TV car ads need a good tune-up

March 20, 1998

Tim Rowland

I am a proud listener of National Public Radio, because NPR offers a lot of sophisticated programming and I like to consider myself a sophisticated person.

Unfortunately I often have no idea what these sophisticated programs are trying to say, so I must look for the network's least common denominator so I can both call myself an NPR listener and, at the same time, be capable of figuring out what the heck's going on.

Which is why I listen to the Car Guys on "Car Talk," a rousing weekly hour of an automotive hootenanny where drivers get entertaining advice from two Cambridge, Mass., fellows who sound like what you'd get if the nation were turned on its head and people in the North paid attention to NASCAR and people in the South paid attention to, well, National Public Radio.


What interested me last week was a listener who wrote in suggesting that automotive manufacturers often accompany their advertisements with music that has no relevance to the model in question - such as Toyota's Everyday People campaign.

He said, for example, it would be more apropos if the Ford Pinto had been advertised to the tune of Light My Fire by the Doors - or the AMC Pacer to the sound of Patsy Cline singing I Fall to Pieces.

The Car Guys encouraged listeners to come up with some ideas of their own, and I am not one to cross the Car Guys.

This got me waxing nostalgic about cars I've been acquainted with in my lifetime, back to my first car, which was a 1966 Chevrolet Impala (I can't Drive 55 - Sammy Hagar) with a 350 engine, headers and a four-barrel carburetor.

Of course they don't make carburetors anymore, but they still did when I got my second car, a 1971 Fiat 124 Sport (Leaving Home Ain't Easy - Queen) which was too bad because it was just one of about a billion reasons why this car would never get out of the driveway. When it did start it was the most fabulous thing I ever drove. When it did.

So I traded it in on a big Ford van (I Want to Rock and Roll All Night and Party Every Day - Kiss) and soon became the envy of my less hip friends, one of whom drove an International Harvester pickup (Bringing in the Sheaves) and another who drove the nerdy Le Car (Horse With No Name - America).

Soon I wanted something smaller though, so I appropriated my parents' Buick Opel (Slow Ride - Foghat) and drove it until I bought my friend's Fiat 128 (Sad, Sad, Sad - Rolling Stones), having not learned my lesson the first time.

It lasted, barely, through college until the time I could get a job and found a used but serviceable Olds Omega (If Looks Could Kill - Heart). It ran well enough, but as one person told me, for every person who drove one, thousands had to look at it and no car could ever perform well enough to justify THAT.

So I went shopping again, test driving a Volvo (Stayin Alive - Bee Gees), an MG (Breakdown - Tom Petty) and for some reason even looked briefly at a Volkswagen Thing (Mystery Achievement - Pretenders).

I considered a Triumph convertible (Cold as Ice - Foreigner), but I didn't think that would be too safe, especially if it were hit broadside by a Cadillac Eldorado (We're Sending the Old Man Home - Jimmy Buffett).

Today it seems like everybody drives a sport utility vehicle (Fool on the Hill - Beatles) or a Lexus clone (You're So Vain - Carley Simon).

It makes me long for those olden days when people drove cars with character, like the Pontiac GTO (One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer - John Lee Hooker), or the Willys Jeep (Wheel in the Sky - Journey).

Sure they had their flaws, but didn't we all? We just didn't have National Public Radio to point them out.

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