A while back I had a post on the classic Volkswagen ads Doyle Dane Bernbach did in the 1970s. The other company with clever, cool ads at that time was Volvo. Like VW, Volvo was selling substance, not gadgets or Broughamesque luxury.
The Volvo 140 series, introduced in 1966, was arguably the template for what a modern car should be: space efficient, reliable and compact, with a stout powerplant and comfortable interior. When you consider the gas-guzzling barges then plying American roads, the Volvo was a breath of fresh air. Volvo took advantage of this, and pointed out their cars’ practicality and safety in an engaging and entertaining way. The ad above, with the famous stacked Volvos, was an accident. The cars in question were water damaged and unable to be sold. Someone had the idea that they could stack them on top of each other to show off Volvo’s superior construction and vaunted ‘safety cage’ built into the passenger compartment. The rest was history.
If the 142 and 144 were practical, the 145 was even more so. The wagon actually had a smaller turning radius than a VW, and the one-piece liftgate with built-in wiper was very unique. Most station wagons still had the fold-down type, albeit with two-way operation, pioneered by Ford.
Now, I like Volvos, and appreciate their practicality, but come on, look at all those Country Sedans, Country Squires and Estate Wagons. There’s even a Satellite Suburban!
While safety was probably Volvo’s biggest selling point at the time, their space efficient design was also a big deal. Here we see a ’73 144 as ‘just right’ when compared to compacts and full-size ‘Merican iron. The blue car is obviously a lightly-disguised ’73 Newport or New Yorker, but can anybody identify that little red car? I think it might be a Fiat.
Volvo played up their uniqueness on their luxury 164E too. This ad is a favorite of mine, basically taking potshots at all the tacked-on gingerbread that Detroit was touting as luxury in the ’70s. I wonder what Cadillacs and Lincolns would have looked like if the styling themes of the ’60s had continued into the ’70s – no landau tops, no opera windows, etc.
One big advantage Volvo had in the Seventies was all their cars had four-wheel disc brakes and a dual-circuit triangulated backup brake system. That meant that if one of the brake lines failed, you still had brakes on three of the four wheels. This was very different from US cars, when even luxury makes typically had a front disc/rear drum setup.
Volvo advertising was pretty good in the ’70s. They had a unique product, and their clever advertising probably helped the right buyers notice them, much like Dane Doyle Bernbach did for VW.