(first posted 2/14/2013) What is it that makes a car a “chick car?” Put another way, what is it about some cars that appeals to the fairer sex? And why is it so hard to come up with one on purpose?
It’s easy to to come up with a new vehicle that appeals to men: all you need is power, bold styling and macho details. A good name helps, too–like, say, ‘Firebird’, or ‘Ramcharger’. On the other hand, it is much harder to come up with a car that appeals to women. Chrysler gave it a shot with the 1955-56 Dodge LaFemme–but alas, without success. Maybe both of these examples seek to caricature their intended demographic. And perhaps the fact that carmakers do better with heavy-handed appeals to us guys than those directed toward the girls says less about the cars than about us. In fact, you could argue that any given car has masculine traits–after all, it is a machine made of welds, castings, bearings and a crankcase filled with oil.
A vehicle marketed to women must be more subtle; it is not about the machine, but rather about how the machine makes the woman feel. An early example is this famous print ad for the Jordan Playboy. Everyone has forgotten the car, but once you have read the ad, it is unforgettable. This ad highlights a truth about what a car is: It is about ourselves. Who among us has not looked upon a car and then seen herself or himself in a different light? The car has a way of highlighting who we want to be instead of who we actually are. In this sense, the Cabriolet of the 1980s and 90s succeeded far beyond the Jordan Playboy of the 1920s, because the Cabriolet itself said what Jordan relied on ad copy to say.
As a car, the Cabby is moderately interesting. The Mk I VW Golf (Rabbit, to those in the U.S.) was a hugely influential design, one that leapfrogged Volkswagen from the 1930s into the 1970s in a single amazing jump. The car had the good fortune to hit the U.S. market as a 1975 model, just as gas prices were rising and small cars were becoming the new normal. In one small segment, however, VW was still stuck with a vehicle well past its freshness date–the convertible.
In the U.S., the VW convertible had been almost a cult car. Never as common as its closed-roof (or sunroof-equipped) brothers, the ragtop had been a perennial in the lineup from very early on (1948, according to one source). Unfortunately, the old Beetle was running on borrowed time, and U.S. emissions laws (and Americans’ desire for such creature comforts as air conditioning) were pounding the nails into its casket even faster. The Rabbit had rescued the VW line in the United States, but convertible lovers were still stuck with the increasingly anachronistic old Beetle. I once worked with a fellow who traded his ’71 Karmann Ghia convertible on a 1980 Beetle convertible–triple white, just like the feature car–and he was a hit everywhere young-ish women congregated.
The Rabbit/Golf-based convertible arrived in the U.S. for the 1980 model year, which was also the final year of the Beetle ragtop. The entire car actually was built by Karmann in their own factory. Although VW supplied most of the parts, all unique body parts and stampings were from Karmann. Also, if we are going to be hyper-technical, the car is designated as a Type 155 (according to the knowledgeable folks at cabby-info.com). Although the car came late to the lineup, it compensated for that in longevity by continuing to be offered in VW showrooms into 1994. The car was a moderate but steady seller in the U.S., good for 9-12,000 units annually for ten years. Sales tapered off only during its last five seasons, when the car was clearly showing its age.
The Cabriolet immediately struck a chord with female purchasers. In fact, in the 80s or early 90s, almost every female VW owner of my acquaintance owned one. One such owner was my next door neighbor, a divorced mother of two girls. She loved her little black Cabriolet, and kept it even after replacing it with something newer and more practical. Only later, and very reluctantly, did she finally let go of it after coming to realize how much money it would take to turn it back into the car she fell in love with. I believe that her second husband was at work there with the “c’mon, honey, be practical.” I am happy to report, however, that she went back to the well a few years ago with a new navy blue New Beetle convertible. Though she liked the more modern car, she never loved it the way she loved the little Cabby.
As for this particular car, is it a 1986? I really have no idea. These can be found equipped with a wide array of wheels and upholstery styles. Also, these wheels were often seen in the 1983-86 era. This one is certainly a Wolfsburg edition (given away by the circular badge on each front fender), and just as certainly a pre-1988 version (given away by the older-style bumpers). Otherwise, I will happily defer to members of the Curbside Commentariat who may be better versed in Cabby minutae than I. Anyhow, for what this car represents, does it really matter? I am not sure it does.
The Cabriolet’s success was that it really gave women what they truly wanted instead of what others (mostly men) thought they wanted. The Cabriolet brought to mind (and brought out) the freedom, beauty, fun and sex appeal that every woman knows is part of her personality. That these cars never had a lot of appeal to guys was never a big deal to the girls who drove and loved them–nor should it have been. Did VW set out to make a chick car? I don’t suppose it really matters. For a good number of years (and in other models since), VW gave women what they wanted, and in no way is that a bad thing.
Hmmm…two different license plates? Is that the real plate on the back, and a novelty plate on the front? Is that legal? As someone who resides in a state requiring plates on both sides of my car, this confuses me.
Dynamic is right. In Indiana, we require only a rear license plate. Because a lot of cars come with the front plate mounting hardware, folks like to put something there. My favorite on an older car was to find an old plate from the car’s year.
Yes, it’s legal. In those states requiring only a rear plate you can put what you want on the front.
I’m reminded here of the time I bought my old 230SL; it had a Pennsylvania plate. It took a week or so to get the paperwork caught up so I could transfer it to my name, and I ran a couple of different front plates from my collection – one was a Hawaii consular corps #300, another was an old Pennsylvania ZIPPO plate.
During my brief stint as a car salesman at a Pontiac dealership, I found women were drawn to the Sunbird.
But that was only because there was not a triple white Cabriolet parked next to it. 🙂
Perfect post JPC! And I love the references to the attempts at making chick cars in the past. You’re right — when automakers aim at it, they miss.
IIRC, this Cabrio was made for many years after the Mk1 Golf was out of production.
You are right on the Cabriolet’s longevity, as the Mk I Golf/Rabbit was replaced for 1985. The Cabby made it all through that generation and, I believe, into the next for the regular Golfs.
Looks like an ’86 or ’87– I think the ’85 and earlier bumpers stick out further from the body.
The high mounted rear brake light is another hint that it is 86+
What is interesting about the Cabriolet, from a mechanical standpoint, is that it was based off the MK1 (called Rabbit in North America) platform, yet when WV began selling the MK2 (the Golf replaced the Rabbit in NA), continued to use the MK1 platform for the convertible. That continued all the way until the 1990s when the Cabrio replaced the Cabriolet which of course was then replaced by the Beetle convertible. I do not know why they did that although given the relative low volume of the convertible (as compared to the closed car), it may have had to do with general tooling costs.
As far as plates are concerned, at least in North Carolina here where I live that is a one plate state, novelty plates are legal in the front but using plates of another state are not although it is rarely if ever enforced.
While it is not directly convertible related, there is a gentleman that frequents the AACA car show circuit in the Southeast that shows a 1980 Rabbit, that he purchased new, and subsequently completely restored when he stopped using it as a daily drive. I am not going to comment on the value of dropping $12,000 (if I remember what he said correctly) on preserving such a car but it was nice.
Volkswagen has a history of doing that, since the dates don’t always line up between different members of the Golf family. The “Mk.4” Cabrio was a Mk.3-platformer with a face that looked like that of the Mk.4 Golf.
The facelifted Mk.5 Jetta SportWagen (called the Golf Variant in other markets) was still on the Mk.5 structure, but got the interior and front fascia from the then-new Mk.6 Golf. This made since, because the PQ35 platform was used on both the Mk.5 and Mk.6. I owned such a Jetta SportWagen, a final-year 2014.
Very well stated, with a great reference back to the famous Jordan Playboy ad from the 1920s. References to the Rabbit/Golf Cabriolet’s “chick car” status are often dismissive, and you do a brief but thorough look at why these cars have appealed to women in ways that make sense. (I initially typed that you took a “broad look at the history and psychology of marketing cars to women” and then deleted and re-typed.)
These cars send a signal to this day about the owner/driver, and probably will for many years to come. A noteworthy recent use of the VW Cabriolet is in a new GEICO TV ad, in which the talking pig appears to be setting up his (willing) girlfriend for the time-honored car breakdown makeout session. The use of a white VW Cabriolet sends an androgynous message about the pig, which he proves quite thoroughly.
Much head-scratching has gone into ChryCo’s decision to release two new Jeep models – Compass and Liberty, nearly ten years ago. The vehicles are identical under the skin.
The way I heard it is that both designs were researched and it was found that Compass had great appeal to women…while the Liberty found similar appeal to men.
Therefore Ma MoPar put ’em both out…and I’ve called Compass “the chick Jeep” and Liberty “the guy Jeep” ever since.
BTW my wife’s fave car color is white. So I’m sure this Cabriolet would score extra points with her.
But to me, “convertible” will always equate to “69 Camaro”…as in the ’69 Camaro I owned at the end of 1979, in my first year of college.
Perhaps you are thinking about the Jeep Compass and the Jeep Patriot, both of which debuted for the 2007 model year. While both are virtually identical underneath, the Compass is more in line with most of the other compact crossovers that are on the market, while the Patriot is slightly beefier and has more classic Jeep styling cues. I have not seen demographic figures on those models but a split like that makes sense. Since they are basically identical underneath it is probably cost effective to produce both.
The Jeep Liberty, on the other hand, came out for the 2003 model year and uses its own truck based platform which allows it have a rugged 4WD suitable for off road. The Liberty was physically bigger than the Compass and the Patriot and more expensive. The Liberty was nominally the successor to the old XJ Cherokee although the Liberty ceased production last model year. The Dodge Nitro was a version of this platform.
The Liberty wasn’t truck-based…in either generation. It was, however, on a rugged RWD-based unibody platform along with the unsuccessful Dodge Nitro (for the second-gen Liberty), like you said.
That makes it even more of a successor to the XJ Cherokee, because the XJ was also unibody, yet rugged.
You want a chick car? Make it like this!
I’m a male car nut, so I’m pretty sure I know how to build such a thing.
All my life, I have searched for a car that feels a certain way.
Powerful like a gorilla, yet soft and yielding like a Nerf ball.
Very insightful essay.
There are a couple of things one might add to it, though. A “chick car” requires timing…the right time in said chickie’s life; while being in the right price range for chickies that age to actually be able to buy.
Take your mother of two who couldn’t part with her Cabbie. By that time, I’m guessing, she was in the process of moving on from post-adolescent fantasies of who and what she was; but the car represented a time she remembered warmly. So it stayed around, ragged and neglected.
As finances allowed, a New Beetle drop-top replaced it. And as you noted, the replacement wasn’t the same to her. Of course not; a woman in middle age with two children, harbors few fantasies about being Lara Croft or Nancy Drew.
It’s frankly no different with men…as I tried to point out elsewhere a few days ago, leading to some unpleasantness. But it is.
But to the targeted “chick car” – there’s really no way. It just somehow seems to happen; the accidents are far more numerous than all the targeted models and intense marketing themes.
Well in a reverse CC effect, I trailed one of these today on the way to work, then opened up CC and there it was! The one I was following was light blue and seemed to be a later version. The badge also said GOLF Cabriolet. I guess I didn’t realize that they started calling these Golfs here after the MkII came out, I assumed it was just Cabriolet at that point.
At one point on the drive there was a Nissan Murano tailgating the Cab and I couldn’t help thinking what a precarious position the driver of the Cab was in. That Murano would have pancaked the poor thing in an accident, especially at the 75+ we were all travelling. Of course, people probably think the same thing when they see me on the road in my 1st gen Impreza wagon.
My biggest issue with these was I hated the way the top, when down, hung out over the back of the car. No other way to do it, however, so I didn’t “hate” it too bad…reminded me of the large staff cars seen in war movies full of German officers!
However, that wasn’t a deal-breaker, ’cause after all, it was a convertible. Back in those days, in the early 1980’s, we were in young family/economy/almost-broke-mode! In other words, we couldn’t afford anything except the Gremlin I drove, and later, our K-Car until wifey went back to work.
A “chick car”? I don’t think so. If I wanted one, I would’ve bought one, and if it had a flower vase, wifey would use it. I don’t care what others think, it would be MY/OUR car and I would laugh at anyone who made fun of it. Another person’s insecurity is not my problem
Remember, my father had to make do with a 1955 Dodge La Femme! It was white top, black middle band and pink on the bottom. No one made fun of him…
The top hanging over the back combined with the roll bar gave these cars a baby carriage appearance… maybe that had something to do with its appeal to women and lack of appeal to men.
I’m in agreement with you, except where the “deal-breaker” issue enters. For me, it’s the roll bar. It wrecked the open-air nature of the PT Cruiser and it has the same effect here. If I want a roll bar, I’ll buy a Jeep.
Here in metro Bostonia, which is a famously unpleasant place to own and drive cars, the woman’s car of choice tends to be a truck. To JP’s point about people buying cars to reflect their actual personalities, there is also a tendency to compensate for one’s perceived deficiencies. The bigger the truck, the smaller the driver tends to be. I’m 6’3″ and out of shape, so of course I have an athletic little Mazda daily driver, ha.
A couple months ago, I happened to watch a few minutes of an episode of “Remington Steele.” I don’t recall the girl star’s name, but she drove a VW Cabriolet just like the feature car.
All the car makers need to do to make chicks love a car, is to show it in a TV episode with the girl star driving it. And to kill a car, show a loser like Al Bundy driving his Dodge (or Plymouth, depending on the episode.) I’ll bet Dodge Demons or Sports were going for nothing when the show was on, but I don’t really remember.
@Dave That was Stephanie Zimbalist you saw on “Remington Steele.” I remember her VW Cabriolet very well. 🙂
I wonder if any Cabriolet owner has done a Herbie conversion, too, with the stripes and all.
It wouldn’t take.
The car doesn’t have the innate personality that the Beetle, or other primitive cars, did.
This chick car is like a runway or a makeup table for young women. It’s a prop for them to engage their fantasies. Cars like the original Beetle, or the Jeep, or dozens others…were entities in their own right. Like pets or companions…
I was just going to mention Stephanie Zimbalist as Laura Holt in “Remington Steele”. I think the show probably helped along the popularity of that model hugely as the car for the independent young woman of the 80s. “Remington Steele” for all its romantic undertones and film noir themes, portrayed that well: an attractive young woman (not some dowager like Miss Marple) in the new era of the career woman: driving fast, handling danger on her own, etc. Well-suited for some of the feelings of that time.
Of course, it wasn’t just a “show with a girl driving the car”. It was a popular show that ran for years, with a good looking girl, who has this mysterious romance-business relationship with Pierce Brosnan, the future James Bond. Doubtless there was a little subconscious wish-fulfillment behind purchases of these cars, too.
I remember growing up in the mid-late 80s a lot of older sisters for whom daddy had bought a new car had one of these. Or if they didn’t, it was what they wanted. I also remember seeing one in a suburban shopping center parking lot that was painted in a zebra striped pattern. Our family knew it as the “Zebra Car” and I would take great pleasure in pointing it out when there was a sighting of it around town. I never did see who drove it.
My sister in law, (the sexy one) had a Mustang II Cobra, back in 1977 or so. The car was identical to the Charlie’s Angels car. I don’t know which of the Angels drove the Mustang on the show, but that car WAS a chick car. (I’ve only seen pictures of her car, but I can’t decide whether the car or sis was nicer.)
The wife bought a nice 73 Vega (around 79 or 80), one of the “one millionth run”, and tragically, all her sisters (6) drove it. My wife didn’t have a license yet, and never drove it. It was ruined when no one, including her Dad, thought to check the coolant. (I didn’t know her at that time.)
Back in college, we had a dads weekend. My dad and I were sitting around when one of my friends dads, a dentist, pulled up. In a white Cabrio just like this. And he was wearing a polo shirt with a colorful sweater tied around his neck.
My dad and I both looked at each other with puzzled expressions and little grins while we watched him get out and walk inside. Then, we shook our heads and went on with our lives.
That Cabrio definitely fits with a guy wearing a polo shirt with a sweater tied around his neck.
Dentists are odd to begin with. (no offense)
My oldest sister, Candace, drove a white ’83 Cabriolet in San Francisco that she bought new until 3 years ago. It was all white w/ white wheels and the seats had black and white houndstooth check inserts. Candace always drove it like she was in a race!
Around the hick-hole where I reside, the chickies are more likely to have a taste for Escalades over anything of a “sporty” nature. I nearly have seizures trying to figure out the psychology of it. I can assure you, the Escalade (large as it may be) doesn’t hide the crumbling moldy trailer house it’s parked next to.
Well trying to avoid getting too deep into social commentary, its quite often that cars are about the only thing a lower income person can qualify to purchase or they find them on the cheap. Since they probably cannot afford to own a home and or other middle class and up amenities the car becomes their “castle.” Half clapped out high end import cars are popular amongst many circles in the south for that express purpose. I suppose driving an early 90s Lexus LS400 with 200K that needs about $3K worth of maintenance gives you more cache than a 2 year old Honda Civic.
Some of the larger SUVs are driven by men and women that perceive the size as a safety and intimidation factor even though they often do not use them or know how to use them properly.
Also note that vehicles don’t change in style as much as they used to, and also last longer. It’s possible to buy a used, reconditioned Escalade that not only looks new in regards to condition, but looks new, period.
By 1959, a typical 1956 car in perfect condition looked “old” parked next to a brand-new one, even to people who weren’t particularly interested in cars.
In 2013, most people cannot tell the difference between a 2007 Escalade in very good condition and a brand-new edition of that model.
Perhaps I opened up too much of a can of worms with my original statement. I do “get it” but at the same time, I wonder why it matters at all. Guess I’ll just have to leave it at that.
The air-cooled VW convertibles always seemed like girly cars too. My wife’s dream car is a pink “Bug Convertible”. I’ll never understand why.. We have a purple Mustang Convertible that has A/C, power everything, leather interior, and acceleration…but she wants to drive “the Bug” instead.
We now have two of the little guys and I’ll admit that driving Bug #1 does kind of give me the itch to find a nice hardtop Beetle…but blecch on the convertible. Ours was yellow; it’s now white; she wants Pink. Yellow it will be….
I’d be curious to know the stats, but the recent/current Jetta (and the Passat to some extent) seem to have a decidedly higher than average number of females behind the wheel. The VW brand seems to have a lot of pull with women.
While in college 1987-90 at WSU in Pullman, WA, there was a girl who my friends and I referred to only as “Gucci Purse”. She drove one of these cars (white, just like the car above), all over campus, parking right outside of buildings where she was most definitely not supposed to park. We would see her rack up violations at least a few times per week.
We figured that her dad must have had deep pockets and regularly paid off her parking tickets (or he got one whopping final bill prior to her graduation).
I always got a kick checking out the latest tweaks VW made to keep the Cab fresh. Those pleated seat inserts for example, wow! Rolls had to do the same thing on the Corniche and that was also fun to watch.
lol at LaFemme I had no idea about that car. Thanks for the education!
Bitch basket. There, I said it.
Someone had to. I knew girls in college who had them. My sister did not but came close with a white Gen 1 Jetta she named “Bianca”.
In my experience that VW convertible was definitely a chick car. My daughter raved so much about them when she was in junior high school that I bought her a little diecast one which became a fixture in her room. So naturally it followed that when we started looking for a car for her when she turned 16 there would be one on a nearby car lot. It was almost a dead ringer for the one shown here; only the wheels were different, and I definitely remember the 45-degree pleated leather seats.
It wouldn’t start, but when the guy jumped it it fired right up. Off down the road we went, and it seemed to drive just fine, but the fact that the steering wheel was turned 90 degrees when the car was going straight bothered me enough to talk her into holding off on buying it.
Maybe that’s a VW trait – not that long ago I drove an otherwise fairly impressive 2007 5-speed Passat that had that same feature.
VW introduced the Golf here at the same time it gave VW dealers something to sell the public wanted a modern good driving car that could keep up with traffic something the Beetle was incapable of. Reliability was on par with as beetle and better in some respects and it went up hills and around corners quite well, things the Beetle was incapable of. Convertables were offered here but at huge $ and remember any European car was priced high thanx to import taxes. This always had VW competing for sales against much better performing and better equipped English 4 cylinder cars at less money.
I think there is definitely a time of life and relative function level calculus involved in buying these cars. My mom bought a well used Rabbit convertible (82 so it still said Rabbit on it) in 90 and drove until my parents separated in 91 at which point she bought a Mazda Protege (bright red with the 16V and a 5 speed) and gave the Rabbit to my sister who drove it through most of grad school. I think the jump from Rabbit to Protege was part psychology, since the Mazda was a sportier and more aggressive car, and part practicality, since the Rabbit was old and 2 door while the Protege was new and 4 door. I always liked the Rabbit convertibles, except for the triple white Valley Girl edition and would consider one as a collector car since I can call on my decade of experience with Sciroccos and Jettas.
Amazing find!! These cars in the 80s and early nineties were THE car to have by the very affluent and beautiful youngsters of Pinochet’s Chile… At least that’s what I’ve gathered from the era! Wether male or female, the owners would be the kind of person that works the trading floor (or a designer’s boutique) during the day and goes to the Polo San Cristobal or Gente Club for a few drinks and some Colombian marching powder! All this gathered from my dad’s wild stories and “Mala Onda”, Chile’s “Catcher in the rhye”, only set in the eighties and with tons more of cocaine!
This cars have quite the following today, wether by ex 80s stars or by their hipster-y and rich kids, who drive Audis during the week and this VWs during the weekend in Cachagua or Zapallar!
TL;DR, a different perspective from a Chilean reader!
A fun essay. Seems like every teeny-bopper in Southern Cal had one of these at the time. I always thought it was a car that found its market by accident, young women just seemed to gravitate to it. A friend of mine had one of these back then, he thought it would be a fun beach cruiser. But being a large guy, it wound up projecting this dainty and cutesy image, and he would get regularly teased. He didn’t keep it very long. I used to say it looked like an Easter basket on wheels with the top down, maybe that was part of the feminine appeal.
Absolutely love the Jordan Playboy ad copy. “Step into the Playboy when the hour grows dull with things gone dead and stale.” Like something out of Shakespeare, it magically transports you into that Wyoming twilight. Brilliantly written.
I toyed with using that very phrase from the Jordan Playboy ad in the conclusion of the piece, but decided to not prostitute it. I had read it years ago and never forgot it. Since writing this piece, I have re-read that ad copy several times, and am amazed at 1) the high level of reading comprehension required, and 2) the power of the descriptive terms to paint a picture of an Amelia Earhart-style adventuress in the American West. The artwork mated to the ad copy makes the whole thing simply brilliant.
The “Somewhere West of Laramie” as is considered one of the most important car ads ever; maybe the most of all. It’s a brilliant breakthrough, because it says absolutely nothing about the car (which by the way was a mediocre one). It’s the first modern car ad, period.
It’s hard to make a “Woman’s Car”……as soon as you try it becomes patronizing (La Femme), but VW has hit the mark with 3 (see below), also 1 Hyundai, 1 Kia, 2 Nissans, 1 Volvo and 1 Honda.
Do women even read this blog? Just wondering. I wouldn’t call the cabby (or any car) a “chick car” because I know some women that prefer 4x4s over a cabby.
Having reread that Jordan Playboy ad copy now several times, too, I was not wholly unfamiliar with it, although I hadn’t thought of it in eons. I recall citing that “Somewhere West of Laramie” phrase, along with the famous Packard tag line “Ask the Man Who Owns One,” in a term paper that I did long ago in high school on the history and development of the advertising industry. My mother had pointed those out to me in the course of writing that paper, as she had remembered the Jordan Playboy from her youth growing up in Beverly Hills in the L.A. area, along with a Packard that my grandmother drove back then. And she had dated a young man in the ’30’s who squired her about in a new Cord, so for a woman she was perhaps unusually tuned into automotive imagery even back then. That said, I couldn’t agree more, this Jordan Playboy ad does indeed summon a level of reading comprehension that goes beyond the ability of most of the mass market. And it paints a powerfully descriptive image of the wild West, that “land of real living,” where that free-spirited adventuress roams, “the lass whose face is brown with the sun when the day is done of revel and romp and race.” The whole thing just completely grabs your imagination and transports you to some far off place. Forget the car, I’m lost in a western movie reverie! Thanks for dusting this off, J.P., it has to be one of the most evocative and memorable print advertising depictions ever to grace the annals of the field.
This ad was aimed at an affluent audience that was assumed to be very well-read. Education standards were tougher in the 1920s because a fair number of people simply did not finish high school. If you couldn’t handle the level of work, you were politely – or not so politely – told to leave school and work in the factory or at a trade. (Even many bright students had to leave school to help support their families or work on the farm.)
There was no thought of “dumbing down” the curriculum to boost graduation rates of a particular school or school district.
If you could afford a brand-new Jordan Playboy, you undoubtedly had finished high school, and maybe had even graduated from college. If you couldn’t comprehend the ad copy, you probably were not a potential Jordan buyer.
My grandmother, born in 1913, was the youngest of four children, and her father made sure that she graduated from high school so that the family could say that it had at least one high-school graduate. Her older siblings left around the 10th grade to work and help support the family until they got married.
Being a “high-school dropout” did not carry the stigma then that it does today. On other hand, a college degree, even from a state school, was a genuine sign of prestige – as was being literate enough to comprehend this ad’s copy.
Throughout the 1980’s,I was a service advisor at suburban Chicago VW dealer.The Cabrio was a very popular High School graduation gift for the more well off girls.On at least a dozen occasions I would receive a call within the first week of ownership that the car would not move.We would have the car towed to the shop and invariably when the transmission was removed,the tech would find what looked like a mass of cat fur inside the bellhousing-fried clutch material.We would warranty the clutch with the proviso that the young driver had to come in for instruction on how to drive stick shift.It seemed to work,especially since I would call the dad and let him know that he would be paying for the next clutch.
I think the popularity of the Cabriolet with female buyers had a lot to do with simple economics: Women, particularly young women, usually make significantly less money than men. The Cabriolet wasn’t exactly cheap, but a single woman could swing the payments without having to live on macaroni and cheese, it had four seats and a trunk, it got good gas mileage, and it had a decent reputation for reliability. It was also German, so it was a consolation prize for a lot of people who wanted but couldn’t afford a BMW (a 325iC cost twice as much). A fair number of Cabriolets were also purchased by affluent families as their daughter’s going-to-college car or graduation present, for basically the same reasons.
The main alternative if you wanted a four-seat convertible at that point was the Chrysler LeBaron, which also appealed strongly to female buyers.
I submit Heather Graham’s role and the cameo by the VW in the cinematic masterpiece “Licence to Drive” (1988) as vindication of all of the above.
+1 – and saves me from having to type the same thing (though right at the end Corey Haim leaps behind the wheel of the Golf and drives off…!).
Das ist nicht ein Town Car.
You win best comment of the day!
This is what we used to (rudely) call a “Bitch-Box” in high school… They were absolutely everywhere in SoCal in the ’80’s. Every third 16year-old girl seemed to have one…
My ex-wife had one identical to the first one in the piece. It was an all-white, 1989 special edition with the white top, white wheels and white leather. Very girly. Actually her’s was fancier, it had an all-white aero kit with an air-dam and side ground effects and an all-white rear bumper. It also had a pair of fog-lights in the grille. It was a great car for relatively low speed cruising. I loved it when we cruised around Cape Cod with the top up or down.
On the highway it was miserable. It had the 3-speed automatic, so it was doing 3,000rpm at 55mph and 4,000rpm at 70mph. Miserable when the ex-wife needed to use my Subaru Wagon to haul stuff and I had to use the Rabbit for commuting up I-495 (a veritable 8:45AM race-track).
The car was amazingly problem-free. An alternator died, but the big problem turned out to be the starter. The symptom was after a drive of 20-40min (my ex-wife’s commute home from her job) if you shut the car off (like to get gas just before you get home) the car wouldn’t re-start until things had cooled down for about 30 min. One VW dealer tried all sorts of things (we had about 15 wires hanging off the positive battery terminal). It took a whole bunch of testing and a new dealer to determine that the starter motor (which on the manual transmission cars is on the top, up in the breeze but on the automatic transmission cars is on the bottom, tucked between the exhaust manifold and the engine block) was getting heat soaked and it wouldn’t work when it was heat-soaked. So, I asked the dealer to provide me with a “new” starter motor that had never been in a car before, but it was now 2001 and according to the dealer the only starters available were rebuilt units. Unfortunately the rebuilding procedure never checked for heat-soak problems so the problem couldn’t be fixed, just planned for.
I also replaced one of the half-shafts. I think because the CV-joint boot got ripped and for the difference in price between a new boot and a rebuilt half-shaft it wasn’t worth getting under the car twice.
One good story, towards the end, the car which was virtually rust-free (amazing for a New England car) developed rust from the inside of the little tailgate that acted as a trunk-lid for the Cabriolets. I tried repairing the rust, but 6 weeks later the rust was back and super-obvious on the white car. I figured that a junk-yard lid would have the same rust problems as all the other New England lids and a new lid from the VW dealer cost $695 and was unpainted. My company was about to have a sales meeting in Tucson, AZ, so I had my ex call all the junkards we could find in the Tucson phone book asking them if they had a VW Rabit Cabriolet trunk-lid. We found one that did, and it was even painted white for $295. I had it shipped back to my office with the gear from the sales meeting. Bolted it on, swapped the lock cylinder and it was good to go.
Towards the end, it developed a really loud fuel pump. I got under the car and replaced it with no problems. Shortly after we were divorced she showed up in an all-black one and told me that her new mechanic told here that her car was too rusted to work on anymore. I think he sold her a bill of goods, because I didn’t see any rust when I replaced the fuel pump. Never saw the car again.
Very popular here in Cali. mid to late 80’s and early 90’s. The young girls that owned these thing were either named Jennifer, Tiffany, or Stephanie.
Don’t forget Muffy, Boopsie, and Missy!
If they were marketing to women, might not the Jordan Playboy have had more success if they’d called it the PlayGIRL? Or, since this was the 1920s, the Jordan Flapper?
Also, 60 comments about chickmobiles and no mention of the Miata?
Or that strippers and, uh, “adult entertainers” like Corvettes? Porn star Savannah killed herself in 1994 the same night she totalled her white C4 (not necessarily for that reason). Also, there’s a woman-owned C3 in Venice Beach with the cryptic vanity plates “36DD,” although I have no idea what that might refer to.
And then of course there’s Angelyne…
The Miata has a much more balanced a demographic than the Cabriolet. I might even dare say it might be 50/50. Certainly has appeal to women the same way as the VW but most Miatas that I have seen were owned by men and not fru fru men either. Sometimes multiples of them.
I was a kid when these were new in the mid-to-late ’80s. I didn’t see too many on the road, but I and my friends generally regarded these as “girl cars.” That said, I do like the triple white treatment, and today I think they would make a fun CC daily driver. They also had a deep emerald green color in the early ’90s that contrasted really well with the white interior. I actually have a 1/18-scale model of one of these, in triple white of course!
Definitely a 1987 model. I was one of the rare male owners and the seats had this same crazy pattern!
I bought mine in 1992 as a graduation present to myself (graphite paint, white top). It had a paltry 20716 miles at the time and still had the $17k window sticker (it had pretty much every option available except the auto trans) neatly folded in the glove box (I only had to pay 9k).
Little known about Cabriolets at this trim level is the fact that they were essentially GTIs. Same high output 1.8L 4, close-ratio 5-speed stick, and the same alloy wheels! I swapped out the headlights for Hella H4s and added a wonderful-sounding Sony stereo system complete with CD changer.
To say that the engine was high-revving was an understatement. It was geared to 3700 RPM@ 80 MPH. But it was a blast to drive, and driven it was. In 6 years of ownership, I had that car in 20 different states and 1 Canadian province. It ran through Times Square, Bourbon Street, the Loop, Beale Street, past the White House (back when you could do that), Siesta Key, the Arch, and a couple dozen beaches. I found creative ways to pack the 9.7 cu.ft. trunk for my wife and I! After an 800-mile run with the top down, the poor dear needed an hour to de-tangle her hair!
Although the engine was indestructible, when hit by a full-size Olds wagon, the body wasn’t. It died a painful death @ 117222 miles, and it was far from being done, either. Good memories, though.
I had an ’85 model, with the 5 speed, but no A/C or fancy leather interior. It did have an awesome Blaupunkt stereo.
Mine died a horrible death though. While parked at my family’s bodyshop, the parking brake cable snapped and it rolled away down the rather steep road, until it contacted a solidly built light pole at the bottom of the hill. Thankfully it didn’t hit another car or pedestrian!! I was heartbroke… it was so much fun to drive, especially on a nice sunny day.
Here’s a couple of pic’s… and one of the pole it hit.. notice the red smear about 3′ up the pole where it hit while airborne after jumping the curb…
Bodyshops at the top of the hill on the left
heres a shot from the parking lot… you can see the poles at the intersection down the hill… it rolled backwards, turned down the hill, and made it all the way to the pole.
It was running in neutral, with the heater going at the time… I was about to leave and the windshield was frosted over. I went back in to grab a cup of coffee while it warmed up, and came out just in time to see it slam into the pole… my first thought was that somebody had tried to steal it & wrecked.. but after we got it to the shop we found the parking brake cable had snapped.
I bought a GTi the first year they were introduced stateside (1983). Basically a good car, but the fit and finish of the Pennsylvania product could not compare to the Wolfsburg assembled 1987 Jetta I later purchased (Ironically one of the few German made models left on the dealer’s lot at the time).
But the Cabrios from ’84 or ’85 had the GTi engine and drivetrain and were a blast to drive. I would bet the bodies held together pretty well, as my Jetta, when I totaled it in 1998, not only did not have a speck of rust but the finish still shined like new. The tow truck driver commented on this as we left the scene of the accident.
I was in the airline business and back in the day, nearly every female flight attendant owned either a Cabrio or a Pontiac Fiero.
It’s almost as if there were a tag hanging from the rearview mirror with the scent of fresh estrogen.
Tobias Funke in the new season of Arrested Development drives one, with a vanity plate celebrating a new start.
I took driving lessons in one of those, a late model with the body coloured bumpers, triple dark grey. The driving school was owned and run by two women in the mid-40’s, and I thought it hilarious beyond belief they actually succumbed to the chick-car stereotype even in Sweden. I guess they took the opportunity so they could use the car privately off hours. But yes, it was equipped in the usual driving school manner with double command, passenger side clutch, brakes, and accelerator. As an instructor car it was very impractical, with those heavy C-pillars with the top on. Never got to drive it with the top of, though, but it was fun nevertheless.
Mighty Joe Young picks one up – by the top bar – just to move it ten feet! – and two girls (of course) in it freak out, two just giggle. .
Definitely repainted by the production company but the wheels are the same as my 1987. In fact the entire 1986 VW except the cabriolet roof and the awful color is the same as my Scirocco DLX was.
Not a relic – just update the engine, from a 1990 (higher compression), or 1995+ (2.0L) or even a 16V version – why not! Bigger wheels for 1990.
The girls reaction shot before MJY just sets the VW down 1 parking spot over.
In the 1990s in Miami, I had a friend and coworker who owned a triple-white VW cabriolet much like the featured car (only his was a 5-speed in pristine condition). And yes, we teased Frank about his “sorority girl” car. In retaliation, he called my CRX a circus midget’s car. The VW was usually parked outside in front of Frank’s apartment. One morning he went outside only to find his door picked open and all four white leather seats missing. He had to drive around sitting on milk crates for a couple of days while making arrangements for a temporary car.
Chick cars… somewhere at the end of the ’80’s I became aware of this term. Also came with it the term of the (male appendage) car. Usually directed back then at most muscle cars, then eventually 4X4 trucks. I got to hear that term directed by my sister at a Firebird I was working on for a customer. She drove a white Wolfsburg Edition Scirocco she dearly loved.
Women seem to find what they want in a car without help from marketing. Back then it was Volkswagons, Ford Probes, four or six cylinder Mustangs, or maybe Honda Preludes. Not sure what they’re into lately.
Toyota RAV4s mostly, and Highlanders and Lexus RX’es, if my neck of the woods is any indications. The girls still like their VW ragtops, but I (upper-middle age male) would have no problem driving one either.
I sense the Dodge LaFemme was created by pre-Mad Men older dudes in a smoky boardroom, for whom it never occurred to seek input from any actual double-X-chromasomed people.
I’ve been married since ’93 and hardly know what my wife wants, let alone other women. They seem to be into everything from pickups to sporty cars to SUVs to minivans. I don’t see many on fully-dressed Harleys or in “extreme” pickups. I haven’t known any women who were really “car people” though. My wife is practical and wants whatever is already paid for. She does like newer Chargers though but doesn’t pull the trigger on purchase. She is used to having a reliable car with minimal cost for maintenance. (Secret: I actually maintain her car. Sometimes it costs money. She thinks it’s magic.) My wife wouldn’t be caught dead in a Cabriolet. Too small, too low. To expensive to fix. But I’m glad she likes basic stuff because that is about what I can provide. And that’s become harder to do as the unfixed injuries pile up. But such is life. Shoulda been born rich instead of so good looking, as my mom used to say.
But what makes a car a “chick magnet”? Some gentlemen doing construction on my house say mine is. At my age I have no idea what they are talking about.
VW has always had a penchant for producing “chick cars”, it seems.
Several chicks in my high school had a white Rabbit Cabbie back in the day, provided by their doting wealthy parents. No guy would have been caught dead driving one, then or now.
And with its New Beetle, VW assured a high estrogen quotient when it included a flower vase attached to the dash. All but guaranteeing — again — that no guy will ever be caught dead driving one.
When my sister-in-law bought a New Beetle in 1999, my nephew, who had only reached driving age a year before and was driving an old Sentra, swore up and down that he wouldn’t be caught dead driving his mom’s VW even if his own car broke down (her car not only had a flower vase on the dash, it had eyelashes on the headlights). My brother (his father) and I took him aside and told him how, much to our eternal embarrassment, we had to borrow Dad’s white/blue/white AMC Pacer when our own cars were laid up. Therefore, shut up, kid, and suck it up – it still beats walking.
Such unintended misogyny here.
I get it, we stereotype to make life easier on ourselves. It is easy and quick to make assumptions (often correct ones, by the way) about people. However, we are talking about cars here. Cars, no matter what you may believe, do not have a gender, nor do they expressly appeal to either gender. You will always see the manliest man driving a car that is dismissively called a “chick car” or a very feminine woman piloting her lifted 4X4 with pride. Last check, nobody drives using their genitals.
It seems that overall, women tend to pick more practical vehicles, and go for either very small or very large, depending on family needs. Men tend to go with whatever is most showy, loud, shiny, or ostentacious, rather than practical if possible. Family folks go conservative and go for what works for hauling kids, while singles and empty-nesters tend to go for cars that may not be practical but fun, like convertibles, 2 seaters, or similar. But even then, you see people drive what they like and can afford.
Anyone comfortable in their own skin drives whatever pleases them. Anyone uncomfortable in their own skin calls things like a VW cabriolet a “chick car”. And yet, they often secretly long to drive one….
I liked the simplicity and lightness of the Gen 1 Rabbit but never liked the convertibles because the hatch was an important feature, including the day when I carried my home tower speakers out and put them in the back to see if they would work with the KP-500 powering them (yes, the whole block knew).
In middle age, I was shopping at a slightly upscale strip mall, and when I came out of a store there was a woman of a certain age, all fixed up, getting into a New Beetle convertible, agua IIRC. I made a brief comment on how nice the interior was (spotless and showroom) and she put her arm around the passenger seat and looked up from under at me and asked if it didn’t all make an appealing package, her and the car and her little dogs in the back?
I was affirmative and cordial but backed away quickly. There is a feeling of being an item on a checklist sometimes.