Vintage Reviews: Motor Trend’s 1967 New Car Issue – Luxury And Full Size

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1967 was a banner year for the American big car: each of the U.S. makers served up heavily revamped offerings.  It was a smart investment by the manufacturers, as the Luxury and Full Size segments still accounted for over 50% of U.S. car sales and a tremendous amount of the profit.  Take a look at what Motor Trend had to say about all the updates.

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The 1967 Imperial was the most thoroughly redone car in the U.S. Luxury Car segment.  Though the Imperial switched to Mopar’s full sized C-Body platform, it rode on an exclusive 127″ wheelbase and was just under 225″ long.  Exterior styling followed the established Chrysler styling themes with long, linear lines and crisp detailing.  Inside, the Imperial was lavishly trimmed, though very much in keeping with the interiors found in the senior Chryslers.  Still, buyers responded well, as sales rose 28%.  Even with that volume increase, however, the Imperial did not come close to either Lincoln or Cadillac in the sales race.

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The least-changed big car offering for 1967 came from Lincoln.  Other than very minor detail modifications, the Continental for 1967 was a virtual repeat of 1966.  Little wonder then that sales dipped 17%, for 1967, though the Lincoln was still a landmark beauty–and the only automaker to offer a 4-door convertible body style (for the last time, as it would turn out).

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Cadillac in the 1960s was a master of styling continuity.  Major refreshes, like the one deployed for 1967, always retained familiar Cadillac styling cues, but repackaged in updated forms, so the neighbors would always know who had the newest one.  In spite of the significant changes for ’67, sales dipped by 7%, though some of that decrease could be attributed to customers choosing the new Eldorado instead of a traditional Calais/DeVille/Fleetwood model.

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The car that had the highest percentage sales increase in the Full Size category for 1967 came from AMC.  No Joke!  With an 83% increase over 1966, the totally redesigned Ambassador enjoyed bigger sales growth than any other car in the segment.  Really nothing more than a mid size Rebel with a longer nose and fancier trim, AMC nonetheless positioned the Ambassador as a value-priced “right sized” full size car.  The only problem was that the Ambassador and Rebel overlapped so closely that buyers seemingly cross-shopped the two cars and then picked one.  ’67 Ambassador sales went up by 28,392 units from the year prior, but Rebel (Rambler Classic) went down by 30,836.  Hence, AMC wound up losing market share for the year despite all the new product investment.

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Besides the AMC Ambassador and the Chrysler Imperial, Buick was the only other car in the Luxury and Full Size category to post a sales increase for 1967.  Though up only a modest 3% compared to 1966, the big Buicks did better than all their GM siblings on a percentage increase basis.  Maybe it was the flowing new “sweep spear” body side contouring, or the new freer-breathing Big Block 430 V8 that drove the lift.  No matter, the 1967 Buick was a successful and profitable part of GM’s “upper middle” market focus.

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Of the high volume big car brands, Chevrolet suffered the largest sales tumble compared to 1966, dropping 20%.  That relatively poor performance was surprising, since the full size Chevrolet offered sweeping new styling and thoroughly redone interiors.  Motor Trend was right in stating that no competitor would take Chevrolet’s leadership position for 1967–even with the sales drop, the big Chevy was still tops, with over 1.2 million units sold.

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1967 marked the first comprehensive refresh of Elwood Engel’s handsome, square-cut 1965 Chrysler design.  The rectilinear themes established for 1965 were continued, but with more elaborate concave body side sculpting and new rooflines for the 2-door hardtops.  Aiming at the likes of Mercury and Oldsmobile, a new “middle” model joined the Chrysler line-up as well: the Newport Custom slotted in above the base Newport and below the New Yorker.  The 300 Series still served as Chrysler’s big car “performance” variant, though the nameplate’s glory days were rapidly receding in the rear view mirror.  Even with all the changes, however, sales dipped by 17% as buyer interest shifted elsewhere…

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The big Dodge was the shocker of 1967.  Like its Mopar siblings, the full size Dodge was totally reworked with new styling, increased dimensions and improved engines.  Unlike sister divisions, Dodge sales took an alarming nosedive, plunging 61% compared to 1966.  Dodge sales suffered worse than any other car in the Full Size segment!  Perhaps the dramatic “Delta” tail lights were too extreme for buyers…

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Ford also undertook a considerable refresh on its full size range for 1967.  Lines continued the styling themes established for 1965, but were much “softer” and more flowing.  Inside, the quest for quiet reigned supreme, as Ford continued its “luxury for less” positioning.  Unfortunately, sales were softer as well: unit volume fell below the 1 million mark, though on a percentage basis the decline of 16% was less severe than the 20% drop suffered by arch rival Chevrolet.

My Granddaddy Will had a 1967 Ford Galaxie 500 4-door sedan, and I still have vague memories of the car from when I was a little boy.  The most striking thing about his Ford was the bizarre color combination: outside it was dark green (Dark Moss Green according to Ford paint chips) with a black vinyl top, while the interior was dressed up in a silvery blue vinyl.  Since Granddaddy Will always bought remnants at the end of the model year for the lowest possible price, I imagine his Galaxie 500 had been “lot poison” due to its unusual color mix.  Granddaddy Will was happy with that Ford though, since it was inexpensive to run and tough as nails, just like he liked.  He couldn’t have cared less what color it was, as long as it was cheap!

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Like its big Ford sibling, the full size Mercury also received more flowing styling for 1967.  Front and rear treatments also continued to mimic Lincoln looks, and interiors were made more posh.  A new top-of-the-line 2-door hardtop was added as well, and it was the first Mercury to wear the Marquis name, which would later become synonymous with the brand.  The odd Breezeway rooflines were no more, though the power-operated rear window was still offered on certain models, though it would only open about 2 inches.  Buyers were apparently unmoved by the changes, however, as sales declined 20% from 1966.

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Oldsmobile touted Toronado-inspired styling as the highlight for its 1967 full sizers.  Nameplates in the 88 series were rejiggered as well, with the new Delmont 88 becoming the entry-level full size Olds.  Ninety-Eights continued with the conservative “almost-a-Cadillac” approach for the top-end of the big car range.  Still, like most full size lines for 1967, Oldsmobile suffered a decline, with sales off 16%.

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Full size Plymouths were a Mopar bright spot for 1967.  Styling was new and quite handsome.  Under hood, buyers enjoyed refined and updated powertrains.  Interior trim was nicely done for the most part, while value-oriented pricing was retained.  This combination of attributes allowed Plymouth to enjoy fairly minimal year-over-year sales declines, dropping just 4%–though the Fury still significantly trailed the sales results achieved by the full size Chevrolets and Fords.

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Full Size Pontiacs featured swoopy new styling, and were the first cars to offer “hidden” windshield wipers–a styling feature that would soon become commonplace.  Motor Trend lumped the Grand Prix in with the Catalina/Executive/Bonneville, rather than breaking it out into the Specialty category with other personal luxury cars, likely because the GP essentially was a trim variant of a full size car at this point.  It was also the least popular big Pontiac: including the one-year-only convertible Grand Prix offered for 1967, sales topped out at 42,981 (about the same as the Buick Riviera).  Even the unexciting Executive series sold more units: 46,987 of the mid-range big Ponchos found homes.  Overall, sales for Pontiac’s full size line-up dipped 9% compared to 1966, though that actually was one of the smallest declines in the segment.

So how did all the Luxury and Full Size cars sell for the year?  Here they are, in rank order:

Chevrolet  1,201,700
Ford  877,127
Pontiac  433,714
Plymouth  317,310
Buick  313,969
Oldsmobile  265,360
Chrysler  218,742
Cadillac  179,737
Mercury  138,123
AMC Ambassador  62,615
Dodge  55,600
Lincoln  45,667
Imperial  17,614

 

Luxury and Full Size cars managed to hang on to 54% of the U.S. car market for 1967.  Given the investment in new product and plethora of nameplates, however, manufacturers were probably hoping for more.  Though industry executives surely did not want to admit it, the peak Big Car era was beginning to wane.