(first posted 9/12/2014) At some point, everything reaches critical mass. When it comes to physical size, American car makers hit theirs in the 1970s. This event is either marked with glee or despair, depending upon perspective.
In retrospect, the hefty size of these B-bodies makes some degree of sense for the context of their introduction during the first Nixon Administration. With construction of the interstate highway system in full-swing in many places in late 1970, combined with the sheer amount of open land mass in the United States (for comparison, England is a smidgeon larger in land mass than Louisiana and New Zealand is roughly the size of Colorado), large cars seemed a natural extension of big infrastructure projects and other related endeavors. Besides, who wanted to be cramped inside a small car traveling through great expanses of land, especially when fuel was cheap and plentiful?
Owning a big car was as American as baseball, apple pie, and, well, Chevrolet. Think of these B-bodies as being the crew cab pickups of their day–big, bold, and able to do pretty much everything thrown at them. Chevrolet wheelbases reflected the optimism; up 2.5 inches for sedans and growing a whopping 6 inches to a grand total of 125 inches (3,175 mm) on the wagons like this one. Back then if you needed a big car, any budget constraints heavily influenced the trim level of your purchase; today, the same constraints tend to influence physical size. The Bel-Air wagon was an ideal choice for those in the know who watched their pennies.
Despite auspicious beginnings in 1953, the Bel-Air nameplate was the bottom-feeder of the 1975 full-size Chevrolet family, and had been since the skinflint Biscayne name was unceremoniously jettisoned in 1972. This dubious bottom rung distinction was so pronounced Chevrolet itself didn’t seem overly anxious about broadcasting its existence, with only minute recognition of the model in factory brochures. It just makes sense; don’t tell the customer about a particular model and they will be unknowingly forced to buy the higher trim model that makes you more money. Save printing costs, make better profits by up selling on the retail side, and dump the poverty model into all those government fleets.
Nobody really pays much attention to those government cars, do they? Build all the police departments and assorted agencies an el-cheapo wagon or sedan, please them with the durability and price, and net yourself some nifty tax breaks for your sales to government entities. It’s a win-win.
With all this talk of bargain basement wagons, how plentiful is this 1975 Bel-Air wagon? The answer isn’t so easy. There were just over 13,000 Bel-Air sedans produced for the 1975 model year, accounting for 4.4% of the entire production of full-sized Chevrolet sedans. There were 58,500 wagons of all trim levels manufactured, so assuming the same rate of production for Bel-Air wagons, one can imagine about 2,575 (give or take) were built. To put this in context, Chevrolet built over 8,300 Caprice convertibles in 1975.
Fleet vehicles–which most of these likely were–aren’t exactly known for having long, carefree lives. Combine forty years of use and abuse along with low production numbers, and it makes for an exciting find of a nearly extinct model.
How many saw fleet use? A bunch, and I would imagine the mailbox-quality letters used here indicate this Bel-Air was one of them, likely in a small municipal, county, or school district fleet. Appearing like it may have left the care and love of the Chevrolet factory in white, one can imagine this old girl spending her fleet days being used and passed around like facial tissue in a funeral home.
Finding this car was a prime example of the CC Effect. Back in May, Perry wrote a piece about a ’75 Bel-Air wagon he found on e-Bay. Right at ninety minutes after his piece appeared, I found this car in the small town of Fayette, Missouri. When I posted the leading picture in the comment section, there was a justifiable degree of astonishment. This car supports my personal theory that nearly any car, no matter how rare, can be found with enough luck and looking in the right place.
Besides, just a few miles away was the previous source of another good wagon find, this 1960 Plymouth two-door wagon. There are many treasures simply waiting to be found.
This car is perhaps one of the roughest I have ever captured. It is all so endearing in its bruises and callouses, much like the town mutt that always has a bald spot on its hide from some recent fight. Despite it having who knows how many maladies, you want to make sure it is receiving some degree of care and nurture.
Sadly, care and nurture are two items of unknown quantity on this old Bel-Air. Rare is the time I have any compunctions about taking pictures of cars, but this photography session was giving me some bad vibes. Was it due to the interior’s deplorable condition, looking like a rolling landfill? It had a really weird aura about it. This was one car where I didn’t dawdle in getting my pictures and getting the hell out. It’s weird how such things happen.
Maybe all was well and my imagination got the better of me. I have been by this area at least four times since and this Bel-Air was nowhere to be found. Perhaps my not seeing it again is a very good indicator this old Bel-Air is getting some small amount of attention so it can keep working hard to earn its keep.
e-Bay Find: 1975 Chevrolet Bel-Air – Economy Sized Economy
Automotive History: The Big B-body Rarities – Six Bangers and Three Speeds
Seems so odd now to see an entirely different model name on the strippo version of a car. Today, there’d be the Impala, the Impala LT, and the Impala 2LT, at logarithmically increasing trim levels. Of course, there’d be no Impala *this* stripped today.
I agree, why be cramped in a small car when you could have a big one for not much more. What I never understood though was how small some of these tanks were inside when the outside took up so much space. A lot of these huge cars offer barely any more room inside than much smaller cars, especially in terms of rear leg room. So many of these B-I-G vehicles had incredibly long bonnets, but when you opened them half the space was just air! Boots/trunks tended to be a mile long as well. I think very few of the ’70’s era big cars really used their huge dimensions to anything like best advantage.
Then there is the small matter of ponderous handling caused by all that weight, especially excessive front overhang…but that is a whole other story!
“Then there is the small matter of ponderous handling caused by all that weight, especially excessive front overhang…”
Yes. Interestingly, a 1971 Bel Air and a 2014 Impala are very close in weight, trading places for heaviest depending on options. A ’65 Bel Air is lighter than it’s ’14 cousin. My ’68 Ford pickup is lighter than it’s contemporary descendants, due to it’s lack of creature comforts.
I think the ponderous handling is due to weight distribution as you say, and also to what Jeremy Clarkson calls “wonky shock absorbers.”
Now THAT’S what I call a real “Beater”!
These wagons and their OEM cousins were the monsters of the road in those days. I never wanted one. My love of wagons is restricted to the GM mid-sizers of the 60s, most notable the Olds Vista Cruiser and a few Chevelles, and a few recent VW/Audi versions. Certainly not of the brown, turbo-diesel manual variety, either…
There’s someone at my workplace who drives an old Celebrity that looks remarkably similar to this Bel Air wagon! I took a photo of it but have since deleted it. I would’ve posted it.
Hey! At least it runs and is (well) used and driven!
So, if 1973 had not happened, and gasoline had remained cheap and plentiful, what would GM and Ford have done with their big cars in the late 1970s?
I can’t give any definitive insight, but I’d imagine the course of the American automobile would’ve been a whole lot different.
That’s a great question.
A large part of me wants to say critical mass was being reached regardless of the fuel embargo. At this physical size, these cars were overfilling a standard garage in length. With roadways generally having an 11′ to 12′ lane width (often closer to 10′ in rural areas), any increases in width would have quickly been detrimental – Ford got by with this for one year in 1960.
Overall, the infrastructure is at a fixed set of dimensions and it already existed. That’s why I think these had pushed the envelope about as far as it could be pushed.
Bill Mitchell believed that full size GM cars had already become “too big” by 1971, so ideas were already in place to downsize to a more rational size in the advanced studio, then the first gas crunch hit in 1973 and that project went into full speed.
Yeah, people don’t often realize that the 1977 B-bodies were already in development prior to the OPEC crisis in 1973.
John DeLorean said the same thing in the late 1960s, and proposed a Chevy and Pontiac body that was a lengthened A body (mid size). The proposal never saw the light of day for “regular” Pontiacs and Chevys, but it did become the basis of the 1969 Grand Prix.
The idea that the downsized ’77s were anything other than a reaction to the 1973 energy crisis never occurred to me until it I saw it raised in discussion here. But it seems pretty well established that plans were already well underway when the oil shock struck. And it would have been difficult for GM to develop something as monumental as the ’77s from start to finish in the short window between the crisis hitting in ’73 (or more likely, between it becoming apparent that the crisis had permanently altered the landscape, probably in late ’73 or early ’74) and the cars’ introduction in the fall of ’76.
I still have to think that GM wasn’t originally planning as drastic a downsizing as we ended up with, but took something that was already in motion and directed its course towards an even smaller car. I have a hard time seeing GM planning to unilaterally downsize its fullsize cars to the degree seen in ’77 prior to 1973, especially for the more upscale brands. A Cadillac with a wheelbase half an inch longer than a fullsize Ford? Frankly, I think the very suggestion would have been branded as “crazy talk”. GM’s cars were dominant in this segment, and what happened to Chrysler in 1962 was still relatively fresh in everyone’s memory. John DeLorean’s proposal to downsize the fullsize Chevrolets and Pontiacs just a few years before gained little traction, as already noted.
The above having been said, I think it’s very plausible that there were voices within GM saying “Enough!” and planning at least a more modest trimming. The ’71s were bigger and more bloated than their predecessors, and I can see the sentiment that a step back was needed, especially with the more downscale brands. There was precedent for this; after several years of increasingly larger and more garish fullsize cars in the late ’50s, some American brands had pulled back and trimmed down their fullsize cars a little for 1961, most notably Pontiac. American cars of this era were also very space-inefficient. It would have been very possible to make the cars smaller on the outside while sacrificing little or no interior room or comfort, as the ’77 Bs and Cs would ultimately demonstrate (even in the early ’70s, the contrast in space efficiency between Japanese cars and small American cars was there for all to see). And it would have been hard to notice the growing popularity of smaller cars in the late ’60s and early ’70s. It wasn’t just imports riding that wave, but domestic compacts like GM’s own Nova and the Mopar A-bodies. History had shown that the appropriate response to that sort of thing was what Pontiac did in ’61, however, not what Plymouth and Dodge did in ’62. But I think even a more modest trimming would have been a bold move, and you really have to give GM credit even if that was all they were originally planning.
It could be a complete coincidence that things turned out this way, but I’m struck that the Olds/Buick C-bodies ended up with a wheelbase that would have represented a mild trim of what the fullsize Chevrolets were using, and the Cadillacs ended up with a wheelbase that would have represented a mild trim of what the B-O-P B-bodies were using. I have to wonder if the 119″ Olds/Buick C-body wheelbase was originally intended for the Chevrolets, and the 121.5″ Cadillac wheelbase was originally intended for the B-O-P B-bodies. Under this theory, there might be been a wheelbase originally planned of around 123-124″ or so for the Olds/Buick C-bodies, and a wheelbase of 126-127″ or so for the Cadillacs.
We’ve covered this subject before in the comments, including pictures of early clays and such. It’s pretty well agreed that the eventual replacements for the ’71 cars were going to be somewhat smaller, and have some styling similarities with the actual ’77s, but not as small as they turned out. There was about 35 months between the OPEC boycott and the release of the ’77s. Tha would have been enough time to essentially completely re-do them, or scale them down from what had been intended.
I’m utterly convinced that these cars would have been somewhat bigger except for the energy crisis; probably somewhere between the ’71s and the actual ’77s.
Well, with respect to wagons, I’d bet GM was planning to return to the 2-way tailgate (originally a Ford design) that it had used for the 1969 and 1970 full-size wagons, no matter what size the cars ended up. The clamshell design proved troublesome over time, and moreover, people liked to fold down their traditional tailgates and put things on them, not have them swallowed up by the floor.
(As a kid I was often a third-row passenger, in carpools, in both a ’70 Chevy and a ’71 Olds full-size wagon.)
Good points. But what I’m left wondering is – why was the ’71-on generation made that big in the first place.? Weren’t the ’70s big enough already?
Maybe it was stylist-driven. Every GM car line as of the 1968 model year had curved side glass, and the next step (from the stylists’ point of view) was to increase the curvature, to emulate even more the sorts of drawings they were always producing. This was practical (relatively speaking) only with the large cars.
The need to accommodate the extra curvature could explain everything else about the design of the ’71s – track, wheelbase, hard points, windshield dimensions, etc. – as well as the problems that resulted. These cars’ typical dashboard-top cracks, for example, can be traced to a failure to accommodate expansion and shrinkage with temperature, using the plastics then available, across a much broader area (both side-to-side and front-to-rear) than any previous GM car’s dashboard top.
(Interesting that not one of these cars ever offered hiding headlamps, whereas Ford and Chrysler kept offering them on some of their large cars through the early 1980s – the Mark VI and Fifth Avenue, respectively. Was GM trying to save money, or were they forward-thinking?)
I think it was a couple of things. Aside from the usual one-upmanship with Ford, which had been going on for years, I suspect there was also an impetus to maintain the big cars’ superiority to the A-bodies. The Colonnade cars were planned for ’72 originally and were really quite large, so if the B-/C-body cars didn’t keep pace, there was a risk buyers would decide the A-bodies were big enough and buy those instead. (That did indeed end up happening, although I don’t think the trend became pronounced until after the embargo.)
Also, there was a big push from the corporation to increase commonality among the big cars, which meant Chevrolet and Pontiac had to accept some things that were really better optimized for Buick and Olds.
I’ll add too that the all-new ’69 big Fords and fuselage Chryslers both went in the direction of bigger and wider, with highly curved side windows. That was clearly the design direction at the time, and GM’s ’69-’70 cars looked a bit old-fashioned next to them. They obviously weren’t going to be outdone by those two! The uber ’71s were the result. GM just had to have the last word on big cars.
Although I agree that the ’69 GM big cars looked a bit old-fashioned next to competitors like the Mercury Marquis and especially the big Chryslers, I do think the radius of curvature of the side windows of the ’71 GM big cars (and the ’73, the would-be ’72, intermediates) was more extreme than that of the ’69 Fords and Chryslers. And the need for doors that would accommodate that curvature proved no help to rear seat width. I’ve been in the rear seat of a ’69 New Yorker and of a ’72 de Ville, and the Chrysler certainly seemed wider.
That is very true, a lot of folks seem to think that the oil crisis of 1973 pushed all car makers to make smaller cars (which was true for some of the new cars that arrived in the 5 or 6 years after the 1973 crisis) but some of the cars whose arrival would send shock waves through the auto world(such as the 1977 B bodies and 1978 A Bodies) were actually conceived and planned for well before the gas crisis to counter bloat. Take the Mustang II, it was billed as the right car for the right time due to it arriving the next year after the crisis and was a big seller. Folks like to think the Mustang 2 was created due to 1973 event but it was actually designed a year or so before the gas crisis in response to the bloatstang that arrived in 1969.
Of course some resisted change(like Ford in relation to its fullsize cars in comparison to the new 1977 B body. Ford spent large amounts of money trying to convince customers that bigger was better and that GM in selling a Chevy Caprice or other B body as a fullsize car was tantamount to swindling the public. In the end the 1977 and 1978 Ford full size cars sat on the lot while the GM full size cars could not be kept on the lot and had a waiting list.
The Mustang II was conceived well before the OPEC embargo — really probably more around 1969–1970. The lead time, as Paul mentions, is more like three years, sometimes more.
With regard to the timing of the Mustang II, I think a lot of people don’t realize today that there had been a clear uptick in sales of smaller cars for at least five years before the 1973 energy crisis (this is what prompted GM/Ford to introduce the Vega/Pinto in 1971). So building a car like the Mustang II made sense well before the oil shock. Note that GM would have a competing model on the market just a year later.
Calling the car “Mustang” may be a separate matter. If the timing of the energy crisis hadn’t made the ’74 Mustang II a runaway hit, I wonder what the public reaction would have been to using the Mustang name, both short-term and long-term. Even without the crisis, it probably would have been an OK seller. But without the whole “right car at the right time” narrative, the backlash over putting the Mustang name on a Pinto-based, 4-cylinder powered subcompact may have been more severe.
“Of course some resisted change (like Ford in relation to its fullsize cars in comparison to the new 1977 B body. Ford spent large amounts of money trying to convince customers that bigger was better and that GM in selling a Chevy Caprice or other B body as a fullsize car was tantamount to swindling the public. In the end the 1977 and 1978 Ford full size cars sat on the lot while the GM full size cars could not be kept on the lot and had a waiting list.”
To some degree, I think what Ford did in 1977-78 with its LTD/LTD II lineup was just making do with what it had to work with. I think they knew that nothing they had was in the same league as the GM B’s, but they had to move the cars somehow. If appealing to customers who still wanted a traditonally-sized fullsize car could help them pick up some sales, that’s what they would do.
Sales-wise, it was a mixed bag. In what was probably the all-time peak year for post-1973 fullsize sales, the big ’77 Fords actually put up decent numbers. There were apparently still a lot of people out there who wanted a traditionally-sized fullsize car while they could still get one. Sales lagged well behind the extremely popular Chevy Bs, however, and ’78 was then a down year for the big Fords. I think things could have gotten ugly in ’79 if Ford had tried to get one more year out of the old design.
The 1977-78 big cars from Mercury and Lincoln did reasonably well. Like their downscale Ford cousins, both had decent years in ’77. Neither sold anywhere near as well as their GM competitors, but that’s the way things had been historically anyway. Based on production figures, both were down in ’78 compared to ’77, but not by much, and both were still well above their ’76 levels (by contrast, the fullsize Fords were down significantly more in ’78, and were well below where they had been in ’76). Squeezing out one more year with the old design, Lincoln would have a similar year in ’79. It may be that a larger percentage of customers in the ranges of the fullsize market covered by Mercury and Lincoln wanted to hang onto traditionally-sized fullsize cars for as long as they could than in the range covered by Ford.
Bill was a car guy. Any car guy could have told you long before the oil embargo that American cars had gotten too big to be enjoyable. Iacocca was one too.
That’s an interesting question. I think that there still would have been a downsizing of the full-size cars, as there were increasing complaints about the low fuel economy and cumbersome size of too many American cars even before the first fuel crunch.
Full-size cars probably wouldn’t have become much smaller than the 1977 GM full-size cars, and there wouldn’t have been the wholesale shift to front-wheel-drive among virtually all mass-market passenger cars.
I remember that plenty of people were very happy with the size, interior room and fuel mileage of their 1977 and later GM full-size cars – even after the second fuel crunch in 1979.
The cars would have gotten smaller eventually, because of the Japanese auto invasion that was making serious inroads on the east & especially west coasts.
The increasingly positive reputation of the Japanese cars’ fuel & space efficiency definitely helped.
I’m not entirely convinced of that. Bigger Japanese imports like the Toyota Mark II/Cressida were really pretty marginal compared to the small cars. To some extent, the Japanese companies were really reluctant to go head to head with American cars at that time, but it was also a reflection of what American buyers were open to.
That evolved over time, of course, but the Japanese were also really limited in what they could offer in terms of size by JDM tax laws — it wasn’t until much later that the American market had gotten big enough to justify developing a lot of bigger, U.S.-specific products.
So, I don’t think the influx of Japanese imports would have really had any impact on American big cars. I think the domestics would have just continued developing subcompacts for that market, probably pretty much as they did.
In the mid 70s a co-worker of mine found a real “creampuff” in his purchase of a lightly used 71 Bel Air 4 door sedan. Why he bought that particular year and model I never really heard from him. He was newly married and while he and his wife worked at the same Naval Air Station, she drove to work in her own car so it wasn’t that they needed/necessarily wanted a big car.
I had driven numerous large cars from the 60s including a 66 Impala wagon and a 69 Country Squire. I definitely preferred the (marginally?) SMALLER Impala wagon.
Heck, even a 70 Impala ( drove one of those for a few weeks) is a nicer/slightly smaller car than the “boat” sold from 71 to 76.
I like the fact that the owner is using sun screens to protect what must be a pristine dash 🙂
It’s probably to keep the vinyl seats out of the sun, minimizing the unbearable burn when he first gets in.
When I have to park my car in the hot sun all day I use a sun screen and put a towel on my leather seats. Still doesn’t help as much as I’d like 🙂
That’s not a stripper, THIS is a stripper…
Are you in Canada?
I agree, these are both pretty sparse.
These cars were really the Suburbans of their day. A little less macho for sure, but what other choice did you have for a big family vehicle with tons of passenger and cargo space? Like this lowly Bel Air, the base black door handle, steel rim Suburban LS is a very uncommon sight considering the amount of LT and LTZs on the road.
What other choice did you have? Maybe a Suburban… 😛
Or this. The mid 70s was when passenger vans were really getting some traction. These were way more popular than Suburbans or Travelalls by 1975. Chevy/GMC and Dodge sold a lot, but the new 75 Ford really raised the bar for comfort and trim levels. These were a no-brainer – they got no worse gas mileage and had acres more room.
Stumack’s post suggests the Biscayne name was around in ’75….not dumped in ’72 as the article suggests.
Also, I’m assuming the shot of the coroner loading into the bronze-colored wagon is from a TV show or movie…that’s clearly not a fleet vehicle(roof rack, chrome trim, full wheel covers).
The Biscayne was continued in Canada through 1975. It was dropped in the U.S. after 1972.
The same was done with the Bel Air. It was discontinued after 1975 in the U.S., but survived in Canada until 1981.
This could be cleaned up nicely , not a common rig atall .
The Movie Studios used these big wagons to ferry crews around back then too .
Biscaynes continued on in Canada until the end of the 1975 production year. The nameplate was the only difference in appearance and 350/ Automatic was the standard power.
Doesn’t look like a total stripper with the tinted glass and remote control outside mirror. Wouldn’t be surprised if it had A/C as well. I think by ’75 power steering and brakes were also standard.
If the Blues Brothers drove a station wagon, this would be it.
Although the Bel Air was a B-body, all of the GM full sized wagons used the 127″ C-body platform…Electra, Ninety Eight.
The size was massive. They could fit a 4×8 sheet of plywood between the wheel wells and with the tailgate closed.
You can tell the Bel Air is a stripper…The clamshell tailgate is not powered. You would turn the key on the right and it would drop a few inches where after you would push it down manually. To raise it you grabbed the small handle at the top and pull up to the loccked position. The window was powwered and retracted into the roof.
I’m also sure this had the 350.
My Dad owned a 72 Buick with the mighty 455 and of course the automatic tailgate.
The Chevrolet wagons were actually 125 inches (a wheelbase that was unique to the Chevy wagons, not used by any other fullsize 1971-76 GM product). The B-O-Ps were all 127. Except for wagons, Pontiac did not otherwise use the 127-inch wheelbase.
I’ve never been entirely clear on whether the 1971-76 wagons were considered B-bodies, C-bodies, or neither. The Wikipedia articles on the GM B-body and GM C-body claim that they were all technically B-bodies. If they were in fact B-bodies, they were clearly substantially longer than other B-bodies.
Technically, yes they are B-bodies, though the line does get a bit blurred sometimes, especially at Buick where the Estate Wagon carried Electra style big Buick shield emblems, like a 225 and 4 portholes through 1974 the 1975-1976 Estate Wagons have regular tri-shields and 3 portholes, like a LeSabre.
The interior trim was never up to the Electra level, the best you could get on an Estate Wagon was LeSabre Custom style trim and seats. Oldsmobiles Custom Cruiser did offer a deluxe interior with 98 style door panels but the seats were still Delta 88 spec.
Like with so many GM lines the only version of the Fat B that I liked was the Buick, and only the Buick Estate. The dad of one of my best friends was an architect. He drove a ’71 Jag XJ6 and mom’s car was a killer ’72 Buick Estate in that gorgeous dark brown. The Rally wheels fit the car perfectly and the guy had such impeccable taste that he switched the whitewalls for blackwalls. Except for the tires the car looked like this.
The interior didn’t leave a lasting impression. If I remember correctly it was a medium brown vinyl. The family used it for ski trips.
“Fat B”! 😉
Yes – but could you “cruise the vistas” with this?
Wow.Can’t say that this one really tempts me. First, by 1975, the big Chevy had totally lost me. Even the 74s could make me feel just a teensy bit of attraction, but not this one. And for the wagon, the Pontiac, Olds and Buicks were so much nicer.
My mother once worked where she would get a company car to take on out of town trips. 2 or 3 times she brought home 1973 Bel Air sedans. I remember that fender script as shown in your picture. Black tires and dog dish caps, they were really, really plain cars. An AM radio was about the fanciest part of it.
This thing is ripe for the demo derby picking!
Have an interor shot?
No; it was a rolling landfill.
People go on and on about 70’s cars being “so big”. But what about all the gigantic SUV’s motorists are using to go to get a gallon of milk at 7-11?
A Chevy Suburban makes the B body wagons of 71-76 look like Cavalier wagons.
Only in height, these wagons are still longer than a modern Suburban. A new Suburban is only 224.4 inches long…..barely mid size in my book 🙂
It used to be that one could distinguish Chevy trim levels by the number or color of taillights: Bel-Air had 4 with two backups, Impala had 6 with two backups, and Caprice had 6 reds (don’t remember about the backup lights). Chevy must’ve had this in their design bylaws or whatever.
American wagon tailgates were magic, the most innovative on the planet: Ford had its 3-way, while GM’s disappeared. Evidently buyers preferred Ford’s magic, or else the rear-seat arrangement. My dad considered Chevy but bought a Squire.
Anyway, there were teeny-tiny blurbs in Full Size Chevy brochures for BelAirs for 71-75, as an afterthought.
For ’76, there was the Impala ‘S’ for fleets and penny pinchers. But for 77-85, the plain Impala was bare bones enough.
I took my driving learning course in one not much different: 1975 Impala 4dr hardtop sedan, one O the last ever real hardtop with no pillars 😉 options included pwr steering- AM- and Air and not much else- teacher in our summer course was football coach, he said get in fire it up I’m not coming til it’s cool, this is your first pop quiz 😉
I luv’d driving that huge flat landship but corners freaked lil ole age 15 me out, me mum taught me to drive on our Corona wagon which was half this length, so every single corner the coach would glare at me as I bring the right rear tyre over the curb!
With that car I learned a valuable lesson which translated to all wagons, pickups, and rental vans since, LEAD the front end out a bit with your mind on the rear wheels, where they will track round that corner, and I use this mental graphic trick now with all parking, lead forward to get the back end up to where it needs to be to park this thing, yeah.
Memories, of teen times, coaches, Chevys, and a time gone by, aahh
I concur on the demo derby fodder potential of this vehicle.
“Rare is the time I have any compunctions about taking pictures of cars, but this photography session was giving me some bad vibes.”
Before I read that comment I was going to suggest that the owner really loves that thing. There IS something endearing about it and we aren’t the only ones who have noticed. I suspect the owner doesn’t have a whole lot and this car is a prized possession. I imagine he keeps a very watchful eye over it and would not take kindly to pics because where he lives people near it want to steal it.
Much of what you say crossed my mind. Perhaps the weird vibes have prompted me to appreciate this wagon that much more.
This would be the perfect car to drive in New York City (although parking would be problematic). You want to change lanes? Just go for it; the gent in the S class isn’t going to risk getting his car dinged!
Need to make a left turn against slow oncoming traffic? Same deal!
I am so sick of the negativity from the haters!
My first car was a 74′ Impala 2 door hardtop. Yes these cars are big, they do get bad mileage, if you are not a smooth confident driver they are not for you. Go buy some sissified fwd 4 cylinder.
My Impala was one of the fastest highway cars I have ever been in. I would regularly do over 90 Mph on rough roads covered with seniors in RV’s. Bouncing over potholes that would swallow a supra.
That car was a tank! I replaced the starter once in 4 years and 80000 km. It was my own fault. I drove up a mountain to a fire watch tower (4×4 road) and coming back down the battery jumped out of the tray/ bungee cord holder and arced on the frame. Good by starter! No other repairs at all.
I was unbeaten in highway racing. My mechanic friend fielded these cars for stock and ice racing. He helped me setup the front end and suspension. I burned camaros, mustangs, euro cars, etc. on the highway. If you were confident and steady these cars handled at high speed. Mine had a small block, which probably helped. You should have seen the look on smarty pants face with the Talon TSI when I roared past at over 120 mph on the twisty stuff! Teach him talk $&!?.
As to the interior size factor, let’s just say there was plenty of room where you needed it. I am 6’1″ and found that either the back or front seat had plenty of room to sleep in, two people each in a pinch (or even a tickle) and enough head room to “move around.” Width is appreciated by many… 4 or five on a road trip was very comfortable.
I once had a “friend”do $5000 damage to her parents exploder in a “parking accident” by running into the bumper. There was literally not a scratch on that chrome I beam. She was uninsured, it would have totalled most other cars. She was very great-full not to have police involved.
The only down side to these cars was the gas mileage, which could be mitigated by running propane, or a newer driveline. I could only imagine the utility of such a wagon. I have very fond memories of my Impaler. Not the car for everyone, but great at what it was made for.
Take heart Amos ;
The dislike comments are from younger folks and enthusiasts ~
Never forget that given the chance , most Americans will almost always buy the biggest car they can afford when they’re buying new .
Look at the bloated SUV’s no one needs but still buy .
My self , I like to put on my car like a pair of gloves but , growing up I well remember the guys like you who always had to have a big boat and they always peaked and tweaked them so they were not only fast but handled far better than anyone else on the road realized until it was too late .
The 1960’s were the golden years for BIG American boats that could be modified to go and turn really well if not always stop on a dime .
I learned much from those guys and I sincerely miss big American cars ~ I don’t like driving them but riding in them is sweet , be it fast or slow .
Enjoy this old boat because their typ will never come again .
Neat to speculate about whether the big boats would have continued without OPEC. I recall as a tyke in 1970 my folks moved into a new house and out two cars – a 1958 Plymouth Belvedere coupe and 1964 Fury sedan – would not fit together in the garage. This was a problem, and my parents weren’t the only ones – I recall my Dad’s discussions with friends, family, complaints about oversized cars (and new houses’ limitations) etc etc. My Dad traded the old Belvy (for $100) in on a “small” Buick GS350. But on the west coast it was getting increasingly common to have one big family wagon or sedan and one genuinely small car, usually an import (but not always – forgotten today but a lot of Firebird Esprits and Mustang Grandes were “wives’ cars” – I can think of three examples from my childhood of couples my parents’ knew), not least as they’d both fit in the garage.
One clue is the 1974 Chrysler big cars, replacing the “fuselage” C-bodies and introduced just before all heck broke loose. I’ve always thought these were handsome, and if they weren’t actually smaller than their predecessors they were certainly designed to look more trim, and less unwieldy and boatish.
@JPC: Regarding vans as family vehicles:When my legs outgrew the back seat of the Vega (actually, several years after :O) in 1977 my parents nearly bought a SWB Ford van. They signed the papers, drove it home… and it was too tall for the garage. So they returned it and we ended up with a 77 Impala instead, which proved to be the perfect vehicle for the family.
There is a candidate for a derelict resto if I have ever seen one. Keep all the outward appearance the same and do a suspension and engine upgrade.
Wouldn’t that be sweet ? A “dead ringer” in more than one way: able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, while dressed like a homeless person.
That the blueprint-blue wagon has four matching wheels — with caps — saves it from disgrace, and gives it hope for its future. The side shots look as paintings, or chalk drawings, of the car would look. Perfect.
You know, it’s amazing how many articles that I’ve read here on CC where a particular car has never really interested me, but it’s the story that the writer is writing about a car that undoubtedly has a story that is so compelling.
Perhaps the bad vibes that you were getting were due to maybe the owner being on the fringes of society or life, themselves, and just barely hanging on. As most of us car guys aspire to drive something with a certain amount of prestige, we also generally aspire to own something that is in the best overall condition that our budget allows. Looking at this car says a lot about the owner. Maybe they’re a hoarder/ loner/ recluse/ eccentric that only really enters society when they need to. Maybe they’ve lived a really hard life, and have been in and out of jail for most of it. Or maybe they’re a war veteran with some mental health issues due to PTSD. Or some combination of all of the above.
At any rate, “grizzled” comes to mind. Once those cars with those histories are off the roads, it’s like life itself…..we serve our purpose and then we’re gone.
Rumblings about future gasoline shortages were happening several years before the 1973 Arab oil embargo:
“You’ll drive up to the pump and say, ‘Fill ‘er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, ‘I am very sorry, there isn’t any.’”
Biologist Paul Ehrlich, Earth Day 1970
I grew up with a ’66 Biscayne; and when that died (mostly my fault) it was replaced about a year later with a ’69 Impala. Both plain ol’ small-block 4-doors. I ran studded snow tires in the winter (on all four corners, I wanted to stop and turn on snow and ice, not just “go”.) and rarely got stuck despite driving like the teenager I was.
Based on my state’s registration info (not “real” research) my ’66 B-Body weighed about the same or less than a late ’70s Camaro.
So, sure, the ’71 B-body was bigger…but not that much bigger. I suspect the weight was in the options and accessories–AC primarily; added soundproofing, battering-ram bumpers and the hydraulic struts attached to them. A big-block made the front end plow even worse.
Handling? DELIBERATELY sabotaged by GM lawyers applying pressure to GM engineers. The front roll center was so low it was below the pavement. Body lean is a function of roll center vs. center of gravity; the lower the roll center the longer the “lever” the center of gravity acts on, and the more the vehicle leans on the corners. Leaning on corners screws up the functional camber angle, and tire grip is destroyed. They wallowed like a stuck pig, and that was intentional. “American drivers are too stupid to know the limits of the car, so we’ll make the limits exceeding low, and announce those low limits with tire screeching heard from a quarter-mile away.”
There is, of course, no excuse for the poor braking performance inherent in brakes so tiny that a 14-inch wheel will fit. Even when they went to front discs, some vehicle kept the 14-inch wheels but with a revised rim that cleared the caliper. Pure junk. Reliable junk, but junk nonetheless. That same single-piston caliper design, on a 15″ rotor with similarly-large rear drums would have made a world of difference. Not only would the rotor, drum, and shoes cost more, so would the taller steering knuckle (which could have fixed the roll-center issue as well) but then the wheel would have to be huge, and that means more money given to subcontractors like Goodyear and Firestone.
Then, in fall of ’76 (’77 model year) the “All New” Downsized B-body appears. Yeah, an “all new” body dropped onto a lightly-revised “A-body” rolling chassis. I guess if the sheetmetal is different no one will know the underpinnings are the Same Old Stuff.
I’ve also read that there were construction problems with the thickness of the ’71-’76 B-bodies at the time; build quality was MUCH worse than the ’64-’70s.
Interesting point about the brakes and handling being compromised.