1960s Classic Cars
The U.S. auto industry had its biggest year in 1965, with production,sales, employment, and profits soaring to all-time highs. An estimated 9,000,000 cars rolled off U.S. assembly lines during the year. This,easily shattered the old industry record of 7,941,538, set in 1955.These, plus 550,000 foreign imports, ran sales a whopping million units ahead of 1964’s 8,065,150 (including 486,000 imports).
There was general belief among U.S. auto industry executives thata 9,000,000 sales figure would be reached again in 1966 with an annual sale of 10,000,000 new cars likely within three years.
To pay for “wheels” in 1965, U.S. new-car buyers spent about$36,000,000,000, about $4,000,000,000 more than last year. This drove auto industry profits beyond the $3,000,000,000 mark. General Motors(GM), the industry heavyweight, broke its own record for the highest profits of any company in history.
Another all-time high was reached in 1965: traffic deaths edged above 1964’s record 47,800. U.S. Secretary of Commerce John T. Conner called the death toll “intolerable.” Style-conscious Detroit was forced by government action to pay more attention to the good health of the people–both inside and outside the cars it sell.
Air Pollution. All U.S.-built new cars sold in smog-sensitive California were equipped,for the first time, with a $45 device that reduced carbon monoxide and certain other gases emitted by internal combustion engines.
On the national scene, a U.S. Senate subcommittee on air and water pollution, headed by Senator Edmund S. Muskie (D., Me.) met to determine whether a nationwide requirement of exhaust control devices would be in the public interest. Automobile makers showed some reluctance about nationwide application of the devices, which, they insisted,were not necessary in lightly populated areas. The automakers said, however, that they could comply with whatever conditions the Senate set up, provided they had a minimum of two years to prepare for any program adopted.
President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Clean Air Act, containing many of the committee’s proposals, on October 20. The act authorizes the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to draw up national standards to cut down on automobile air pollution by 196.
Crash Protection. The U.S. General Services Administration announced the 17 safety features it would demand on each of the 40,000 or so 1967 model carsit will buy. These included an exhaust-fume control device, a collapsible steering wheel, and a dual braking system.
In July, Senator Abraham Ribicoff (D., Conn.) led the Government Operations Subcommittee on Executive Reorganization to question industry leaders in a study of the government’s role in highway safety. They found it difficult to get an admission from the industry that car design played a significant role in auto deaths. But they did obtain a few token concessions, and committee pressure did force some promises of future safety features.
For its 1966 cars, the industry made up a “safety package,”including backup lights, multiple windshield wipers, padded dashboard,padded sun visors, rear seat belts, and windshield washers. The price of the items averaged about $50. Since the package was “standard”on all 1966 U.S. cars, the cost was passed along to the buyer.
This additional cost offset a reduction, from 10 to 7 per cent, in the federal excise tax, which went into effect May 15, 1965. An additional 1 per cent cut will occur Jan. 1, 1966, with further cuts scheduled for the future.
The combination of the tax cut and the added cost of the safety package complicated efforts to determine whether 1966 car prices were up or down in 1965. The trade publication Automotive News said: “When equipment changes are considered, the prices showed little change from the after tax-cut figures. GM and American Motors are down slightly, Ford held the line, and Chrysler is up.
What’s New. For the U.S. industry as a whole, there were few major styling and engineering changes in the 1966 models. The four major U.S. auto companies–General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, and American Motors–offered a postwar record of 364 body styles, up 18 from a year earlier. They emphasized optional equipment designed to lure additional dollars from the buyer by allowing him to “tailor” the car of his choice. Engine and transmission options were readily available. Before options, transportation,or financing charges were added, prices ranged from $2,004 for a Rambler American to $10,456 for a Cadillac limousine.
The most unusual U.S. car among the 1966 models was Oldsmobile’s Toronado. It was the first U.S. front-wheel-drive car since 1937,when the famed Cord was discontinued. The Toronado was available only as a six-passenger coupé. In simplest terms, the Toronado is pulled by its front wheels rather than by being pushed by its rear wheels.
Among the innovations on 1966 models were the Ford Motor Company’s station wagon dual-action tailgate, which opened either sideways or up and down; and a stereo tape player with four speakers. Also new were Pontiac’s overhead-cam, six-cylinder engine, the first such unit offered by a U.S. manufacturer; Chrysler’s unique safety door handles; and American Motors’ self-adjusting clutch.
Expansion Programs. Both on the domestic front and overseas, U.S. automakers allocated more than $2,000,000,000 for new plants and additions in 1965. U.S.auto firms made especially big investments abroad as they realized that production and sales of new cars in other Free World countries,estimated at over 19,000,000 cars in 1965, exceeded those in the United States. Ford Motor Company, for example, now has 124 overseas plants.
On the personnel front, the major change in the year was at General Motors, where James M. Roche succeeded John F. Gordon as head of the world’s biggest manufacturing concern.
“Automobile (1965).” Online Table. World Book Advanced. World Book, 2015. Web. 9 June 2015..