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These Hilarious Vintage Auto Ads Will Have You Rolling

Cameron Eittreim January 22, 2024

For many carmakers, advertising is one of the most important parts of their marketing because it’s the one thing that drives sales the most. Some automotive advertising campaigns have stuck with car fans for decades. A good automotive advertising campaign can transcend any issues with the brand or the car itself and make drivers believe they need to own that car or truck. Carmakers have made innovations in the advertising world for decades and there’s always something new. But it could be argued that comedy was always the most effective way to create a memorable advertising campaign.

So we looked back at the most hilarious vintage automotive ads ever shown. Some of these were straight jokes about a rival automaker and others were indirectly pointed at the consumer. You probably remember seeing most of these advertisements at a time or two. You might even have a sense of nostalgia remembering where you were when you first saw these advertisements. That’s what good automotive advertising does. It sticks with you. Buckle up as we look back at some of the most notable and hilarious automotive advertisements of all time here.

Porsche 911 Advertisement1 Via Airows
Photo Credit: HSN

Porsche 911- The Anti-Nissan

There’s no denying that cars were boring in the ’80s. Japanese cars were especially boring around this time because of emissions regulations. Porsche, on the other hand, was selling the 911 like hotcakes. So naturally, they had to poke fun at Japanese automakers. The 911 was one of the most iconic automotive designs ever built and was in its prime in the ’80s. That’s not to say that every Nissan or Mitsubishi was boring but nothing came close to the 911 at the time (via Motor Biscuit).

Nissan still sold the 300ZX during this time but it wasn’t nearly as iconic as the 911. When kids grew up in the ’80s they dreamt about owning a Porsche 911 and just about everyone had a 911 poster on their bedroom wall. This is why Porsche decided to play off of that popularity with this advertising campaign. We’d have to say that this advertising campaign was both comedic and well done by the German sports car maker.

A358cec8988a1aa09b8f76ac54f695e0 Via Bmw Fanatics
Photo Credit: BMW

BMW M3 E36 – Showing Off

The BMW M3 E36 was one of the most well-known compact sport sedans of all time. Its handling is revered in the automotive industry and the E36 was far ahead of its competition in terms of design and quality. BMW engineers placed a high amount of emphasis on handling this car, to appease even the most discerning drivers. The advertising campaign was meant to appeal to high-end car shoppers who had the funds to spend on a more expensive car like a Ferrari but could instead opt for the M3 (via Machines Without Souls).
The E36 M3 was one of the best-selling examples of the M3, and it was also one of the most criminally underrated. In recent years though more and more enthusiasts have discovered the simplistic joy of owning the E36 M3 and everything that it offered. Needless to say, BMW was a bit arrogant in these advertisements but they had a lot of reasons to be. Confidence is a strong thing to have in the automotive industry and the BMW of the 1990s wasn’t lacking it.

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Photo Credit: Archive

Volvo Turbo Wagon – Because You Deserve It

Volvo isn’t the first brand name that comes to mind when you think about performance. But there was a time when the brand was experimenting with new models. The Volvo Turbo Wagon was the ultimate mix of versatility and performance, which is why the advertisement showcased a Lamborghini Countach with a trailer attached to it. The idea behind the advertisement was that you wanted a car that could do more. For young professionals and families who wanted something more fun to drive, this was ideal (via Road & Track).

Probably one of the most interesting features of the Volvo Turbo Wagon was the fact that it had a five-cylinder engine under the hood. Compared to the powerful engine that was under the hood of the Lamborghini. The fact that they had the Lambo pulling a trailer was to showcase the fact that the Volvo could haul cargo as well. Needless to say, this was a pretty interesting advertising campaign with a lot to offer. The Volvo Turbo Wagon is one of the fastest production wagons that was ever built.

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Photo Credit: Mecum

Citroën 2CV – Redefining an Industry

The Citroën 2CV was affectionately known as the “Deux Chevaux,” which means ‘two horses’. The car had an iconic design much like the original Volkswagen Bug, and the premise behind the car was the same. The advertisers thought that by capturing the uniqueness of the car and the rather astonishing performance they could build on the reputation. The Citroën 2CV boasted having more room than a Porsche, which wasn’t a big feat at the time but it caught the attention of consumers (via Top Gear).

The car was featured in dozens of TV shows and surprisingly enough the car stayed in production until 1990. This was a car that wasn’t the most iconic looking but it offered a reasonable amount of value for the price. When it comes to historic advertising campaigns, the 2CV had one car fans will remember for decades to come.

Audi R8 Gt Advert Illinois Via Gt Spirit
Photo Credit: Arrow GT

Audi R8 GT (Lake Forest, IL)

The Audi R8 was and still is the fastest production Audi that’s ever been produced and their only supercar. The R8 with its sculpted lines and unique exterior proved to be one of the most popular Audi models of all time. The unique build quality of the car and the super powerful engine were especially important factors. This unique billboard that went up in Lake Forest, Illinois alerts drivers that the first Audi R8 has been sold in the city, and that slow traffic should keep right (via Car & Driver).

The R8 was one of the most popular Audi sports cars ever built, and the billboard was part of the extensive advertising campaign that followed the release of the car. Audi has never been a company that advertises heavily but the R8 was a revolutionary car.

Aa40368578b7753149d5a2915068f474 Via Porsche
Photo Credit: Porsche

Porsche Police Car

In a twist on the usual Porsche 911 advertisements, Porsche showcased a unique aspect of their iconic model’s use – its role in law enforcement on the German Autobahn. On these high-speed highways, where top speeds are a norm, the need for a police vehicle that could match pace with any speedster became essential (via Porsche).

Porsche leveraged this unique application of their vehicle in a clever print ad campaign, highlighting 911’s dual role as a luxury sports car and a dependable police vehicle. This ad not only underlined the car’s performance capabilities but also its versatility and reliability in high-pressure scenarios.

432587ee03fc262b0016162007eeebdf Via Drivetribe
Photo Credit: Drive Tribe

Daihatsu Hijet MPV – The Chick Magnet

The compact and versatile Daihatsu Hijet, also known in different markets as the Mitsubishi Jetstar, Subaru Sambar, and Toyota Pixis, serves various roles including that of a minivan, an MPV, and a pickup truck. It’s typically equipped with efficient, small-scale engines, predominantly in the inline-three and inline-four configurations (via TCV).

This vehicle has gained considerable popularity, particularly in Asia and the Middle East. Daihatsu’s marketing approach for this mini vehicle was quite ambitious. They made a bold comparison, pitting their 40-horsepower van against a 500-horsepower Lamborghini, emphasizing the Hijet’s unexpectedly spacious interior.

Xjsadvert1 Via Classic Cars Today
Photo Credit: Car & Driver

Jaguar XJS – V-Cool

The Jaguar XJS, a luxury grand touring coupe, was in production from 1975 to 1996. Initially launched as a successor to the iconic E-Type, it came in engine options like a 3.6-liter inline-6 or a 5.3-liter V12. Despite several updates throughout its lifespan, by the late 1980s, the XJS struggled to stay contemporary and competitively priced (via Reddit).

In its marketing efforts, Jaguar implemented an extensive campaign for the XJS. Notably, one advertisement featured the famed Jaguar XJR-6 race car alongside the XJSC convertible and the standard XJS. This ad suggested a connection or a shared racing pedigree between the XJS and the high-performance race car, a claim that seemed far-fetched.

90s Ad Lead Via Chevy Classic
Photo Credit: GM

Impala SS – Lord Vader

The Chevy Impala gained such widespread popularity that it became a common choice for police fleets across the United States, alongside the Ford Crown Victoria. The civilian versions of the Chevy Impala were distinguished by more luxurious features and a broader range of exterior colors. An interesting piece of marketing for the Impala was seen in a car magazine advertisement (via Worth Point).

It featured a side view of a black Impala SS, which presented a rather menacing appearance. The ad was headlined with the phrase, “Lord Vader, your car is ready,” evoking the iconic space villain. The background included designs that echoed the contours of Darth Vader’s helmet. The advertisement further suggested that the car wasn’t meant for those who preferred a low profile, with a tagline hinting at its attention-grabbing presence. This approach gave the Impala an edgy, almost intimidating character.

Bmwvsmercedestruckad Via Youtube
Photo Credit: Mercedes

Mercedes Bringing Driving Pleasure

BMW and Mercedes-Benz stand as titans in the global automotive industry, alongside Audi as part of Germany’s renowned ‘Big Three’. These brands are in constant competition, not only in terms of automotive excellence but also in their advertising strategies. Mercedes-Benz typically adopts a more sophisticated, elegant style, whereas BMW is known for a bolder, more dynamic approach (via Ad Week).

A memorable example of BMW’s audacious advertising style was seen in a magazine ad from the early 1990s. The ad featured an image of several BMW vehicles being transported by a Mercedes-Benz truck. Accompanying this image was the cheeky caption, “A Mercedes can also bring driving pleasure”. This ad epitomized BMW’s confident, somewhat playful rivalry with Mercedes-Benz, showcasing their competitive spirit humorously and cleverly.

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Photo Credit: AMC

Anatomy of a Gremlin – AMC Gremlin

The AMC Gremlin was a unique car, so much so that a unique advertising campaign had to match it. The car was small and compact but it offered a reasonable amount of interior volume. Which is why the advertising campaign was designed to show the insides of the vehicle. Albeit in a unique way that posed some rather unique questions for the readers. The AMC Gremlin was a car that managed to sell quite well and it was one of the few bright spots for AMC in the 1970s (via Driving Todays).

Sadly though, all the unique advertising in the world couldn’t save the company from its ultimate demise. The company was purchased by Chrysler Corporation in the latter part of the 1980s and the Gremlin was never seen again.

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Photo Credit: Hyundai

A $2000 Hyundai

Hyundai sold the cheapest car in America with Excel, and for a long period, it was quite popular. That’s until the reliability issues started to roll in and consumers learned about just how paltry the built quality of the car was. Nevertheless, Hyundai ran some pretty cool advertisements back then. These advertisements were meant to intrigue the value-minded consumer who just wanted to buy a new car without all of the hassles (via Driving Todays).

The Excel was that car and it offered the type of value that they wanted. Although the Excel was one of the worst-selling cars of all time, it almost ruined Hyundai’s reputation in the States. The cars were known for being unreliable.

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Photo Credit: Chrysler

A White Lie – Dodge Daytona

Chrysler sold several econo-buckets during the 1990s and the Daytona was one of them. The affordable sports car was based on the existing compact cars that they already sold. The idea behind the advertisement at the time was to showcase that you could tell your insurance company that it was a compact. The Daytona was nothing like the previous generations of the nameplate that were iconic with the muscle car segment (via Driving Todays).

Chrysler went on to sell the Daytona for quite a while before the car line was trimmed down for the 1990s. The Daytona had a lot of perks at the time but it was nothing like the Camaro IROC or Mustang models that were already being sold.

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Photo Credit: Fiat

The Fiat 500 Panda

What does a Fiat and a Panda have in common? Well, nothing really. But, the automaker thought that they’d showcase the small environmental impact that the car has by showcasing a panda in a crash. The idea was rather unique and it managed to gain some credible publicity for the car. The Fiat 500 has been one of the most successful compact cars on the road. You still see them all over and there are plenty of unique models to choose from such as the Abarth racing one (via Driving Todays).

Perhaps crashing a panda into a wall wasn’t the best move by the advertising agency, but the panda was computer-generated so you don’t have to worry about that. This is one of the more iconic automotive advertisements to come out of the last decade.

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Photo Credit: Porsche

The Cheapest Porsche Around

The Porsche has always been considered an expensive sports car that only successful people can afford. But in the 1960s and ’70s, that changed as the mid-engined Porsche was released to appease a young generation of shoppers. The car had a paltry price tag of $3,995. The cheap price got you a mid-engined sports car with reasonable handling and performance. Likewise, there was a lot to enjoy about the styling of the car too which was unique for the time (via Driving Todays).

Needless to say, this wasn’t the most popular Porsche ever made but it managed to sell quite well. To this day the mid-engined Porsche was one of the best marketing plans from the executives at Porsche yet. The unique design and one-of-a-kind performance were unlike anything else.

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