Cold Start: Is This A Cult?

Cs Mercmarquis

What is it about American car advertisements of the 1970s that feel so, I don’t know, culty? Look at this 1977 Mercury Marquis ad: there’s just something about the way the woman and the two kids are posed, the sorta-Victorian clothes, the manicured lawn, the stiffness, the formality, the heavy-handed opulence, it all just makes this whole thing feel like The Exalted Leader is about to come out and be lovingly ushered into his Marquis by those three and likely a throng of near-identical adoring acolytes. It’s creepy!

Also worth noting here are the headlight covers on this Mercury which are, in an incredible fit of ’70s perverse opulence, upholstered. Yes, those are padded, upholstered headlight covers, complete with a weird little fake coat of arms in the center.

The ’70s were some weird-ass times, friends.

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54 Responses

  1. Can anyone tell me why all these 70’s era car photos are taken at sundown?

    Was it because those hardworking buyers were at a job all day, then finally get off work, then grabbed the family and raced to a dealership, then asked for that same baby-crap green Merc that matched photo of the one with lighting roundabout 7:43 pm?

      1. I mean surely the cult is following ‘the light’ but what nobody realizes is that the light is actually just some obscure tail light on a pedestal. Legend says when it illuminates the world will be plunged into relative darkness.

  2. What a delightfully ugly car!

    It totally looks like something a cult leader would drive. The upholstered headlamp covers with the fake coat of arms is grotesque. Given the fuel crisis of the time, marketing departments somehow determined people wanted cars that were commonly perceived as ugly back then, rather than tripling highway fuel economy and greatly improving highway performance by streamlining the crap out of the cars to a form with less than 1/3 the overall drag as could have been done, and the automakers wouldn’t have even needed to downsize the engine displacement to do it.

    1. It is what people wanted then, though. Consumers had their flirtation with economy cars between 73 and 74, but as the immediate memory of the oil embargo faded, people went right back to buying gas swilling land yachts.

      People wanted cars to have what where thought of as limousine or limousine-like styling cues to create an image of wealth and luxury

      Most of the cues could be traced back to prewar coachbuilt luxury cars in one way or another. The padded vinyl was supposed to emulate the fact that big limousine bodies in the ’20s and ’30s used to often be made of a wood frame with a fabric exterior skin to keep weight down.

      1. Large cars like the Tatra T77A, Citroen DS, Horsch 930 S, Hotchkiss Gregiore, were all built before the 70s and definitely commanded a presence on the road and had a very supple ride quality. They were also much more streamlined than the typical cars of the 70s like that Gran Marquis, the Tatra’s drag coefficient of 0.21 in particular not ever beaten by a mass produced car until the Tesla Model S PLAID came out almost 90 years later than it!

        Most of the cars of the 70s have not held up well. Aesthetically, they are eyesores. Perfect vehicles to make goth rides out of though! The baroque factor is strong in those.

    1. A recruit wants initiation into the Cult of the Marquis?

      First you must prove you are a true masochist. The padding on the headlight covers is to (heh, heh) soften the blow in case the initiation rite goes a bit awry. I’m sorry but I can’t reveal more except that it involves a crosswalk, a blindfold, and a virgin too young to have a driver’s license at the wheel…

      To reach Mark V level you must buy 2000 miles worth of gasoline ( premium, natch) for the car while taking a summer vacation with your wife, two little kids , your mother-in-law and her poodle.

      1. It’s a good movie, done as techno horror with a good creeping sense of unease, as compared to the campy (WTF?) remake.

        Thematically, manages to hit both feminism and urban decay, so it’s as high-70s as the Mercury pictured here!

  3. Eh, not quite a cult. She is the wife of a fast rising Illinois politician currently running for governor, but with his sights set clearly on the White House. What he doesn’t know is that he married a succubus who is using her demonic powers to give him the illusion of charisma and wisdom that many voters fall for. Once she achieves her goal of putting hubby in the Oval Office, she will use her powers to control him and Congress to enact laws and wage wars to prep the world for the end times. People’s rights will be trampled, dictators will engage in battle, the world will burn like never before!!!

    1. ultimately Big Jim Thompson realized that the grift to be had in Illinois was in fact sufficient, no national office needed. For God’s sake, he established a ‘Foreign Commerce Office’ and insisted he take all the meetings himself, in person, in every overseas country worth going to

  4. There’s something odd about that picture besides the woman with the two girls… I know, I don’t think I ever saw a Grand Marquis of this vintage without a vinyl roof. Vinyl light covers, but no vinyl roof. The first corporate job I had post college in the 70s had all Grand Marquis company cars. I just remember they being cushy, quiet and actually adequately powered with reasonable handling. Not bad cars at all

  5. That ad is the immediate answer to those creepy Chrysler ads of the late 60s and early 70s. They’re the ones with the creepy old men clutching the young girls who are gazing into the camera, silently begging for someone to just come and help them escape from whatever hell is going on after the cameras are put away.

  6. Apparently, 1970s automobile marketing staffs firmly believed that all Americans longed to be European royalty. Since these marketeers had never set foot in Europe, their images of Scottish hunting parties, French estates, and Italian castles fall into the uncanny valley.

    To bolster my case I give you:
    Mercury Marquis – a Marquis doesn’t need a fake family crest on their headlights
    Chrysler LeBaron – and Barons will not be found in Chryslers
    Pontiac LeMans – a French racetrack they couldn’t find on a map
    Chevy Monza – ditto for Italy
    Ford Granada – an ugly car named for a beautiful Spanish city
    Ford Torino – not so ugly car named for a lovely Italian city
    Pontiac Grand Prix – which actually means “big prize”, well it was big
    Buick LeSabre – a light maneuverable sword in France, seems appropriate
    Buick Riviera – just try to drive one in Nice
    Dodge Monaco – ditto for Monaco
    and let’s not forget…
    Corinthian leather – were the ancient Greeks known for their leather?

    1. Well, LeBaron was a legitimately high end coachbuilding & design house that Chrysler acquired and gradually turned into just a model name (see also Fleetwood and Vanden Plas), but it is true that the name was always a contrived brand that was just picked to sound fancy

  7. I should point out that those are *not* upholstered headlight covers but upholstered-*look* headlight covers. I suspect they’re a single plastic/fiberglass molding with the chrome surround and coat-of-arms added as separate pieces. I’ve never taken one apart to confirm, but notice the “padded” part is body color, even when the car has a contrasting vinyl top.

    There’s a similar panel between the taillights that IS color-matched to the vinyl top, but that entire piece has the padded-look texture, the headlight cover if it is all one piece has a significant smooth’n’shiny surface.

  8. Since this offering is also from the Lincoln-Mercury Division (as was the Mercury Cougar from last week) and both featured models that seemed “cult like” I’m wondering if both the Marquis and Cougar print ads came from the same advertising agency?

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