In the great pantheon of automotive TV commercials, one ad stands above all the others. It harkens back to a time when men were real men and women rode around in their luxuriously-appointed Japanese sportscars. It is visually stunning and features an incredible soundtrack. It is ridiculous beyond all comprehension and absolutely unforgettable. It is dripping with sex. I am, of course, talking about the 1980 Datsun 280ZX Black Gold ad.
As we see on Classic Ad Watch from time to time, car commercials from the 1970s and 80s tend to especially stand out for their absurdity. Jingles composed for every car, lasers, laughable voiceovers and cheeseball special effects were de rigeur in that era. But at least they weren't boring.
"Black Gold" incorporates all of those things and perfectly encapsulates the latter part of the disco era it comes from. Perhaps most notably, it features a luxuriously-mustachioed Z driver who isn't John Oates of Hall & Oates, but looks a hell of a lot like him.
Stache-tacular. Try not to stare it too long — you may find yourself suddenly pregnant, even if you're a dude.
We may crack jokes about "Black Gold," but it is in many ways a remarkably effective and memorable ad, more so than many of the other Nissan/Datsun Z commercials over the years. That's why I'm proposing this: That all Nissan Z television ads be judged against the high standards set by "Black Gold" on a scale of one to five John Oates mustaches.
After all, a car is considered a disappointment if it isn't at least as good as its predecessor. Why should car ads be any different? "Black Gold" set the bar pretty high, and it deserves to the standard for all Z ads, past and present.
Let's have a look at some of them, shall we?
John Morton For The Datsun 240Z
Description: Racing driver John Morton shills for the original Z-car and shows us why it's extremely capable on the track while also offering plenty of comfort for the rare days when it's not on the track.
Highs: Shows off the car's legitimate performance credentials as well as luxury features; fun; testimonial from someone who knows what he's talking about.
Lows: John Morton does not have a mustache. But that's okay.
Verdict: A solid 4/5 mustaches for the first Z.
Drive A 260Z, "Then Decide"
Description: A driver goes for a heart-pounding ride in the new 260Z, which boasts more engineering, new looks and "a new legend" compared to the old car.
Highs: Six Million Dollar Man-style sound effects; the choke and stick shift are featured prominently; lots of good mechanical shots.
Lows: Six Million Dollar Man-style sound effects; not terribly memorable; the driver does not have a mustache.
Verdict: Not as good as the previous one, but not bad either. 3/5 'staches.
The 280Z: It's From Space!
Description: The fuel-injected 280Z descends from space like a UFO where it zooms around a desert highway driven by a spaceman who looks like the Stig's silver cousin from the 1970s.
Highs: More hot gear-shifting action; The 280Z 2+2 makes an appearance; sweet soundtrack that sounds like the one from the first Terminator movie.
Lows: Unable to tell if the spaceman has a mustache; good, but not great.
Verdict: Another reasonably good effort. 3/5.
Description: The Z-car gets a very special package and ad campaign for its 10th anniversary.
Highs: Everything, basically. The car's garish paint scheme; the disco music; the lights; the couple who look like they're about to get down at any moment; gear shifting; "so lavishly appointed there are virtually no options."
Lows: None that I can see.
Verdict: Probably the greatest car commercial of all time. 5/5, obviously.
Steve Wozniak Shills For The 280ZX
Description: Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak explains why he likes his 280ZX better than his other sportscar, which is never named.
Highs: Steve Wozniak knows a high-tech car when he sees one, apparently; he has a mustache and a beard; ends on the "We are driven!" jingle; extremely memorable.
Lows: No sexy racing or gear shifting action like other Z ads.
Verdict: 5/5 mustaches because "It is AWESOME!"
The 300ZX Is The Sports Car News Of The Decade
Description: Loaded down with high-tech features and a new V6 engine, only one driver is man enough to handle the new 300ZX.
Highs: Great "Major Motion" theme song; random inclusion of a pretty woman staring at the driver as he walks by; shifting action; digital dashboard; actually uses the phrase "snap you from zero to AWESOME."
Lows: Possibly too long and with too much information crammed in; the driver does not have a mustache; we have now reached the point where everyone is confused about whether it's Nissan or Datsun, including Nissan itself.
Verdict: Excellent, but not the best. 4/5 seems fair here.
The Dream Of The Turbo Z
Description: A man dreams of outrunning everything in his twin-turbocharged 300ZX in a fantastic commercial directed by Ridley Scott.
Highs: Amazing visuals, complemented by the fact that this 300ZX may have been the best-looking Z ever; fantastic premise and special effects, makes you want one of these cars even some 20 years later; a lot of fun to watch.
Lows: Light on actual specs; the driver is never seen, and thus we do not know his facial hair situation.
Verdict: 5/5. One of the best car commercials ever.
Take Me Riding In The 350Z
Description: The various models of 350Z — coupe, convertible, NISMO — go for a ride in the city with a Woody Guthrie song in the background.
Highs: Nice shots of the various Zs; Woodie Guthrie; car looks fun to drive.
Lows: Not terribly memorable or original; kind of boring; the driver has no mustache.
Verdict: 2/5 'staches. We've seen better.
Some See A Letter, Others See A 370Z
Description: One of the launch ads for the 370Z that explains why it trumps its predecessor in nearly every area.
Highs: Dramatic shots of the 370Z; shows us the features of the new car; uses its trick manual transmission as a selling point.
Lows: Not very original or memorable; could be an ad for any sports car; driver is unseen and therefore possibly mustache-less; does the average viewer know what a synchro-rev match transmission is or why it's good?
Verdict: Boring. 1/5 mustaches.
There have been a ton of Z commercials over the years and I couldn't get to them all. Feel free to add your own in the comments and rank them on the 'stache scale. Which one is your favorite?