Designer Cars We Remember

Posted by
The Ford Motor Company cashed in on designer cars, utilizing four famous designers to brand its beautiful Mark V Continentals. (Compliments Ford motor Company)

While test driving a 2014 Chrysler 300H John Varvatos Luxury Edition recently, it brought back memories of the many designer and performance cars that have graced American showrooms.

Varvatos, by the way, is the noted menswear American contemporary fashion designer who not only lends his name to the 300H, he OKs and designs the numerous style accompaniments and special touches. The result is hands down one of the best looking cars on the road today.

As for using designer names for cars, it’s nothing new. Ford enhanced the “designer footprint” practice in the mid-1970s ala its Eddie Bauer Fords and Lincoln Mark Vs, the latter featuring four famous fashion designers: Blass, Cartier, Givenchy and Pucci. (See advertisement) Lincoln’s designer trend actually dates back to 1968 when Cartier, the world famous watch maker, added a nice “timepiece” to the center dashboards of the big Lincoln Sedans.

However, before Lincoln went designer full bore, there were other surprising examples, specifically, American Motors Corporation (AMC) and its family of less expensive cars.

AMC’s efforts centered around the Hornet, Gremlin, Javelin and Matador, starting with one of the best looking mid-sized wagons of the decade in the 1972 and 1973 Hornet Sportabout. Special designer Gucci Sportabouts appeared, with special interiors and exterior badges. Next came a Levi interior Gremlin X, and then a Pierre Cardin Javelin. Even the top line Matador got into the branding game, releasing a good looking Dr. Oleg Cassini AMC Matador.

This AMC Matador Gucci was more refined than Sportabout and looked good inside and out. (Photos compliments of former AMC).

Still, I always went for performance marketing names, the likes of the George Hurst (AMC Scrambler) and Mark Donohue (Javelin/AMX). Both are performance and racing legends, and were joined by other racing legends like Carroll Shelby with his Cobras, Mustangs and Chargers; Hurst again with the 442 W30 Oldsmobiles and Dick Harrell and Don Yenko, both big names of cars coming from Nickey Chevrolet in Chicago and Yenko in Canonsburg, Pa., respectively, with transplanted big block Chevy engines.

Instead of designers, I favored cartoon character based cars, like the “beep-beep” Plymouth Roadrunners, complete with the Warner Brothers famous “Bird” that was always pursued by the Coyote in the cartoons. Matter of fact, instead of the sibling Dodge being named “Super Bee,” I always felt Chrysler missed the boat by not calling Super Bee the Dodge Coyote. In retrospect, however, the Coyote’s accident prone and failed chases always found the Roadrunner winning. Thus, and in keeping with utilizing the name and graphics they paid $50,000 to use, Chrysler’s “Coyote Duster” ram air intake system did appear on its muscle cars for several years, much to my liking.

AMC Gucci Hornet Sportabout interiors were, well, loud. The Gucci Sportabouts were available in 1972 and 1973, with nearly 6,000 sold.

As for spokespeople, Ricardo Montalban was the top car man of the mid 1970s. Already a famous actor that starred in the long running TV hit “Fantasy Island,” Montalban added to his famous resume as the face and voice of Chrysler’s new 1975 Cordoba personal size luxury car, with special emphasis on its Corinthian leather interior.

There may not have been a “Montalban Cordoba,” but the millions of Cordobas sold came with the help of what I feel is one of the most famous car advertising campaigns ever. Chrysler, by the way, released a Frank Sinatra Edition Imperial in 1981-1983, but the good looking car was short lived due to the fact that manufacturers were downsizing its large luxury cars.

In ending, I’ll reach out to my many readers and ask what designers, performance legends or movie and TV stars do you remember in car promotion, like Farah Fawcett and her Mercury Cougar ads? I’ll put together a hodgepodge list of the best replies, with your name in print…just like the designers, performance legends and movie stars.

(Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and He encourages reader interaction on collector cars, auto nostalgia and old-time racing at or USPS mail 116 Main St., Towanda, Pa. 18848).


Greg Zyla

Greg Zyla