The "Malaise Era" is commonly defined as the decade from 1973 to 1983, when it almost seems as if American manufacturers gave up. The Big Three have their staunch apologists from that time, but if you want to know the truth, all you have to do is watch their ads.
The reason why I say the Malaise Era is "commonly" defined as the decade from 1973 to 1983 is because I'd venture to say it went even further than that. I'm sure some of you will vocally disagree in the comments, but I'd venture to say the Malaise Era extended all the way up into the past decade, and was a major contributing factor to the eventual bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler. An emphasis was placed on general platitudes and a gentle condescension for any type of feeling of "sportiness" or "precision," and thus the Japanese and the Europeans were able to skyrocket ahead.
If you want an example of the peak of the Malaise Era, though, look no further than the ad above for the 1979 Chevy Malibu. The Man in the Moustache practically revels in the fact that he has no desire whatsoever to maybe join his young lady-friend in her silly "exercise." No, he's more interested in running out of the house, without a shirt on, but still wearing that incredibly creepy facial hair.
He gets in the Malibu, which is "very quiet, very smooth, and very vanilla pudding," though I'm not sure if he actually said "vanilla pudding," because I began to immediately fall asleep and that was probably just a dream.
"It's a lot of solid character," he says. You know what "solid character" is? It's the excuse I use whenever my beloved hockey team, the New York Islanders, are turning into crap once again. "They've got solid character," I plea desperately with their antagonist.
Solid character, and a losing record. That's what happens when you've completely given up.
But the Malaise Era apologists always have excuses for the "solid character." These were reliable cars, that could be fixed with brick and string, and besides, they were hampered by emissions regulations, so excuse excuse excuse.
I'm not buying any of it. And that's because there was plenty of other things to buy. Like the Datsun 200SX:
Yes, you might say that I'm comparing apples to oranges, as the Chevy is a family car while the Datsun is a coupe, but I don't care. While the Datsun has two doors, it wasn't exactly a Ferrari.
But that's not the point. Was the Datsun sporty? It really doesn't matter, for our purposes. What matters is what we were told.
The driving experience of your life.
Open me up and watch my moves.
Drive like you've never been driven.
It doesn't matter that they then rattle off a list of features, which are apparently limited to brakes, an engine, a transmission, and a clock. What matters is that this ad is for people with a pulse.
And it said that this was a company with a pulse.
It was a new dawn for America, and not because of Ronald Reagan. And somehow, the Japanese managed to do it, even with all the emissions controls.
Thankfully, the Malaise Era seems to have ended, and the Big Three now put out some fantastic offerings. Just check out the new Corvette.
But if this was 1979, I'd be worried.