(first posted 7/4/2014) It’s too bad that I just missed Bicentennial Fever in America: the cheesy cartoons, the shared sense of pride and purpose, the auto manufacturers’ ability to exploit a holiday for potential profits…it must have been a magical time. It might be that the ’69 SC-Rambler was the first salvo in patriotic paint jobs, but the ’72 Mustang Sprint and ’74 “Spirit of America” Impala were not far behind.
Actually, the Mustang Sprint was the Alpha Male in a trifecta of flag-waving Fords in 1972. The “Sprint” was basically an appearance package for the Pinto, Maverick, and Mustang, and would not be the last ploy Dearborn attempted using these three specific vehicles. 1976’s “Stallion” package comes to mind.
Ford introduced the Sprint in February of 1972, and separated the option into two packages, A and B. How creative! According to my Mustang Recognition Guide, Package A consisted of the special paint job, the Mach 1-style grille and driving lamps, dual sport mirrors, white sidewall tires, trim rings, and a special interior. Our featured Sprint would have been a Package B car, which also included Magnum 500 wheels and 15-inch tires.
Those seats are the absolute visual representation of the rockin’ cheesiness I alluded to in the first paragraph. Americans would never stand for this kind of seat cover today, and no automaker would ever offer it. In fact, consumers are lucky to buy a new car with an interior that isn’t 100% basic black. Walk into your local Ford dealership and ask for a new GT with the “Sprint” interior option and see how far you get.
This Sprint has the console mounted clock, the fondly remembered through the rose colored earbuds of time 8-track player, and, of course, the special interior. Standard equipment was the “looking out from a bunker” feel that is currently in vogue, but in 1972, it took some getting used to.
Of course, Ford was not the only one to cash in on “Bicentennial Fever.” Chevrolet offered the “Spirit of America” line in 1974, including the Vega! Buick offered the “Spirit of ’76” lineup. My wife and I were wondering what Wheaties boxes of the time must have looked like, but we speculated that they were probably red, white, and blue somehow.
General Motors still owns a “Spirit of America” Impala, and proudly displays it at its Heritage Center. It’s obvious that GM’s paint scheme was a little more subdued than Ford’s ’72 Sprints, so maybe good taste was beginning to win the day.
I don’t think that taste, however, is what consumers wanted at this heady time in American history. Subtle pinstriping? Body colored wheels? Where are the flags? Where’s the brass band here?
Even the interior is subdued, by the standards of the day. We have white. We have red. Where’s the blue, GM? Where’s the blue?
Actually, the blue was an optional color on “Spirit of America” cars, and in harmony with a white vinyl top, must have been the kind of spectacle America expected at this time.
If I’ve hit on an ironic tone, it’s not entirely intentional. The other day, my wife and I were discussing how interesting it would have been to live through the bicentennial, when everything had that extra spark of ’70s cheesy fun. It seems like consumerism is taken a lot more seriously today for whatever reason, although I have absolutely no facts or statistics to back up that assertion.
Therefore, on America’s (historically fairly arbitrary) 238th birthday, let us celebrate a time when America had the guts to market neat cars like the Sprint and the Spirit of America, and it wasn’t tongue-in-cheek.
For further reading, I’ll refer you to the following nugget by our own incomparable Dave Skinner.