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Global Skywatch

honest used car advertising

I subscribed alternately to Car & Driver or Road & Track. Satch Carlson was a bright, witty, articulate, creative columnist that I enjoyed in one of them or the other. An essay of his that stuck with me was his rating system for creating honest appraisals for what to expect when you get to see the advertised car in real life. This was in the days where used cars were sold from printed listings of about 20 words in the back pages of newspapers… that is, no photos, and certainly not a bunch of them you could view on a computer (what’s a computer???).

Nobody wants to list small rust spots, a few dents, faded paint, some clear-coat loss on hood and so on. Instead they claim it looks okay. Here’s where the beauty of Satch’s system comes into play.

Appearance: 20/30… Looks okay from 20 feet away passing at 30 miles per hour.

You now have some idea of what to expect if it is parked and you give it a close-up inspection.

I have had cars that were good 10/0 … looked good from ten feet away while stationary. I have had others that would be okay viewing from the stands racing by on an oval track … 80/80 or so. I suppose we could call this the distance/speed rating system, to give it a name. I don’t remember Satch giving it a name. It was just another monthly essay to him.

The concept stuck with me for the ensuing 30+ years, occasionally popping into my head when something or somebody looked good in a photo, on stage, or from a distance but does not fare so well upon closer inspection. I’ll let your mind run with examples of your own.