(first posted 3/3/2016) Redram’s wonderful Kodachrome images of his grandfather’s 1972 Mercury Marquis got me thinking about the enormous popularity the “upper middle” brands enjoyed in the early 1970s. Given their premium market positions, often the flagship cars in these lines enjoyed remarkably strong sales and were undoubtedly very profitable for their makers. While many buff books would have recoiled in horror at the notion of testing such supersized American sedans, Motor Trend still dutifully covered a broad cross section of cars. While MT’s editors approached each segment, at least nominally, from the perspective of driving enthusiasts, in general they focused on how well the cars would meet the needs of target customers. Thus, this 1971 comparison test offered some interesting feedback on the cream-of-the-crop cars from Buick, Mercury and Oldsmobile.
It’s rather funny to see the emphasis Motor Trend placed on describing these cars as being for the Noveau Riche. While they were pricey for the times, and were undoubtedly bought by affluent folks, including those with “new money,” in many ways they were actually quintessential “old money” cars. At least in my hometown of New Orleans, the flashy “new money” crowd tended to gravitate toward Cadillac and Lincoln (and increasingly Mercedes), while the wealthy “quiet” types frequently drove a Buick, Chrysler, Mercury or Oldsmobile—often the flagship model and almost always new or recent vintage. These brands were seen as being notably “nicer” than Chevrolets, Fords and Plymouths, but weren’t seen as being “too much.” That mattered a lot at the time, when subtlety was still seen as a virtue and aggressively flaunting wealth was considered déclassé.
Without a doubt, these were huge cars, designed to impart comfort and solidity. Each car offered new-for-1971 styling, which mimicked the looks of their more expensive sisters at Lincoln and Cadillac. In fact, Stan Parker who had been the lead designer for Cadillac, had just moved over to Olds as the ‘71s were being finished up and is credited with some of the last-minute bulk-disguising visual tricks deployed on the Ninety-Eight.
Each of these machines was about as far from a fine handling European touring car as you could get, but according to Motor Trend’s editors, they performed surprisingly well given their size and weight. Spoiler alert: the Olds was praised for offering the best handling—it was also the only one equipped with the extra cost heavy-duty wheels and suspension.
The three cars represented a pretty good value as well—while far from cheap, they easily undercut Cadillac and Lincoln prices while offering much of the same ambiance. The prices fell into what we would call the Near Luxury category today; the tested Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight LS was $6,434.05 ($37,637.76 adjusted), Mercury Marquis Brougham was $6,042.70 ($35,348.45 adjusted) and the Buick Electra 225 Custom Limited was $6,110.25 ($35,743.60 adjusted). One note about these prices: I think Motor Trend left off the costs for a number of items of optional equipment, most particularly on the Buick. For example, the Electra tested has a vinyl top, but that option is not listed in the price. So take the numbers with a grain of salt…
Motor Trend liked these cars, and so did buyers. For the full 1971 model year, Buick sold 126,036 Electra 225s (23% of total Buick sales), Mercury moved 114,636 Marquis (29% of total Mercury sales), and Oldsmobile shipped 125,056 Ninety-Eights (just 15% of total Oldsmobile sales—clearly the Cutlass phenomenon was getting underway). Not a bad showing for high-end cars targeting selective buyers.
My parents were shoppers in this segment in 1971, and they actually considered each of these models. First off, gratitude is due to both my Mom and Pop for putting up with all my car questions through the years—I was constantly peppering them for automotive anecdotes as a child, and just this past weekend I asked my 81-year-old mother (once again) about their 1971 car buying experience. So here’s the low-down on their shopping expedition in March of that year.
Since my Pop’s car at the time was a 1968 Cougar XR-7, which he loved, they decided to “put Mercury on their list” to quote a much later advertising campaign. According to my mother, they liked the Marquis sedan they test drove (Mom said it seemed very “fancy”), and could have been tempted, but as another jingle would say, they’d really rather have a Buick.
Buicks ran deep in my family, so it was a natural they would gravitate to that brand. In fact, the car being traded in was a 1967 Electra, base trim, which had served yeoman duty as a family hauler for three kids. Though a genuine 3-seat station wagon would have been useful for our brood, my mother flat out refused to drive a one—similar I guess to the minivan revulsion that would afflict later generations.
When they headed to the Buick dealer, they were basically set on getting another Electra. Specifically, however, they wanted a base trim version, since the mission was big family car, not luxury liner. So, they were rare shoppers, wanting the roominess of the biggest wheelbase body with trim more befitting a car a few notches down the ladder.
That specificity posed a problem for the Buick dealer, as their inventory was filled with loaded Customs and Limiteds. The more basic Electras, what few there were, apparently all had cloth seats, which were a non-starter for my parents with their Family Truckster intentions. According to my Mom, there was a loaded “cream-colored” Electra 225 Custom with vinyl seats that they liked, but the salesmen wasn’t willing to deal. My Pop expected some sort of reasonable negotiation, and upon reaching an impasse, my parents decided to leave so the dealer could “think about their offer.” I am sure the dealer thought they’d be back the next day. Big mistake!
On the way home, they decided to stop by Mossy Oldsmobile to have a look at the Ninety-Eight, primarily for comparison purposes. Well, there they met Walter, an Olds salesman extraordinaire, and he promptly showed them a well-equipped base Ninety-Eight sedan with vinyl seats. They took it for a drive and couldn’t resist—it met their needs nicely and Walter was ready to move it off the lot. The deal was done that day—Walter was a pro, and would sell several more Oldsmobiles to my parents before he retired.
Our Ninety-Eight looked much like the one pictured above—except ours was the darker Monarch Blue (this one is Nordic Blue), with a black vinyl top and the Broil-Your-Butt™ black vinyl interior (what were they thinking getting that trim in South Louisiana??). Somehow the car got a nickname early on, and was always known as Big Blue. Whether whale or IBM, I don’t know, but either way the car served us well. It was the daily kid hauler/grocery getter/errand runner of the family, and also took us on many road trips across the South, as well as family vacations to New England and the Southwest U.S. It was a great American family sedan, and once it had done its tour of duty with us, Walter took it in trade over at Mossy Olds and my parents took home a 1975 Ninety-Eight LS.
For those of you who’d enjoy being extra-hardcore with obscure data points on the 1971 biggies from Buick, Mercury and Olds, please keep reading. I’ve scanned in some pages from another item in my collection: The 1971 New Car Pricing Guide, printed in January of that year. It lists all the options and prices, both dealer cost and retail. My Pop was a banker and pretty savvy about costs—he probably reviewed something like this as they went shopping.
Based on my early childhood memories (though I was just 4 ½ when we got it, I spent A LOT of time in this Ninety-Eight in my car-geek formative years), I’ll make an educated guess as to how Big Blue was equipped and the resulting sticker price. Here goes:
- Base Ninety-Eight Hardtop Sedan: $4,853
- Windows, soft-ray tinted: $49.50
- Windows, power side: $126.38
- Auxiliary front floor mats: $8.43
- Auxiliary rear floor mats: $7.37
- Protective side mouldings: $33.70
- Vinyl rooftop covering: $139.02
- Air conditioner: $437.08
- Automatic cruise control: $68.46
- Tilt away steering wheel: $45.29
- White stripe tires bias ply glass-belted tires: $36.86
- Radio, AM with stereo tape: $221.17
- Heavy duty cooling: $21.06 (Southern dealers likely would have ordered this)
- Total: $6,047.32 ($35,375.48 adjusted)
Plus there was the $180 freight cost to ship the car to New Orleans, LA. My mother can’t remember what they ultimately paid (she said it seemed like a lot at the time), I’d guess that our Ninety-Eight went out the door in the low- to mid-$5,000 range.
So, my parents picked the Oldsmobile, but as Motor Trend noted, all these cars were excellent choices for their intended missions. Which one would you have brought home?
The Mercury has more power,a shorter final drive ratio than the two, less weight and still the slowest? Even with the buick’s 2.73 axle ratio, its faster. The Olds is miles ahead. The Olds is the best except for efficiency, but that buick is still better in every way compared to the Mercury. Faster and more efficient(LOL)…
The Buick gets through the quarter mile in 2nd gear and is only a fraction of a second behind the Olds. Once the Buick is in high gear the Olds will out preform it. The Mercury is tuned for premium fuel. All three are gross ratings, which clearly don’t mean much.
It’s not simply that the Merc was tuned for premium fuel – it was that GM had lowered the compression of all its engines in 1971. The rest of the industry would catch up in 1972.
Yeah, which means something is very wrong. The 429 wasn’t the dog they turned the 390 into, and 10.5 CR is up there. Even giving away a little bit in displacement, compared to the 8.5:1 GM products it ought to be way faster. And I thought 72 was the big low compression year, not 71. So… IMO, either the Buick/Olds were ~10:1 or the Ford was really 8.5:1, not the ten and a half listed. Unless someone retarded the ignition 15 degrees or the like.
Weren’t the test cars in the MT article 1972 models?
General Motors went to the low compression ratios a full year ahead of everyone else. There is no mistake on the specifications page here. Corporate edict for model year 71 at GM was regular gas and low lead, even for Corvettes, GS 455s, Z-28s, etc…no exceptions for model year 71.
Back in the days there was always the question as to which was faster the Olds 455 or the Buick 455. Supposedly the shorter stroke of the Buick was an advantage. Then there was the fact that the Buick heads flowed better and the engine was easier to get power out of. Buick and Olds guys have been discussing this on Forums for as long as there have been forums and clubs.
As for the now what we are missing are the torque and HP sheets showing output over the entire operating range. Which engine has the faster torque curve as an example. I have heard that the Buick 455 has that faster rise than the Olds 455. Now without those sheets it is all guess work as the why one engine seems faster and why one seems slow for the gross hp it has.
I do know that the Oldsmobile V8 had a marginal cooling system here in Hot & Humid New Orleans, LA. The battle of dealing with the dreadful combination of heat, humidity, I-10 (and secondary) road traffic conditions and almost constant use of Air Conditioning endured here was a constant struggle in this time period.
I worked in several automotive repair shops in the late 1970’s and early/mid 1980’s. Oldsmobile V8’s were (in)famous for their overheating here. A “4 core” radiator, fresh, strong fan clutch, full time (not the factory ported) distributor vacuum advance, carefully adjusted ignition timing and a 160 degree thermostat were usually needed to keep the “Rocket V8” engine from running above 220-plus degrees in normal driving.
Buick V8 engines, with a clean cooling system and a new/near new fan clutch were MUCH more tolerant of the weather conditions in #NOLA.
Interesting, my Aurora tended to run warm in hot weather too. I sort of thought it was because there was no radiator grill. My Cadillac, with radiator grills, never ran warm in the hottest weather (over 100 F).
Buick’s cooling system was far superior to that of other GM divisions in the early 1970s as it included a coolant recovery system for which coolant was added to the reservoir rather than directly to the radiator. This system was so good GM made it standard equipment on the 1974 Chevy Vega to address overheating and block warpage issues of the infamous aluminum block engine – along with a “low coolant” light. OIds, Pontiac and Chevrolet engines were all notorious for overheating issues in that that timeframe and it was advisable (particularly with air conditioning) to order a heavy-duty radiator which was included with trailer-towing packages.
Our ’68 Electra had overheating problems, so maybe they decided to improve for the 455. We crossed the Arizona and California desert with a water bag on the grille and part-time A/C. But my dad claimed it ran hot because a gas jockey left the radiator cap off when it was nearly new and it boiled over.
That’s Ford for ya! Promise the most on paper but never deliver on it.
Didn’t they get caught inflating Mustang Cobra hp numbers and C-Max hybrid fuel economy numbers? I guess it comes with the territory. Somebody buys those things.
If the Buick had been equipped with the available 3.42 rear axle ratio (standard on the Rivera G. S. model) it would had blown the others into the weeds during the acceleration trials.
I would have brought home a 1971 Mercury Marquis, they’re one of my top favorite cars built that year, I’m surprised that despite the 1971 Mercury Marquis being the most powerful of the three cars along with having a lower gear ratio it still had the slowest 0-60mph and quarter mile times of the three cars, I always thought the Marquis did a good job with the Lincolnesque styling without it looking like a Lincoln.
I liked the 1971 Buick Electra and Oldsmobile Ninety Eight but I’ve thought they were a slight downgrade to the previous models while the 1971 Mercury Marquis was an upgrade to the previous models.
My wealthiest client ever (and he truly could afford anything including a Rolls Royce) drove an Oldsmobile Delta 88. It was about 3 years old at the time I first met him.
The legend is that eccentric Texas oil billionaire, H. L. Hunt, drove himself to work, with his brown bag lunch on the seat beside him, in a late-model Oldsmobile as well.
I may be misremembering this, but I think Warren Buffett drove an Olds 88 or 98 for a long time as well.
While not in my direct family, cars like these were certainly present in my early childhood. By 1973 or so I was well aware that cars like these were pretty high in the automotive pecking order, and I was always thrilled to get to experience them.
Oldsmobile was a big part of the picture for me back then, so I’d probably have to go with the Olds.
Would like to have seen Chrysler New Yorker in the test, though.
But also, there were buyers who were loyal Olds or Buick customers and would not switch between the two. Same with Chevy and Pontiac. Inter-divisional rivalry was strong with GM makes, up until 15 some years ago.
As I remember it, the Buick Electra was for wealthy people who didn’t need a Cadillac to announce how rich they were, or successful professionals who did not want their clients/customers to think that they were charging them too much money.
The Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight was for Oldsmobile loyalists like my parents, who could finally afford something more than a Delta 88, but liked Oldsmobiles, and would never, ever consider driving a Cadillac. My father always said that people who bought Cadillacs just wanted to “show off,” which, in his view (formed by the Great Depression), was practically a mortal sin.
Both the Olds 98 and Buick (Roadmaster->Electra) were nice top of the line models that could compare with a basic Cadillac sedan. The real point of all being “C-bodies” is that the cost of building the Cadillacs is reduced.
Well Written, geeber!
Your words could have been spoken by my (just barely) upper-middle class Grandfather, who lost his business in the 1930’s economic depression, by giving his fellow townspeople too much credit for purchases.
Pictures of him and my Father’s family show a steady progression of Packards, Buicks and Chevvies all thru the 1930’s and 1940’s.
He (and his son) considered a Cadillac a flashy, vulgar and “show off” car in; a car for movie stars, gangsters, pimps and the “noveau riche”.
I do have a last generation Lincoln Town Car today. But, like Dad and Grandpa, I have never considered a Cadillac a proper car for me.
Like a couple of the other respondents on this thread, I also live in New Orleans, LA, USA. In the 1970’s, #NOLA was, without doubt, an “Oldsmobile City”. Buicks were also quite popular, as were Chrysler Newport station wagons. An Oldsmobile or Buick from this time period would had been possible for my Father and his family; but never a Cadillac.
Given that the Buick and Olds were brothers, a Chrysler New Yorker would make a better three way comparison.
Were New Yorker sales numbers so low by then that it became almost irrelevant for this comparison? Or, did Chrysler spend so little on ad space in M/T compared to Ford, and especially GM?
By 1980, these cars weren’t so special. The only paid employee of our student-run had a
’72 Olds 98, white, red velour interior, red vinyl roof, which I borrowed quite frequently… she bought this car used for its inherent ‘safety’ — you know, the biggest car gets you (and children) hurt the least.
I remember the thrill of accelerating that 455 engine ’round the Baltimore Beltway, but taken off the straightaway — or even at the 495-Route 83 turn-off — I cannot remember the handling be anything other than atrocious. It was actually comical, you turned the wheel, about about five seconds later the car began to respond and alter course.
Still, that four-door hardtop body could hold a lot of stuff and people.
That Olds 98 you drove was bought by a woman to use as a beater and was likely poorly maintained with old tires and shocks so of course it didn’t handle well. I drove a 76 Buick Park Avenue and a 73 Olds 98 recently and they really don’t handle too badly considering their size and weight.
Considering their size and weight is a big qualifier. Also, it matters what your perspective is or was. Most people compared them to other cars from Detroit, which were often equipped by GM and Ford specifically to make cars like these seem roadworthy. If your perspective was informed by a contemporary Mercedes-Benz…. In the ’80s there were lots of these cars available that had very low mileages either because of elderly owners or for having been quasi-parked during the two fuel crunches of the ’70s. They were already quite alien to drive compared to the smaller, lighter, radial tire and disc brake equipped cars that had become the norm. The ride quality was often impressive over the first bump, but the cost was the sense of control that every other type of car instilled in the driver relative to one of these barges.
Calling these cars for the noveau riche reminds me just how clueless MT so often was. C/D had other “issues”, but they certainly wouldn’t have said this.
My understanding is that Buick’s were considered a Bankers car in part because they are/were more conservative in style. What cars the “newly rich” might buy is speculative at best. Post World War One Cadillac’s might have been such a car, with old money going for Packards (with Fleetwood bodies) or Pierce Arrow’s.
Weren’t Buicks in the ’30s known as “Doctor’s Cars”? Hardly nouveau riche.
Banker’s car or Doctor’s car or Lawyer’s car – a white collar worker’s car – The Special (or Lesabre) was just above the low priced (Chevrolet) cars.
I was so young at the time these cars were new that social status was something I knew nothing about. My very middle class neighborhood had a number of cars like this, and they were more likely to be seen on the south end of the area where the bigger houses were. The owners that I knew included a construction company executive, an attorney, and an insurance agent. They were professionals with a decent income that drove nice cars. Noveau riche seems a bit overcomplicated when describing the owners I knew.
I’ve debated whether MT was being tongue-in-cheek about this or obtuse.
Agree, Paul. One of the MANY reasons why “C&D” was my main, “Go To” car magazine in this time period…. and why “MT” was NOT.
If MT said that these were Nouveau Riche there are two possible explanations. The first is that Ford and GM were worried about these Cadillac and Lincoln clones stealing sales from their top brands. They wanted old money to stop buying them and new money to emulate old money by buying Cadillacs and Lincolns. These were clowns that were still years away from admitting that style leaders had moved on to 300SEL 4.5s and Jaguar XJ6s. They thought anyone that bought an Olsmobuick when they could afford a Cadillac represented lost profit margin instead of a retained customer.
The other possibility is that MT editors were so bereft of cultural literacy that they didn’t realize the stigma associated with calling something a trapping of new money. If one didn’t know better, one might think new money is to be admired, since it is usually earned money.
A “Buickmobile” (98 or Electra) or a Chevillac (Caprice) – the latter who’s grille greatly resembled a Cadillac from 1971-73 as did the ’72 Monte Carlo. Interestingly, the best-selling full-sized Buick model in most years was the Electra 225 Custom 4-door hardtop while the biggest-selling Olds during this period was most often the Cutlass S or Supreme Holiday Coupe, and Mercury’s biggest-seller was usually the Marquis Brougham hardtop or pillared hardtop sedan – which greatly outsold the cheaper Monterey. Pontiac’s largest seller in the early 1970s was the Catalina 4-door sedan, the entry-level full-sized Wide Track, while the Grand Ville was a respectable seller but its model lineup was often outsold by the Grand Prix hardtop coupe and also well behind the sales figures of LTD, Caprice, Ninety-Eight, Electra, Marquis and New Yorker. At Ford, the LTD was now outselling the Galaxie 500 while Chevy’s best-seller was still the Impala with the Caprice a distant second among the bow-tie’s full-sized linesm but still outsold by the Monte Carlo.
Interesting on several levels. First, how they failed to put a Chrysler or Dodge in the mix. Which shows, I think, how far Chrysler’s stock had fallen by 1971. Most of America no longer considered a Chrysler as a legitimate contender as a near-luxury car.
Second, it is interesting how good of a job Ford did in making a Ford LTD with a longer wheelbase and more “important” styling as a competitor to the GM C body trio (which included the Cadillac DeVille). 5 or 10 years earlier, no magazine would have dreamed of excluding a Chrysler and including a Mercury against the C body Buick and Olds.
Perhaps Chrysler was not able to provide something at the time, or they only had room to write up three cars. Also the Fleetwood Brougham was a “C” body too, although a pillared sedan.
I thought that the Fleetwood Brougham had been designated as a D body, but I could be wrong. At that time, it had a longer wheelbase and a unique roof with the integrated thick B pillar.
The Fleetwood 75 was a D body, or if the Brougham is D, then the 75’s would have to be F or so. The 1938 Sixty Special was a 60 series body. The post World War Two series 75s were what remained of Cadillac’s top of the line V8 line.
I could be wrong, but I think the Fleetwood Brougham became a “D” in 1985 when the “C’ became FWD, maybe the pre ’76 Fleetwood Broughams could be considered “C” specials like the early Monte Carlo is an “A” special?
Yes you are right, the Brougham became a D when the Deville became FWD and included a FWD Fleetwood. However, the C was perhaps more a C-platform instead of a C-body at that point.
I think you are right – the D was really a modified C, but at least through ’76 it had more room in the back than a regular C body, as well as a distinctive roof.
The absence of a Chrysler puzzles me as well, given that M/T went out of its way to accommodate the Big 3. And unlike the Mercury, it, and the Imperial, actually had a more distinct roof line from Plymouth and Dodge, at least through ’71. One thought: the GMs and the Mercury were “all new” for ’71, while Chrysler was in the third year of its styling cycle.
It’s also great to read that my parents weren’t the only people who had to have vinyl upholstery in their cars – although ironically, that’s what I have in my 2015 Golf Wagon….
What I like about leather in my cars is that it is easy to clean like plastic. Well, maybe not quite as easy, but far better than velour.
Actually the 1971 Mercurys (and full-sized Fords) weren’t all new but a major facelift of the 1969 bodyshell as was the 1972 restyle of Chrysler’s full-sized cars, also based on a ’69 body. All that was really new on the big Fords and Mercurys was the two-door hardtop roofline (Lincoln actually continued the 69-70 F-M coupe roofline through 1974) being a bit more squared up and elimination of the fastback coupe body used on the 69-70 XL and Marauder/X100. Sedan and station wagon rooflines of 69-70 carried over to 71-72, the pillared sedan was no longer offered on the Mercury Monterey/Custom (only pillared hardtop and true hardtop sedans were offered on both the Monterey/Marquis groups of cars) and Ford now offered the pillared hardtop sedan body previously reserved for Mercurys and Lincoln Continentals on the LTD and LTD Brougham models. Also the instrument panels of both Ford and Mercury were new for 1971 with Ford discarding the 69-70 wrap-around cockpit with the badly located radio (to the left of driver) in favor of a flatter Front Room arrangement similar to the 69-70 Cadillacs. Mercury got a revised dash with square instruments instead of horizontal strip speedometer
In our small town, a Chrysler New Yorker was still considered to be a legitimate alternative to a Buick Electra during this era. The problem was that the fuselage body style simply wasn’t that popular.
After the first fuel crunch, the Imperials that had been rebadged as “New Yorker Broughams” were quite popular in our town, and definitely viewed as a competitor to the Buick Electra and Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight.
Chrysler did upgrade its flagship by introducing the New Yorker Brougham in 1972 which came with more luxurious interiors than the standard NY plus power windows as standard equipment.
Re: braking distance. The worst performance from 60 mph (Oldsmobile, 146 feet) is the same as the Mazda MX-6 posted earlier today!
And 8.7 0-60 wasn’t bad either, for the day.
In this one, My choice was the Buick, Since I had 1971 Electra 225s (two actually 1 base and later a Limited) So I might be biased!
When I was a boy, my grandmother drove a 1971 Buick LeSabre two door. I would’ve liked to have inherited the Buick when I got old enough to drive, but that didn’t happen. I loved riding in it. It was like being in a beautiful fancy (to a 7 yr old’s eyes) country rambler house on wheels.
I had a friend who drove a 72 Electra. That was one fine car. There was no doubt that you were riding in a luxury car.
I will take the Marquis. Some time spent in my shop, and that 429 powered barge would be showing its taillights to rigs built today. Before the first turn, that is 🙂
I probably have mentioned this before, but Dad had a ’72 Mercury Marquis Brougham sedan when I was a teenager. A fully loaded luxoboat, but it handled like a boat too. Mercury didn’t play in the GM C-body league throughout most of the 1960s. However, they started moving up in luxury and price with the Marquis in 1969 and continued the trend with 1971’s restyle. There were rumors of Mercury preparing a super-Marquis on a slightly longer chassis to really go directly after the Buick Electra. That didn’t pan out – probably too close to Lincoln.
I notice in this article that Motor Trend is avoiding playing favorites and trying to not be too negative about the cars. One eye on the advertisers, I bet.
Nice comparison. I like the big Buick the most, it’s very “Cadillac” without being too pretentious and over the top. I like the styling.
I found this line from pg. 79 of the road test quite interesting:
“The surprising facet of the auto market this year , is that the very expensive cars over $5,500 , and the very inexpensive cars, those under $2,500, are doing the best, with those in the middle brackets suffering tremendously.”
Sounds like our economy today.
An interesting comparison and I really enjoyed the personal aspect. It’s interesting from today’s perspective that they’d put a Electra and Ninety-Eight head-to-head, as they were heavily mechanically related.
On a rather humorous note, although I’m not personally a salesperson, having worked in a dealer, I’ve quickly learned that close to 100% of the time “I’ll think about it” means they’ll never come back.
What is strange is I remember reading an article where they did a road test for a 1971 Buick Centurion 455 and a 1971 Mercury Monterey 400 2V and the 1971 Mercury Monterey’s 0-60mph times was a shade under 10 seconds, I don’t get how a 1971 Mercury Monterey with the 400/260bhp 2bbl would have a faster 0-60mph time than a 1971 Mercury Marquis 429/360bhp 4bbl.
Different gear ratios?
Is it better for a car to have gear ratios in the upper 2’s than the lower 3’s for performance?
Slower ratios (numerically higher) usually mean better acceleration. So a 3.42:1 should outperform a 2.73:1 in an otherwise identical car…
But top speed can be limited on cars with slower ratios and highway fuel economy can also be affected as the engine in the car with the 3.42 ratio will turn much faster.
It would depend on what performance you are looking for. But for acceleration a lower axle ratio (higher numerically-3.xx) is better. For example the FWD Cadillac Seville Turing Sedan (STS) came with a 3.71:1 axle ratio to give it better performance than the base Seville which got the 3.11:1 axle ratio. The engines were tuned differently though and I think that gearing choices were to give the STS a top speed of 150 MPH or so.
I believe the 1971 Mercury Monterey also had the 3.25 gear ratios which explains its 0-60mph time, I also read somewhere that a 1969 Mercury Marquis with the same 429/360bhp engine had a 0-60mph of 9 seconds flat and it had the 2.80 gear ratio.
In that period, there was a lot of variance in the state of tune that engines had when they left the line. A really good dealer prep (timing, ignition, carb adjustment) could have made a big difference in the performance of two seemingly identical models. All moot in a modern age of electronically controlled engines.
Good point. Unfortunately, good dealer prep was reserved for good dealers. Also, when emissions controls got more complicated and octane levels fell, there were fewer people that could adjust carburetion and timing to deliver smooth running and eliminate pinging under load.
Here’s the test article.
That article appeared in the March, 1971 issue of Motor Trend, about 5 months before the Marquis Brougham-Ninety Eight LS-Electra 225 Limited road test appeared in the August, 1971 issue. There were also road tests in M/T’s April, 1971 issue that included a Pontiac Grand Ville Custom and a Chrysler 300 (with bucket seats and console shift) and then the next month a comparison of low/high priced luxury cars between a $5,600 Chevrolet Caprice coupe and a nearly $9,000 Cadillac Sedan DeVille for which M/T considered the Chevy a far better value for less money despite carps about the plain cloth, cheap carpeting and no-armrest bench seat of the Caprice up against the Caddy’s leather 60/40 bench with armrests in front a rear seat, plusher carpeting, etc. The Chevy-Caddy test of May, 1971 came several months after the November, 1970 issue compared the Brougham versions of the LTD, Sport Fury and Ambassador for which no Chevrolet was included due to the 67-day GM strike that shut down the entire corporation.
Interesting to see the comparison which confirms my favorable impression of my ’75 Olds 98’s handling and its difference from the Buick. I really have been very surprised how well the big boat handles and corners, it is definitely tighter than a ’76 Coupe DeVille I once test-drove. Really odd how the C bodies could differ in some ways, especially given sometimes both of them were being made at Linden, not Lansing vs Flint.
Also very interesting to learn that a Cadillac stylist had come over to Olds. It really explains the Cadillacy look of the 71-76 Olds 98s, which to my mind most resemble mid 60s Cadillacs.
I was not really around for these iterations in daily use. I do remember the people driving the ’80-’84 models (aand the box Panthers). My grandfather downsized to a Grand Marquis from a series of DeVilles and Continentals. A 60-something surgeon and his wife who befriended my much younger mother drove a grey 98. And our family attorney had the big Electra Park Avenue.
You have to understand that GM divisions still had an engineering culture of a separate company. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that it was killed by upper management. Yes, by 1965, C-body transmissions and basic structure were common, but that still allowed for suspension tuning. Even the stiffness of rubber suspension and body mounts were different among divisions. Buick was softest, Pontiac stiffest. I learned this from a GM suspension engineer. This was mentioned in the article as it relates to Olds. As I recall, Buick even had a slightly different front suspension geometry that strongly favored straight line stability over cornering.
New Orleans was a Oldsmobile town in the 60’s and early70’s. If your family had one, you either lived up town (St Charles Ave) or old Metairie (Lowerline Ave) near the country club. This would include a Cutlass, Delta 88’s, and Ninety-Eights. Mercurys were also for the well to do. Buicks were for the “nearly well off” and “want to be”.
You got it–we lived Uptown 🙂
And my family (see below) was in old Metairie.
Even after we moved to Baton Rouge, driving an Olds indicated a similar status – in this case, south of Florida Boulevard and particularly the subdivisions of Broadmoor, Sherwood Forest and Tara.
I agree with other commenters that Chrysler’s absence is conspicuous. Could it be that the writers and/or Chrysler knew the New Yorker would be an also ran against these heavy hitters?
I love me some fuselage as much as anyone else, but spending my own big bucks on a near luxury ride in 1971, I probably would have chosen the Deuce and a Quarter. In fact, I would have gone with the follow up to the Wildcat, the Centurion (convertible, please).
Rudiger: Motor Trend often had problems getting cars for their tests. There were many where they tested a particular size group and the cars were all over the map in terms of comparable features, number of doors etc.
In 1969, MT tested all four: Marquis, 225, 98 and New Yorker [IIRC, it may have been a Newport. Again not directly comparable].
I think MT’s ability to corral all of a number of different makes seemed like herding cats.
One year, Ford was left out of an intermediate muscle car comparison test. I even wrote to them about their bias [printed in one of their issues three months later] and their statement was that the car wasn’t available from Ford at the time.
Great work again GN. Love these reprints, the stories and the commentary that follows.
I think the companies only make a few cars available for the magazines to beat on. So one car may be promised to a number of other magazines/newspaper/etc when needed for a multi-car comparison.
I brought R&T in the 70s .Recall they only tested 2 US cars 77-79! so before most FOX body Stangs.
I found “R&T” entertaining and somewhat wistful. Peter Egan’s monthly column always entertained me as he wrote about more than just some European car I could never afford.
But, for actual road test numbers and impressions, I trusted “Car & Driver” more than the other car magazines of this time period. David E. Davis, Brock Yates and Patrick Bedard’s road testing impressions were more in line with mine than the hacks at “MT”.
I never understood why it was so difficult for the auto rags to get a car, particularly a model that wasn’t all that special. Contrast this with Consumer Reports that just goes up to a local dealer and gets what they want (although I admit I’m fuzzy on how they manage that feat).
Like I said, maybe Chrysler could have gotten them a New Yorker, but really didn’t want to be shown up as lacking when compared to the Ford and GM cars.
Consumer Retorts actually goes to the dealer at BUYS the cars they want to test. So they may test un-biased.
And to avoid especially prepped press-fleet “ringers”. Tom McCahill used to joke about this, some Detroit press fleet cars he drove were obviously tuned up and polished to perfection.
CR took pride in obtaining ordinary cars, typical of production versions
The Chrysler tested against a 98 and Marquis (no Buick Electra in that one)
in the July, 1969 issue of Motor Trend was a New Yorker sedan – with leather upholstery. Earlier in the model year (December, 1968 issue) a Newport Custom was tested against a Pontiac Bonneville, Olds Delta 88 Custom and Buick Wildcat Custom.
Notice the article mentioned that both the 455s from GM and the 429 in the Mercury could run on regular or low-lead gasoline but could run smoother on premium with or without lead. However, if you read the specs of the 429 in the Marquis, you’ll find that engine still had an ultra high compression ratio of 10.5 to 1 which required premium fuel. (then 100 Research octane and now 96 Pump octane). The 2 GM entries, of course had 8.5 to 1 C.R.s to permit use of lower octane regular leaded, low lead or unleaded gasoline of 91 Research octane (today’s 87 Pump octane) or higher. Ford would modify the 429 to run on regular or unleaded gas for 1972.
My mom had a 76 park avenue limited. Great car. I love a Mercury.
I would cross the olds off just because the styling wasn’t my taste.
Other than that….. It would be the best price… But that was 10 years before I was born so…..
Thanks for stirring up memories of my uncle in old Metairie, who died not too long ago at just over 100 years of age.
Like most of my Italian relatives, he favored Oldsmobiles and alternated between buying them at Mossy and Royal, depending on who would give him the best deal. One of his last cars was a Custom Cruiser, and Royal placed an obnoxiously large decal on the tailgate.
He was a true whiskey drinking, cigar smoking, man’s man in every sense of the word, and used his Oldses like suburbanites of today use pickup trucks, driving them on hunting and fishing trips, and to haul concrete, cinder blocks and lumber to build a weekend cabin on the Gulf Coast. Needless to say, my aunt wasn’t too thrilled when there was concrete dust and sawdust embedded in the trunk carpeting of their nice Olds!
I had this issue and remember it well. In fact, I had it and decades of others until my mom passed away in 2012. I had them stored at her place for years. Working and living overseas precluded taking them with me, and I had no car-buff friends left who would have taken them. No time to do E-Bay, so sadly, into the dumpster they went. 🙁
Anyway, make mine the Mercury. I’m confident that this particular example had a poor dealer prep and was simply out of tune out out of the box. A good going over by a decent mechanic (preferably Ak Miller!) should have woke that big HC 429 right up!
Purchased a triple-green ’72 Olds 98 coupe from a buddy at work for $800 back in 1979…had the 455 V-8 that would smoke the tires easily! Was an extremely comfortable car and as I recall, easy to drive and maneuver despite it’s size. Unfortunately it was big & green and my wife hated driving it, so only had it for a couple of years.
My stepdad was a Marquis fan up to the 1972 model year. I remember a trip to a drive-in theater with nine people in that last car, a ’72 and there wasn’t anyone in the voluminous, hit-man sized trunk. It was a serious people-hauler. The Marquis’ replacement as his driver was a 1975 Lincoln Mk IV two-door and we still kept the Mercury for a total of ten years. The Lincoln was a very nice car, but it was more a personal car while the Marquis did faithful, trouble-free family and amphibious landing duty until it was sold to a man that worked for stepdad. At least we still got to see an old friend cruise by every now and then.
Brokaw’s review concludes with the prophetic observation, “time will tell.” Within 2 short years from when this piece appeared, we had the 1st of the Arab oil embargoes followed by the rise of OPEC, which reduced demand for this class of Detroit’s output and sent buyers in droves to the more fuel efficient offerings from overseas. I recall seeing loads of these machines occupying the back rows of the used sections of Toyota, Datsun [now Nissan] and Honda dealerships. If you didn’t mind the pain at the pump, you could get a lot of car for your buck, as their values quickly depreciated.
The base version of the GM cars favored by the contributor’s parents was becoming quite rare by the early ’70s, and I believe was discontinued after 1974. People in this size class were demanding luxury as time went on.
My friend’s mom had the base 1966 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Town Sedan, and it was hard to call that car base at the time. The interior was very elegant. I would call it ’60s Chevy Caprice level but better in most details as it was an Oldsmobile.
In the early ’70s, the base version didn’t seem quite as elegant due to GM’s new hard plastic lower door panels. The base C body interior had become sort of a blend of the low and high B body interior. A nice enough place to be, but the inside was nowhere near as impressive as the outside of the car.
Fantastic write-up, GN! I love how you incorporated the Motor Trend article with your personal story and then the 1971 prices – much appreciated!
I always loved these full-sized behemoths, as they were the epitome of American luxury and success back in the day. Granted their 12 mpg economy and rear seat legroom that left a lot to be desired for the size of the car, these luxury boats did what they were supposed to do – coddle the driver and passengers in as much luxury and comfort as possible with little fuss. The Olds would be my personal favorite, followed by the Mercury and then Buick.
Funny how your parent’s initial intentions did not result in what they ultimately bought. In 1972 my folks went to the local Oldsmobile dealer in search of a brand new Cutlass Supreme. They didn’t like the colors and options in the in-stock Cutlasses so they decided to order one. As Dad loaded the car up with options, the price came closer and closer to the beautiful Toronado they saw when they first walked into the showroom. Guess what? They ended up leaving with the Toronado! I attached a picture of me and my sister in 1973 with the Toronado behind us in the driveway!
That’s an awesome picture! Dual exhausts on the Toronado–very nice! I think your parents made a great choice. And it is amazing how easy it was to really build-up the tab with options, so the step from a loaded Cutlass Supreme to a Toronado would not have been anywhere near as large as you’d think from just looking at base prices. One item on the price list really jumped out at me: the vinyl top. On our Ninety-Eight, it was the 3rd most expensive option behind AC and the AM stereo. Imagine a $139 retail price (just over $800 adjusted) for a sheet of vinyl glued to the roof–no wonder Detroit loved that option so much!
Thanks GN! I think my brother (16 at the time of this picture) was responsible for the extensions on the tailpipes if they weren’t factory.
Our car was in the showroom, and Dad told me it had been special ordered by one of the sales managers for his mother but she refused the car when it came in as she felt it was too big and went for a Cutlass instead – the exact opposite of what we did!! Our Toro was loaded with options, but was also missing a few too. It wasn’t a Brougham, it was a Custom with the full vinyl bench seat. It had an AM/FM Stereo, power windows, 6-way power seat, power locks, power trunk release, tilt (but no telescopic), the speedometer package (which oddly enough seems extremely rare and it was only a $15.80 option!), low fuel indicator, Night Watch (another rare option which surprisingly was only $12.64), vinyl top (and yes they were VERY expensive), regular A/C vs. the Comfortron, rear defroster, and the cool triple whitewall tires. The options we didn’t have were cruise control, the telescopic steering wheel, cornering lamps, the Brougham package, Comfortron A/C and a tape player.
I remember that car so well. It had a very distinctive new car smell that to this day I can still recall. Mom had it for almost 7 years until Dad traded it on her ’79 Riviera.
Funny that you mention the vinyl roof – I had an Uncle that sold Oldsmobiles in the late 70’s and early 80’s. He told me that every car sold was expected to have a vinyl top. When ordering the car the salesman would say, “And what color vinyl top do you prefer?”. If and only if the person said they didn’t specifically want one would the car be ordered without one. And the sales manager was never happy if a car was ordered without one!
I’d take the Marquis — but I may be a bit biased, as I have an all-black ’73 Marquis Brougham 4-door pillared hardtop. I never liked these GM fuselage cars…just too bulky and “fat” looking. (They did have some great interiors and options, though.) FoMoCo and Chrysler full-sized cars were big, but somehow looked more “fleet on their feet”. And we know who had the smoothest boulevard ride!
Man oh man, do I remember cooking my legs on hot vinyl seats. My parents were Olds people…my dad’s uncle and cousins were Olds dealers in Northern KY for many years. My dad’s sweet spot was a stripped down base model Delta 88 4 door hardtop. Vinyl top, full wheelcovers, whitewall tires, vinyl seats, AM radio and A/C…that was it. EVERY car we had when I was a kid had vinyl seats….and my dad didn’t(still doesn’t) like to run the A/C…says he gets a headache from it.
Am I imagining things, or was Oldsmobile more prone than other manufacturers in the 60s to build green cars? I associate mid-60s to mid 70s Oldsmobiles with light green paint and a darker green vinyl top.
for that year it would have been the mercury for me
If I were buying a new near-luxury car from one of these 3, my pick would be the Olds 98 LS Holiday Sedan in Sable Brown with beige vinyl roof with the standard 455 Rocket, Turbo-Hydramatic 400, power steering and power front disc brakes (all standard equipment) plus the additional LS standards such as power windows and 2-way power seat (the latter superceded by the optional 6-way power seat), power door locks, power trunk release, the standard bench seat in sandalwood (not 60/40 which was only offered in black), Comfortron A/C, tinted glass, Tilt and Telescopic wheel, AM/FM with stereo tape, heavy-duty cooling system, floor mats-front and rear, cruise control, side moldings and rear window defogger.
Or Sandalwood with beige or brown vinyl roof. Or maybe wait until 1972 for a 98 LS in similar hues (Covert Beige or Baroque Gold), if i couldn’t get a great year-end deal on a ’71 in August or September. The ’72 had a better looking grille and improved Flo-Through Ventilation system without the hideous trunklid vents of ’71 that gave the appearance of a rear engine to the uninitiated. And skipped over the “recommended” 91 octane low-lead or unleaded gasoline in favor of 94 octane regular for better performance at 2 cents per gallon less. And go with a great quality oil such as Mobiloil Super or Gulfpride Formula G 10W40 with changes and Mobilgrease or Gulflex Lube every 4,000 miles – a little less than the GM recommendation of 6,000 miles.
In keeping with the 1970’s vision, the thought of 11 mpg would cause me to double clutch my chest and stagger backwards yelling something like “I’m coming to join you, Elizabeth. The horse Esther drinks too much.”
Boy I sure wish we could walk into a GM showroom today and buy a big, stylish, comfortable, durable car like one of these…fuel efficiency be damned, make mine either a loaded 98 or Electra please, I’d be most happy with either of them!
One wonders, given that full size pickups seem to have replaced these cars for some people, what would happen if GM took the Silverado chassis and built a full sized luxury car on top of it? The thought is intriguing.
As to ultimate choice, if pressed it’d have to be the Olds, I started a chapter of the OCA in 1984, so of course that’d be #1, but I’d happily drive the Electra, and even a NY before the Merc… just not a Ford fan.
All three of these cars were nice and all three were more luxurious and nicer than my dad’s 1970 New Yorker. The reason MT doesn’t include the Chrysler is because it did not offer any elegance or even luxury, compared to these three. Perhaps Chrysler was saving up Marquis/Electra/98 luxuries in their Imperial, because the New Yorker we had for a few years was definitely not luxurious.
Like the author, my parents wanted a nice big family sedan with practical vinyl seats and the New Yorker met their needs. My father was raised by his uncle who had an awesome 1962 New Yorker as a family car, so he was inspired to get his own in 1970. The Fuselage Chrysler was cheap, felt cheap and looked cheap. The 440 easily pulled our travel trailer across the US, but never did it with the aplomb these MT candidates had.
I specifically recall comparing my aunt’s Buick, another aunt’s 98, and our family friends Marquis to my dad’s New Yorker and was pretty surprised at how plain the Chrysler was in comparison. GM and Ford was certainly bested Chrysler in that field.
Probably the Oldsmobile.
You can buy the equivalent to those cars Today, as a loaded crew cab pick up, and you’ll get more than 11 mpg!
Back in the Oakland of my youth, the 1960’s into the early 1970’s THE car was Cadillac. A Lincoln would have been a close second. Not that I actually knew any family that owned a new one.
My family was a blue collar union family, everybody worked on the assembly line for GM. It wouldn’t be anything like the “nouveau riche” situation described in the article. These was the gravy days for union workers, Mom could stay at home, and workers could afford to buy a home and a new car every few years. Since my folks spent their extra money sending their three kids to 12 years of Catholic school, a fancy car wasn’t in the cards, but we had a new Chevy or Pontiac over the years.
Being in private school I was exposed to fellow students whose families were in higher socio economic classes. What I noticed most was that they lived in the fancier parts of town usually in slightly bigger houses. Their families drove cars like those in the article, Olds, Buicks, Chryslers, and Olds, usually purchased new and held onto for four or five years. Sometimes even longer. Fords, Chevys and Pontiacs were also common, but they were already part of my world. A Cadillac was quite rare with these folks, but I saw them all the time around town, but I didn’t get the impression that the driver’s were particularly affluent, they were just willing to spend the extra money, sometimes to the neglect of other areas of their lives.
After I grew up, I was able to buy a late model Cadillac, only a few years old. I got a ’77 DeVille and later I got a ’94 Seville. While I had a lot of old Cadillacs before this, I will admit that these made quite an impression, as Cadillac still enjoyed a prestige image at the time.
I moved on from wanting another Cadillac after this. I now tend to buy interesting old cars to amuse myself, and just stick with Ford for my new vehicles. I do find that I will associate cars like the Buick, Mercury, Chrysler, and Olds, of the article with more affluent people. Unfortunately these marques and their cars have disappeared, I suppose that an Acura, Lexus or GMC fills that area now.
I know there was a performance decline when GM reduced compression ratios for lower octane/no lead fuel in ’71, and new smog gear in ’73 messed up driveability, but was there much difference in most of their engines between ’71 and ’72?
Not to my knowledge.
For the Ford products yes but not much for GM and Chrysler.
My father was a Buick guy, but if I could time travel to get any one of these three, it would be the Olds. Sharper styling and better handling.
I have a 71 Olds 98 that is an exact duplicate of the one in the pic. Where did that pic come from? I know it was previously in Canada before it found it’s way to the Southwest.
I don’t think there was any ‘conspiracy’ as to why no Chrysler product in the article. As someone posted, sometimes cars were just not available in the timeline. Many times, the buff books would say “we couldn’t get a Brand X car…”
What caught my eye was the sheet listing the standard equipment on the Buicks. An Estate wagon with the 370hp 455 came with a three-on-the-tree.
That might be worth a few bucks today!
Really enjoyed this article and the comments!
In my view, the Olds 98 front and rear styling elements complemented each other much more so than those of the Buick Electra. It seemed that GM not only reserved the choicest, and frankly most fitting, interiors for Cadillac through this time period, but also the most unified and dignified styling cues. The sharp, linear rear-end motif of each met with rather different approaches up front. The Buick’s front impressed me as softer and more casual than the bolder, formal Cadillac and Olds, and fit more harmoniously on the LeSabre models that lacked the crisper, finned rear lines of the C-bodies. Until the 1977 downsized models debuted, I could never fully reconcile the front-to-back appearance of the biggest Buicks.
Turning to the insides, as a former GM kid I always wondered how the company convinced people so readily to drink the vinyl Koolaid. Was it subliminally voiced across the churches, temples, and television networks? Few Olds and Buick families had plastic-coated (or leather, for that matter) furniture in their living rooms, yet even the most deluxified sub-Cadillacs often sported the unrepentant scorching-in-the-summer, frigid-in-the winter vinyl trims, most of which did not even remotely resemble natural hides. Cadillac protectionism at its finest.
We were not cut of Olds or Buick cloth in those days, but did acquire a fairly loaded 1974 Caprice coupe in 1975, or so, with the maroon knit interior. Coming from a 1969 vinylized Kingswood (and that interior was among the top of the line for that model, as I recall), I was transported to automobile heaven with each ride. And we never had trouble keeping the cloth seats clean and fit, despite the usual family circus adventures.
I noticed on the Olds option list, the choice of vinyl roof on the custom cruiser. Must have been extremely rare.
The Olds,Chevy,and Buick dealers sat in a mini “car dealer row” south of my small wstrn PA town then. The Merc dealer stayed in cramped “in the city” space. One big Lincoln or Merc filled that showroom. Here, I hanker for the Olds.
a mestake in the Buick Electrs gesê it’s. a 1971 not 1972 as posted in this article correct it