The 20 worst car commercials of all time

1991 Renault Clio car advert - Papa (left) and Nicole played by Max Douchin and Estelle Skornik
1991 Renault Clio car advert - Papa (left) and Nicole played by Max Douchin and Estelle Skornik

At first glance, the medium of television would appear ideal to promote the latest four-wheeled wares, popular cars sandwiched between even more popular programming – and all before brand awareness and marketing became exacting disciplines. But it can all go horribly wrong.

This article stared as an exercise in how to while away an hour or three over the festive season with the aid of YouTube and the utterly engrossing and addictive History of Advertising Trust webpage (for which we have included individual links below) and rapidly turned into a veritable feast of cringeworthy viewing.

So without further ado, and in time-honoured reverse format, we present the 20 worst commercials featuring our four-wheeled friends. Your eyes are not deceiving you...

20) 1982 Austin-Rover: “Value for Money”

The Austin Rover brand was still new to British drivers in 1982, and here we see Mr. Patrick Mower promoting the “brand new Ee-tal’s accent on low price” by dint of shouting quite a lot. And “even the new Ambassadors have added extras!”

19) 1957 Renault Dauphine: “A Penny-Farthing a Mile and You Travel In Style”

The Dauphine is regarded as the first car advertised on ITV – and who could resist transport in which “the built-in heater couldn’t be neater?”. NB: The more cynical viewers doubted the claim: “Whatever the load, she holds the road.”

18) 1964 Ford Consul-Cortina: Daz White Knight

The arrival of a soap company PR chap wearing an unconvincing medieval knight costume always broke the monotony of 1960s provincial life. As for his steed, a Consul-Cortina offered better weather protection than a white charger.

17) 1965 Vauxhall Victor FC: Persil

A variation on the Daz theme, with Vauxhalls in place of Fords and increasingly manic voiceover urging you to “Win five pounds!”.

16) 1965 Hillman Super Imp: “For Happy Go Luxury”

No one hearing Patrick “voiceover king” Allen and the incessant bongo drums could ever doubt that an Imp was as “Swinging London” as any Mini.

15) 1966 Vauxhall Viva HB: “All New Viva”

Or indeed that your new Viva was never less than “Jet Smooth – Whisper Quiet”.

14) 1969 Cleveland Petrol: “Tights for 4/11”

“Pulls the birds in, dunnit?” exclaims a young Christopher Timothy (for it is he) in proto-Robin Askwith mode. One of the most depressing fourteen seconds in screen history, despite the rather nice ‘Arrow series’ Sunbeam Rapier.

13) Win a 1964 Morris Mini-Minor: Danish Foods

One cannot help but feel sorry for the extras in their incredibly silly “Viking” headwear.

12) 1963 Shell with Joe Brown

Not quite as well-known as Shell campaigns starring Bing Crosby and Sammy Davis Junior – but equally groovy, Daddio.

11) circa 1965 National Benzole: “Getaway”

The reality may be an ageing Morris Oxford – but just a gallon of National Benzole petrol makes you the owner of a Jaguar E-Type or Mercedes-Benz W113 by proxy.

10) 1982 Austin Ambassador

The Ambassador was not a bad car – but precisely how many units did Longbridge hope to sell on the strength of this masterpiece?

9) 1961 Kellogg’s Corn Flakes: “Win a Ford Anglia De Luxe”

Remember – “every car equipped with transistor radio and fresh air heater”.

8) 1958 Thames 400E: “Bandwagon”

An incredibly swinging PR film featuring the Cy Laurie Jazz Band and a 400E powered by an “Engine That Will Send You”.

7) 1986 Renault 25: “One of Your Better Decisions”

A mini-drama that is even more self-consciously ‘1980s Yuppie’ than an edition of yacht-based drama Howard’s Way.

6) circa 1955 Terry-Thomas: BP Supermen

Anyone who does not find this one of the finest commercials of the decade is an absolute shower...

5) 1955 Ford Escort/Squire 100E: “For The Man With a Load On His Mind”

It should be (or at least should have been) a legal requirement for every advertisement frontman to a) wear Brylcreem and b) smoke a pipe.

4) 1962 Triumph Herald: Mobile Economy Run

And the wearing of flat hats for Herald owners should also be obligatory.

3) 1977 Leyland Cars promotion

Yes, the products of British Leyland are often too easy a target and yes, ‘Leyland Jokes’ ceased to be even mildly amusing circa 2001. However, this commercial does feature a French motorist stating “this Allegro is the best foreign car I have ever owned”, with all the passion of a bored tannoy announcer at Southampton Central station.

2) The 1973 Vauxhall Range

By the early 1970s, Vauxhall was in significant difficulties; it had lost its major Canadian export market, its owner General Motors was planning to remove its design independence, and there were many complaints about build quality and corrosion. So what better way to promote the entire range than have the well-known character actor Julian Orchard cavort among the limited edition Ventora VIP and Victor ES. While dressed as a giant gryphon/reject from The Wicker Man/Hieronymus Bosch nightmare...

1) 1988 Yugo 45/55

Or the joys of cinema-going in the 1970s and 1980s – faded carpets, Rothmans fumes, hot dogs that resembled a cross-ply tyre and the commercials for local businesses. The last-named were frequently more entertaining than the main feature thanks to their ultra-stilted acting and use of aged photos to showcase a business “only five minutes from this cinema”. This promotion for the Leicestershire dealership Swithland Motors is possibly the only production in which the entire cast is out-acted by a Yugo, albeit one featuring a “trendy white paint job!”.

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