COAL: A Professional Driver’s Comparison of the Maverick, Hornet and Duster

Ford Maverick 1970 ad

The cars I have described previously (Studebaker Larks,Ford Cortina GT and Ford Mustang) were my personal vehicle and as such required more than just my interest. They necessitated having an after school job. For the most part my job consisted of working in or for (more on that later) a series of pharmacies in my home town as a drug clerk and delivery driver. One of these pharmacies was located in a very small storefront with about six parking spaces.

The two pharmacists who bought this fairly old establishment were pretty good businessmen (and pharmacists; one even identified the mistake I made in organic chemistry class by the smell I brought into work one day) and decided to overcome the parking deficiency by offering all day delivery at no extra charge.Thus-when the $1995 Ford Maverick came out they were among the first to line up to buy what everyone thought would be the next Ford Falcon (i.e. cheap reliable and rugged).

Ford Maverick 1970 dash

The automatic transmission was probably added in acknowledgment of the fact that all three delivery drivers were males under the age of 20(clutches being what they are) and the AM radio for the resale value.The anticipated margin between our hourly pay and the actual costs of running the car and the prescription/merchandise markup would then be a large part of the profit without the extra location costs.

Frankly the adventure was keeping the car going consistently to move the stuff out the door. As Ford advertised, a lot of the components were probably designed for a much more robust vehicle. Unfortunately the parts that kept malfunctioning were not among those.The base model 170 CID six had a weird habit of either disabling its own distributor or having the choke stick in either a full open or full shut position.The choke problem had three under-twenty-year-old males applying what ever shade tree remedies were around each time the thing stopped working or ran badly. I was partial to paper clips but the end of a pencil or pen served for most of us. The transmission had a difficult life for the same reason, and the fairly lightweight, non power steering had enough turns lock to lock to discourage us from hot rodding too much.

AMC Horne 1970 t04image: Jim Cavenaugh

Two years in and the next trial was a 1972 AMC Hornet with a 232 CID I6 with similar equipment. Obviously the store maintained delivery service because it was a net profit, but neither owner wanted to continue working out the teething problems of Ford’s new Maverick (too bad in a way, friends assured me they got a lot better). The Hornet worked better for its intended purpose (admittedly a low bar to clear at that point) and survived the same three drivers another 2 years.

AMC Hornet 1970   03

The slightly higher seat height helped a little with street and house number identification,the repairs didn’t tax the local garage any more than the Maverick in terms of complexity (and there were fewer of them).

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Finally in 1974 they decided (for reasons unknown to me) on a two door Duster (the “successor” to the Dart or Valiant-really more a variant on the same) with nearly identical equipment. It proved to be a solid vehicle; the repair record was probably enhanced (well, correlation does not equal causation) by the fact that all three drivers (myself and two other sub-21 males) all moved on to different work. Anyway the business model for that pharmacy in particular (and possibly pharmacy in general) changed, and the whole process ceased a few years after I entered graduate school.

AMC Hornet 1970  02

In retrospect, this is a sort of comparison test of 3/4 of the American-made entry level vehicles by someone who was a long way from an automotive professional (in fact I didn’t even like to drive that much). First, the fact that the Hornet was reasonably competent and reliable, and proved to be the longest running (and perhaps most versatile) platform of the three left very little impression on me as a driver.

Ford Maverick 1970 red ad

The Maverick should have been more competent as a vehicle but was doing what my father stoutly maintained for years “working the bugs out on the consumer”(I believe we now call it Beta testing). The non power steering on all of them was too slow (the phrase winding up an eight day clock comes to mind) with only the somewhat heavier Duster probably needing that reduction of effort. They were all fast enough for the time, but the engine characteristics and high rear end ratios made driving a lot more sedate than the horsepower and weight would indicate.

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The Duster made quite a bit more mechanical noise which actually made it a little more fun to drive since it usually felt you were going faster than you actually were. And last having three males under 20 as your primary drivers might be a great way to test a vehicles longevity and reliability, but its not a great way to enhance those things.