Those were the (dodgy) days - oldschool advertising

Back in the 1980s and early ‘90s, car-related advertisements brought a welcome dose of colour and memorable strap-lines to our favourite motoring magazines as the breadth of automotive brands and their local product offerings soared. Here are a few of SentiMETAL’s all-time favourite ads.

BY: Graeme Hurst

Citi Golf & Big Hair

Citi Golf

VW is likely to be best-remembered for capitalising on the ‘big hair and big colour’ era of ‘80s fashion with its striking, Dutch artist Mondrian-inspired print campaign to market the legendary Citi Golf – a model intended to give the then-ageing Golf 1 a stay of execution after Golf 2 was launched but which ended up being one of SA’s all-time best sellers with an astonishing 25-year production run.

The dramatic use of colour and white striping was backed up with some catchy straplines such as ‘Get the Freedom of the Citi’ and ‘How to Paint the Town Red (and Yellow & Blue)’ before the introduction of the Citi Golf Sport which spiced up the palette with a dose of black.

The Microbus and the "melktert"

VW Microbus

Also long-running was the German carmaker’s association with singer David Kramer to promote another of its mainstays: the iconic Microbus, usually pictured on a day out with the extended family in tow or, more memorably in one case, with the amusing Afrikaans performer being towed on a bicycle en route to sample Sannie van der Spuy’s mouth-watering melktert on the other side of the Tierkloof Pass.

Rover men knew where the action was

Rover SD1

Rover’s SD1 offered a taste of the future for executive sedans when it was launched in the late 1970s and its marketing reflected the ad industry’s penchant for including beautiful women. (Remember those Alfetta Advertisements set in a Sandton drive, complete with a woman in flowing evening dress?).

Of course, Alfa wasn’t alone in using the fairer sex to attract attention to four-wheeled offerings but only Rover took it all the way into the 1980s; manufacturer Leyland SA commissioned a series of ads depicting a typical Rover man surrounded by scantily clad belly dancers and a strapline instructing the reader to ‘See your Rover dealer: He’ll show you where the action is’. Obviously this Scope-magazine like content was conjured up long before the #MeToo era…

HiFi & suspenders


Nothing defined the inside of an ‘80s performance car more than oodles of white leather and red seatbelts. AND a serious HiFi system. A Dolby sound cassette player and graphic equaliser was par for the course back then, along with a sub-woofer (wallet-permitting!).

And – much like Rover – HiFi companies frequently relied on sexual innuendo with headline-grabbing phrases such as ‘fill her up with power’ (positioned above a suspender-clad beautiful woman) from Pioneer, a big-name brand better-known for its catchy ‘Everything you hear is true’ strapline.


Rival Alpine was less obvious with its ‘Get turned on by fine tuning’ line fronting a magnificent BMW M1. The wide array of sound options pictured in front looked the part but all that weight would’ve blunted its performance! 


More memorable (since it was flighted on television) was affordable brand Telerad’s advertisement pitting a rough-looking ‘oke’ in something big and brash against a decidedly more sophisticated gent in an elegant Alfa Spider.

Speed of Tech

Nissan favoured attention-grabbing headlines such as ‘Johannesburg to Pretoria in 11 minutes’. At least that was the maker’s theory if you drove one of its fuel injected Skylines unhindered at its top speed of 193km/h.

Representing even more of a creative leap was the ‘Faster than a R348,000 Italian sports car’ (a Lamborghini Countach no less, judging by a 1986 price guide) claim which played on the speed of an under-bonnet microprocessor.

A serious stretch but even more tenuous was the Japanese brand’s advert for a 1400 Bakkie (pictured stopped in front of a herd of cows) in which the copy writer thanked none other than Enzo Ferrari for (we assume) paving the way with disc brake technology…

Datsun durability

Datsun engine ad

Somewhat more believable were the carmaker’s claims around reliability and durability, highlighted by a series of advertisements showing Nissan (or Datsun in the case of Mr & Mrs Louw from Vryburg) engines in use to pump water or generate electricity long after the bodies they once powered across our dusty plains had lost their battle with the tin worm.

Petrol & Oil companies

Oil companies were regular advertisers in motoring titles and typically pushed the benefits of their unique additives that set their petrol offerings apart. Caltex was always associated with its claims around its fuel-saving CX-3 to de-coke your engine’s valves (backed up with a picture of a dirty and a subsequent clean inlet valve) while rival SHELL demonstrated the lubrication properties of its oil by driving a car with a freshly-drained sump for 150km without the engine seizing.


SASOL made more of an impression (certainly on young petrolheads) with its inclusion of a supercar in the background to promote its 100 Octane fuel. A De Tomaso Pantera was one of the more memorable inclusions, as was a step-by-step depiction of a Lamborghini Countach being crumpled (while the engine remained in fine fettle thanks to SASOL) but by far the most compelling was the clever, 3-page evolution of a humble VW Beetle into a Porsche 911 Turbo after the driver filled up at a SASOL pump. If only…

Mercedes-Benz & 2020 Vision

Mercedes-Benz is remembered for a series of elegant advertisements to sow the maker’s long-running ‘Engineered like no other car in the world’ moniker. Some used attention-grabbing statements, such as the ‘How to get 500,000km from 6 litres of petrol’ (a popular metallic colour option) example, while other adverts played on the marque’s illustrious history (‘the past provides a clue’).

Naturally the future was equally important too, although they didn’t always get it right when you consider those 1990-flighted eye-catching radical concept cars that supposedly gave us a glimpse of the motoring landscape in 2020…

Mercedes & Chappies

W123 chapmans peak

Jokes aside, the brand’s obsession with safety is probably what its best-known for with advertisement copy often referencing customer feedback on emerging from a serious smash unscathed.

And in one case more than just a reference: the company famously commissioned a TV ad re-enacting Christopher White surviving his 230e sedan’s dramatic plunge off Chapman’s Peak one evening. The message was delivered in print too. And, while the storyline proved the car maker’s safety reputation beyond doubt, it also fueled some enormously creative responses from rival marques, keen to have a dig.

Land Rover's retort

First up was BMW which used similar on-board footage to show one of its cars about to come to grief on the same stretch of road before quickly regaining control (followed by a clever play on words with its ‘BMW beats the bends’ line). Then came Land Rover which jumped in to prove its ability to get from the rocks on the edge of the water all the way back up to the tarmac….fronted with a ‘All the Thrills without the Spills’ headline!


  • Brilliant Hannes…. you must have a lot of fun compiling these…..

    Graeme Reid
  • What a great article – those were the hay days of advertising when people were more free to express themselves directly. Now there are a million check lists before you can produce an advert and the final result is always a watered down version.

    Jerome Tozer

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