If you’re old enough, and if you were paying attention, you likely recall a number of strange automotive licensing deals, most of which didn’t survive in the marketplace for very long. Often referred to as “co-branding” by those in the biz, the pairing of brands for the purpose of heightened retail-level awareness goes back a long time.
1974 Jeep CJ-5
While most folks likely recall the Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer, how many consumers remember the likes of the Subaru Outback L.L. Bean, the Volkswagen Jetta Trek, or the Mercury Milan VOGA? The L.L. Bean-edition Subarus were actually pretty popular, and the Jetta Trek actually came with a bike(!) and roof rack, but the Milan VOGA was just flat our weird. VOGA, an esoteric Italian winemaker with a thing for packaging budget-priced vino in what appeared to be shampoo bottles, might seem like an odd branding opportunity for a slow-selling Mercury sedan, but the mashup really happened. A Mercury no one wanted offered in a trim level named for a winemaker no one had ever heard of. You know an MBA was involved in that pitch meeting.
Thank God for American Motors (AMC) and Levi’s. In 1973, AMC began selling its funky subcompact Gremlin with officially branded Levi’s seating surfaces. Though the seat material was not actually denim, it looked the part, with a cotton-like visage, brand-correct orange stitching, and authentic Levi’s tags sewn to the sides of the front seats. Oh, and real brass buttons sewn to the seats.
The look was cool, and immediately popular. Through 1978, Levi’s seats were offered in almost every AMC product, including the Hornet, the Pacer, and even Jeep Wrangler ancestor the CJ. The ad here is for the 1974 CJ-5, the first year Jeep’s off-roader was offered with the Levi’s interior.
The Levi’s treatment included the seats themselves, as well as the sun visors, and matching soft top. Exclusive to the Jeeps was the option of tan Levi’s trim instead of the traditional blue.
The Levi’s treatment ran its course, and was gone by 1979, but it’s hard not to call the project a success. It was fun, affordable, and also relatable, unlike Mercury’s hookup with a discount wine brand that average car shoppers had never heard of.
1974 Jeep CJ-7 Gallery
(Click below for enlarged images)