Mopar®’s Mad Men: Part III

10 months ago Gallery Showcase

In Part 1 and Part 2 of Mopar®’s Mad Men, former creative director and copywriter Jim Ramsey gave us insight into the memorable and iconic print ads he and his associates created while at Young and Rubicam (Y&R) during the height of Plymouth’s muscle car movement which dominated virtually all of Detroit’s heavy hitters. With Ford, Mercury, Chevy, Oldsmobile, Pontiac and even Buick all creating big-block boulevard bruisers, no one was left out. All the major players, including underdog American Motors, were in the game of providing young performance buyers more power, image and “cool-factor” over their competition. With Jim leading the performance advertising initiatives at Y&R, he oversaw some of the most marvelous examples of print advertising ever to be seen in the industry.

Vintage advertisement

By 1969, sales of the Plymouth Road Runner were going gangbusters and rolling over the competition. Y&R was going full throttle in developing the marketing and advertising of these machines. So successful was this new performance car that it was named MotorTrend Car of the Year for 1969. Jim and his team of creative geniuses quickly went to work developing print ads that let the world know about this huge accomplishment and milestone for the Plymouth brand. Instead of using photographs for the ads, Y&R went a different route. “The art director at the time, Larry Yearsley, hired an illustrator from one of the art studios in downtown Detroit. We wanted to exaggerate the car’s features enthusiasts liked, such as the hood scoop, wheels, tires and the four-speed shifter. Because of this, these colorful ads were a huge hit and really grabbed the attention of the magazine readers,” noted Jim.

Vintage advertisement

Jim’s work has graced the pages of Hot Rod, Car Craft, Motor Trend, Car and Driver, Super Stock and a dozen other enthusiast magazines seen by millions of gearheads all over the world.

Vintage advertisement

Here’s some insight from Jim, the man who not only penned these fabulous print ads, but also had a hand in their creative development – from inception to client approval.

1969 “YODDEN BRRROWWW”

Vintage advertisement

“It’s the sound of the car. They have souls and personality. These cars make noise, they rumble and shake, and they have a loud exhaust and I wanted to capture that in a print ad. I remember when Tom Hoover (Godfather of the 426 HEMI®) saw the ad, he asked me what’s up with the ‘Yodden Brrrowww’ so I explained to him that’s what a 440 or HEMI sounds like when you step on the gas. I even had a friend who wrote for Esquire Magazine, and he picked up on it. He called me one day asking what was up with the copy and when I explained it to him, he totally understood.”

1970 PLYMOUTH RAPID TRANSIT SYSTEM

Vintage advertisement

“The rationale for this Rapid Transit ad was simple: In our ads, we told everyone that Plymouth had something to offer that went beyond a line of cars. A system that included high-performance parts and how-to information. With Plymouth Super Stock and Pro Stock racers like Sox and Martin Plymouth and Don Grotheer conducting Supercar Clinics, Don Prudhomme and Tom McEwen in their “Hot Wheels” Funny Cars doing racing demonstrations, plus the commitment of Chrysler-Plymouth product planners, stylists and management to keep offering more. Look close and we even reference what was happening on Woodward Avenue during this period. Just to make sure everyone was on board, the Y&R team put everything together in one fanciful ad, including the personalities who were behind it all. We wanted to make them proud that they were part of the ‘System.’ Sometimes the purpose of advertising is to rally the troops internally at the company running the ads. This was one of those occasions. There was a great mentality within Plymouth to connect with performance car enthusiasts. We were selling the idea of the system that included not just the cars, but performance parts and technical information. We still kept this ad clever, irreverent and one of the most ‘inside’ ads we ever did.” 

1970 PLYMOUTH SUPERBIRD 

Vintage advertisement

“Plymouth needed an ad for the Superbird because everyone knew up front it was going to be tough to sell because of its extreme appearance. I had always wanted to do some sort of tongue-in-cheek ad that suggested whiskey runners would like the performance and handling of Plymouth muscle cars. The best-known moonshiner was Junior Johnson, who actually had a HEMI-powered Chrysler that he used for ‘making deliveries.’ With its outlandish looks and overt ties to NASCAR, I imagined the Superbird would make a delightful vehicle of choice for a new breed of moonshiner – all part of the fantasy portrayed in the ad, of course. We shot the ad in the hills of Tennessee. Photographer Dick James, art director Larry Yearsley and I went to Kingsport, Tennessee. We found a still on display in a general store, so we rented it and transported it to the location with the weathered shack out in the country around Kingsport. The ‘actors’ in the ad are all real people we found at a country auction near Kingsport. When we offered them money to be in the photograph, they didn’t want to do it. So, we offered to pay them one-half up front and the remainder for showing up the next day. Problem was, some of them used the up-front cash to buy pints of whiskey and were drunk as lords when they showed up for the shoot. Somehow, we got them under control and got the photograph done.”  

Jim Ramsey’s imaginative thumbprint was put on many iconic Plymouth muscle car print ads from 1967 to 1971. Here’s just a small sample of his work from an era when a brand’s reputation was earned on the drag strips and Woodward Avenue. It was up to the advertising mad men at Y&R, huddled in their offices on Fort Street in Detroit, to developed and create ingenious ad copy, fantastic artwork and innovative layouts that forever changed not just the way high-performance cars are marketed, but how to connect with the youthful buyers.

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