How to make cars more exciting

Sept. 5, 2002
Then it hit me. Two-tone paint was missing. Contrasting colors for the roof and body were staples of older cars and really made them stand out.

When the Park Avenue was a new model in the Buick lineup, the Buick marketing people hit upon a novel way to introduce the car to upscale buyers. They acquired the circulation list of a magazine for aficionados of gourmet food and went from city to city inviting people from the list to a dinner at each town's top gourmet restaurant. But before sitting down to dinner, guests had to take a ride in a Park Avenue and sit through a brief narrative describing the car's luxury features.

I don't subscribe to any gourmet magazines, but because I am associated with a trade magazine that covers the automobile industry, my wife and I were invited to one of these events courtesy of the Buick PR department. At the time, I was interested in the Park Avenue as a possible purchase, so we took front-row seats to listen to the pitch.

As the narrator was talking, my gaze focused on the car, and my mind began to wander. I recalled how as a teenager in the 1950s, I always found GM showrooms to be exciting places. The entire GM line was, for lack of a better word, snazzy. Almost all automobiles at the time, but especially General Motors products, had an ambiance that grabbed you.

As I sat gazing at the Park Avenue, it somehow seemed a bit drab, lacking the pizzazz that was so palpable in GM cars of the past. Was I just an impressionable kid back when I was a teenager, or is there something lacking in modern automobiles that once gave cars more visual appeal?

The Park Avenue in front of me was a tasteful deep green, not at all unattractive. But I could visualize how it would have knocked my eyes out if the roof had been a bright cream color. Two-toning was a fine art in the 1950s. If the roof was a dark color, the body was a bright pastel such as powder blue, yellow, or light green. The standard look-at-me scheme of Pontiac in 1951 was a cream roof and turquoise body. The color combinations were far from subtle, but without a doubt they added flair. The monotone look we have today is something American stylists copied from European cars, and I think it has been overdone and become decidedly stale.

Then I noticed that the Park Avenue also had exceedingly narrow whitewalls on its tires. Again, it was tasteful understatement, but a bit too understated. Another way to add some '50s flair would be to widen the whitewalls a bit. I am not talking pimpmobile here, but more whitewall would have added a pronounced visual feature to the car.

Finally, dare I say it, in view of the bad rap chromium has received from self-proclaimed sophisticates, the Park Avenue needed more chromium, polished stainless steel, or aluminum brightwork, especially around the doors and windows. Again, that would have added just the right amount of flair. Taken together -- two-tone paint, wider whitewalls, and more brightwork -- the Park Avenue would pretty much have captured the festive visual statements I remember in showrooms I visited as a kid.

When you look at today's cars, play the same mind game I did. Don't you think they could use brighter decoration and even some ornamentation? I am not talking ugly slash-and-gash squiggly-line surfer graphics or boy-racer stuff. I am alluding to some decently dignified festive touches and product identification that would give a car more character.

-- Ronald Khol, Editor

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