The Best Big Car Of 1966? The Perpetual Debate Gets Some Additional Ammo

(first posted 6/12/2011)   I vividly remember this pretty objective comparison when it arrived in my mailbox in the fall of 1965, and it has colored my perspective ever since, along with my own later experiences. So a little scanning, and here it is: Popular Science writer Jan Norbye takes on the Big Three, gives credit where it’s due, and then in the end tells them all to go back to their workshops and get it right. Which they did, about ten years later, when GM’s excellent B-Bodies came out. Let’s face it, the ’77 GMs really were the first properly sorted out big American cars, ever. But let’s check out the state of the art in 1966 (click on the pictures to enlarge, and use Control + to enlarge further)

The Chevy’s 396/325 hp THM combo creamed the Fury’s 383/325hp Torqueflite and Ford’s 390/315 C6 power trains, with a 0-80 time two to three seconds faster (15.1 seconds). The Chevy’s 0-60 was 8.9 seconds, and although quicker than the others, the gap was not as wide. This supports the Chevy’s better breathing ability at high engine speed.

The Chevy also (barely) wins the ride and handling test “greater handling precision under all conditions”, although with other qualifications “wheel hop on certain washboard surfaces”.  For all you predictable arguers of MoPars’ vaunted handling superiority, time stands still for no torsion bar. And keep in mind that Chrysler substantially softened the suspension specs of their big cars, to assuage complaints of noisier and harsher rides compared to Chevy’s Jet-Smooth version. Still, the Plymouth “has the best rough road ride, and is faster than the Chevy on a twisting country road”.  The Ford’s wandering front end came in for serious criticism.

The power steering came in for criticism all the way around, as did the power-assisted drum brakes, which were finally approaching the end of the road. Norbye goes on to suggest that serious drivers buy theirs with manual steering and brakes. Not bad advice, if you don’t do a lot of parking. Power drum brakes were atrociously over-sensitive, and ultimately no more powerful.

Norbye’s recommendation? Forget all three, and buy a Malibu, Fairlane or Belvedere instead. So now we can move on and argue which of those three mid-sizers was the best.