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

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For the 1967 Buyer’s Guide Issue, Motor Trend grouped the cars by market segment, rather than by manufacturer.  First up was the group listed as Specialty Cars, which covered the booming “personal” segment, whether that was personal luxury, or smaller style-oriented 2-doors (Pony Cars) or even a genuine sports car (Corvette).  These profit-laden expressions of individualized taste would account for 16% of total 1967 sales, so it was an critical emerging segment that attracted a lot of buyer attention.  Let’s have a look.

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Since the Corvette continued to be the only sports car offered by an American maker, it simply got lumped into the Specialty Car category, though it was quite different than all other cars in this segment.  GM deserves credit for the continuous improvement brought to the Corvette–they provided meaningful updates to the car annually through the 1960s.  Sharp-eyed readers may have caught the funny typo in the article: I can’t even imagine a ’67 Corvette running on 6-inch wheels… The editors should have clarified they were talking about width, as the actual wheel size was 15″ x 6″.

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In days gone by, it was impressive to see the amount of differentiation GM could bake into cars sharing the same platform.  The Riviera, Eldorado and Toronado all used the E-body, but the latter two were front-wheel-drive and all three had their own unique engines along with well-differentiated interior and exterior styling.

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Ford did offer up an interesting idea within the new 1967 Thunderbird line-up.  The new 4-door body style, in a category otherwise filled with only 2-doors, would seem to have been a counterintuitive move.  But, with center-opening doors and a blocked-out Landau roof, the 4-door ‘Bird did convey specialty style, and it did outsell the convertible body style it replaced in the roster (24,967 ’67 sedans versus 5,049 ’66 convertibles).  Nonetheless, Ford’s iteration of the 4-door personal luxury car concept proved to be short-lived, ending in the early 1970s.  Recently, however, the idea re-emerged, thanks to the German makes, with their 4-door “Coupes” (mis-named I know) like the Mercedes-Benz CLS, BMW 4- and 6-Series Gran Coupes, and the VW CC.

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Jumbo fastbacks were not what the Specialty Car market wanted in 1967.  While the style worked on smaller bodies, when stretched to large mid-sized dimensions, looks got rather peculiar from some angles.  Granted, the bigger ’67 Marlin looked better than the ’65-’66 versions, but still…

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Pony Cars!  That nickname obviously came from one place–the phenomenally successful Mustang, and Ford worked to ensure that their filly would stay on top for 1967, even as many new competitors would arrive seeking a piece of the action.  The cars were restyled inside and out and gained significantly more performance with optional engines.

I have to admit this is my personal favorite of all the Mustang design generations.  It is a great blending of the original Pony Car style and attributes with a bit more edge and attitude.  Plus, unlike the too-big fastbacks from Dodge and AMC, the ’67 version of the Mustang fastback looks just about perfectly proportioned to me.

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1967 was also the year that the Pony Car wars, still raging today, got underway.  GM knew a “better idea” when they saw one, and so 2 1/2 years after the Mustang started a frenzy, Chevrolet was ready with its challenger.  “More” seemed to be Chevy’s theme with its Pony Car–more engine choices, more trim choices, more options–the only thing the Camaro lacked that Mustang had was a fastback body style.  Whichever Pony is your pick, you have admit that the Ford versus Chevy fight was–and is–great fun to behold.

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Unlike later years, when Mercury products were indistinguishable from Fords save for grilles and trim bits, the Cougar was a truly differentiated offering.  Whether you viewed the Cougar as an extra-nice Mustang or a smaller, sportier Thunderbird, it filled a nice niche in FoMoCo’s Specialty Car line-up and gave Mercury a unique and desirable product to sell.  It also captured “move-up” buyers wanting something fancier than a Mustang, but not wanting a full size personal luxury car.  That logic certainly worked on my family: my Pop traded in his ’64 1/2 Mustang on a ’68 Cougar XR-7.  (Some of my earliest childhood automotive memories are tied to that Augusta Green beauty–even though I was a barely more than a toddler, I still remember the thrill of watching the sequential tail lights operate and listening for the “clunk” of the headlamp covers opening).

So we’ve seen the new products, now let’s take a look at the sales success of the Specialty Car players for 1967:

Ford Mustang  472,171
Chevrolet Camaro  220,917
Mercury Cougar  150,983
Ford Thunderbird  77,956
Buick Riviera  42,799
Chevrolet Corvette  22,940
Oldsmobile Toronado  21,790
Cadillac Eldorado  17,930
Dodge Charger  15,788
AMC Marlin  2,545

No surprise that the Mustang was tops in the Specialty Car sales race–Pony Cars were the rage for 1967, and the originator of the breed was still the leader.  But new entrants also came on strong, with the freshly-introduced Camaro and Cougar rounding out the top 3 segment sellers.  There were even two more Pony Car entrants not covered in the November 1966 Motor Trend, since they were released to the market later than the rest: the Plymouth Barracuda (62,534 sold) and the Pontiac Firebird (82,560 sold).  These smaller Specialty Cars were white hot for 1967!

The personal luxury players were also doing well.  Thunderbird sales climbed 13% compared with 1966, while the stylish and expensive new Eldorado sold well and fattened GM’s bottom line nicely.  Chrysler and AMC continued to miss the boat, however, and it wouldn’t be until 1968 that their sales figures in the Specialty Car segment would improve, with the arrival of the revamped Charger and the new Javelin.

1967 was a good year for the Specialty Cars, whether you considered it as one big category, or really two (Pony Cars and personal luxury cars).  Either way, the success of the segment would not wane for decades to come.