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Legacy: 1959

Legacy: 1959

By John Fry
posted: 02/08/2006

It was love at first sight. About the time that the automobile became a centerpiece of popular culture 80 years ago, skiing first emerged as a popular sport. The two took to each other like Barrymore and Garbo on film. Carmakers discovered that a powerful way to sell a new model was to surround it with society's latest young, healthy hipsters—skiers. Pierce-Arrow, Packard, Ford, Dodge and Cadillac ran magazine advertisements positioning their sleek, chrome-trimmed cars in the surroundings of the new, happening, with-it sport. Ads for Lincoln, Buick, DeSoto, Pontiac and Lasalle featured immaculately dressed skiers who looked like they'd stepped onto the snow from a Saks Fifth Avenue window. And it wasn't only the carmakers. Quaker State and Havoline motor oil, Timken bearings and Body by Fisher created ski-themed ad campaigns. When the rubber hit the snow, Firestone, Seiberling, Mason Cord and General Tire were there.

In one 1950s ad, the fin tails of a mighty Chrysler dwarfed the ski chalet in the background. Mercury introduced a glass-roofed model, the Sun Valley, in 1954. Dodge brought out the Aspen in 1976.

When Ford was desperately attempting to persuade the public to buy its new Edsel, nothing would do but to place the horse-collar-snouted car next to a slope and photograph a pair of skis leaning against the driver's door. "Making history by making sense, proclaimed Ford's Edsel ad campaign.

History was made, of course, when the name Edsel became a synonym for failure. Happily, it didn't rub off on the sport.

In 1971, Chevrolet handed out the first prizes ever awarded in a freestyle skiing contest (a $6,000 Corvette and $2,000 in cash). Subaru, in the 1970s, built its four-wheel drive business on skiing. The Japanese carmaker, and later Chevrolet, bought the rights to call themselves the official car of the U.S. Ski Team. Audi's sponsorship of the World Cup and Jeep's King of the Mountain race series continue the tradition.

Today, however, far fewer advertisements show cars in a ski setting. The automobile's relationship with its old partner could use some new ideas to kick-start sagging sales. How about a sleek hybrid SUV model, the TwinTip, encircled by admiring, environmentally aware skiers?


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