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That Time Chrysler Bought a Princess’s Dodge ‘Endorsement’

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The seaside city-state of Monaco is no stranger to yachts, but in late 1973 an American barge powered by a smog-strangled V8 appeared on its shores.

Chrysler Corporation was on site to film a TV commercial for the new full-size Dodge Monaco, a conservatively styled model with terrible timing. The model’s name evoked glamour and elegance, and the automaker hoped some of the glitz would rub off on the redesigned ’74 full-sizer.

There was another reason for the location shoot. A very special guest would appear in the ad — Princess Grace of Monaco (formerly American actress Grace Kelly). And the princess would help sell the car, whether she wanted to or not.

As a 1950s starlet, Kelly was the embodiment of glamour and style, starring in box office blockbusters like To Catch a Thief and Rear Window. Her fairytale marriage to Prince Rainier III in 1956 ended her acting career, but her new role as princess elevated her to almost mythical status. Still glamorous, but now with a touch of magic — everything the 1974 Monaco was not.

Obviously, Princess Grace wasn’t prepared to sling Chrysler C-bodies, but her consent wasn’t needed. The automaker had acquired the rights to the promotional film Monaco Now, directed by Francois Reichenbach. It had all the necessary action shots of happy Monacans living the high life, with the added bonus of a narration by Princess Grace.

So, Chrysler ran all the best parts in its ad, kept the princess’s narration (she’s discussing the wonders of Monaco, not the car), then had a Monaco hardtop roll up to the Hotel Metropole to close out the commercial. What a (sort of) celebrity endorsement!

Sneaky, sure. Transparent? Definitely. But hey, it’s the ad business. And the drinking-at-noon, lampshade-on-head era wasn’t over. When Chrysler Corp. turned the upscale Monaco Custom into the Royal Monaco for 1975, Princess Grace unwittingly promoted that model, too.

Chrysler lined up a number of real endorsements for its ’74 and ’75 ad campaigns, but marketing wasn’t the automaker’s biggest problem. The messy realm of politics and international diplomacy had a nasty surprise in store for Chrysler and its overweight, Baroque beasts.

The OPEC oil crisis kicked off days after the ’74 models went on sale. Gas pumps across the U.S. dried up and fuel prices shot up. The 55 mile-per-hour speed limit, hastily enacted by the Nixon administration, put an end to all-day 75 mph cruising in your V8-powered living room.

It was a terrible time to launch a vehicle of such generous proportions, especially one with a 421 cubic-inch V8 as a base engine. Americans turned to six-cylinder compact and intermediate cars to weather the storm, causing the full-size C-bodies to land with a thud.

The powers that be at Chrysler had no control over an oil embargo, and the ’73-74 crisis kicked off a steady decline for the automaker, which ended the decade teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. (The rushed-to-production 1976 Dodge Aspen/Plymouth Volare twins — and their associated recall costs — helped speed up the process.)

Glamour and faux endorsements can only go so far in battling poor quality and a bad balance sheet.

[Image: Classic Film/Flickr]

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