Vintage Comparison Test: 1969 AMC Rebel SST, Chevrolet Chevelle Concours, Dodge Coronet 440, Ford Fairlane 500 – Showdown In Pasadena

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It’s fun to see Mike Burns’ post on this 1969 Dodge Coronet 440 survivor, imagining how it started life in Oklahoma and then served its duty in Eastern Colorado.   Cars like this Coronet, along with its rivals from the U.S. Big Four, were popular workhorses from coast to coast.  Not-too-big and not-too-small, these cars were a good, practical solution for many buyers, even if they were somewhat boring.  That fact did not deter Motor Trend, as they set out to compare “average” mid-market cars in the June 1969 issue.

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While the cars tested represented mid sized nameplates from AMC, Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford, they were pretty fully loaded for the times (actually the Chevelle Malibu Concours 4-door hardtop was positively dripping with options).  To more accurately reflect the real “mid-market” at the time, the test would have needed to feature cars with smaller engines and fewer extra cost options–but of course that’s not what the manufacturers would have wanted to showcase in their press fleets…

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It’s clearly the 1960s: it is entertaining to see MT’s editors extolling the virtues of vinyl seats.  Even Ford’s famed “panty cloth” upholstery couldn’t dethrone the 100% real plastic seat coverings.  Another feature receiving a lot of praise was the reclining seat option in the Rebel–it is almost unbelievable that Detroit resisted adding this feature, either as standard or optional, for so many years on so many cars.  Small functional benefits can mean a lot, as the Japanese gleefully proved when they effectively launched their assault on the U.S. market with high-value, feature-laden little cars.

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As was typical for the times, the Mopar responded and rode the best with its stock suspension set-up.  In spite of better handling as offered by the extra-cost suspension package, the Chevy was dinged for a more harsh ride.  After all, in the late 1960s, many buyers wanted a cloud-like coddling ride to compliment their genuine vinyl seats…

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Fuel mileage and braking performance were nothing to brag about, though that likely didn’t matter too much to the target audience at the time.  Gas was cheap, and as long as the car could stop hard one time without fade, most buyers in the segment probably thought that they were covered.  Automatic transmissions, decent AM radios, ashtrays and cigarette lighters likely factored higher in the purchase consideration…

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Motor Trend wound up giving the nod to the Rebel, though the shout-out was so subtle that it could almost be missed.  I imagine MT’s editors were hopeful none of those big advertisers at Chrysler, Ford and GM would notice…  To be fair, the AMC did offer a nice blend of features and performance wrapped in a very unassuming package–so rightly an excellent example of boring mid-market goodness.

For me, however, the choice would have been different.  I am a sucker for a strong brand, sexy styling, lots of options and fancy trim, so the Chevy would have been my first pick.  From there, I would have taken the Dodge and then the Ford, with the AMC placing last in my mind–the brand just seemed too dowdy in spite of the product merits.  The 1969 “mid market” seemingly agreed with my picks, as Chevrolet sold 455,000 Chevelles, Dodge sold 197,003 Coronets, Ford retailed 366,911 mid sizers, while poor AMC only turned out 60,106 Rebels.  Which one would you have taken home in 1969?