By 1987, fuel efficiency wasn’t such an issue anymore, but aerodynamic profiles were part of our car culture. So, the formal-roof Mercury Cougar suggested its lines helped keep it glued to the pavement.
As the 1980s wore on, “aerodynamics” became a buzzword throughout the industry. The study of how car bodies flow through the air became a crucial new piece of the post-OPEC II puzzle for carmakers worldwide. As GM would tout in more than one of its ads, half of a car’s fuel is used to simply push air out of the way. Bluff car noses with upright grilles went the way of Nehru jackets, while roller disco slicked-back faces, high tails, flush glass, and air-diverting shapes were suddenly the order of the day.
Attention to aerodynamics yielded all manner of tangible benefits: quieter cabins, increased fuel efficiency at speed, better acceleration, increased control in windy and high-speed conditions, and stylish good looks (or so the ad copy would like you to believe)—all at the same time. Some car companies hailed this attention to detail as “free horsepower,” which sounded good when the ability to harness 200 horsepower sounded like a pipe dream that we would never see again.
In an effort to make their cars look modern and high-tech—even if, in some cases, an ancient chassis was hidden underneath—the marketing folks at the world’s car companies took a crack at explaining aerodynamics, and why it was important. To varying degrees of success.
Seeing these ads, it’s obvious that the idea was a new one for consumers in the early 1980s and, as time went on, the benefits of aerodynamic attention to detail were better understood by the public at large. Witness the early ’80s domestic car ads that carefully walk you through the benefits of fealty to the wind, while by the end of the decade such notions are practically a given. Also interesting: This isn’t just for sports cars—the principles of aerodynamics were being harnessed to make the general new-car buyer a better-informed (and ultimately more efficient) customer. European carmakers’ ads, assuming a greater enthusiast base than the general American car-buying public, often gave the vibe that they knew you knew what aerodynamics was all about, and got on with pitching their wares.
Porsche went deep with its Series of Technical Papers ads from the ’80s, and touted its 70 years of experience in the field. They added lift and downforce to the equation, with a new 924 coupe used as an example.
As you might imagine from a car company with fighter aircraft in its family tree, Saab eschewed sharp corners on its 900 Turbo. Even the park-bench 5-mph bumpers were said to be aerodynamically shaped.
Lincoln’s Mk VII was the first new car sold in America that eliminated sealed-beam headlamps in favor of flush-style units that had been the standard in Europe for decades; the aero headlamps quickly became common.
Audi leaned hard on “the future is now!” when the new 5000 came out for 1983. The company was right: Ford’s 1986 Taurus looked a lot like it. Audi’s flareless wheel openings and smooth silver surfaces suggested Teutonic precision.
New for 1988, the front-wheel-drive “GM- 10″ Cutlass Supreme held up Oldsmobile’s reputation as GM’s technology leader by advertising a .297 coefficient of drag—”one of the most aerodynamic cars in the world.”
This corporate GM ad from 1983 showed a Cavalier in a wind tunnel to help explain the hows and whys of making aerodynamically efficient cars—part of a program that helped double GM’s average fuel economy in just eight years.
You know, the whole “more aerodynamic than a Porsche 928” boast was thick in ads of the day, like this one for the 1983 Toyota Celica GT-S.
While Ford didn’t club you over the head with tech talk in this 1983 LTD ad from Canada, the idea of using just 6.7 horsepower to drive at 50 mph (and emphasizing its rakish nose profile) brought the point home.
Isuzu’s rear-drive Impulse coupe cleverly sported a clamshell hood that minimized shutlines, and roof-wrapped doors. Isuzu creepily called it “the private fantasy of world renowned designer, Giorgio Giugiaro.”
Buick broke out the mathematical equations to help explain the shape of its restyled-for-1981 Regal coupe to mainstream America. Colored bars over the roof suggested airflow, even as the illustrated Regal was still.
You couldn’t even see most of Pontiac’s third-generation Trans Am in this two-page spread ad from late 1982. Yet you got the idea that when the wind was no obstacle, ultimate performance could be yours.
Mercedes managed to turn its brick of a 1980 S-class into a paragon of aerodynamic virtue: The windshield molding ducted air (and rain, and slush…) away from the windshield, and kept the wipers pressed to the glass.
Honda ads were about efficiency and engineering leading to a long-lasting purchase, but the new-for-1984 Civic Hatchback points out the subtle roof spoiler and doors that concealed roof drip rails.