offerings. Looking for a car with a pickup truck bed. There was an El Camino or GMC equivalent. Compact Chevette/T1000, full sized C-body for Buick, Olds and Cadillac, 3 sports/pony cars, limos and plenty of trucks in full size or new S-10 format along with S10 Blazer and full size 2 door. And you could order many of these with a stick, a diesel, 4, 6 or 8 cylinder engines and could custom option the vehicle just how you wanted it. My 1982 Cadillac brochure showed no less than 6 interior color choices in both luxury cloth or real leather and even a lowly cheaper Chevy Citation had more interior color option choices than a 2019 85K Cadillac CT6!
Fast forward into 2019 and all we have left are Chevy, Buick, Cadillac and GMC which is basically a re-badged Chevy truck or SUV and Buick being a Chinese brand with but 1 vehicle left made and designed here in NA. Also long gone are 2 doors and personal luxury coupes, ElCamino car based pickup trucks, compact sized trucks, stick shift transmissions in all but a few sports cars, interior color choices are severely restricted with the main choices being black, grey or tan if your lucky and individual options are a thing of the past. You must now pony up to the highest trim level just to get something like a leather wheel, rear seat vents or navigation or even a higher grade sound system. Even sedans are being canceled at a feverish pitch and unless you want a truck or SUV your choices are diminishing by the year.
As for the A-body lineup I do think they were mistaken for having one for each division save Cadillac. They should have had an A-body for 2 divisions and 2 G-body RWD lines for say Buick and Olds and have saved the newer FWD A-body cars for Chevy and Pontiac. As stated the first wave of GM downsizing was very successful with the B/C body cars coming out as strong sellers, the A/G cars being more appropriately sized and the luxury E-body cars a year later were just right. GM in the 1980’s was a disaster of epic proportions led by a certain Roger Smith. And that decay is still being felt to this day led by a woman more interested in pleasing Wall Street than what is being sold at the dealerships. Very sad times indeed!
Wasn’t the Cadillac Cimmiron an A body?
Cimarron was a J-Body. The J was GM’s platform for small cars,. The A-Body was for intermediate-sized cars. The compact, FWD J-Body was used for the Cadillac Cimarron, Buick Skyhawk, Oldsmobile Firenza, Pontiac J2000 (later simply the 2000, later still the Sunbird), and the Chevrolet Cavalier.
The Cimarron was hastily added to the J-Body program at the end as a result of Cadillac dealer requests for a small car to compete with imports like BMW’s 3-Series. Because of its late addition to the program, it was only given different taillamps, grille and headlamps to externally set it apart from a Chevrolet Cavalier. Inside, it had leather upholstery and minor interior trim bits to differentiate it from the Chevy. It was launched in 1981 and was a disaster that served as a prelude to what was to come as GM would radically downsize all Cadillacs in the upcoming years and convert them to transverse-mounted engines and FWD. As I see it, Cimarron signaled the beginning of Cadillac’s fall.
Some say the fall began with the Nova-based (X-Body) Seville six years earlier but that product used a stretched X-Body platform that was heavily reworked to enhance ride comfort and noise isolation It had a totally unique body with a trend-setting design, and its own unique interior filled with traditional Cadillac luxury. It used an Oldsmobile-sourced 350 cubic inch V-8 but it too was reworked to include fuel injection which was rare at the time. The 1975 Seville came across as a genuine small Cadillac. Cimarron had none of that; Cimarrom truly was a Chevrolet with leather and a new grille.
Thank you for the wealth of information on the ubiquitous 80’s GM sedans. Impressive.
I’m just glad I bought I bought a 19 Cruze before it disappeared. A big bonus is it’s made in America, and while it doesn’t have all the advanced features of other car models (blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, pedestrian detection, and navigation to mention some), it’s without question a great car. And best of all, it has the reliable 6 speed automatic transmission instead of the CVT.