Thread the Needle – Mopart

Welcome to “Thread The Needle!” A weekly column that explores the rich history of motorsports by way of the thrift store t-shirt. To make good art, you typically need to be either completely self-aware, or completely oblivious. Being somewhere in between tends to confuse your audience. Sometimes the middle ground works, but usually only for conceptual artists who are more interested in raising questions than they are in answering them; think Andy Warhol or Andy Kauffman. Dodge doesn’t ask questions, it sells answers. Big answers. Hemispherical answers. At least, it wishes it did. It’s not every day that you have your brand identity massively reconfigured. For Dodge, yesterday was one such day. Actually, the entire Fiat-Chrysler group was subject to a refresh. In a particularly rare move, Fiat-Chrysler made public their entire five-year plan. This is what we in the humanities call an “Artist’s Statement”, and it’s a good thing. It’s a document that clearly outlines the how, what, why, where and when of a project, for reasons of purpose and accountability. Appropriately today is also the 16th anniversary of the infamous Daimler-Chrysler merger, no such document was produced during that relationship, and we all know how that turned out. Fittingly, today’s example possesses a mild retro-ism evocative of Warhol’s famous paintings of pop culture icons. It’s dull, but it gets the job done. A charger of this vintage is certainly nice to look at, but the big issue here is why am I looking at it? A quick glance would have you thinking this might be a period shirt —not so, the trademark reads 1997. In 1997 the Chrysler group was selling neither a car called a Charger, nor an Engine called a Hemi, so why did they make this shirt? Why weren’t they just making the car? Who would want a shirt and not a car? See what I mean? More questions than answers. Even when Dodge got back on their feet towards the end of the their relationship with Daimler, the best they could muster was to re-animate the corpses of their previous successes. This isn’t to say that Fiat’s master plan is going to revolutionize the stale brand. But rather than simply parading around icons of a bygone era and expecting them to sell on the merit of nostalgia alone, Fiat has a plan, an artists statement if you will. That’s the first step to success, and it’s an important one.        

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