It’s something of a given that Chrysler’s sales and market share tanked starting in 1958 due to poor quality in the new ’57 models. But was that the real or main reason? This morning’s CC on the ’57 Plymouth raises some doubts in that regard. That prompted me to make some charts, and see better what really happened; not in sales numbers, but by market share.
Comparing sales numbers year by year can be very misleading, as the overall market grew or shrank constantly, and quite dramatically in some years. For instance, 1958 was a nasty recession, and the market shrunk by 27%. But big cars got hit even harder. By looking at market share, we can see how any given brand or company fared against the competition, regardless of the vicissitudes of the market overall.
Please note: the market shares in these charts are of the big car (full size) segment only, not the whole market. So it’s just a relative comparison of how the Big 3 and their various brands did in that segment of the market.
And it’s also important to note that the big car market was shrinking dramatically during this time (except ’63-’64). We covered that in detail here, but these charts don’t reflect that, just their relative shares of that shrinking market.
- The Low Price Brands:
Let’s start with the lower-priced segment of the market. Admittedly Dodge and Pontiac were, on average, priced slightly higher, but often it was very minimal, especially after 1960 in the case of Dodge.
Plymouth clearly experienced a volatile period from 1955 to 1960, rising strongly in 1957 to a 12.5% share, and then dropping steadily to a low of 4.6% in 1962, before a slow but steady recovery, although never back to what it had before. It’s important to note that after Plymouth was spun off as a separate division in 1960, it had fewer dealers and direct competition from Dodge.
Dodge’s trajectory was rather different, with a much smaller rise in ’57, and a much milder drop in ’58 and ’59. And in 1960, Dodge had an explosive increase due to the new Dart, which was a full size sedan and priced directly against the lowest-priced three. As a result its full sized cars substantially outsold Plymouth’s, and almost equaled Pontiac. And although Dodge dropped considerably after 1960, its share stayed higher than it had been pre-1957 through 1964. Oddly, the new full-sized ’65s were a disaster for Dodge, and they never enjoyed a competitive share until 1975, when Dodge and Plymouth began a synchronized dance to the end.
Pontiac was in a considerable slump until 1959, and by 1960, their big cars outsold Plymouth for the first time. Except for a dip in ’61, Pontiac enjoyed a quite stable market share through ’68, and then things got a bit more volatile, especially after 1973. But the new downsized ’77s did quite well, until Pontiac decided to exit the full car market in ’82, only to re-enter it with the Parisienne a year later.
Ford had two great years early on, in ’57 and ’59. But the new ’60 models were a flop, and the big Fords languished for some years. It’s all too obvious that the Falcon cannibalized big Ford sales starting in 1960, and the Mustang undoubtedly did too, although to a lesser extent. But there was another issue: they were bigger and heavier than the Chevys, starting in 1960. And they looked it. Which was not where the market was, after the negative reaction to overly big cars starting in 1958. Meanwhile, the 1961-1964 Chevy was actually trimmer and lighter than the ’59-’60s. A ’63 Chevy weighed almost 400 lbs less than a ’63 Ford. That hurt performance, economy and handling.
Ford trimmed the size and weight of its all-new ’65’s, and a new styling direction in 1969 and the growing popularity of the LTD finally propelled Ford’s share up strongly. In 1970 and 1971, the big Fords actually beat Chevrolet, although that was all or in part due to a protracted UAW strike at GM. But it was short-lived, as the big Fords started losing share in 1973, when they were restyled in questionable taste. Ford’s loss of share accelerated in 1977, when GM’s new downsized cars enjoyed high acceptance.
Meanwhile, the full-sized Chevrolet enjoyed the best post-war years of its existence during the 1960s. The Corvair apparently didn’t impact big Chevy sales, and obviously the weakness at Ford and Plymouth directly benefited Chevrolet. Chevrolet wisely trimmed the size and weight of its new ’61s, very much in keeping with the times, as excess size was a negative. And their styling was at the top of their game. Another factor is that the recession of ’58, which rippled all the way through 1961, presumably swung loyal GM buyers away from Buick, which had a dramatic drop during this period.
Share started to droop after 1965, and accelerated after 1968. Ford had all-new big cars in 1969; GM’s were just face-lifted. Chevy had a bit of a roller-coaster ride between ’72 and ’78.
2. The Mid-Price Brands:
On to the mid-price brands, although probably the Chrysler brand should be here too. That wasn’t technically possible, as this chart gizmo only allows Y-axis five entries.
Let’s get the losers out of the way first. Both Edsel and DeSoto had a very brief impact here. By the way, keep in mind that these share percentages are of the whole big car market, not just in their price category.
Mercury also had a pretty bad drop between ’56 and ’58, as their bigger and more expensive new ’57s were not well received, and there was a turn to cheaper big cars in ’58 due to the recession. Moving back to a Ford body in ’61 didn’t really help, except of course in cutting its cost to build. But the new ’65s were well received, and Mercury enjoyed a modest share growth trend through ’71. But as was the case with Ford, the chunky styling of the mid-70s dragged them down some. Starting in 1981, the Panther box Mercuries enjoyed a new boom in share, although by then total sales were modest due to the continued decline in big car sales.
Oldsmobile dropped in ’57, but worked its way back by 1960. A rather sharp one year drop in ’61 (a recession year) might be explained by less than stellar styling and a shift to lower priced Chevrolet, but it bounced back in ’62. But then through 1968, Olds steadily lost share, probably quite a bit of it to Pontiac. 1969 saw the beginning of a steady rise, which accelerated sharply after 1975. Olds’s big car share continued to rise strongly through 1983, and after 1980, beat Chevy for the #1 big car position. It was the glory years for Olds, both the Cutlass as well as the big 88/98s.
Buick had a steep drop beginning in 1956, after having worked its way up to the #3 spot and knocking Plymouth out of it. The common story is that quality dropped from overly-rapid expansion. But one wonders for how long that rep would have lasted. And there’s no sign of Buick’s losses from ’55-’59 being picked up by a competitor. One can’t help but wonder if it was already an early swing away from cheaper large cars to Chevrolet or Ford in some cases, as well to Cadillac in others, which had improved share those years.
This drop didn’t flatten until ’58-’59, and then Buick found a new level at around 6% until 1963, when its share began a mild rise. That became a strong rise starting in ’67, and peaked in 1970. Like Olds, Buick started another upswing in 1975, although not as strong. It was part of a general trend that favored mid-premium brands over the low-price brands.
3. The Premium Brands:
Legend: Cadillac=red; Chrysler=black; Lincoln=blue; Imperial=green
As noted earlier, Chrysler straddled both the mid and premium segment, but then so did some of the others (Electra, 98, etc.). And note that the Y axis scale is different here, since the share numbers are lower.
It’s interesting to see that Imperial’s share was fairly steady (and modest), except for a bump in ’57. But that’s hardly a good thing, given that premium brands became ever-more affordable, and generally increased their shares over these decades.
Chrysler’s drop in the ’50s started early, already in ’56, and note how it actually went down in ’57, contrary to popular assumption. And then continued to drop until 1960, after which time it had a strong resurgence, thanks to the new lower-priced Newport in ’61. But it appears that the restyled ’63 and ’64s were not really successful, as share drooped. The new ’65s started a very strong upsurge that peaked in ’68, and then things drooped a bit and leveled off mostly until 1978, when share (and sales) dropped precipitously, although share came back some in ’79 before the final fatal drop off the cliff.
Lincoln had a pretty good 1956, then started its decline that was halted by the new ’61s, although the improvement after that was quite modest. Share took a jump in ’66, which coincided with a price drop. From 1969 on there was a strong and steady share improvement, which didn’t peak until ’78-’79, the last years of the really big Lincolns. Share dropped a bit after that, but came back to a new high in 1983.
Cadillac’s story is of course a dominant one. Except for minor dips in ’57 and ’59, share growth was steady until a plateau in ’61-’62. Then there was a somewhat curious trough from ’63 to ’65, after which share growth continued mostly strongly, except for the strike year of 1971. From ’71 to ’75, growth was very strong, during a time when a Cadillac became ever more affordable in relation to average wages. The share became a bit choppy, probably in part to the Seville, which is not included in big car sales. And then another strong climb from ’79 through ’83, followed by a drop in ’84.
4. Cumulative Shares, The Big Three:
So let’s go back to our first chart, which shows the cumulative shares of the big car market by each of the Big Three. We can clearly see a very significant dip for GM in 1957, due to strong share growth by Ford and Chrysler that year, thanks to all-new cars. But that was essentially a one-year aberration, and GM recovered fully in 1958, and soon headed up to a peak in 1962, when it had some 67% of the big car market. 1962 was also the all-time share high for GM in the overall market, at 51%.
Ford showed a lot of strength from ’56-’59, except for a dip in ’58. But as noted before, 1960 was the beginning of a difficult period for Ford Corp. big cars, due to cannibalization from the Falcon, Comet and Fairlane and issues of size and styling. But all three Ford brands showed strength starting in 1969, which it mostly held onto in subsequent years.
Chrysler Corporation’s bump in 1957 was clearly a classic first-year bump due to dramatic new styling. And its subsequent drop in 1958 was really just back to where it had been in 1956. But Chrysler’s slide continued through to 1959, after which it had a bit of a bump in 1960, before continuing downhill through 1962. Although Chrysler recovered some in ’63-’64, 1965 was even worse for its largest cars (note: the 1962-1964 B-Body cars are considered “full size” for this exercise, but not starting in 1965).
It would appear that styling played a very big role during the difficult 1958-1962 era. The 1958’s looked almost identical to the ’57s, and the ’59’s were still quite similar. There was much less differentiation between them than there was at Ford and GM. The bounce that Chrysler got in 1960, when the cars were new, although still looking a bit too similar, supports that supposition. The 1961’s generally odd styling did nothing to alleviate that.
The downsized ’62 Dodge and Plymouths were poorly received. Most likely that was more due to styling outside of the mainstream than their size, as GM had downsized too in 1961, although not to quite the same extent. There was a growing revulsion to really big cars starting in 1958 with the recession and a change in public opinion, and that period lasted through at least 1961. If Chrysler had brought out these downsized cars with a bit more mainstream styling, they might well have been quite successful. Especially if they had come out a year or two earlier.
By 1962, there was a raft of compact cars available, as well as the new mid-sized Fairlane. That took the social pressure and buyer resistance off the big cars, and big car lovers were free again to indulge themselves in ever bigger cars, although their share of the market after a bump in ’64 would continue their terminal decline.
How much poor quality issues affected the ’57 Chrysler Corp. products is debatable. I’m inclined to think it was less than commonly attributed, although a factor to some degree. How long was a bad first year quality rep going to last? If it really was that big of an issue. Many buyers knew these first year issues were invariably fixed by year two.
The 1957’s seemed to satiate those buyers looking for the next new thing, and the follow-up cars in ’58 and ’59 did nothing to excite them, or others. Repetitive styling was undoubtedly a significant factor. As well as folks drifting back to their preferred brands after the excitement of the ’57s dissipated.
I will take the counter-argument. But first, I think we have to define “quality” – there is deep-down component durability (which Chrysler did pretty well most of the time) and then the issues around assembly and defective parts (which show up early and for which Chrysler was known). It was the second kind of quality that affects new car sales most. Ford is proof of that, who has rebounded from quality problems over and over because of new stuff that looks well made.
From my own experience (anecdotal, of course) in, say, the 1960-80 era GM was King, Ford was an acceptable choice but Chrysler was not even on the list of possibilities for most. In the mid 70s I was asking a family friend (an Oldsmobile guy) why he wouldn’t buy a Chrysler. His reply was that he had two from around 1957-59 and they were horrible cars. He was not about to try another one. I lost count of the number of conversations like this I had with people. Everyone seemed to have a story about *that* car that was the worst car ever, and it was invariably a Mopar.
Their resale value was always lower than the others – which was why my father never considered one for even a minute. It was just a fact of life – Chrysler products were more likely to have trouble. Even my friend’s father who was a diehard Mopar guy said to never order a car, but choose one from the lot so you can pick one built decently. Much of Chrysler’s quality woes were apparent from the day they were built, with poor fitting interior pieces, misaligned body panels and iffy paint jobs. Fords had just as many (if not more) deep down quality issues but they usually presented well in a showroom. Chrysler products often did not.
I don’t doubt that styling had a to do with many of the problems but even in years where their styling was mainstream, they just couldn’t consistently build them well. I say the conventional wisdom is right here (a position I often deviate from) in that Chrysler’s quality was worse than the others and that it was a reputation that dogged them in good periods (say 1963-68) and got reinforced in bad periods (1960-61 and 1969-70 ).
One added thought – I think the 1957 debacle involved management decay as much as anything, and this was a situation that never really improved in any significant or widespread way until Iacocca came in and re-built the management on a FoMoCo model. And then we got Iacocca-FoMoCo style cars that were assembled well, that were appealing in showrooms and that often suffered debilitating durability woes as they aged.
In the entire Colbert-Newberg-Townsend period every time Chrysler made progress on quality they still built enough cars with issues (and followed those good periods with serious backslides). I recall reading that the people responsible for product quality in the 60s and 70s reported to manufacturing and had no independent reporting path outside of manufacturing. Every month there were cars sidelined in the plants for assembly issues that got shipped anyway when everyone was trying to make month-end quotas.
When enough people get burned enough times a reputation is built. It may not be always deserved (just as GM often got a pass on quality lapses in the 60s or 70s) and it wasn’t just because of bad 57 models, but the reputation was there.
From my own experience (anecdotal, of course) in, say, the 1960-80 era GM was King, Ford was an acceptable choice but Chrysler was not even on the list of possibilities for most.
Interesting how anecdotal experience differs. In Iowa City (1960-1965), Chrysler Crop. cars were the preferred brand in the university community I was exposed to, especially the German immigrants. If they couldn’t afford a Mercedes, they got a Chrysler. Lots of ’57-60 big wagons still in family hauler duty. Close friends bought a new Dodge 880 wagon. Others a ’65 Newport, to replace their older Rambler. Neighbors bought a ’62 Dodge.
All this led to my father buying a ’65 Coronet wagon. Which was a tank. Rock solid. Sold to our neighbors in Towson in ’73 when my dad bought a ’73 Coronet wagon. The neighbors had it for many years; up into the early ’80s. No visible rust.
The only issue was the classic stalling in wet weather.
My uncle who was a traveling salesman bought a ’65 Chrysler to replace his ’62 Cadillac. I could go on.
I was not cognizant then of Chrysler’s issues with the ’57-’58s. There was nothing in my life then that suggested anything other than that Chryslers had better engineering and were thus more desirable than Fords or GM cars.
Such is the nature of anecdotal experiences…
“Such is the nature of anecdotal experiences…”
Indeed so. Thinking back to my neighborhood from the time I started paying attention until I was maybe 14 or 15 there were more Studebakers on my street than there were Chrysler products. Which has to be a statistical anomaly because the family with Studes had two and the only people with a Mopar had one. 🙂
Interesting to hear the different takes on this issue. Both just as correct as the other. But it really seems to mirror a current company – Tesla.
There are those who will defend a Tesla product to it’s last charge, and there are others who cannot get over the fit and finish, the beta testing on customers, or any of the other gripes they have about it.
It seems that both sides on that issue have their own valid points. We are just now getting to the point where we may see more used ones coming into the market, and we will see how they are treated.
And you know why I try not to make to much regarding anecdotal experiences. I’m the son of a Chevrolet dealer, from birth to age fifteen, just as the ’66’s were being introduced. Ford, of course, was garbage, the enemy, and I easily figured out how to nitpick the cheapness of their cars (hollow door pulls, the shift linkage visible on their automatics, chrome that would peel, etc.).
It definitely jaundiced my looking at car ownership at the time. I was probably twelve or so before I realized that dad didn’t actually buy that new car every fall, nor did he buy mom’s station wagons (also new every fall).
Chrysler products? They weren’t even on the radar in my family, so obviously their sales in Johnstown, PA at the time were far behind GM and Ford. Other than being blown away by the 57-59’s, I had more cognizance of the orphan autos and rare foreign cars than I did of a Chrysler product.
Brand loyalty to GM was strong. I don’t have the numbers, but I am thinking Chevrolet was as big in market share with all of Chrysler/Dodge/Plymouth. So demographics come in to the equation with rising birth rates of baby boomers coming in to the car buying market in the 1960s and 1970s, and repeat Chev or upscale GM car purchases of their parents.
As JP alluded to, word of initial quality defects gets around. When one neighbour has to get his 1957-1966 Plymouth fixed just after they got it, the whole street knows.
Virgil Exner’s designs of the early 1960s turned alot of people off, or gave them excuses to go elsewhere.
There are probably lots more reasons why Mopar declined so heavily. Geez if not for fleet sales, they may have gone the way of Studebaker.
It’s ironic to mention Studebaker in the context of Chrysler sales. Besides fleets, seems like whenever an independent went under, their demographic invariably switched to Chrysler giving them a boost for a short time. The problem was that, eventually, there were no more independents left to fail.
Yes. Grandpa traded a Studebaker for a Plymouth in ’65.
To give you an idea of just how dominant GM was back then, my father was the local Chevy dealer (1950/51 thru 1965), and during my early adolescence, one of the big points of discussion around the dinner table (where work was never discussed) was the possibility of a pending forcible government breakup of GM into two corporations, due to the reality that no other automaker could compete with them, and they were stifling competition.
Nothing firm was ever said, but dad was hearing “thru the grapevine” that the split would be Chevrolet-Cadillac on one side, Pontiac-Oldsmobile-Buick-GMC on the other.
It feels so funny today to even remember conversations like that happening. Or that it was considered.
I like data.
The most unexpected trend I spot immediately is GM’s share of the large car market declining 1965-1970. I think that, other than the use of Powerglides, GM’s big cars then were “peak big” car–not just for GM, for for everyone. In 1965, I think Chevy sold over a MILLION full-size Chevys. The cars looked good! In general, they were either better or had parity in every area.
And yet, Ford and Chrysler took more share! Amazing!
My hypothesis is that the GM mid-size A-bodies were even more dominant, and were so good, that with their tidier size and lower cost, they cannibalized GM big car sales.
Anecdotally, up through the second energy crisis, excluding the Vega and small cars, GM just had a better reputation, right or wrong. My father preferred GM. My friends’ parents (I liked talking cars) felt the same. Our neighbors.
With that kind of reputation, it’s easy to see why GM became complacent.
Just like today, IMO (yes,I’m biased), but BMW reminds me of GM in the 1980s-90s. They made cars I preferred, and owned once. Now they have nothing, but the name.
Let’s look at the buyer’s ages and experiences during this era.
The WWII generation was the predominant buyers during the late 1950-1965 time, in my opinion. They are growing families and the average family size during this time is the largest during the 20th century. This generation also remembered growing up during America’s Great Depression. It is probably safe to stereotype this generation as being more conservative and traditional, compared to following generations.
With that in mind, what the graphs appear to show is an enthusiasm for faddish styled cars when this generation was young and had young children at home. What was considered important in cars – reliability, practicality, affordability, and durability, had, after years of domestic economic growth, lessened in priority. Larger cars with exciting new styling didn’t seem frivolous by 1957. Television and television advertising created a new form of market communication that generated consumer excitement. Families headed by WWII and Korean veterans, experiencing new family births and growth, booming suburbs and new tract homes, new horizons and opportunities, opened up this generation to newfangled auto gimmicks.
Then came the 1957-1958 crash. Auto sales dropped 40%. The traditional values of thrift and savings reasserted itself in this generation, spurring sales of new compact cars, Ramblers, Larks, VW Beetles, and away from faddish oversize automobiles. Entry level luxury cars were hardest hit. This was a market of salaried and entrepreneurial professionals, who had benefited from the GI Bill, industrial expansion, and economic growth. Yet, these same people grew up during hard times and with the Eisenhower Recession, this market returned to more frugal auto purchases.
GM survived, although Buick was threatened with extinction. Ford did the smart thing and euthanized Continental and Edsel, keeping Mercury. Chrysler ended DeSoto, gave Dodge new life with a full sized Dart, and saved Plymouth with the Valiant. AMC and VW won big and Studebaker was sparred the ax.
Chrysler lost its reputation when it switched from frugal cars to fashion fad cars. The generation that trusted Chrysler in 1957, ended up getting cars that didn’t meet their quality expectation, and out of fashion after the Recession. It took five years for Detroit to shake off the stigma of selling fashion cars to this generation of buyers.
By the mid 1960 decade, this WWII generation had empty nests in their suburban homes, but continued buying full size cars. By 1965, these cars were style 180 degrees from their 1957 roots. Emotional faddish autos were sold as Pony cars, not full size.
The 1957 Recession during which Chrysler produced poorly engineered cars, set their reputation back for a decade. While they fixed their products as soon as possible, their Exner styled cars lost favor until 1965. When Chrysler needed to present to this generation a return to non-faddish auto styling, Chrysler didn’t until 1965. Chasing auto fashion set Chrysler back significantly.
So, I see these charts as being impacted by the WWII generation and their auto preferences for full size, conservative automobiles. As they passed on, the full size market passed with them. Following generations had more auto diversity from which to choose, leaving the full size auto market to decline in importance.
Demographics–baby boom of 1948-1963 meant that during the 1960s there were lots children in two-parent households, so there was a market for big cars and station wagons.
A “Mid-size” Tempest might not have been “full-size” like a Bel Air, but it was still a large car and could seat six. It may have cost the same or less, and/or a mid-level mid-size might look fancier than a base full-size.
So that’s where I think some of GM’s full-size sales went.
The men who fought in WWII and survived had to be tough, and they had experienced the Great Depression. Even so, as real incomes rose in the 1950s, TV arrived, and advertising in general served to stoke demand for ‘something’ better.
The price of cars increased more than the rate of inflation from 1950-1970, which was an era of low, benign inflation. Yet sales continued to rise.
Much of that increase was ‘hidden’ in the form of more features and creature comforts and more performance.
Than, as now, the industry felt that it is difficult or impossible to sell “base” vehicles, though what is considered “base” today is very different from what was “base” in 1960 (a slow six, 3 on the tree, drum brakes, manual steering).
Up-contenting also helped, and helps, camouflage the cost of safety and pollution equipment.
I think it would be instructive to go back further in time. Chrysler was #2 until the early 50s. That wasn’t on the strength of Plymouth, which was always a distant third in the low price 3 despite being sold through more dealers, but rather in their mid price lines which were fully competitive with GM. That is until the 1949 styling debacle and the Olds Rocket V8. My understanding is Chrysler quality was perceived as being better than GM quality until ’55. But Pontiac, Oldmobile and Buick built market share in that period largely at Chrysler’s expense. Colbert invested in styling to try to correct course but he also shrunk overhead, and was the first to put low and medium priced lines on a common body in ’57 to cut costs. I would argue that even if the ’57s had been well built it was too late for Chrysler to compete head to head against Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick they way they had before ’49 because the company was too small, and anyway that segment of the market was shrinking.
Famous quote from (I can’t recall name of Chrysler exec) early 50s: “we make cars to sit in, not pee over”.
Chrysler enjoyed a reputation for well-made cars, but the stodgy styling of that era put them behind Ford…permanently.
On the other hand, the 49 Ford saved the company, the car looked cool for that era.
Also remember that Chrysler Corporation was the last automaker to offer a fully automatic transmission. Even the independents beat Chrysler in offering a fully automatic transmission (Hudson, Kaiser and Nash simply bought Hydramatic from GM).
The lack of a fully automatic transmission after 1949 seriously hurt the corporation. This, in my view, was an even bigger competitive mistake than the dull styling, particularly in the DeSoto, Chrysler and Imperial classes.
Note that Chrysler offered hardtops in its Dodge, DeSoto and Chrysler lines for 1950…or only one year after they had debuted at GM, and one year before Ford (and the only Ford hardtop in 1951 was the Ford Victoria).
Chrysler had a modern ohv V-8 for Chrysler and Imperial in 1951 – two years behind Cadillac and Oldsmobile, but one year ahead of Lincoln. The DeSoto and Dodge got new, modern V-8s before their GM competitors (the lower-line Buicks and Pontiac, respectively).
So Chrysler wasn’t entirely behind the competition during those years. But it lagged in offering a fully automatic transmission in the early 1950s, which was a critical error.
Chrysler lost its reputation for quality after the 1957. The 1962 “downsized” full sized models were also a flop. The cars were oddly styled, smaller than the full sized GM and Ford products, and were based on something misheard by a Chrysler Executive at a party that was spoken by a GM Executive. Chrysler also was more of a follower than a leader in full sized cars in the mid to late 1970s. The 1974 full sized Chrysler, Dodges, and Plymouths copied the basic styling of the 1971 to 1976 full sized cars. Car lines were often blurred also by Chrysler and other automakers when a Dodge was at cheap or cheaper than Plymouth for example. Chrysler full sized cars also relied on fleet sales for a lot of their business.
Where Chrysler was successful they really invested no money (Valiant, Lancer, Dart, Barracuda). They poured money into their large and mid-size autos. A bodies were only in 1960, 1963 and 1967.
One surprise in the charts is the ’61 Lincoln. It was and still is appreciated by writers and collectors and fans, but it didn’t help sales at all. I expected to see a jump there, but nothing.
Lincoln was only available as a sedan and four door convertible in one series, Continental. I dont know pricing, but suspect above the most popular Cadillac.
Most important, Cadillac had a huge variety of models and long history of loyal repeat customers, hard to overcome. The ’58-’60 Lincoln was hideous, hard to get luxury customers in the showroom, which, was shared with Mercury. Imperial was in the same boat, but with obsolete product.
Thank you for getting and crunching and graphing all the data, Paul.
What surprises me most tend to be the little things—-Ford/GM getting as close as they did in 1970; Lincoln and its mid-1960s bump (I would have expected early-1960s, but maybe that’s an economy thing), etc.
I went to Popular Mechanics look for something Chrysler, and here’s a not-encouraging writeup of the 1969 New Yorker—pretty much the whole article is about assembly problems:
This is a great analysis Paul, nice work on the charts too. It really makes the picture much more clear when broken down by market share rather than raw numbers.
One thing though, your claim that the early to mid 60s Fords were bigger and heavier than the Chevy’s seems a little off to me. Just quickly scanning the numbers, they are very close in size and weight. Both the Chevy and Fords were about 209-210″ long, and around 79″ wide. They are close enough that no one would notice. I think it was Ford’s styling that made them look larger. Here are some numbers on comparable 1963s:
1963 Chevrolet Impala SS 2-door Hardtop
327 CID, Automatic
curb weight: 3829 lbs
1963 Ford Galaxie 500 XL 2-door Hardtop
Curb Weight: 3765 lbs
I am not going to post more numbers, but I just read year by year from 1961 to 1964 the Ford and Chevy are very close on all fronts like the example above. Unlike this example, the Chevrolet is on average a bit lighter than the Ford, but they are usually within a small margin.
The 1960 Ford was very large and larger than the 1960 Chevrolet. But even those two are within several inches on one another. Below are the numbers from Motor Life Magazine tests.
1960 Chevrolet Impala
348 CID Auto
test weight: 4220 lbs
1960 Ford Starliner
352 CID Auto
test weight: 4040 lbs
Motor Life only lists the tested weight for each car, but they should have the same test methodology since it is the same magazine. On the topic of weights, I find that most books tend to list shipping weights which are usually not reflective of real world weights. All of the weights I listed here are from magazine tests, so are more likely to be close to the actual real world weights of the cars.
My point was that the new 1960 Ford stumbled in part because it was quite big; 3″ longer and 2″ wider than the ’60 Chevy. This was during the years (’58-’61) when there was a strong negative reaction to American full size cars getting to big. Ford was just trying to outdo the wild ’59 Chevy, and it rather blew up in its face.
The ’61 lost some length and a bit of width, but it was still 2″ wider than the ’61 Chevy. And unfortunately, it looked even wider, due to its styling. And that mostly still was the case through ’64. The Fords were a bit wider, but looked even wider. They created the visual impression of being bigger, wider and heavier cars than the Chevys of that period.
As to weight, I go by the Standard Encyclopedia of American cars, which uses “curb weight” as manufacturers reported it to NADA. I realize that it’s not representative of what the vehicle will weigh on the road,but it’s certainly useful for comparison purposes. The problem with “test weight” is that it’s dependent on the way the vehicle was equipped, which was almost never the same twice.
The 1963 Biscayne 4 door is listed at 3280 lbs; the ’63 base Galaxie at 3647 lbs; that’s a 367 lb difference, not exactly inconsequential.
I stand by my point that the ’60-’64 Fords were intrinsically somewhat bigger and heavier cars than the Chevys. At a time when that was not actually welcome. And it most certainly explains why the Falcon was such a big hit, as Ford buyers, which tended to be more conservative and typically grew up with Henry’s trim cars in the 20s and 30s and 40s, were not happy with that direction.
It’s not the only factor, but I’m convinced it’s a not insignificant one.
I don’t disagree with you on the 1960 Fords being a flop due to there size and styling. I still am not convinced that the slight size difference between the Chevy and Fords from 1961-64 was all that noticeable to the average customer. FWIW, a 1961 Chevrolet is 78.4″ wide and a 1961 Ford is 79.9″ for a 1.5″ difference. They are nearly identical in length. I can’t see the average person noting this size difference. I agree the Ford looked wider and larger overall because of styling. For 1963 and 1964 the dimension differences were smaller. However, I do think your point stands for Ford customers. The size of the Fords had become unwieldy compare to their old smaller cars, which drove many potential full-size Ford customers to Falcons. I just don’t see many potential Ford buyers going to Chevy primarily because of the size difference. I am sure Chevy won some of Ford customers, but more likely it was based on styling, ride, handling or other factors rather than size. Maybe I am wrong, but that is my take.
Interestingly, in comparing the 1979 LTD to the 1979 Caprice shows that the Caprice is 1.5″ narrower than the LTD, same as the 1961 Chev vs Ford (although the 79 Chevy is a few inches longer than the 79 Ford). Again I don’t think anyone noticed that small of a size difference. I know when I had a Panther and B-body in my driveway at the same time, they seemed pretty much identical in size.
On the weights, only the 1960 road test stats were test weights. The 1963 cars I listed curb weights as equipped. The reason I select the 1963 cars was because they were similarly equipped with engines and options and made for a very fair comparison. The problem with the curb weights listed those books is they are the non-existent base models with no options. I used magazine test weights because they are more realistic to what average Ford or Chevy would weight in the real world. In looking at numerous tests from this time period, the Chev and Ford were often about 100 lbs apart in curb weight, when comparably equipped.
“Also remember that Chrysler Corporation was the last automaker to offer a fully automatic transmission”
How would you like to be salesman in a Plymouth, Dodge,DeSoto or Chrysler showroom in 1951-53. A customer comes in saying “I’d like an automatic transmission”. The Plymouth guy has no answer, the Dodge, DeSoto, and Chrysler salesman has to go into a long dissertation as to why their semi automatic is a better choice-good luck with that. Combine that with styling that is two years behind GM and Ford, and it’s a tough sale.
Excellent analysis Paul, and very well-thought-out comments as well.
It’s late, so I’ll summarize by stating something that’s been percolating in my head for some time: In the 1955-80 period, you could say that GMIATA — GM Is Always The Answer. There are qualifiers of course — exclude the subcompact class from the equation and exclude the proto-SUVs and vans.
But really, if you were buying the average car (big, midsize, or compact) or even full-size pickup, you could hardly go wrong by choosing GM during these years, and that’s why it was so dominant. Unfortunately for GM, it was all downhill after 1980.
I think this would make a good CC article — support or rebut my thesis that GMIATA in this 25-year period.
My dad was a Ford guy until he bought his first Thunderbird, a ’62 in the frosty blue he seemed to love. Strike one! It had endless cooling and electrical issues, and after only a year or so, he had enough of it, and a frosty blue ’63 replaced it, and it was even worse! Strike two! My mom’s ’64 Ford country Squire Wagon, which was THE worst car we ever had, a was literally gone in a month or so after we bought it. The same issues as the T-Birds had, but worse. Much worse. The thing was towed away with a hole in the block after it tossed a rod when my mother tried to pass a car while taking us home from school. At 45 MPH. Strike 3, you’re out! The Squire was replaced with a baby blue Cadillac, which stuck around until 1968, when it was replaced with a Bronze Imperial, which for two weeks was replaced by a ’69 Lincoln MkIII, which my dad hated to an insane level and he traded it for my uncle’s ’69 Sedan De Ville, which he had until he wrecked it in 1973. Other than that Lincoln, after the Squire, we bought only Cadillacs and Olds. Of all the cars my sister and I remember well, the Mopars are the ones that impressed us the most. I’ve only owned Mopars since 2003, and have been quite happy with all of them. My sister has gone to Toyota and is on her second Prius, after Mazda broke her heart with 2 duds in a row. Before that it was Nissan, whose junk left a bad taste in her mouth, and before that, she stuck with Olds until the mid 80’s, when she finally sold her trouble plagued ’79 Cutlass and got her first Nissan/Datsun. I don’t think either of us would buy a Ford product, but she actually did look at one this last time, and if I could get into it safely, I wouldn’t hate an F150.