Attention-grabbing graphics are nothing new in the auto industry, sometimes borne out of marketing’s desire to celebrate an event and sometimes utilized to perform CPR on a model whose sales graph is flat lining. The following includes some schemes that are heavy on humor, some that are light on taste, and some that are tough on the eyes, but all are memorable.
- Datsun B210 Honey Bee: Datsun could claim the highest MPG rating in the USA in 1975 with its B210, and the Honey Bee was the optionless stripper model that had an unpretentious looking bee with a carefree expression buzzing along its flanks, typically over yellow paint.
- 1977-80 Chevrolet Monza Spyder: Originally designed for a Wankel-type rotary engine, the Monza was introduced in 1975 with a range of engines that included a 70hp four and a 5.7 V-8. In 1977 the Monza Spyder was introduced with graphics featuring a spider on the hood that appeared ready to pounce upon pedestrians that got too close to the cars’ front flank.
- 1976 Triumph TR7 Victory Edition: Introduced with truck-like “Spoker” wheels, vinyl roof and contrasting stripe package, the Victory Edition celebrated TR7 wins in SCCA competition. As successful as the car was on the track, those of us who lived with these cars on the road on a daily basis saw some irony in TR7 and victory being spoken in the same breath.
- Porsche 911 with Safety Paint: From 1973-1975, Porsche offered an option for the 911 called “safety paint,” consisting of three stripes running down the hood that terminated with 9-1-1 at the end by the front bumper. This tri-stripe design was loud enough to ensure rarity today; few cars were ordered with it new, and even fewer retain it after restoration.
- 1973 BMW 2002 Turbo: BMW added a KKK Turbocharger to the 2002 in 1973 to create the wonderful 2002 Turbo. This 170hp screamer displayed the now-famous M-type blue/blue/orange motorsport stripes and, in a mild display of Swabian arrogance, “2002 Turbo” spelled in reverse on the front spoiler making it legible in the rearview mirror of the motorist ahead. Upon gazing in his rearview and seeing it fill rapidly with the image of this speedy Bavarian, he could then accept the inevitability of being passed by this exotic BMW and just move over without protest. As presumptuous as this may have been, it was nonetheless often how an encounter with a 2002 Turbo would end.
- 1978 Corvette Indy Pace Car Replica: The 1978 model year ushered in a new greenhouse-type rear window for the Corvette as well as two limited editions. The more colorful of the two was the Indy Pace Car replica with two-tone black and silver paint scheme separated horizontally at the beltline by a red pinstripe. Just over 6,500 Corvettes were delivered with this striking package that included a set of decals that allowed, depending on the owner’s desire for attention, exact replication of the car used to pace the Indy 500.
- 1979 Lotus Esprit S2 World Championship Commemorative Edition: Lotus dominated the 1978 Formula One season, winning both Constructor and Driver’s titles with the revolutionary and beautiful black and gold John Player Special sponsored Type 79 F-1 cars. The following year they celebrated this achievement with an Esprit S2 resplendent in black with gold stripes along the length of the car with “World Champion” embedded in the stripe’s door portion to announce just what caliber of patron was arriving at the discotheque in this 44-inch high wedge. Interestingly, Lotus didn’t call this car a “John Player Special,” or JPS Esprit as they did with the previous black/gold JPS Europa, because by the time these Esprits were produced in 1979 the F-1 team had already moved on to Martini and Rossi sponsorship. A scant 26 of these came to the U.S. [Video: 1978 Lotus Esprit S2 Travels 900 Miles]
- 1979 Porsche 924 Sebring Edition: Sales of the 924 by 1979 were slowing sufficiently for Porsche to send 1,292 red 924’s to the U.S. with “Sebring 1979” on the fender and brilliantly contrasting yellow and white stripes running along the car’s flanks. The attack on the eyes continued inside with an interior that had bright red plaid inserts inset into black vinyl seats. These cars celebrated Porsche’s victory at Sebring that year — with a 935.
- 1978-79 Dodge Lil’ Red Express: This beast was based on Dodge’s half-ton short wheelbase pickup platform and announced its arrival with bright red paint, real wood accents on its rear panels, and large “Lil’ Red Express” graphics in gold on the doors. This combination, along with its vertical tractor trailer-type exhaust behind the cabin, made for an amusing visual treat — until it left you staring at its tailgate from your 928 or Z28 as it pulled away from you. A non-catalyst police-spec E58 360 motor ensured the best 0-60 sprint of any car in the U.S. in 1978 at 6.6 seconds.
- 1973-1981 Pontiac Trans Am: Being No. 1 on this list is a foregone conclusion here, and once GM VP Bill Mitchell was convinced that a huge bird on the hood of the Trans Am could be a winner, almost all 2nd generation T/A’s left the factory so equipped for the better part of a decade until the car’s makeover in 1982. The Phoenix graphic on a Trans Am has now transcended its automotive origins into popular culture, and has cycled by each turn of the decade from cool, to joke, to retro, back to cool.
The benefit of hindsight may allow us to laugh at a few of the cars above, but they were each a reflection of the times in which they were created while (usually) fulfilling their mission to generate attention and sales. In this context, these cars must be deemed successful since they hit the target for the PR exec as well as the floor salesman, all the while providing plenty of fodder for the automotive historians amongst us.