How to pick the best car adverts ever? As any fool know, car adverts tend to be the best during the commercial break. More cash to splash, more cool to sell; more creative licence, more humour, better visuals.
So car ads tend to look better and be more engaging than any others. Many of them are little art forms in their own right: expounding on the car as expression of freedom; pushing that emotional connection; as a driver of industry and innovation and - sometimes - as an excuse to go totally batshit crazy.
Ford, Volkswagen, Audi and Honda have taken most of the plaudits over the last 15 years but I've delved deeper into the archives - you can see the best car adverts of the 80s and best cars adverts of the 90s here - to find car adverts that defined their sector, their generation or a paradigm in car design and technology.
Not all of the cars are great - the Honda adverts don't even try to sell a specific model in some cases - and some reside more in the automotive sector as a whole. But there's something fascinating, meaningful or simply brilliant here. You can put your mark next yo your favourite or suggest your own at the bottom. But for my money these are the best car adverts ever.
The Best Car Adverts Ever
Ford Fiesta - This Is Now
A great combination of visuals and audio for a genuinely brilliant car. The way that cars - and people's attitudes towards them - a lifestyle choice, a statement, a gadget - started to change in the mid-200s is perfectly realised here.
Peugeot 206 - Sculptor
A great soundtrack and nice idea for the 206, a car with the impossible task of replacing the Peugeot 205. Would have been even better if the result had been an Austin Ambassador.
Citroen C5 - Unmistakeably German
This Citroen C5 advert is beautifully witty and so well executed, even down the phenomenally German-looking bloke in the ad. It was part of a push in the mid-Noughties from virtually all volume manufacturers to take their cars upmarket towards BMW, Mercedes and the like. Because of adverts like this it worked a little bit. But you'll be hard pushed to find many C5 on the road. See also: Renault Vel Satis, Renault Laguna, Peugeot 607, Seat Exeo, Volkswagen Phaeton.
Honda - Impossible Dream
This generic Honda advert looks great and it's quite affecting. But its actually telling the story of Honda through various semi-hidden details and references. As such it's kind of a piece of corporate art, but it looks great so what the hell?
Volkswagen Golf - Night Driving
When was the last time you simply went for a drive? Ages ago, in all likeihood. Our crowded island with its choked-up arteries mitigates against driving for pleasure yet, if you're into cars, there's so much fun to be had. For me driving can be peaceful, energising; time to think or simply indulge the senses. With a car that is responsive, taut, comfortable, planted, engaged it's still possible to simply go out for a drive and enjoy your car, rather than hate your time in it. To connect with that elusive emotion is quite something.
This VW Golf car advert is simply one of my favourite things ever. Richard Burton reads Dylan Thomas over Cliff Martinez. Stunning. Beautiful. Moving. Simply incredible.
Citroen C4 - Transformer
Wonderful bonkers stuff from Citroen, with two car adverts that suit its leftfield, quirky brand image superbly. Pity they're for the C4, probably one of the more boring cars on the road. But these advert firmly align Citroen with cutting-edge technology, which is never a bad idea when you're selling cars. Increasingly they're gadgets on wheels, after all.
Honda Civic - Choir
Clever, clever, clever. Honda's adverts from the Noughties really captured that emotional connection people form with cars. The way they can thrill, open up possibilities and stir the senses. It's what Clarkson has built a whole career on and Honda absolutely nails it in this advert for the wonderful Civic.
Car adverts can be funny too. Here's Mark Heap demonstrating that emotional connection - the reason people spend such huge amounts of cash on things that depreciate like a concrete narwhal.
Volkswagen Golf GTi - Singin In The Rain
Lovely stuff in the VW car advert from the mid-Noughties. Well conceived and executed by David Elsewhere, who won a lot of praise from Gene Kelly's family for his take on Singin' In The Rain.
Audi RS4 - Spider
Making your car appear genuinely terrifying is a brave move, but a kinda obvious one for performance saloons like the fearsome RS4 when you consider the kind of people likely to buy one.
Honda Accord - Cog
All-time stone-cold classic and probably the best car adverts of all time.
Vauxhall - Sledgehammer
One of my favourites advert ever; a great mix of visuals and music and so memorable. Pity it ruins it with that awful Clapton riff that was Vauxhall's corporate jingle for years.
Ford Puma - Bullitt
Tricky to reference something so iconic, but great CGI and the best car of all time - the Ford Puma of course - make it work. Awkward CGI in many ads since have shown the dangers of such an ad.
Dunlop - Tested for the Unexpected
Fucking insane. Tony Kaye genius. It's advertising tyres! One of the best adverts of all time - nevermind car adverts.
Citroen CX - Le Beaute Sauvage
A giant Grace Jones head in the desert burps out a Citroen CX, also driven by Grace Jones. She shouts and drives back into her own head. Presumably it's all meant to evoke savage beauty, rather than ungainly French rust-bucket. Fucking mental, as Citroen adverts should be.
Simplicity itself - ensuring that this iconic spot for Castrol is one of the most memorable car adverts ever.
Genuinely driving a car onto a genuine airbag? Could there be a better way of embedding your brand with the fundamental concept of safety? Works for Volvo.
Best Car Advert Ever: Vote
Pick your best car adverts ever below.
There's a bit of a hierarchy when it comes to which celebs get which cars from manufacturers.
Although its never clear just what incentives there are for a 'sleb to be pictured next to a shiny new car, it's clear that there's generally more to it than a quick snap as the celebrity in question picks up his or her latest drive.
Samuel L Jackson got a brand new Maybach 57, which though vulgar is an extremely valuable piece of kit. A couple of years ago, down the road from Dagenham and on the verge of making it into the England cricket team, Essex players Alistair Cook and Ravi Bopara got a Focus ST each. Not bad, but no Maybach.
Take That got a VW Caravelle; Spandau Ballet a Ford S-Max each; while From The Jam had to cram into a Kia Sedona. Bluntly, the more important you are, the better car you get. Many manufacturers appoint brand ambassadors to drive their cars and take part in certain marketing events, in exchange for a shiny new set of wheels.
Seat has - or had - Duncan James, otherwise known as the bloke from Blue who's now on that awful school musical show. He bagged a Leon Cupra from Seat. Here's how we reported the news a couple of years ago:
James goes on to describe the Leon Cupra as ‘very cool’, which he ‘really enjoys driving’ before concluding ‘I love it!’
Jaguar sponsors the England cricket team, which is a nice bit of positioning for both parties. That Waitrose is England's other main sponsor has a nice ring to it too. Lids, Fosters or Chevrolet - dare I say it, would not be such good fits.
Meanwhile Mercedes has - or had - Wayne Rooney, who took delivery of a CL63 AMG. This actually caused a bit of a stink from snobs who worried that the swarthy scouser may not exactly be a direct fit for Merc's brand image. Here's what Peter York reckoned:
"Ordinarily you'd expect Mercedes to choose someone aspirational and classy to advertise its cars, and it's fair to say Wayne Rooney doesn't fit that category."
"It's extremely strange. You have to ask who chose him? Was it someone who has misunderstood his image or was it perhaps a calculated move to ensure people talked about it?
"It's possible it will backfire and put off traditional Mercedes customers - but perhaps their choice of Rooney reflects the fact that the kind of people prepared to spend a fortune on a smart car nowadays are not particularly smart people."
So, manufacturers have to be careful over who they work with. Jordan, for example, is unlikely to be endorsing a Rolls-Royce Ghost any time soon. Nor do we expect to see Brian Sewell hooning around Millbrook in an Evo X, though we'd like to.
Fiat doesn't seem too worried about who it associates itself recently, with a string of celeb endorsements from the likes of Angela Griffin, Elle MacPherson and now Tom Chambers (some bloke out of Waterloo Road and Strictly Come Dancing).
All are photogenic, mainstream and inoffensive. Here's Fiat on the latest tie-up:
Actor and reigning Strictly Come Dancing champion Tom Chambers celebrated his return to television this week by collecting a new Fiat 500C.
The actor has been driving a 500 hatchback – recently voted Best Supermini in What Car? magazine’s Reader Awards 2009 – since last Christmas, but planned to swop into a 500C after the car’s UK launch in July this year. Tom and his wife Clare also own an early Fiat 500.
“As an actor, my work takes me to locations all over the country and it’s really important to have a car that can take me there comfortably, reliably and certainly economically. And it helps that it’s a stylish little number too!"
So, it's not for us to say where Tom may find himself on the auto endorsement scale, and that's not to decry the 500C or Chambers - it's just a recognition that some cars, and some celebs, are grander than others.
And speaking of...OPEN SESAME!