Vintage Reviews: Motor Trend’s 1967 New Car Issue – Compacts

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The Compact segment, which had been the rage in the early 1960s, was under pressure as the 1967 model year rolled around.  Pony Cars were tempting buyers in droves, while Compacts were seen as “square.”  So how did U.S. makers dress up their smallest offerings for ’67?  Motor Trend provided the run down in the New Car Issue.

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Chrysler Corporation was the only manufacturer to introduce extensively revamped products into the Compact segment for 1967.  The strong selling Dodge Dart was given a comprehensive update with crisp new styling that mimicked its larger siblings.  Dodge was also committed to making the Dart a genuine Pony Car alternative by offering a range of sportier GT models that included a 2-door hardtop and a convertible.  The results were a bright spot for the segment: Dart sales climbed 38% versus 1966.

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One of the mysteries of the 1967 model year was the trouncing that Ford took in the Compact and Intermediate segments.  Sure, the competition was fierce, and yes the Mustang was strong–but then again it already had been for several years.  Changes to the Falcon were minimal, so it didn’t offer any “new news”, though the car had just been redesigned for 1966, and was still quite fresh.  But the Falcon was stale to buyers, and sales tanked 65%.

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Another Compact that took it on the chin for ’67 was the Rambler American.  While far from being a fresh design by the standards of the time (the American continued to wear its circa-1964 clothes), it was still a very functional and conservative choice for thrifty buyers.  AMC even offered a “Typhoon” 290 CID V8 and the slightly rakish Rogue 2-door hardtop and convertible to tempt the sportier set.  However, the allure of Pony Cars and Intermediates was very strong for 1967, so the compact American sales sank 48%.

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For 1967, the Valiant’s appearance was brought up-to-date with the rest of the Chrysler line-up: styling was clean and square-edged. While sister division Dodge kept 2-door hardtops and convertibles in the model mix, Plymouth focused its Valiant refresh on pure practicality, offering only 2-door and 4-door sedans (unfortunately, the useful compact wagon body style was dropped).  No doubt Plymouth was counting on the Valiant-derived Barracuda, with 2-door hardtop, convertible and fastbacks, to make waves in the Pony Car segment.  However, given the elimination of so many Valiant body styles compared to 1966, it is little wonder that sales for the smallest Plymouth dropped 21%.

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General Motors dramatically ratcheted back its emphasis on the Corvair for 1967.  Since the new Camaro was a much more conventional Pony Car offering to attract sporty car enthusiasts, Chevy simply dumped the performance-oriented Corvair Corsa models, while removing the larger 140-horsepower 164 CID 6-cylinder as an option for the rear-engined cars.  Other changes for 1967 were minimal.  So even though the Corvair continued to wear one of Bill Mitchell’s best-ever styling jobs, the market had thoroughly lost interest.  Sales plunged 74% for 1967, and the writing was clearly on the wall about the Corvair’s future…

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Chevrolet’s other Compact offering, the Chevy II, also received minimal changes for 1967.  Once again, all eyes were on the new Camaro, so the marketing emphasis was shifted and the Chevy II became the conservative choice for pragmatic buyers.  The ho-hum market positioning resulted in an unsurprising sales dip: Chevy II unit volume declined 19%.

That, in a nutshell, was the issue with the entire Compact segment for 1967: the pragmatic products were out-shined by sexier offerings in other domestic segments.  Or worse yet for Detroit, frugal yet adventurous shoppers seeking an economy car were sampling the new imported wares from Toyota and Datsun (1967 sales of 38,073 and 45,496, respectively).  And of course, VW popularity was continuing to soar (1967 sales: 454,801), undoubtedly diverting quite a number of buyers who might otherwise have picked a domestic Compact.  The sales results told the full story:

Dodge Dart  154,500
Plymouth Valiant  108,969
Chevrolet Chevy II  106,500
Ford Falcon  64,355
Rambler American  62,680
Chevrolet Corvair  27,253

 

Just a few years prior, in 1965, the domestic Compact segment had accounted for 1,053,765 units.  In 1960, the so-called “inaugural” year for Compacts, when each of the U.S. automakers offered small(ish) cars, sales were a sizable 1,441,407 units.  Thus, the 1967 total of 524,257 Compact sales was quite a comedown.  Unfortunately, U.S. makers took away the wrong signals from the slump.  Rather than understanding that many American buyers continued to be interested in high-quality, efficient and functional entry-level cars, Detroit assumed these buyers just wanted “cheap” cars.  “No margins in that!” screamed the bean counters, so Detroit focused elsewhere and small car buyers continued to drift away.