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Great Commercials--Datsun 280ZX "Black Gold"

I stumbled across this commercial the other day and thought it worthy of a Car Lust commercial deconstruction. My thoughts are after the jump.

0:01--I love the soundtrack. This was the era of disco, and it's used to good effect here. You want hip? You want to be with it? You want the right chariot for your night out on the town? You want the Datsun 280ZX Black Gold.

0:08--After a slow unveil, we see the 10th Anniversary Datsun 280ZX in its full glory. Black-and-gold paint schemes were all the rage at the time--think of the Bandit Pontiac Trans Am, the Chevrolet Cosworth Vega, and the John Player Formula 1 Lotus paint schemes--and I'm still a fan decades later. I think this 280ZX looks gorgeous. Also, note the moonscape background and the fog on the ground (some of which was lit to appear gold). Both the fog and the moonscape were commercial staples at the time and featured prominently in the 1984 Corvette commercial that kicked off our commercial deconstruction series.

0:10--We have more gold fog, and another view of the new, highly attractive paint job. So far, so good.

0:11--"Very few will possess its limited number." They clearly mean that the 280ZX 10th Anniversary edition is being made in limited numbers and that very few will own one, but they chose an incredibly clunky way to say it. Nobody is actually possessing a number--and "its limited number" seems to imply that the 280ZX actually owns the limited number. This might seem pedantic, but I can imagine English teachers wincing every time this commercial aired.

0:12--Here's where things really start to go wrong. Who is this woman? What is she meant to represent? Why did she turn her head to look into the camera? Or, conversely, why was she looking away from it in the first place? Her overall appearance bothers me a bit too. I'm not sure whether it's her long neck, her thoroughly blank look, or the way her head rotated over to look at the camera, but something about her reminds me of an ostrich or a prarie dog. It's almost as if she's prey and is instinctively watching out for a predator.

0:13--And, of course, here's the predator--though instead of a lion, it's a 1980s scenester adorned with a mane of carefully teased hair and a truly epic mustache. The mustache was never a more visible part of pop culture than in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and, when complemented by the right car, clothes, hairstyle, and chest-hair-revealing shirt, it helped establish the wearer as a sophisticated but edgy with-it guy. It worked for Burt Reynolds and Tom Selleck, and it definitely works for this guy.

0:15--As the growly-voiced announcer crows that the 280ZX is "so lavishly appointed", we are treated to images of a nondescript pushbutton AM/FM tape player, gold fingernails sliding slowly over what look like gold vinyl seats, a Hitachi 8-track player, and an array of computerized warning lights. Now that's luxury. I realize I'm being snarky and have the unfair benefit of 30 years of hindsight, but it's almost as if this sequence was built expressly to be ironically funny for future generations.

0:19--The ostrich woman and the mustache guy are going in for a kiss--inevitably, I suppose, though I have no idea what this has to do with the car. Wait, does she have Lord of the Rings elf ears on? Exactly what is this?

0:20--Purposeful shifting!

0:23--"DRIVEN ... to the ultimate!" It certainly sounds imposing, but what does it really mean? Do they mean that Datsun is driven to make their car better? Do they mean that drivers will be tempted to drive this car to the limit? Neither of those two interpretations necessarily make sense, but I'm struggling to come up with an alternate explanation.

0:26--The end of the commercial features the 280ZX's hazard flashers blinking in time with the disco soundtrack. I don't think I've ever seen hazard lights prominently featured in a commercial before, possibly because hazards carry a connotation that the car has broken down.

The most significant thing about this commercial in my mind is that the car never moves. We aren't even told anything about how the car performs. We hear that it's rare, we hear that it's well-appointed, and we were told that it's "DRIVEN ... to the ultimate," but I found it telling that that a commercial shilling what's ostensibly a sports car was completely silent on the car's dynamic abilities.

That's ultimately not too surprising, given the era. This was the era of personal luxury, in which comfort and a stylized appearance was king. This was the era in which Ricardo Montalban cooed over Corinthian leather and drove sternly but sedately along the road while proclaiming "it is on the highway where Cordoba best answers my demands."

It's tempting to write off those influences as restricted to the rococo Ford Thunderbirds and Chrysler Cordobas of the time, resplendent with their vinyl roofs, wire wheels, and opera-windows, but performance cars were by no means immune. Gas crises and increased regulation had already chipped away at performance, so most domestic performance cars at the time put a much higher premium on image and visual aggression than dynamic ability. Remember, this was the era of Trans Ams that featured gaudy graphics and low-compression station wagon V-8s, overweight and underpowered Chevrolet Corvettes, and be-stickered, 139-horsepower King Cobra Mustang IIs.

The 280ZX itself was longer and heavier than the original Datsun 240Z sports car on which it was based, with a greater emphasis on comfort and passenger space and less on outright performance. But even so, it performed better than most cars of its time, so I think it's very interesting that this commercial completely ignored its performance.

This is what I find fascinating about vintage car commercials, by the way. They're fun to deconstruct, but the deeper satisfaction comes from using these commercials as 30-second flashes of insight into a different era--or, at least, into how advertisers saw the era, which can be equally interesting.

--Chris H.


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"DRIVEN ... to the ultimate!" It certainly sounds imposing, but what does it really mean?"

"Datsun - We Are DRIVEN!" was our theme for a year or two in the early 80s. "Come Alive, Come And Drive... Major Motion From Nissan" replaced that theme for 1984 while we were doing the national name change from Datsun to Nissan.

Here's a "We Are Driven" ad:

And, of course, a "Major Motion" commercial for the 300ZX:

That's great, Chuck, but I'm still not sure what "DRIVEN ... to the ultimate" is supposed to really mean.

I suppose "DRIVEN... to the ultimate" is a semi-subconscious link to the "We Are DRIVEN" campaign. I didn't like the late 70s/early 80s Datsun ads... the copy was tilted, the announcer's voice was "ballsy," and the cars weren't too exciting either. But hey, they paid the rent.

By the way, there's another video that shows what was apparently an all-original Black Gold 280ZX that was up for sale in 2008 ... with *only 49 original miles on it. Gorgeous.

Remember the anti-Disco parody song, "Do ya Think I'm Disco?" Other than the chorus ("Do ya think I'm disco?/Am I superficial?/Lookin' good's my only goal") it was made up entirely of a scathing semi-proto-pseudo-rap monologue by a stereotypical leisure-suited lounge lizard. One line that always stood out to me was (IIRC): "I don't have an apartment. I live in my car; I have a 280Z." The "Z" was, in those days, inexorably linked to flashing strobe lights, excessive gold chains, thumping 4/4 drum tracks, and the word "boogie." That's unfortunate; the "Z" is too good a car for disco.

(Unless you lived through that dark time, you have no idea just how important those faint glimmers of hope such as the album "Damn the Torpedoes" by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers were to the survival of Western civilization.)

Say, that's not the song with the line "My name's Tony. . .some people call me Scum" is it?

That looks about right for 1980. Still a bit of the leisure suit and mustachio look, but a little of the '80s glam. I love old commercials.


clone boys.



It seems to me the ad is targeted at people who are already familiar with 280ZXs and are already inclined to buy one. You don't have to describe what the car is to those people, they already know. You just have to sell the "limited edition" vibe of this one. In other words, you're telling them if they're going to buy a 280ZX, this is the one they want. This is the top of the heap. They're selling the exclusivity to people that are already sold on the car itself.

The guy looks for all the world like the lead singer of "Starship" Mickey Thomas....

I once test drove a non-turbo goldish colored '81 280ZX. A nice handling car, it wasn't exactly a barn burner performer. But still, it looked slick.

This is AWESOME! Is it just me, or do the two people in the commercial look like they would be better suited for a porn flick of the same era?

Not to be pedantic, but what you wanted to say was "'its limited number' seems to IMPLY that the 280ZX actually owns the limited number." Inference goes the other way.

Had a 280ZX. T-Tops leaked, auto transmission used fluid up at a rapid rate ( I did get This fixed, when I discovered that the vacum connection from the engine to the downshift module of the transmission had a leak in it, which allowed the engine to suck transmission fluid through it ). Brakes were woefully undersized and would overheat and fade rapidly.

The biggest nightmare was the electrical system. Having all interior and exterior lights suddenly shut off while driving down a dark highway at around 65 MPH is still etched into my memory.

My dad was a USAF pilot and we were stationed at Yakota AFB in Japan when the first Z cars appeared. They were called, inexplicably, "Fairlady Z" over there (Which I thought was way gay), but I thought it was the most beautiful car of the time that any old schlub could buy. By the time the 280ZX came out, it was hideous looking to me, what with the garish paint schemes, blocky bumpers and all. The original Fairlady/240's were sooooo clean.

To be fair...
I had a 85 300ZX for a couple of years. The T-tops never leaked. Nice car for the time, a lot cheaper and better built than the early C-4 Corvettes. It was a nice step-up from my 82 Scirocco so was a great car for a single guy.
The Corvettes and Porsche 944 were in different price categories.
I would have preferred something more timeless like the original Z, instead of the folded paper look of the 300ZX, but you have to take what they offer.

Right you are, Grammar Droid - I infer from the commercial's implication. I'll make the change.

Don't worry about being pedantic, this whole post is me being pedantic about a commercial that was clearly not written to withstand that kind of scrutiny.

I agree with Hucbald. The ZX was the beginning of the decline of what had been a very nice sports car. Eventually, the marketing department figures out that more people want luxury than sport, and there seems to be a bottomless market for luxury disguised as sport.

The beast description of eighties Z's:
A fat man in a track suit.

I like the old 240Z, but the later Z's always seem overweight and soft. I remember driving my friend's 280Z, back when I had a 72 Datsun 510. The Z seemed to have less interior space by far, but in a much larger car. The 510 was light and nimble, the Z felt faster but ponderous at the same time. I remember closing the door and thinking, "Jeez, that one door is probably bigger and heavier than all four doors on my 510."
Odd, really. A 2 seater that gives up the practicality without gaining much performance.
I know this is overly harsh- by the standard of the day it was a good car. I guess I'm just down on the era. It was a time when everything I value in sporty transportation was being ignored.

But on the bright side, once you made it through that era, the VW GTI's and Kawasaki Ninjas are just around the corner.

Wow, you guys have been busy around here these last couple of days! Seems I gotta catch up then.

While my heart goes to the 300ZX that followed this model, the 280ZX is a close second. Those old Datsun/Nissan ads are great!

I've read that the 280ZX, while not the most loved Z in the U.S., it was very much loved in Japan, especially with young tuners. Wish I had more info about this.

BTW, the fact that this model was used as the basis of such memorable toy characters as the original Transformers Prowl, Bluestreak and Smokescreen further explains my carlust!

Tigerstrypes: "Wow, you guys have been busy around here these last couple of days!"

Hey, we are DRIVEN!

I had an '81 280ZX (OK) that I traded for an '83 280ZX (their last year). The '83 280ZX was an awesome and gorgeous car (mine was pewter and silver, T-Top, the works) and the 300ZX was not in its class. Gawd, I miss that '83. I traded it in for a 4-door sedan after having a baby. I couldn't fit the kid and all his accoutrements in the Z and I couldn't afford to insure and garage it. I wish I'd come up with the money someohow to keep it.

I would have thought disco was dead by 81-82.
Maybe it was and Datsun's ad agency didn't get the memo?

In the early '90s I was in a bank drive-thru one day and saw the coolest car ever. I ran over to the lady driving it and asked if I could buy it. We sealed the deal in short order. It was a 1978-1/2 Fairlady 280z from Japan (meaning that the steering wheel was on the right-hand side). It had rear view mirrors out on its long snoot, and the body side molding stripe was placed differently and was wider than versions marketed in the states. Evidently, a Marine had brought it back from Okinawa at some point in its past. I drove it a few years and always got lots of "thumbs ups" when driving down the freeway. It was fast, drove like a champ, and cornered like a whizz. Drive-thru windows rarely presented a problem due to its narrow width. It was a great car. Eventually I gave it to my friend Jesse who sold it and bought his girl Valerie a rock. That little car was blessed, and a blessing to all who owned it.

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