The year was 1975. Two years earlier, a petroleum producers' cartel had caused gasoline shortages and sky-rocketing prices. One of the victims was the American luxury car nameplate: Chrysler. Chrysler was the luxury line of the Dodge-Chrysler-Plymouth corporation. In 1960 a Chrysler executive had boasted, "There will never be a small Chrysler!" Until 1975, he was right.
The last pre-OPEC Chryslers, the 1973 models, had 124 inch wheelbase, were 19 feet, three inches long, 6 and one half feet wide. The station wagon model, the "Town & Country" weighed 5200 lbs. These were real land-yachts (and they handled like boats, too).
With long lines for gasoline, Americans were starting to look at smaller cars. Foreign makes were increasingly popular: Datsun, Toyota, Volkswagen. Chrysler sales plummeted.
Chrysler decided to resdesign the Chrysler Cordoba as "the new small Chrysler". With 115-inch wheelbase, the '75 Cordoba was the shortest Chrysler in decades. The Cordoba was considered a "mid-size" car, but it still came with V-8 engines in 318, 360 and 400 cubic inch displacements.
To market their slightly down-sized luxury automobile, Chrysler hired actor Ricardo Montalbán. Advertising executives insisted that Mexican-born Montalbán mispronounce the name "Cor-DO-ba" instead of "COR-do-ba", like the city in Spain. Montalbán rationalized that one was the City, the other was the car.
In this frame of mind, during rehearsals for the television commercial, Montalbán ad-libbed a description of the leather interior as "rich, Corinthian leather" . The director and advertising executives loved the way the actor pronounced "Corinthian", and it did not bother them at all that there was no such thing as "Corinthian leather". It exuded luxury, whatever it was, and that is what they wanted. And, apparently, also what the American car-buyer wanted, as well.
Chrysler sales boomed from a mere 117,000 in 1974 to over a quarter million in 1975, including 150,000 Cordobas. Over 750,000 Cordobas were built and sold from the 1975 through 1983 model years, including over 180,000 during its best year ever, 1977.
Ricardo Montalbán continued as Cordoba spokesman until its demise in 1984, when faltering sales forced Chrysler to redesign their entire line and market smaller, more fuel-efficient, front-wheel-drive cars.