Thursday, December 8, 2016

Those Look-Alike 1982 General Motors Cars

Above is the embarrassing (to General Motors) Fortune Magazine cover of 22 August 1982 showing A-body cars from four different divisions with the same paint color.  Some background on the matter is here.

The similarity was a cost-cutting measure at the time the corporation was beginning to experience financial constraints due to loss of market share.  Thereafter, GM made a greater effort to make its various brands more visually distinctive again.

This post features front end designs of the models shown in Fortune in order to show what effort GM had made on that critical part of the car's brand identification.  The Fortune cover cars were posed to maximize their similarity.


Taking the brands in alphabetical order, here is the 1982 Chevrolet Celebrity.  It features rectangular quad headlights paired with rectangular running and turn-indicator lights.  Between is a typical Chevrolet grid grille sporting the brand's traditional "bow tie" emblem.  The bumper is an unadorned horizontal element.

Chevrolet is GM's entry-level brand, whereas Buick in those days was slotted between Oldsmobile and Cadillac.  Shown here is a 1982 Buick Century from a Canadian brochure.  It too has rectangular quad headlights, but turn indicators are at the front of the fenders.  The grille, mounted higher than the Chevy's,  has a more elaborate grid design and there is a Buick badge at the center,

The 1982 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera has a grid grille with a center plate holding the Olds badge.  This design was on other Oldsmobile models of that time, adding some brand flavor.  However, still other Olds models had different grille themes, so the effect was watered down.  Lights are arranged similarly to the Buick's.  The bumper is cut down a little to accommodate the grille design.

The '82 Pontiac Phoenix lacks quad headlights and has a version of the brand's divided grille theme put in place around 1960.

The sides of the four cars are indeed pretty similar though a close look reveals some character line and other subtle differences.  Brand differentiation was largely carried by the front ends, each version having identity cues similar to previous or concurrent models.  Besides the grilles, hoods were given different metal stamping treatments related to the shapes of the upper edges of the grille openings.  That entailed extra tooling expense, though the results are too subtle for most people to distinguish unless examples from the different brands were placed side-by-side.

My personal experience at the time was that while I could distinguish A-bodied brands from one another, I was strongly aware of how similar the cars seemed overall.  When the Fortune issue was published, I nodded in silent agreement.


A reader (in a comment, below) with sharper eyes than mine notes that the appropriate Pontiac was the 6000, not the Phoenix. This becomes obvious when looking at four-door models rather than the two-door variety. Here is an image of a 4-door 6000 that I quickly grabbed off the web.

Here the hood stamping seems the same as that seen on the other cars, or nears so.  Another likely win for the bean counters who influenced this unfortunate experience for GM.


Mark said...

I remember that for decades, from the 60's through the 00's, I could sit in the front seat of any GM model, didn't matter which one, and know right away that I was sitting in a GM car. I don't know if it was the dashboard arrangement, or the bench seating, or the overall interior design, but their interiors somehow managed to say GM across all of their models for a long time. It's only in the last five years or so that their interiors are looking better.

Ed Cahill said...

I had a Citation station wagon—it had a nice bent back window that gave it a very unique look—I think Buick had a wagon too off this frame.

AutoPuzzles Blogger said...

The Phoenix was an X-Body compact. The Pontiac 6000 was that brand’s cookie-cutter A-Body car.