1960s Classic Cars
New car sales in the United States in 1969 set a calendar-year record exceeding 9.5 million. The previous record, 9,403,862, was set in 1968. The 1969 success was due in part to imported-car sales, which passed 1 million for the first time. Scattered strikes and a tighter money market, however, caused manufacturers to temper end-of-the-year optimism. Slow sales of early 1970 models caused the shutdown of some plants and cuts in production plans.
The booming sales of import models spurred domestic manufacturers to introduce smaller “subcompact” models–and plan for more. Ford Motor Company led in April with its Maverick–to be followed later by a still smaller unit, tentatively called the Phoenix,with dimensions close to those of the Volkswagen, most successful of the imports.
During the fall new-car season, American Motors Corporation (AMC) brought out the Hornet, its entry in the same field. AMC is to follow with a still smaller model, referred to before its introduction as the Gremlin. The Chevrolet Division of General Motors (GM) announced it was also preparing a small model, code-named the XP-887, for introduction in 1970. Detroit’s longest holdout against the new size was Chrysler Corporation, but it finally announced in mid-1969 that, late in 1970,it would offer a subcompact, code-named the Chrysler 25. Here is how the dimensions of the new cars compare to those of their arch competitor,the Volkswagen “beetle,” according to early plans.
As a new class of small cars approached, the longest-lived of older”compacts” finally died. GM ended production of the Chevrolet Corvair on May 2. The first Corvair was sold late in 195.
New Engines rivaled the new car sizes for the attention of auto enthusiasts.While William Lear, multimillionaire industrialist, bowed out of the struggle to develop a practical, modern steam car, he said his interestin low-pollution engines continued. His attention shifted to the development of a gas turbine car. Overseas, conservative Daimler-Benz of Stuttgart,Germany, departed from the reciprocating engine for its new sports C-111, unveiled in September at the Frankfurt Auto Show. The C-111 uses a three-rotor Wankel rotary engine and is called a research-and-development car for the present, partly, perhaps, because the Wankel exhaust emissions continued to be a problem. Smaller, two-rotor Wankels were already in two production cars, the Mazda by Toyo-Kogyo of Japan and the R080by NSU Motorenwerke-AG, another German manufacture.
Industry-Government Relations in the United States during 1969 were strained by such issues as the safe design of vehicles, compliance with government standards,air pollution, and pricing. Here, too, imports made news: Fiat, the Italian firm, was the first car builder against which the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) sought penalties for violating auto safetyl aws.
In January, the federal government sued four major U.S. manufacturers–GM,Ford, Chrysler, and AMC–as well as the Automobile Manufacturers Association, charging they had violated antitrust laws to delay development and installation of improved air-pollution controls.
The court allowed a settlement in which the manufacturers, without admitting conspiracy to delay the improvements, promised not to do so in the future. Seven states and five cities joined Los Angeles in fighting the settlement, especially a provision that denied them and the public access to evidence uncovered by the U.S. Department of Justice and to testimony before a grand jury in Los Angeles.
California, in another action, charged that the price stickers on new cars were so inflated they are generally disregarded in bargaining for a car, and that they, therefore, constituted false advertising.
Labor. Scattered disputes at GM and a strike at AMC were seen by some as muscle-flexing by the United Auto Workers in preparation for 1970 contract talks with the three big automakers, GM, Ford, and Chrysler.
The 1970 Cars, beyond the move to new,smaller models, continued to show the industry’s effort to lure buyers, especially the young, with power. New cars offered more powerful engines, functional air scoops, model names that stressed power, and longer hoods. Dodge, a division of the Chrysler Corporation, for example, lopped 4 inches from the rear of its cars,but added 3 to the front. Ford’s Thunderbird added nearly 6 inches to the hood length, including a protuberant “nose” reminiscent of Pontiac’s Grand Prix and attributed to a last minute change imposed by Semon E. Knudsen, briefly Ford Motor Company president.
In apparent response to complaints of costly repairs, some makers expanded their owners manuals to help car owners make their own minor repairs. In their manuals, Ford and AMC provided illustrated instructions for more than 40 maintenance operations on the Maverick and Hornet,respectively.
Cadillac dropped the V symbol it had carried for 23 years. Fiber glass-belted tires were on nearly every 1970 car, although Ford’s Mark III went further, carrying steel-fiber-belted, radial-ply tires from Michelino f Franc.
The Knudsen Story gave outsiders what seemed like a glimpse of the agonies in Detroit executive suites. Early in 1968, Knudsen had left GM as executive vice-president when he was passed over for the presidency. He was hired as president of Ford Motor Company by Henry Ford II. In less than 19 months, however,Ford decided he had made a mistake. Knudsen was fired on Sept. 2, 1969.It seemed clear he had drawn the ire of Ford executives, especially Lee A. Iacocca, father of the Mustang and then Ford’s vice-president of North American auto operation.
New Car Prices increased on 1970 models forthe ninth consecutive year. The manufacturers weighted figures according to the sales volume of particular car lines and said the increases per car averaged $125 at General Motors, $108 at Ford, $107 at Chrysler, and $81 at American Motors. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) said the overall increase averaged $107, with $46 reflected in quality improvements and $61 representing a straight price increase. Of the quality improvements,the BLS said $7.50 was for changes required by higher federal safety standards and $5.50 was accounted for by improved exhaust contro lof air pollutants.
“Automobile (1969).” Online Table. World Book Advanced. World Book, 2015. Web. 9 June 2015..