These Two Ads Show Why The Malaise Era Was Never Necessary

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.



Sigh. You guys don't really 'get' the Malaise Era, do you.

The cars weren't bad because the manufacturers gave up. They were bad because economic and political issues made gas more expensive, regulated mileage, bumpers, safety, and emissions for the first time, before the technology was really there. And everyone in the era built Malaisey cars, from the Datsun 200SX to the MGB to the Lancia Scorpion.

American cars had the most to lose, though. They had been growing in size and power since WWII. It's how we got muscle cars in the first place. When all those regulations took hold, they effectively gave the market to the imports because the imports didn't have to totally redesign, downsize, and reengineer their already small Japanese and European cars much - designed for Japan and Europe in the first place - to meet our new regulations. Everything had to change at the Big 3. In the midst of an economic downturn where fewer people were buying cars. In the midst of skyrocketing labor costs due to bad deals made back in the '50s.

It wasn't that the Big 3 stopped trying. It's that they had to reinvent their whole business models, and couldn't figure out how to do that effectively or competently.

And the Malaise Era ended in 1983 because that was when the economy began to recover and sales came back for luxury and performance cars. Some of the performance and design regs were relaxed after 1983, as well. And the horsepower race began to heat up again. So all manufacturers could refocus on cool designs and getting more power and performance. In 15 years after 1983, a base Camaro went from 90hp to 205.

Yes, Detroit built crap in that era. And they built uncompetitive cars through the '90s and '00s. Mostly because the emphasis was on more profitable trucks and SUVs to prop up the Big 3's massive legacy costs. But that was a totally different era.

"Malaise Era" means something specific. It got its name from President Carter's famous "Malaise Speech" in 1979. It doesn't mean simply "Era in which we had bad American cars."