We all know how it actually went, as the Falcon led the big 3 small car parade in 1960. But never before did the mighty big 3 contribute 3 vastly different entries into the task of answering one question. In 20/20 hindsight which would you choose?
The radical nature (for American cars) of the Corvair led it to be voted on as Car Of The Year by Motor Trend. But it was not without its faults. We all know about the radical camber changes that could lead to many a sticky situation for those unfamiliar with swing axle dynamics. Also the air cooled 6 wasn’t as economic as it could be, pre-Monza trim level models could be quite grim in appointments, luggage space was awkward, and small. And well…that Powerglide didn’t exactly liven things up, with 0-60 times running between 18 to 20 seconds.
The Falcon ran away with the sales crown for 1960, with nearly 436,000 of the simple, sturdy little machines coming out of factories. It also had the greatest international reach, finding different lives in places as diverse as Argentina and Australia. But its popularity doesn’t mean that it was necessarily the best option. Though sturdy and thrifty (genuine high twenties economy!), that 144 cube Thriftmaster 6 was wheezy, and downright asthmatic when paired with the 2 speed Ford-o-Matic. Maybe that goes hand in hand with the fact that the original Falcon couldn’t be all that fun to drive, with handling dynamics of a mid century modern sofa.
And then there’s the Valiant. Soon to be legendary Slant 6, Torqueflite 3 Speed automatic, Torsion-Aire ride and handling. And although the styling (minus the “toilet seat”) appeals to me, the reappearance of the jaunty long hood short deck proportions didn’t excite buyers in combination with quite a few “Exner embellishments.” Although improved, Chrysler’s reputation for build quality wasn’t exactly universally great during this period either.
In a reverse of things, the re-styled 1964 Falcon was included with the rest of the Ford line up as Car of The Year by Motor Trend. And now with zestier lines, sprightly interior appointments and the soon to be legendary Windsor V8 recently upsized to 289 cubes, The Falcon was decidedly having a party. A party that was crashed by a car it gave birth to: The Mustang. Just when the Falcon seemed to get everything right, no one wanted to come to the party.
The Valiant actually was standing pat after going through puberty and becoming a quite normal looking, pleasant looking little appliance car. In fact, the Valiant reset the character of Plymouth back to its traditional place of being a well constructed, well engineered, all around competent car for a low entry price. Still present were the Slant 6 in 2 sizes and the LA block V8 was now on board. But this is the generation that established the Valiant as the choice of all women that never married and the men who pursued them. That image problem never hurt the Valiant as much as it did every other Plymouth, as the “Valiant image” defined the brand.
And then there’s the 1965 Corvair. Completely free of the shackles of having to pretend it was an economy car (There’s the Chevy II for that now), we now have America’s first (and at this time only) Sports Sedan in the idiom that was strictly German or Italian in the 1960s. Even the slightly awkward sedans were graced with pillarless hardtop styling, a sign of status GM pioneered (Why settle for pillars?). A Corvette derived 4 wheel independent suspension and surprising pep and economy from the 140 and 180hp sixes made them some of the most joyous cars to drive. But the GM quality slide of the late 1960s started to rear its ugly head. And who wants a Sports Sedan when you can have a Mustang…..
From being at the top of the flock for the class of 1960, The Falcon proved that your best times are high school when you’re popular in your youth. In 1969 it was virtually forgotten, being redesigned in 1966 on a shortened Fairlane chassis (all Falcon Wagons were basically 1966 Fairlanes from the Cowl back). Nary a Hardtop or anything special in sight, its economy image stripped by the mid-season Maverick, the Falcon shuffled into 1970 a corpse that would be attempted to be resurrected on a “1970 1/2” stripper Torino for half the year, before becoming a total expatriate in Australia where it lives to this day.
Corvair, did it really have to end this way? Like many a true Rock legend that joined the “27 Club” between 1969 and 1970, The Corvair joined some type of car club for strokes of genius that didn’t get their share of fair breaks. The last Corvairs were noted for abysmal quality that would become somewhat of a normal disease for many more GM cars over the coming decade. It’s obvious how much love GM had for the car at the end when the artist rendering of the model doesn’t get the front fender right…
Nerds have the last laugh, from Bill Gates, to the Plymouth Valiant. That solid reputation as an appliance led it to be the sole survivor people could count on out of the big 3 compacts from 1960. And the variety of variants throughout the world were equally, if not more impressive than what American buyers could get their hands on. Not only would it survive into 1976, it would leave such a towering shadow that Mopar couldn’t replace.
So I’m sure you have your opinions, so here’s how I cast my vote.
In 1960, my freak flag would have flown high and I would have got a rip roaring Valiant. 200 Series 4 door Sedan with the Torqueflite, probably White with a red interior.
In 1965, I would have swooned over the sleek musculature that was the Corvair, seeing a 7/8ths 1963 Riviera with a bit of Lancia or other Pininfarina styled wares outside of my budget. Having saved a bit of money, I’d splurge on a Corsa Coupe with wire wheels and the base 140hp engine. 4 Speed of course.
In 1969, Being 10 years more sensible than I was at the beginning of the decade, A Valiant Signet 2 Door Sedan, no vinyl top and a 318/Torqueflite would have been the ticket.
So time to cast your votes, crowd. Anyone have a 3 time in a row winner? Be objective.