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?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Manager (EMEA) - City, London

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Manager...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine