A Brief History Of The Motor Car Chapter 5
The 1970 and 80s

A Brief History Of The Motor Car
The early years. Chapter 5 The 1970 and 80s
Published by: All Car Central Publishing
Date published: 06/11/2014

Chapter 5 The 1970 and 80s

1967 Datsun 411 SSS
Submitted by Rick Feibusch

Datsun 411 SSS 1967

As the world economy expanded and countries like South Korea started to develop an Auto Industry the style and design of the family car changed. Japan who had a prewar record of producing reliable and interesting cars started to export to America and later to Europe. The cars were small and featured several features that attracted buyers, not least exceptional fuel economy compared with the performance of the average American vehicle.

The fuel crunch of the 1970's and the creation of OPEC where the oil producing countries joined together into a "Cartel" that decided the price and supply of middle east oil to the world pushed the cost of a single barrel to unknown heights . In 1969 the world price was around $2.30/$3.00, by 1972 it had jumped to $48.00. Today it averages around $i00 and/or more.

The true story of the 1970/80s is simple, both in the U.S and most other first world countries...Incomes rose in company with higher expectations. More families purchased their own homes and equipped them with the most recent gadgets. Automatic washing and drying machines. Full size television with multiple choice stations. Example; 1952 black and white screen, 12 to 14 inches in size, and if lucky five or seven stations transmitting much the same material... Move forward twenty years to 1972. We have 20/24 inch Color TV with a selection of 50/70 stations and national viewing from coast to coast. The same growth in can be seen in the Auto Industry during the same time period., coupled with the growth of the environmental lobby that brought about lead free fuel and stronger legislation on fuel performance. In certain situations the fuel and pollution requirements spelled economic doom for certain manufactures and auto manufacturing countries.

Europe was truly affected by these new requirements. In the case of Germany the industry saw the writing on the wall and took the right steps to face and meet the new American policy. France on the other had did not and lost a substantial market. Italy much the same fate but the most devastating effect was felt in Britain. US Exports fell through the floor and never recovered. By 1980 all general vehicle exports to the U.S. had ceased. Yes you could still get a Rolls Royce but not much else. One or two companies managed to catch up with the modern world like Jaguar and/or Land Rover and continued to have a small share of the US market but the word small is certainly right when compared with the sales of British cars a few years earlier. On the other hand imports of cars from Japan, South Korea. Etc, expanded year after year. One of the many attractions was that at the time, seemed to be A exceptional warranties compared with the situation with home grown vehicles.

1979 Mazda XR7
Submitted by Rick Feibusch

Mazda XR7 1979

A personal illustration of this was the 1978 Mazda that I purchased that gave the owner a warranty of 50,000 miles covering everything except the tires! The best I could get a few years earlier on a Ford Mustang was twenty five thousand which of course I took as it was the standard policy of the American motor industry at the time. Some imports were even less especially from France and the UK with the additional problem of finding a dealer who would/could work on these cars. Without doubt the most successful import has to be the V.W Beetle, a car company that was rejected by the allies after the war when it was offered as compensation for war damage first to the British and then the French.

1978 Ford Pinto

Ford Pinto 1978

By the mid seventies the American driver started to see home grown examples of,( if not small), certainly mid size cars in the Dealers showrooms. As to be expected Ford led the way with the Pinto which had a very successful life as an economic and inexpensive means of transport. Various versions were offered from the family's second car to a station wagon that could and often did serve as a commercial vehicle.

Sometime in the early 1970's my wife purchased a Pinto wagon with imitation wood panels on the sides. I was not impressed, however at around 100,000 miles I started to realize that this car was by any standards an attractive buy. On memory it went to a second owner at around 120K who as far as I know was quite satisfied.

1975 AMC Pacer

1975 AMC Pacer

American Motors also threw its hat into the economy ring with the "Pacer", not quite as attractive as Ford but quite a lot were sold. Datsun led the import market with Toyota a very close second. Here was a company with a keen eye on the US market who designed a car especially to attract the American drivers...The Corona. They also went a step further by being the first exporter to open a production plant in the US. With the price of oil creeping up almost month by month economy was the order of the day. Advertisements no longer promoted the cargo space or the luxury interior etc. The principle feature was gas consumption. As a matter of statistical interest in 1968 the average American car would drive 16/18 miles on a gallon of fuel. If you had a heavy foot it could be as low as 14 miles to the gallon. Ten years later the average performance had increased to 22 miles and with overdrive, now considered an important feature; it could be in the mid twenties. I know that these are simply averages and that some cars demanded lower performance simply because of size, load etc., but by taking the average over a ten year period it can be easily seen that fuel consumption had taken the place of most other considerations.

1969 Mini Cooper MKII
Submitted by Nigel Rhodes

1969 Mini Cooper MKII

If you want to see dramatic changes take a look at Europe where cars were being produced with averages in excess of 30/36 miles per gallon, understandable when you take into account the price of such fuel. Today it's even more obvious with a gallon of fuel retailing at around nine dollars a gallon, even more in some locations. The British Mini was launched in 1959 with an estimated life span of ten to fifteen years. By 1970 it was looking both tired and basic and the decision was taken to phase it out in favor of new designs. The public outcry was such that the government of the day who owned the company decided to give the car a face life and continue production. Why was it so popular? Because it cruised at 70 MPH consuming one gallon of fuel every thirty five miles! It was simply an attractive car no matter if you were rich or at the other end of the economic scale. The original Mini design lasted a total of thirty eight years to be replaced by a modern version that is still being sold today. The rather strange looking Smart Car has much the same appeal, great gas performance, but for me not much else. It has been suggested by certain scribes that America has never embraced the Sports Car leaving that market to Europe and elsewhere. I think that this is a wrong assumption...Next time I will take a serious look at the American Sports Car Marque and suggest that the US has, and always has, played a role in this development...

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