With the recent demise of both the muscle car and the Supermini I've been reminiscing about the glory days, which weirdly led me to a striking conclusion. They are the same idea, just taken in two very different directions, with the mid 2000s being to the supermini what the 1960s were to the Muscle car.
Cast your mind back to the 1960s, a cultural revolution was happening to the western world as pop music, fashion and the jet set way of life permeated into our subconscious. The very embodiment of 1960s Britain was the Mini, a small yet practical, frugal yet nippy little car that was the darling of both the working class and high society. It's enormous success created the Supermini sector as other manufacturers tried to capture the essence of the Mini.
In stark contrast 1960s America was having its own revolution, but rather than small they went big, and rather than frugality they went for outright speed, it was the Muscle car and it was unapologetically American. The Muscle car thrived as Ford, Chrysler and General Motors all competed to become the number one brand for this new sector of vehicle. It all started in 1964 with the Pontiac GTO.
After a handful of years it was clear that the Muscle car would define America. With this new class of car came a new way of marketing, aimed squarely at the younger generation. But how do you do that? Well by stirring up emotion, conveying speed and being just downright mad. Here are a few of my favorite examples from this time period.
The 66 Dodge Cornet that encouraged you to be a rebel.
Chevrolet focused on factory customization of the Camaro.
Shelby decided to invent new acronyms. Who new a chicken farmer could also be a wordsmith?
Whereas the Charger's marketing material went for a more racey strategy.
The Supermini on the other hand was a late bloomer that despite seeing some success throughout the 80s and 90s it was post millennium where it had its heyday. Just like 60s America every European mainstream manufacturer had one if not two cars in what was a bulging sector. But how did this happen, and why did it take 40 years? To understand how and why the Muscle car and the Supermini became so popular you need to look at the generations and particularly when they came of age.
If we start with the mid 60s, this is where the oldest of the Baby Boomers were coming of age, a whole new segment of society that wanted freedom, to enjoy life and not have to endure wartime life like their parents. Fast forward to the mid 2000s and well would you look at that, the oldest of the Millennials were also coming of age, they also wanted freedom, to enjoy life and to not have to live the stuffy keeping up with the Jones's life like their parents.
Unlike the Boomers, Millennials also saw huge advancements in technology with mobile phones, the internet and iPods all maturing. All those things were forming part of the millennial identity and marketing departments the world over wanted their product to be "the one". Pedaling your wares to this new generation had to be cool, sexy and fun. Contrasting colors, conveying ways of life and catchy music was all you needed. Combine that with manufacturers ever increasing Supermini lineup and you have some of the wildest, strangest and downright cringiest marketing material you've ever seen, well since the 60s era Muscle car ads (I'm looking at you Dodge).
Peugeot thought that their customers were the peak of noughties cool, wearing a half matrix half man
about town look.
The Mini Cooper S get you laid. Admittedly you can't put that in a brochure, but this is essentially what this extract and image suggests. Who would have thought that Mini were more racey than Dodge's 60's marketing team.
Italians are known for flamboyance and large displays of emotion, hence this. The Fiat Cheetah, sorry Panda 100HP.
Heaven is a half pipe, if i die before I wake at least in heaven i can own a Citroen C2. I'm pretty sure that's how the song went.
The tide is high but i want an special edition MG ZR.
Are we starting to see a pattern here? Not that both Dodge and Mini are absolute horn dogs, but that during their respective periods both Muscle car and Supermini manufactures weren't scared to look a little silly, if you could be cool and edgy that might just convert into sales, taking that risk was the very embodiment of both Baby Boomers and Millennials. If America had its Muscle car era, Europe had its Supermini era and although they couldn't be more different, the marketing, variety and overall ethos was exactly the same.
Today both sectors are on their last legs, as the dominance of the SUV and the focus on EVs takes hold we've lost nearly all the major cars that once conquered these sectors and we've also lost that magic marketing.
Take for instance the Puma, the car that killed the Fiesta. Apparently "Its not about demanding attention" but "expressing your unique style". With a beige SUV?!
Fiat's 500e isn't named after an animal, but it does recharge your emotions with such thrilling visual imagery as a plug...
Sadly, Mini's libido has taken a nose dive. They love to feel electric apparently.
With demise of the Supermini we're now left with gray-scale brochures, lack luster colour palettes and a choice of shapes that makes a North Korean barbershop look varied. No longer is it all about being interesting, standing out and having fun, its instead about being just another person. I'm sure we'll all agree that yes the cars have got better, but are they as memorable? I don't think they are.