A rather unusual book of fascinating content was published last year on the subject of motor-car advertising. The history of this particular PR activity was lavishly illustrated therein, with a commentary by no less an authority than Ashley Havinden, Vice-Chairman of W. S. Crawford Ltd., whose motor-accounts have included such giants as Chrysler, Ford, BP, Price’s Motorine and India Tyres.
For some unfathomable reason the publishers of this interesting book failed to send Motor Sport a review copy, so I do not propose to make further reference to it. However, it has turned my thoughts to some comparatively recent automobile advertising.
It is a matter of opinion whether you regard the BLMC publicity headed “YOU TOLD US WHAT WE COULD DO WITH THE AUSTIN MAXI!” as refreshingly honest or a disastrous admission of incompetence. This eye-catching layout, listing five shortcomings of the original Maxi, as proclaimed by well-known motoring journalists, is intended to show how the Maxi’s inferior design has been “made better”—the words in the advertisement, “but all the things we couldn’t improve, we kept”(!)—but it will be cold comfort to those lumbered with 1969/70 Maxis, the value of which must have descended rather rapidly since publication of this advertisement.
But surely this British Leyland advertisement contrasts pathetically with that daring copy issued on behalf of Volkswagen, where a picture of the inevitable Beetle is accompanied by the words “UGLY, SLOW, NOISY, EXPENSIVE”? A case of picking out VW features, not to apologise for them, but to justify them, in the comforting knowledge that they are the very factors which sell these remarkable German “monstrosities”, which, the advertisement goes on to explain, “may not be the greatest looker in the World” (but “curved panels are stronger than flat ones”), isn’t all that slow, isn’t noisy from the occupants’ aspect, and isn’t expensive for what you get.
Two other advertisements come to mind, as dis-similar in their way as the aforementioned BL and VW layouts. I am thinking of copy issued, respectively, on behalf of Peugeot and DAF. The Peugeot publicity came in two “bites”. The first layout proclaimed a number of significant Peugeot mechanical “firsts”, backed up by a reminder that this great French car has had some important historical race victories.
To claim initial credit for engineering achievements is a brave undertaking, because it is all too likely that some shooting-down will follow! Thus it was with Peugeot’s claim to have pioneered cross-flow cylinder heads in 1955. Readers of Motor Sport have already dealt with this claim, although confining themselves to o.h.c. engines. I would put forward as examples the Riley Nine and the 4 1/2-litre Invicta as examples of pre-WW2 cross-flows, although I feel that what the advertisement copy-writers were thinking of was crossflow of inlet and exhaust in conjunction with inclined overhead valves actuated from a base camshaft.
Be that as it may, the Peugeot innovation of special valve gear combining the simplicity of push-rod operation with the efficiency of a hemispherical head was foreseen by the late Georges Roesch by 1924, when he took out a patent for it in conjunction with Henry Wilfred Watts, at which period of time the Peugeot engineers were using engines either with side by side valves or with no valves at all. It was to be another 24 years before Peugeot used this simplified form of valve gear on a production car. [The development of such ingenious o.h. valve operation formed the subject of a special article in Motor Sport dated March, 1959.—Ed.]
Whether the other “firsts” claimed by Peugeot should stand I hand over to our knowledgeable readers—they number wet cylinder liners (1930), synchromesh on all four forward gears (1954) and rack-and-pinion steering (on all post-1945 Peugeots); personally I think that AC, Alvis, Mathis and Adler might fire shots which would hit the target!
To be fair, however, these dates were put forward not so much as representing clever pioneering by the famous French firm as showing that Peugeot design progressively, because their cars are planned to remain in production for at least ten years, “traditional features not being replaced just because they were used last time”.
But mention “firsts” and the arguments start, nevertheless…. But the Peugeot racing-car engineers were certainly first with the twin overhead camshaft four-valve-per-cylinder power unit, which enabled them to score those now historic and significant victories in the French Grands Prix of 1912 and 1913, backed up by domination of the 1913 Coupe de l’Auto race.
So it is all the more remarkable that, in the initial issue of this Peugeot advertising, the copy-writers ignored these classic wins, while claiming proudly that Peugeot won at Indianapolis in 1920. Remarkable because, although twin-cam Peugeots won the American 500-Mile Race in 1913 (Goux), in 1916 (Resta) and again in 1919 (Wilcox), in 1920 the Indianapolis Winner was Gaston Chevrolet, driving a Monroe-Frontenac. It is now generally known that the work of Peugeot’s racing-car draughtsman of 1912/14, the famous Ernest Henry, was slavishly copied by Sunbeam, Humber, Premier, Monroe, Talbot Darracq and Aston Martin, both in Peugeot and Ballot context. But to accept a Monroe-Frontenac as a Peugeot after a span of 50 years, when genuine Peugeot victories have been attained three times in this particular race, seems odd indeed!
It is probably a case of “a little learning proving dangerous”, or at all events proclaiming incompetence, because in a later version of this advertising copy, the wording relating to Peugeot competition victories was amended to read: “Indianapolis (once), Le Mans (twice); and the East African Safari (4 times)”. Presumably, the confused copy-writer was still thinking in terms of the 1920 Monroe Indianapolis victory, thereby depriving Peugeot of the credit for three undisputed victories in the American 500. But reference to two Le Mans victories is even more puzzling, and inept, if we agree that “Le Mans” to the motoring public implies the 24-hour GP d’Endurance for sports cars over the Sarthe circuit, a race which Peugeot has never won, under any of the French marathon’s five categories, and, in fact, has only entered on five occasions, never finishing higher than 5th.
What then is this copy-writer of Peugeot publicity thinking of? Not the two great Grand Prix victories, which obviously should have been included, nor the so-convincing pre-war Coupes de l’Auto coup, for these were attained at Dieppe and Boulogne. Not veteran Andre Boillot’s first-place in a 1927 fuel-consumption race, because that was gained at Montlhéry. Nor the fine string of successes which sleeve-valve Peugeots scored in the Touring Car GP of the ACF in 1923, 1924 and 1925, because these took place at Tours, Lyons and Montlhéry, respectively. Peugeot did gain two firsts in a Le Mans race, but I find it hard to believe that this 1970 copy-writer remembered how Jules Goux’s Peugeot defeated an SPA and a Crespelle in the obscure Coupe de Ia Sarthe in 1912 or that Paul Zuccarelli used a Lion-Peugeot to beat a Schneider and a Vinot to the finishing post in the equally unimportant GP de France, which was merely the 3-litre class of this same race. It seems much more likely that what he wanted to set down were those great Peugeot French Grand Prix successes of 1912 and 1913 but that he thought all French races must inevitably take place at Le Mans! “A little learning…”.
Hardly had I finished dissecting that Peugeot advertisement before I discovered another, published last summer, in which even more obscure claims were perpetuated under the heading: “The Family Crest” and the proud lion badge of Souchaux-Montbéliard. This copy definitely said that the Peugeot 201 was the first car in the World with independent front suspension, thus showing ignorance of or contempt for Sizaire-Naudin, Davis, Lancia, Morgan, Tatra, Röhr, Harris, Léon, Laisne, etc. It also referred to two Le Mans victories—”A winner at Le Mans, 1937″ and ditto, 1938. But, although these may well have been those two Le Mans victories which were in the copy-writer’s mind when he prepared this year’s advertisements, it provides no enlightenment. In 1937 the 24-hour race in the Sarthe was won by a 3.3 Bugatti 57S driven by Wimille and Benoist (what a grand French victory!) and in 1938 by Chauboud and Trémoulet, driving a Delahaye.
Nor does the Index of Performance provide a solution, this having been won in 1937 by the Bugatti, in 1938 by a Simca (of under 600 c.c., incidentally). I think this optimistic (I could say dishonest) PRO was making use of Peugeot’s class-win of 1938, when the 2-litre category went to a Darl’ Mat Peugeot driven by de Cortanze/Contet. By doing this he puts himself in the disreputable position of Rootes who, some years earlier, were fond of advertisements dominated by an enormous “I”, with the claim, in very small letters, that one of their cars had won “the class for 1,600-1,601-c.c. two-door saloons starting from London with a blonde girl driver wearing yellow lipstick”, or something. But in 1937 even this class-win stuff won’t wash for Peugeot, because they were beaten in the 2-litre class by an Adler (of 1.7-litres capacity).
To further complicate the issue, the claim was made that Peugeot won at Indianapolis in 1921. Now it is just possible to concede the Henry-Peugeot influence in that Monroe-Frontenac which won the 1920 “500”, although it had coil instead of magneto ignition and the carburetter on the near-side whereas Peugeot had the inlet manifolding on the off-side. But the Frontenac in which Tommy Milton finished first in the 1921 “500” on Independence Day had a straight-eight engine and Peugeot had not built any eight-cylinder racing engines. In fact, this Frontenac had a Miller engine. So whatever was the publicity chap selling us, this time ? Peugeot seemed badly to need a new British advertising agent! You may say, why drag up such ancient history, anyway. But I am only indulging in this copywriter’s pastime, for he goes back as far as the great races of 1891-96, with equally unfortunate surmises.
The DAF advertisement to which I have referred is the exact opposite of Peugeot’s. Whereas Peugeot are advertising their pioneering, the makers of the clever little Dutch car boldly admit to plagiarism. Their advertisement says “Thank you, Bentley, Rover, Volkswagen, Rootes”—for introducing them to various items they have been glad to incorporate in their own product. Bentley for making the first move in supplying automatic transmission as standard in 1953, Rover for their practical use of stainless steel trim. VW for air-cooling and Rootes for its one-year unlimited-mileage warranty, to quote from the DAF advertising copy. I have said that claiming “firsts” can be unwise. DAF do no such thing, except when referring to the Bentley Company “seeing where the future lay” in respect of automatic transmission. This is a sort of “let’s all be friends together” kind of’ advertisement, ingeniously linking the little belt-driven car from Holland with some of motoring’s great names. But they didn’t get away with it! A well-known glossy-girlie magazine found it necessary to comment:—
”In a sly advertisement intended to convey that Holland’s automatic runabout combines the best of everything, the Daf firm proclaims: ‘Thank you, Bentley, Rover, Volkswagen, Rootes’. Reading on to discover what the thanks are for, you may be surprised to find that Bentley is credited with ‘seeing where the future lay way back in 1953’, and making ‘the first move in fitting automatic transmission as standard equipment’. Rover, no less surprisingly, is acclaimed for ‘the practical idea of using stainless steel to outwit rust’. Finally, Volkswagen gets the nod for an air-cooled engine and Rootes, believe it or not, for its one-year unlimited mileage warranty.
“All these advances, so the message goes, are incorporated in the Daf—and good luck to it. But since so much care has gone into this useful little car it seems a pity that the management couldn’t find itself an ad. agency capable of getting the facts right.
“Why, for example, should Bentley be addressed at all, when no such makers have existed for nearly 30 years? Bentley as an independent entity consists of a radiator and hubcaps fixed on to a Rolls-Royce. [They mean radiator shell.—Ed.] As for ‘seeing where the future lay back in 1953’, this was surely a mild feat to celebrate all these years later, since it only involved copying what Cadillac was already doing, right down to importing their transmission.
“Similarly, with Rover. If they had ‘the practical idea of using stainless steel’ it’s only fair to point out that the idea wasn’t theirs. Stainless steel has been in use on cars since time immemorial, becoming a commonplace as the price was dropped. Rootes, who get a word of praise for their warranty, are equally undeserving, since the policy was simply handed down from Chrysler (who’ve been using it for years) after the take-over. Indeed, as Daf comment, they themselves have been offering a similar warranty since 1959.
“Perhaps Daf feel that, as outsiders on the British scene, they’re required to be charitable towards native rivals. The spirit is agreeable but the word for the advertisement is Daft.”
As the magazine’s Editor/Publisher is a Buick-owning American this comment is perhaps natural; but rather unkind. Not so much daft, this advertisement, I would say, as amusing, and serving its purpose, which is to draw attention to the DAF’s several good features, shared with far more costly motor cars.
The moral of this article might be that too verbose copy-writing is best avoided. On the other hand, I remember a sad occasion when a one-word layout went wrong. Morris had bought the front cover of a weekly motor journal. That journal used to announce a leading editorial article in a punch line at the top of the front cover. On the week in question this article related to a very primitive and untrustworthy horseless-carriage. So the punch-line was worded to relate to the description of it. Hence—”The World’s Most Unreliable Car— MORRIS”. Some very crimson faces must have resulted, if nothing worse!
In the great gimmicky game of automobile PR, which is your favourite advertisement and slogan?—W.B.