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Cold Start: The Outdoor Life

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It’s interesting to see just how much the connotation of certain phrases changes over time. For example, if you think about what kind of cars would be marketed as “the embodiment of the outdoor life,” you likely are thinking of Jeeps, Broncos, maybe Subarus. I bet you’re not thinking of a Lincoln with an interior that would get stained if you sat down in it with a mildly dirty thought, and yet in 1979, that’s what was happening.

Yes, “the outdoor life” in 1979 somehow meant a two-tone boat-sized coupé with colossal overhangs and less off-road ability than your grandmother, slathered in white vinyl, designed by Bill Blass, described on his website as “the first to blend the simplicity and practicality of sportswear with the elegance of the New York City elite.”

I think it’s fair to say that, for car marketing at least, the definition of “outdoor life” has changed substantially.

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34 Responses

  1. I owned a MarkV for about five years in my 20s and it was a great car. My commute was 50 miles a day of ruler-straight county roads so the handling was irrelevant and the back seat was a VERY nice place to sleep when I couldn’t drive home until the snowplows had been through the next morning. These days I think it’d be neat to swap a tesla powertrain into one of those, as that’d give it the kind of smooth silent elegance moving around that it has just sitting still. Plus you could put the entire battery back from a model S under the hood and STILL have room for like… six dead mobsters.

    1. I really looked hard into what it would take to do EV conversions with reasonable (200-250) mile range on old American luxury cars, because of all the reasons you just described – the smooth silent power delivery fits them to a tee. In my mind the epitome of that ethos are Buicks with Dynaflow transmissions – the whole purpose was to have a transmission that never had to shift! An EV powertrain can give you that same ‘smoothly gathering speed’ feeling, but better.
      Unfortunately battery price is still the Achilles heel of EV’s – there was no way I could run the numbers that didn’t conclude that you’d be $20,000 deep in batteries before ever starting the actual conversion work. I’d love an electric Lincoln town car, but if it cost $60k+ I couldn’t afford it – would anyone who could afford it want one?
      I then thought that you might be able to make the business case close if you EV retro-modded really desirable cars into daily usability, like 40’s-50’s Packards, but once the price gets into nosebleed territory companies like Icon has the market sowed up already, with EV Derelicts and similar. Ahh, well.

  2. I owned a 77 Continental and always lusted for the “upgrade” to a Mark. When I finally drove one it was a massive disappointment. Not as smooth as the Conti and even worse handling, if you can imagine that.

    These were cars designed to mimic greek architecture, and drove similarly.

    1. I did daily that for years. It was great. Thing had SIX cigarette lighters. Imagine all the USB stuff you could plug into something like that these days. Plus parking lots. I had people run into me (while I was stationary, mind you) three times in that car with no visible damage.

    2. There’s definitely something to be said for that sort of automotive purity. The tie-in with a maker of clothes for moderately-well-off people is just perfect in that sense.

      Unlike today’s cars masquerading as off-road vehicles thing, or Dodge’s whole “too bad Ed Hardy stuff isn’t popular anymore b/c man we’d soo be all over that!” ethos.

  3. This triggered memories of the column on the last page of “Outdoor Life” magazine.
    Pat McManus wrote with dry wit about outdoor stuff, but usually from the perspective of a kid growing up in the northwest – my favorite was an article entitled “Poof! No eyebrows!”
    I did my best to emulate the childhood he depicted, even to the point of losing an eyebrow to a kerosene experiment.

  4. Considering that the idea of the ‘Outdoor Life’ was a concept attached to a car marketed towards Barry White only confirms how much of a marketing machine the auto industry is. And BTW, the world would be a better place if Barry was still on it.

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