Out of Print- What Year Is It?

The more things change. . .
The more things change. . .

The major American auto makers have had a hard time of it the past couple years, and in fact, while Ford has managed to hang on to its independence, both GM and Chrysler have had major changes thrust upon them. This might seem like the industry has reached a sui generis state of affairs, however the temper of their past advertising proves this is just the latest challenge they have faced.
The auto industry is cyclical- at any moment a manufacturer may be flying high on a fashionable product mix, only to have the market change drastically, or for the company to make a mis-step, blunting the product’s desirability. In the late 1970s, the big three were saddled with the stigma of being out of touch with the consumer’s desires. While the gas crisis brought fuel economy to the forefront of consumer consideration, the Japanese were making them re-think their expectations of quality and feature content.
The American car makers, like massive oil tankers, took a long time to change direction, and by the time these ads appeared in 1982 (these are from the October ’82 issue of Car and Driver) they had been forced to defend their basic business principles as well as their product.
Qualifying Quality
While Ford takes a very straight-forward approach with their Bug Killers ad- which is part of their overall consideration-shift campaign Quality is Job 1., Chevy applies a more circumspect strategy, plying socially programmed patriotism and  sense of community by prominent mention of their sales leadership and American ingenuity.
A theme common in both ads is the modernization of engineering and production- in Ford’s case calling out the input of UAW line workers into the design of the then-nascent Escort benefitting build quality and durability. Chevrolet took a different approach, one that had less explicit examples and more reassurances that Chevy was doing everything it took to build the best cars in their history, because they wanted to make America proud of America’s Car.
At the time, Ford had more to lose- their product mix was a mess and recent attempts at model refreshes (does anyone even remember the ’80-’82 Thunderbird?) had not been well received. Chevy’s attempts to counter the Japanese import invasion eventually resulted in the can’t-beat-’em, join-’em creation of the Geo brand, but for a time, they attempted a placebo-effect campaign of reassurance and subterfuge.
The Same Problems, and More of Them
Today’s consumer is much more savvy, and has tons more channels from which to glean an informed opinion. Advertising, especially print, doesn’t hold the weight it used to, and for many companies- notably Chrysler- fighting negative impressions derived from news stories will take more than just the earnest countenance of a factory worker, or the jingoistic promise that everything is going to be all right.
Larger versions of the ads below.
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  1. Age_of_Aerostar Avatar

    from the slightly larger top bar on the grille of the Escort, it's either an 1981 or 1982.
    I don't think the "Taking Charge" ads from Chevy were around in 81, so I'm gonna guess 1982.

    1. Age_of_Aerostar Avatar

      WAIT, i've got it, i change my guess!
      the 1981 Escort didn't have the oval Ford logo, it had F O R D on the top corner, so this is 1982 for sure!

    2. baldy_pm Avatar

      Ohh good eye. My dad had a 84 escort that looked almost exactly like that thing. It was a turd. I did first practice stick shifting on that thing, though, so it holds a bit of nostalgia for me. That and it had the steering wheel that looked like a smiley face when turned upside down.

      1. Age_of_Aerostar Avatar

        hmmmm, I believe that Ford last used the steering wheel like that (with horn on the turn signal) in 1983. I think in 1984, it had the 4-spoke steering wheel, that was used up until 1990. (not counting the cool looking 3-spoke wheel)

        1. baldy_pm Avatar

          That very well could be. I always thought it was an 84, but it was gone before my car-senses fully kicked in.

          1. Age_of_Aerostar Avatar

            I'm not sure quality really was Job 1 back then, who knows what parts they still had left over. lol

        2. FTGDHoonEdition Avatar

          You just boggled my mind with all that detail. I am still reeling.
          p.s: Thank goodness I only reached driving age in '99. I kind of escaped the malaise of the 80s. My first proper car (apart from my mom's Volvo) was a '01 Ford Focus. But still love the old ads.

  2. engineerd Avatar

    The more things change, the more things stay the same. While I fully admit that GM quality has improved, they are still doing the same thing they've always done. I still see an obsession with market share in nearly everything they put out. They talk about strength and viability, but only after being propped up by the taxpayers and going through a government-aided bankruptcy that allowed them to eliminate debt without paying off their debtors. They are making changes, but they still aren't changing drastically or fast enough to ensure long-term survival.
    Ford, on the other hand, has a lot of debt and has been pretty up front about what they intend to do about it. Earlier this week they announced a profit, including an operating profit in North America for the first time since 2005. The next day they said they were working with their creditors to convert some to equity and extend their credit 2 more years. They don't need the government to strong-arm their creditors, there is faith that the company is actually making changes that will help the company remain viable in the long run. And with a profit they can bolster that faith. I think Ford is positioning themselves to be a strong player when the economy turns around. All indications are oil will go up to $100/bbl or more once the economy starts growing again. Ford, by focusing on profitably producing small cars and increasing the fuel economy of their trucks (something GM has been very good at), should do well. Plus, there is at least some good will by consumers that Ford didn't dip into our pockets to keep themselves alive.
    Obviously, I'm a Ford guy, and my view is going to be biased that way. However, I have tried to give GM the benefit of the doubt the last several years and it keeps being betrayed. Until something real happens there, I'm fully expecting GM to be back in front of Congress asking for more money in the next decade or two.

    1. JeepyJayhawk Avatar

      That has pretty well been my take on the situation over at Ford for about two years now. Switching CEOs signaled that they saw a change coming or everyone else did and someone didn't. I do like some products that Chrysler and GM are making, Jeep, Camaro, Corvette, but if I buy new again I'll be shopping at Ford and Mazda first.

    2. FTGDHoonEdition Avatar

      Damn Ford fanbois!
      My take on FMC:
      -Damn lucky (or awesome strategy) to get that big mortgage just before the shit hit the fan. At the time even I kind of mocked the company for even plonking down their "Ford" name at the pawn shop to get the money. Ford – 1; Me – 0;
      – FMC outside the US had a very strong product lineup from a long time ago. And very different brand image as well. Especially in Europe. Too bad that we Americans really didn't want any of that (Ford did try) and wanted our big boats. And I also partly blame Ford in trying to "tune" everything to our tastes everytime it did bring something over and ruining the whole thing in the process. There are some exceptions of course
      – Shoddy build quality/ adaptation for the US market. The Focus is the prime example. While the US Focus (In early'00/01) was having the biggest recall of any Ford product ever, the European Focus was sweeping away car of the year, European quality awards. Even beating all the other German, Japanese mfrs. Great product, crap execution. (p.s: the funny thing is I've personally owned 3 Focuses (01'ZX3, '03 SVTF, '05SVTF) so far and no major problems at all, guess I was just lucky
      – Bringing in Mulaly. It's prolly the smartest thing Bill did when he was the CEO. A breath of fresh air in the stagnation of the auto fiefdom. No obligations, no pre-conceived notions, no loyalties. Just pure hard logical thinking. This can be dangerous and can backfire if you're not careful and treat the auto industry as any other consumer product. It's a very complex and highly emotional area where change is always viewed with cynicism and hostility. Mr.Mulaly, I am glad took the guidance of the established auto lifers but at the same time added in his own outside the industry look.
      There are other factors I can list here but I am too lazy, I actually need to do some work. But I really do wish Ford all the best. They always seemed to put a bit more than the usual chrome and jingoism into their products. To me anyways.

  3. SeanKHotay Avatar

    Funny that Ford is ‘using’*, albeit quite a bit less subtly, an SAAB ad campaign from the late ’60s.
    * ‘blatantly ripping off’, more like

  4. Age_of_Aerostar Avatar

    Sorry for posting so many times on this article, but……
    That Escort sure looks like it's at the end of the assembly line…. when do the windshield wipers go on?

  5. engineerd Avatar

    You get the lineworkers instead of the windshield wipers. So, you same a few bucks on the car, but you'll be paying a UAW worker $30/hr to hold on to your hood with one hand and squeegee your window with the other. If you work out a deal with your neighbors you can do some sort of timeshare deal with him, but then only one of you can drive in the rain.

  6. Robert Emslie Avatar
    Robert Emslie

    They go on at the dealer. Back then, cars were frequently shipped with easily lost or stolen parts (wipers, wheel-covers, etc.) in the trunk, for assembly at the dealership. You might also note it is missing the radio antenna as well.

    1. Tim Odell Avatar
      Tim Odell

      Learn something new every day.

    2. Age_of_Aerostar Avatar

      Cool, I didn't know that. Thanks!!! (for the record, I did see the antenna was missing, but posted so many times on this article, I didn't want to bring that up too)

    3. engineerd Avatar

      So are the truck drivers and lineworkers more honest now than in the early '80s?

      1. FTGDHoonEdition Avatar

        Well I guess back then they had to somehow fuel their white powder habit? These days prescription drugs from health insurance will do the trick. Not that I know of.