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1966 Cars


The Sixties
1960s Classic Cars

1966 Cars

Safety was the main chapter of the automobile story in 1966 as the industry chalked up its second best sales and production year, topped only by record-setting 1965.

Virtually everyone talked about highway safety and the need for cutting down on the nation’s traffic toll of about 1,000 deaths a week.Congress, at the request of President Lyndon B. Johnson, moved the federal government into the forefront of the battle.

Congress gave virtually unanimous endorsement to the Johnson-proposed Highway Safety Act of 1966 and the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, both of which the President signed on September 9. At the same time, he named William J. Haddon, Jr., as the National Highway Safety Agency’s first administration.

Auto Sales, which started out strong in the opening quarter of 1966, eased off in April just about the time maximum attention was focused on congressional auto safety hearings and on attorney-author Ralph Nader, whose book, Unsafe at Any Speed, sharply criticized the automobile industry as indifferent to the safeness of its cars.

Indications were that new car sales in the United States in 1966 would total about 9,000,000 units, including a record-breaking 640,000 imports.This would be about 300,000 cars short of the 9,332,945 cars (including 569,415 imports) sold in 1965.

Some auto industry leaders contended that overemphasis on the auto safety issue had scared some potential buyers out of the market. Other reasons listed for the sales drop were the war in Vietnam– which took thousands of young potential car buyers into military service–and tighter credit restrictions that made installment loans harder to get. Also in April, the 7 per cent federal excise tax was reimposed;it had dropped to 6 per cent on Jan. 1, 1966.

Even though car buyers bought fewer cars, they spent almost as much on them as they did in 1965. They were “trading up” and buying more extras. Cars with a list price above $2,500 accounted for 60 per cent of U.S. output in the first half of 1966, up from 52 per cent in the year-earlier period. In 1961, when the trend to higher priced cars started, the percentage figure was only 32. More than 29 per cent of the new cars produced in the first nine months of the 1966 model year were air-conditioned. Only 23 per cent of the 1965 line was so equipped.

Production. The slight slowdown in sales–in comparison with 1965’s red-hot pace–showed up in downward adjustments in productions schedules at the four major U.S. auto companies. They were expected to wind up 1966 with assemblies of about 8,600,000 cars, compared with 9,300,000 in 1965.

U.S. bus and truck production was expected to reach about 1,700,000 units, under the record 1,802,603 assembled in 1965. The combined truck and passenger car output for 1966 came to about 10,370,000 units.World-wide, car and truck production in 1966 was estimated at 22,000,000 units, compared with about 23,000,000 in 1965.

In some other segments of the world auto market, Canada and notably Britain, motor vehicle production was trimmed in 1966. Britain, in retrenching its home economy to bolster its exports, tightened credit on purchases of cars. Higher down payments with shorter repayment periods, as well as a higher sales tax, effectively reduced sales.Britain’s position as the world’s No. 3 auto producer was challenged by Japan, whose output of cars and trucks was expected to total 2,200,000 units in 196.

The 1967 Line. The U.S. auto companies offered 367 basic 1967 models, with scores of options. The two major sales themes were safety and sportiness.

Ford, which jumped into an early lead in the personalized, sporty car field with the Mustang two years ago, found itself with a bevy of challengers. One came from within its own family–Lincoln-Mercury’s Cougar. Chevrolet came up with its Camaro, and Chrysler-Plymouth jazzed up and enlarged its Barracuda line, as it made a determined bid fora piece of the sporty car market, estimated at 1,000,000 units a year.

Prices ranged from $2,073 for a Rambler American 220 to $10,571 fora Cadillac Seventy-Five limousine. The design trend was toward a long hood, a short deck, and low and sleek profiles.

The 1967 models bore higher price tags. General Motors (GM) put its average increase at $54 a car. Chrysler estimated its at $64; Ford,$66; and American Motors, $67. Ford and Chrysler originally had announced larger price hikes, but trimmed them after GM’s announcement of smaller figures.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) backed up the industry’s contention that most of the price increase stemmed from the inclusion of former optional safety features as standard equipment. The BLS said that after allowances for quality changes, the 1967 prices averaged only two-tenths of one per cent over those of the 1966 models. Prices that consumers actually paid for cars in 1966 were the lowest since 1957, according to the BLS. The Consumer Price Index for new cars in August, 1966, stood at 95.8 (1957-1959=100). For foods, it was 115.8.

Safety improvements of several types were made on the 1967 models.For the 1968 models–both U.S. and foreign–the safety act required the federal government to issue safety standards by Jan.31, 1967. On December 1, U.S. Safety Administrator Haddon published a list of 23 requirements for the 1968 models. The automakers were given 30 days to present their counter suggestions.

The proposed standards differed somewhat from those set by the federal government on the cars it purchased. Not included in the new list were rear window defoggers, standard bumper heights, and roll bars on Jeep-type vehicles. Added to the list were windshield defoggers and generally more stringent requirements for the car’s interior:padding, recessing of knobs, and seat anchorage.

New Car Warranties were expanded and improved in 1966. For the first time, all four major car firms were guaranteeing the power train–engine, transmission,and rear axle–for five years or 50,000 miles, whichever came first. Chrysler–the first with such a warranty–and its three competitors extended it to the suspension and steering systems. All four companies guaranteed all the rest of the car except tires, upholstery,and some trim items for two years or 24,000 mile.

The Electric Car emerged on the automotive horizon in 1966. It was still years away from making an appearance in the showrooms, however. In September,Ford disclosed a laboratory model of a sodium-sulfur battery, 15 times lighter than the conventional lead variety. Company engineers said they would need at least two more years to develop a prototype car. In October, GM demonstrated two experimental electric vehicles. One,a Corvair, was powered by heavy, expensive ($15,000) silver-zinc batteries.The other, a small truck, was driven by hydrogen oxygen fuel cells.Both had short ranges of from 40 to 150 miles.


“Automobile (1966).” Online Table. World Book Advanced. World Book, 2015. Web. 9 June 2015..

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