I was delighted to stumble across this vintage commercial on YouTube recently, in remarkably good condition for its age. Lou Rawls’ catchy vocals have been stuck in my head for a few days now, although the tune sounds suspiciously like “Delilah”…
For 1977, Dodge introduced a print and television advertising campaign proclaiming, “The night belongs to Charger”. Dodge hadn’t been able to capture the Charger’s luxury as evocatively as Chrysler with its famous Cordoba campaign, starring Ricardo Montalbán. They also didn’t play up the sporty angle – luxury was in, anyway, and the flashy Charger Daytona wasn’t sporty-looking enough in the traditional sense like the also popular Firebird and Camaro. That left appealing to “night people”, whatever that meant. From a 21st century perspective, this commercial is a cool period piece with a goodly amount of 70s glam and some appealing visuals. But to the young, hip people Dodge was targeting in the 1970s, did this make the Charger look cool enough?
Hundreds of magazines safely off screen
I must admit, I have an odd connection with the 1975-78 Dodge Charger and this particular advertising campaign. Several years ago, I learned of the personal luxury Charger’s existence and was fascinated. “Really? They put the Charger name on a Cordoba body?” I asked myself. In my hunt on the internet for more information on this fascinating failure, I stumbled across these vintage advertisements and discovered people collected and sold them on eBay. Several years later, I have over 130 vintage American car ads from 1970 to 1980. It all started with those “Night Belongs To Charger” advertisements, and I have to thank the Dodge marketing team of the 1970s for getting me to fork over a bit of money over the years… Just not on what they thought they were encouraging people to buy!
Curbside Classic: 1974 Dodge Charger SE – Context Is Everything
Curbside Capsule: Dodge Magnum and Mirada – Last Christmas These Stole My Heart
Curtis Perry On The Road: Dodge Charger SE – Cordoba Impersonator
Car Show Classic: 1974 Dodge Charger SE – Let’s Take A Muscle Car And Turn It Into A Brougham!
You’re right, that sounds a lot like Delilah,
and it really is a badge engineered Cordoba in my eyes.
Maybe the Cordoba is a badge engineered Charger
As Burton Bouwkamp, Dodge’s product planner, said:
Chrysler Division needed a personal luxury car to compete in the market segment with Grand Prix, Monte Carlo, Thunderbird, Riviera, and Toronado so a new market entry, the Cordoba, was created based on the B body. It was the right move, selling 150,000 Cordobas in the first year, but it left a dilemma for Dodge Charger product planners: either share a new skin with Cordoba or with the new Satellite/Coronet two-doors — or carry over the 1974 skin.
Hmmm – a lot of derivative going on here. Not only was the Charger derivative of the Cordoba but we had Lou Rawls doing a derivative of a Tom Jones song. Lou did Tom better than Dodge did Chrysler, unfortunately.
For years, 10% difference was the standard for copyright infringement. If a tune was accused of plagiarism, as long as there was more than a 10% difference, it was still legal.
Key or arrangement do not matter, it’s all in the melody. The case with which most of us boomers are familiar is George Harrison:
…and The Chiffons:
That’s about as blatant as they come, and George paid handsomely for his mistake.
The melody used for the above TV spot sounds like it had been changed just enough to be more than 10% different from “Delilah” and legally slide under the radar, IMO.
Ed Sheeran is going through this right now with several of his songs, so even in 2017 it is still a problem!
Here is another case that is familiar to Boomers.
The Beach Boys:
and the recently departed Chuck Berry:
The story goes that 21-year-old Brian Wilson was naïve, and didn’t realize that he had infringed upon Berry’s copyright. The original release credited Wilson alone, while later releases give credit to Berry.
The music of Chuck Berry + the harmonies of The Four Freshman = The Beach Boys. Well, it was more complex than that, but it was Brian Wilson’s original vision for the band. Oughta be a post on the car songs of Chuck Berry. Did any rocker sing about cars more? “Mayebelline,” “You Can’t Catch Me,” “No Money Down,” etc. What the hell is a “flight deville” other than awesome?
And of course another Beatle got in trouble for copyright infringement: “here come ol’ flat top” in “Come Together snagged John Lennon asuit from Chuck Berry for infringing “You Can’t Catch Me.” I don;t see the musical comparison, but supposedly they’re very similar, just at different speeds. SImilar enough that John settled rather than litigate.
Another case of “Am I a luxury car? A sporty car? Something in between?” And in some cases sitting next to me on the lot or in the showroom is my Cordoba cousin with its much more fitting luxury grille, normal looking opera windows and genuine Corinthian leather….the Charger was destined to fail. Funny how they even used the same type of luxurious script for the Charger name….even a little fancier than the Cordoba. But lets face it, what did Chrysler have to lose? A different grille and taillights, some fins for the opera window and there you have it – a whole ‘different car’ to sell in the Dodge showrooms. Heck, GM and Ford have been doing this for years – why can’t we? I think one of the main problems with this Chardoba/Corarger debacle is that the Cordoba carried the look so much better than the Charger. And Ricardo Montalban’s commercial spots were extremely memorable. Even the name Cordoba seemed rich and exotic. Charger never seemed to fit the 75-78 generation at all. The Cordoba was marketed far too well and looked much too nice for anyone to desire the Dodge version – plus the prestige that the Chrysler Cordoba name held over the Dodge – hence the poor sales numbers of the Charger.
The context of this ad gives me the impression that our mustachioed driver deals cocaine by the night in his Chaaaaaargeeeer.
And yuck. If there were ever an ad that captures the worst of the 70s this is it. The trouble with these Chargers is that the differentiation from Cordoba were cheap attempts at sporty, from the louvers on the quarter glass, to the slatted taillights, to the bright red DODGE script in the grille. I always maintained the Charger was in essence an uncredited pioneer in the intermediate PLC segment, but while the classic Charger had hints of it here and there, that Cordoba body was committed, there’s just no trying to hint sport back into it to create a credible Charger, and any attempt comes off as filthy and shallow as a 70s nightclub.
And you know that really drives me nuts? Offset front license plates. I’m very sensitive to asymmetry, and every car with one in that position instantly looks like a beater, which really looked bad when these actually became them.
Dodge Charger: The Vegas Years.
Charger: Sold out to the Broughameers.
Hehe…just learned a new word. Now to slip into everyday usage…
Offset front plate minimizes obstruction of airflow to the radiator.
But there is no vent there on the Magnum followup, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say that’s mostly decoration and the plate is offset to not obstruct the stylistic flow
Spot on. And the Datsun “Black Gold” couple were probably customers:
These Chargers appeared when Elvis Presley was at his worst, and ironically, so was the Charger. Legendary names let down by reality.
Fat Charger? 🙂
The recent CC on the first generation Monte Carlo seems like the model more for the 1975 Dodge Charger than the Cordoba. The problem was the MC had no performance lineage where the Charger was steeped in it. So, the personal luxury Charger was much more of a disappointment and sales reflected this.
I wasn’t a fan at all of Chrysler’s mid to late 70s advertising. Whether it was Ricardo Montalban selling the Cordoba, Sergio Franchi selling the Volare, Rex Harrison selling the Aspen, or Jack Jones selling the New Yorker. Chrysler marketing consistently had a ‘Love Boat’ look and feel. Like an easy listening radio station featuring yesterday’s stars and music by Paul Mauriat, Al Martino, and Engelbert Humperdinck.
Billy Crystal’s line, ‘It’s better to look good, than to feel good’ probably summed up Chrysler marketing and products of the late 70s best.
A ’75 Charger commercial, featuring Jennifer O’Neill, appealing to a ‘mature’ demographic. What a difference from the 60s Charger.
It could easily be Dinah Shore singing on the Ed Sullivan Show about ’50s Chevrolets.
Mopar doubled down on performance cars, sporty styling and ‘go-go’ in 60’s and stuck with it for 1971 model year, while GM was promoting ‘low lead gas’ engines and luxury trims. Then, suddenly copying GM with ’74 C body and ‘luxury Charger’ backfired, leading to near collapse.
While the E bodies, Superbirds and 426 Hemis today command huge prices at car auctions, they didn’t generate the same profits when brand new.
FWIU this generation Charger was cheaper than a Cordoba, and not by a small amount. Shows what the right name and image-building ad campaign would do, especially for cars like these that were all about image in the first place (otherwise, why look past the Dart/Valiant?)
The Cordoba-Charger really highlights how critical marketing plays in the auto industry when dealing with image-oriented vehicles.. The cars were virtually identical yet, while the Cordoba was a smash success, the Charger barely sold at all, despite being cheaper. Telling your peers you drove a new Cordoba might impress them, but a Charger? Not so much.
If you think Lou Rawl’s Charger spot was something, feast your eyes and ears on this:
That ‘Winston’ plaid interior is sick. Lincoln had Bill Blass. Chrysler had Tarlek.
Wow, I don’t remember that one at all! If Chrysler had not run off most of its customers by then with cars that fell apart or wouldn’t run, this might have sold decently in 1978. Those plaid seats were sooooo 70s.
Bold, I will admit, but elegant and in good taste.
The irony is that the Omni/Horizon probably had the most credible late 70s Chrysler ad campaign in terms of selling a car by straightforwardly showing its many practical content virtues. Yet the TV and print campaign was not especially memorable. Partially by not having a strong spokesperson or some variety of hook.
Too bad Dodge couldn’t have taken that platform and made something more distinctive and sporty for the Charger. Of course, the upcoming Magnum got at least a distinctive face, one that I (unlike many) like quite well.
If this had the Magnum sheetmetal from the start, in ’75, things may have been different. Typical Chrysler, they waited until the thing was almost past it’s sell-by date to restyle it. Speaking of which, I had always thought that this was a complete re-skin, but a second look leads me to believe it was just the doors and front header.
So true Roger! It is different enough from the Cordoba to stand out on its own with a truly sporty yet luxurious look. They would have sold double if that were the Charger back then.
Agreed. I always liked the Magnum design, it’s definitely a much more credible Charger (certainly no worse than the 73-74 SE). It’s just too bad this nose came so late with this bodyshell, by this point the Charger name was thoroughly debased.
“NIGHT PEOPLE”–Jean Shepherd (and I) know what they’re talking about. The term refers to more than staying out late. I like to think I had the same vibe going when I was cruising through the night in my black ’87 Pontiac Grand Prix.
Cool decor, William!
Way back in pre-internet times I found a full line 1965 Pontiac brochure at a swap meet. I’d had long admired the National Geographic and Life print ads but this was something else. I never thought people either collected or traded them.
And that, as they say, was only the start…poor but happy. With a watched items list too
Jeeze, and I thought the current 4Dr Charger was an insult to the Charger name.
More of an insult than this?
While I hated to admit it at the time, this Charger probably made some sense for the times and the resources that Chrysler had available. And, it was a time when Chrysler’s fortunes were improving and they had viable small cars in US domestic production.
I’ve generally thought the most insulted Chrysler name was Dodge Challenger when it was applied to an imported Mitsubishi in 1978. It was an emblem of Chrysler’s deep fall from its success in the mid and late 1960s.
This is definitely worse. The latest design I find a pretty appropriate modern interpretation of the classic Chargers, despite the extra doors.
The night…belongs to Charr-ger…’cause Charger belongs…to the cops…
I suppose Dodge thought the Charger brand tracked the Grand Prix to some degree, and hoped the name would work on this car. But a lot of people probably thought the Charger brand tracked the GTO more closely. Charger just seemed so wrong on this car, but I doubt a different name would have helped much. The later weak attempt at differentiation and the Magnum name didn’t do much for this Cordoba by another name.
It’s not saying much but the Grand Prix actually looked way more sporty than these, the 73 -77 had much crisper lines with a true coke bottle shape to it, frankly more like what the Charger was known for in it’s glory years. This Charger/Cordoba body was just flat flabby and flaccid, more like the fusalage cars with a sprinkle of 73 Monte Carlo.
Similar to previous and contemporary times, the Charger’s biggest competitor was in the same showroom. The Monaco could be had as a coupe, with very similar dimensions and equipment. If I didn’t have the money for a Cordoba, or a Charger, I probably could come up with the scratch for a dressed up Monaco.
FWIW, I think Mopar would have been ahead of the game if they would have used the same strategy as others did; the coupe was it’s own line, while the sedan and the wagon shared the line. It’s not like they didn’t try this before…
I LOVE the song! I guess the Charger at that time had morphed into a personal luxury coupe, but “the night belongs to Charger” is a curious tagline, and the ad doesn’t help. And yes, the song does sound suspiciously like Tom Jones’ “Delilah”, but Lou Rawls – one of the best R and B singers ever – did it justice.