Peter York On Ads: Vauxhall Zafira

Like Old El Paso tortilla dinners but a lot less fun

Vauxhall was once the most gorgeously tatty name. Starting with Vauxhall Gardens, the 18th-century place of parade, somewhere to meet a raving beauty with rotten teeth and catch the pox. A setting for one of those High Concept middlebrow novels, half Peter Ackroyd, half Louis de Bernières. Then there's Vauxhall Bridge Road, as richly evocative as old Camden Town, with its rows of cafes pickled in the 1960s and 1970s. Independent, pre-fast food places with modestly priced three-course lunches somewhere between £5 and £10. Meat boiled to bits and then tastily brown-sauced up. With two veg. Crème caramel to follow. Coffee featuring a variety of plant extracts. Tiny, non-specific waitresses from Latin Europe, or elderly men in old suits. Amazingly there's still a fair bit of VBR left.

My 1980s art-school friends felt similarly attracted to the wonderfully tacky recent history of the Vauxhall motor marque. They were drawn to the styles and names of those Vauxhall 1960s dream cars, which were scaled-down versions of what Vauxhall's owner, General Motors, was doing in Detroit. The early 1960s Vauxhall Cresta with its low, wide radiator mouth, its elegant fins with their elongated oval rear lights and its two-tone colour scheme - art-school people particularly treasured the pink and white colourway - echoed the late epic period of Harley Earl.

Harley Earl was head of styling at GM for decades. He was responsible for all those giant American dream-car looks; those utterly astonishing creatures which made Brits with aspirations but no prospects think there was a God and he'd made another better place over there. (IoS contributor Stephen Bayley wrote the key book about Earl - it's sat by my bed for years. The cars are so impossibly beautiful it doesn't matter that they were environmentally wicked and technically hopeless.)

But in the 1970s and 1980s, Vauxhall of Luton - like Ford of Dagenham, a mighty engine of working-class aspiration and employment - became part of the terrible competitive game of global volume car-making. The Vauxhall Something would be the Opal Something-Else. Engines from Germany, transmissions from Timbuktu, all stuck together in Bedfordshire. Global cars like the Vectra and the Corsa, invented in computers and wind-tunnels and cost engineered to minimum risk shapes. Even their mothers couldn't love them.

Vauxhall, re-organised to high heaven by GM, developed a talent for severely under-estimating the market's changing tastes in the 1990s and became a cruel national joke, an aside in new comedians' patter ("There I was in me Corsa, just turning up Fairview Close...") and a thoroughly devalued brand. Vauxhall ownership became embarrassing.

Things could only get worse, and they have. The latest Vauxhall commercial is for a small car that is so unmemorable you instantly forget both its name and look.

It's Zorro. A Zorro-flavoured commercial, a Zorro tie-in when most sensible marketers would want a Zorro Total Exclusion Zone. The brand values of Zorro are a bit like Old El Paso tortilla dinners, but not nearly such fun. And it's Zorro Two, with Mrs Michael Douglas and Antonio Banderas (did the Hispanic box-office underwrite the sequel?)

And although it's a tie-in, presumably with joint financing, it's actually a pastiche of the film, not the real thing. A pastiche of a part deux of a second-rate off-message film. We're all off to the Mexican town square, with masked men on flying ladders, the flaming Zorro logo and a gravy-dark American voice-over who urges people to make their escapes in a Vauxhall from the new Special-Edition something range. An ugly little dark silver car dashes away, then you see four of them lined up, Essex car dealer forecourt style. It's actually called the Zafira - silly name - there's 0 per cent financing and, ominously, there's a website with offers.

Have I missed something here? Is there a salient sub-text or an ironic one? Does Zorro connect with a key UK target audience? Or is it just a much better film than the reviewers have said - a sleeper, a cult in the making? Help me out here, I don't like to kick a brand when it's down.

peter@sru.co.uk

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
Sport
Jonny Evans and Papiss Cisse come together
football
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The beat is on: Alfred Doda, Gjevat Kelmendi and Orli Shuka in ‘Hyena’
filmReview: Hyena takes corruption and sleaziness to a truly epic level
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer / Front-End Designer - City of London

£27000 - £33000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End Devel...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Recruitment Genius: Junior PHP Web Developer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Guru Careers: Front End Web Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: Our client help leading creative agencies ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis