You Are the Champions

Back in 1967, it seems, you could buy a Pontiac Firebird—a car from a division that is no longer with us—for $2,667. Or you could buy a Mercury Cougar (no more Mercury; no more Cougar) for $2,851. Or a Chrysler Town & Country wagon (and while Chrysler is still in the game, the Town & Country name has been replaced by Pacifica) for $4,086.

In 1967, advertisers could buy a 30-second ad on the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game—now known as Super Bowl I—that had the Green Bay Packers defeat the Kansas City Chiefs 35 to 10 for $42,000.

(Back in 1967 Beyonce was -14 and Peyton Manning was -9. Candlestick Park was 7. Now it is like Pontiac and Mercury—gone, but not forgotten. Santa Clara County, home of Levi’s Stadium, was still called “Santa Clara County”—not “Silicon Valley.”)

That $42,000 would have been good for about 17 1967 Ford Falcon Futuras ($2,437).

A number of Super Bowl 50 advertisers shelled out $5 million for a 30-second spot.

That $5 million would be good for 227 Kia Optimas ($21,990) or 43 Audi R8s ($115,900) or 32 Acura NSXs ($156,000), none of which were dreamed of in 1967.

Certainly a whole lot of things have changed since Super Bowl I, especially if we look at the price of advertising then and now. Or if we look at the price of cars.

Consider: it would not be outrageous to consider the ’67 Falcon Futura as being somewhat analogous to a ’16 Optima. While the price tag for the ’16 is around 10x the ‘67, were we to apply that same multiplier to the price of an ad, then we would be talking $420,000 in 2016, not $5-million.

All of which is a roundabout way to get to the point that one thing that is not regularly pointed out: the efficiency of the auto industry—thanks to the work of the suppliers and OEMs alike—is absolutely magnificent. This translates into affordability that is nothing short of astonishing.

Now one might look somewhat askance at that claim in relationship to the sticker prices for the Audi R8 and the Acura NSX (which were selected, along with the Optima, for the not-very-clever reason that they happened to have been in Super Bowl 50 spots). After all, according to Kelley Blue Book (kbb.com), in January 2016 the average transaction price for a light vehicle in the U.S. was $34,112.

Consider the 2017 NSX. The engine is a 500-hp, twin-turbocharged V6 that’s mated to a nine-speed dual-clutch transmission. The engine is used to power the rear wheels—and it is supplemented by a water-cooled motor/generator that’s located between the engine and transmission; it adds 47 hp and 109 lb-ft of torque to the internal combustion engine’s 406 lb-ft. In the front there is a twin traction motor/generator that consists of two independent motors that each provide an additional 36 hp.

The vehicle has a multi-material construction including such things as an aluminum-intensive spaceframe and SMC body panels. The floor panel has a carbon fiber core. Inside, the speedometer and tach are on a thin-film transistor (TFT) screen. There is a 7-inch touch screen display. There are Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Oh, and there are two cupholders.

Back in 1967, the NSX would have likely been considered to be, if not exactly a UFO, then alien technology at the very least. Who would have thought of such things as combining internal combustion engines and electric motors? Who would have determined that by orchestrating aluminum with composites and other materials would make for a vehicle that is strong and light? Who, outside of Harley Earl (who was actually born in Hollywood, so unusual things were not so unusual to him), would have thought that such an exotic design with its flying buttresses and sharp shapes would be possible as a production car (although Earl retired from GM in 1958 and was to die in 1969)?

Who would have thought that the 2017 NSX would be something that would be advertised and potentially seen by 115 million people (making it the third-most-watched TV show in U.S. viewing history)?

Yes, the Acura NSX is a technological tour de force, as are the Audi R8 and the Kia Optima in their own ways. These vehicles are indicative of the strides that the auto industry has made in the last 50 years, and for that, the industry deserves a whole lot of credit.


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Gary Vasilash invented this magazine in 1996 and wrote a column for its predecessor publication starting in 1987.  Chances are, if you’re reading this, you know him by now, possibly for a long, long time.