In the Book of Revelation, 666 is the Number of the Beast. At the Yellow Cab Company of San Diego, 666 was also the number of The Beast: a 1973 Chevrolet sedan. It was the only one in the large fleet of big Chevies with a V8 engine, courtesy of Chevrolet effectively killing the six cylinder engine for 1973. Given the very extensive seat time I had as a cabbie in a six-cylinder 1971 version, I can attest to the fact that Chevrolet should never have offered it in these beasts. Which they all were, regardless of the engine under the hood.
A point of clarification: Technically the 250 six was still available on the Bel Air in 1973. But, and this is a big but, it was only available with the three-speed manual transmission. Meaning it might as well not be offered at all, since the take rate for that combination must have been minute; as in a half dozen Norwegian bachelor farmers in Minnesota. Realistically, it wasn’t going to work for a taxi, or any other fleet. Why did they even bother?
I moved to San Diego in the summer of 1976. After spending the first three months at the beach every day, I needed to get a job. I wanted to get hired by San Diego Transit, driving one of their newly-acquired Mercedes buses, but no such luck. Instead I got hired as a scab driver during a strike at Yellow Cab of San Diego, which was an old-school large operator of cabs that had enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the taxi business there up to that time. But the times they were a changin’ in the taxi business, and the company would be bankrupt within a few years.
It was obvious that this outfit was not in good health by one look at their fleet of battered 1970 and 1971 Chevy Biscayne sixes, which were ancient by then in taxi years. They all had somewhere between a half a million and a million miles on them (they had their own full shop where they rebuilt their engines and other components). As a new hire, I was assigned a 1970 model, which had unassisted drum brakes and manual steering to go along with a very tired 250 six, and of course the two speed Powerglide. 1950 technology in a 1970 wrapper.
My prior job as a city bus driver piloting GMC fishbowl buses with six cylinder diesels, two-speed automatics and manual steering meant that I was relatively well prepared to pilot this. My arms were strong, and I drove it wide-open much of the time, including runs up I-5 at 85-90 mph to pick someone up in LaJolla. That was effectively its top speed. With its loose steering, drum brakes and utterly worn out shocks and suspension, it was…entertaining at speed.
Given how fast I used to drive it, its demise was a bit scary. Leaving the taxi garage one morning, tooling along at about 30 in downtown San Diego, I put on the brakes (moderately) for the first stop at a red light. One of the ball joints snapped and the left front wheel crumpled under the cab. I was sure glad that hadn’t happened the day before at 85. No, they didn’t bother to fix it.
Instead I was assigned to one of the many ’71s, but it was a downgrade, in reality. It did have power steering, but it was decidedly more sluggish thanks to its greater weight resisting the modest propulsive forces of the six and PG. Its interior, which was made of decidedly cheaper materials, was in much worse shape than the ’70. The most embarrassing thing was that the rear seat cushion was not attached anymore to the body; it just sort of sat back there loosely on the floor, and would slide forward under braking. The seat’s springs and foam were utterly shot. Not exactly a nice place for a fare to plunk themselves down in; sitting on a wobbly, loose cushion on the floor. I could barely see my fares’ heads in the rear view mirror. No wonder independent cab drivers who took pride in their own cars were killing the company. These cars were something one might have encountered in Tijuana back then.
Except for the easy power steering at very low speed, the ’71 was retrograde from the ’70. Most of all, its additional length, width, and soggier suspension made for atrocious handling. Between the glacial acceleration and a structure that was loose, rattling and wobbly in every respect, I can confidently say that this was the worst American car I had (or have) ever driven. And here I was driving it eight hours a day. It made the 1970 model feel downright tight and sporty in comparison.
Curiously, there was a sole 1973 Chevy among all of the creaking old ’70s and ’71s. Not that it was all that youthful either; in 1976, it was already three years old. Its number was 666, and it was driven by one of the most senior drivers, naturally. And it had an almost mythical role in the company; the driver of “Three Sixes” always seemed to get the best fares. Maybe he had a special relationship with the dispatcher? If someone needed a long ride to Oceanside, Carlsbad or Rancho Santa Fe, 666 most often seemed to be the one to get it.
One day when I came in midday with a leaky radiator, they sent me back out in 666, which had been in for service. I felt like royalty; here I was driving The Beast, a real car from the semi-modern era! It actually accelerated; relatively briskly, thanks to my foot being conditioned to floor the accelerator perpetually. And a three-speed automatic! And power disc brakes! And a suspension that wasn’t totally shot! Everything is relative, because in absolute terms this thing was still an oversized, sloppy, wallowing barge. And the new front end with its 5 mile bumper and a grille that looked like one of those anonymous cars in an ad didn’t do it any favors either. But at least it could get out of its way. And its exhaust didn’t sound like a Whoopie Cushion with a slow leak.
My seat time in 666 was fleeting; the next day I was back in my old six cylinder heap. What a let-down. Maybe Chevrolet was just having pity on us poor cab drivers when they killed the six.
By now you’ve probably guessed I wasn’t exactly a big fan of these 1971-1976 GM beasts in general. GM simply went overboard with the whole crop of them that arrived in 1971. They earned the name “barge” honestly. They were a pain to park, or thread through thick traffic. The hood was endless, the sloping trunk not visible, and it was wiiiiide. The low seating position exacerbated its visibility and maneuverability issues. And they got lousy gas mileage, no matter what engine was hiding under that vast hood. A lousy car for taxi work, and a taxing car for any other use.
These beasts were 222″ long and 80″ wide, almost identical to a current Suburban. And which vehicle is vastly more practical, given these outsize dimensions? There’s a very good reason these oversized, low sedans were replaced by SUVs in so many roles they once played, including ferrying paying passengers.
I see a lot of GM designer Wayne Kady’s influence in this generation of big GM cars. He clearly was infatuated with big, long, flowing cars, like this proposal for a Pontiac sedan dated 1966. That’s right about the time early planning and design for this generation would have been taking place.
And there’s this Cadillac rendering by Kady dated from 1966 too. Both strike me as quite predictive of where GM went in 1971 with its big cars.
Or where Kady would have liked GM to go, with this rendering of a V16 concept dated from 1967. Perhaps this colossus was to predict where the following generation of big GM cars could go. Now that’s something to ponder. Meanwhile, real folks in the real world were snapping up VWs and Toyotas.
The irony of these cars is that they weren’t really all that roomy inside. Yes, elbow room was very generous, but curiously, hip room was actually less than on its predecessor. The basic dimensions were typical big American car as they had been for some time, but not nearly as good to sit in as they were back in the early/mid 50s, when cars were taller and the seating was too, which made for a decidedly roomier atmosphere.
That was especially the case in the back seat. This front seat may well be pushed back pretty far, but it’s obviously no leg room wonder. A modern Camry most likely gives just as generous (or more) rear seat accommodations except for width. It certainly was no Checker Marathon, as so many taxi riders (and drivers) lamented.
Compare it to the back seat of a ’55 Chevy, to bring home the point. High seat cushions mean that the legs don’t need to be so stretched out. Which explains why the ’55 had a 115″ wheelbase compared to 121″ for the ’73. And the ’55 was almost 2½ feet shorter overall. Starting in 1958, Chevy went down a road that turned out to be dead end. By 1977, the downsized B Bodies were back to 116″ wheelbase, taller and narrower bodies, and superior seating accommodations.
Depending on your point of view, these oversized 1971-1976 GM sedans are the high water mark or the nadir of the American car. Yes, they’re certainly infinitely cool now as relics of a very different time, but they were not cool in 1971. The showed just how out of touch GM was in the late ’60s, when these were being developed. Powerful social forces had been brewing in the 60s, and the market was fragmenting. An increasing percentage of young people coming of age did not see this Impala sedan as something to aspire to, as something that they would ferry themselves and their future (or current) families in. That was not the case ten years earlier, or even five. The public, especially women, had been complaining about cars being too big ever since 1957-1958, and GM did nip and tuck their cars a bit in 1961. But that was short-lived; every subsequent generation got bigger and heavier and wider.
By the time these cars came to the market, there had been a decided shift to smaller cars, and there was increasing talk about the likelihood of energy shortages to come. But the guys cocooned up on the 14th floor obviously weren’t hearing it. Their Grosse Pointe Myopia couldn’t imagine a world other than their own, and their daily drive out to the exurbs of Detroit where they lived and socialized with each other in a bubble, insulated from the changes taking place. VW was selling half a million Beetles in 1970, more than half the number of full size cars Chevy sold that year. And the solution was ever bigger cars?
Needless to say, the timing of these behemoths was impeccable. In the fall of 1973, OPEC’s oil embargo hit, and the US got its first taste of a world without unlimited cheap gas. And GM had to initiate what would become the biggest industrial investment in the US since WW2: a sweeping downsizing, which effectively killed these large cars, as the new downsized ’77s were essentially a Malibu with a new taller, boxier body.
And yes, these made great taxis; the next best thing to a Checker. And they even came with sixes again. And they were not beasts, regardless of the numbers painted on their sides.
In the mid 70s a co-worker bought one of these, a 73 Bel Air 4 door, apparently because he wanted a big, comfortable car. His new wife hated it, and as a car guy, I couldn’t understand why anyone would want a whale of a car like that.
About a year later I would have a 70 Impala 4 door sedan as a loaner and that car seemed fairly decent for what was to me a very big car. I didn’t drive it enough to need to buy gas for it, maybe REALLY living with that Impala would have given me a less favorable impression?
BTW, that sketch for a possible Pontiac sedan seems to have lifted a bit of it’s inspiration from what would become the 68 Grand Prix.
I can’t look at one of these and not think of Roger Moore and “Live and Let Die”. I cannot forget Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James) spitting tobacco and having his 1973 Chevy squad car turned into a “car boat”. 1973 Novas also played a prominent role in this film as police squad cars near Kananga’s poppy plantation.
The 72’s were still in the plant, and the 73’s were on the line when I started. Of course because of my 5’9 height I went straight to the pit..(tall enough to reach, and short enough not to bang my head)
We ran “B” body U.S Pontiac, with Canadian Pontiac at about 20 JPH (jobs per hour) Seems to me they mixed the “B” Chev in at 35 JPH. A 55 JPH was considered pretty fast by 1972 standards.
I distinctly remember the stick shift in line 6. As part of my assignment, I attached the speedo cable to the transmission. . On the 6 stick there was an adapter that required all of my manual dexterity to install the speed cable. No matter how hard I tried, those things forced me down the line. Luckily the schedulers sprinkled them in the model mix. Yes, they were mostly cabs.
However many went to CKD for world wide shipping.
As I sit here at 6:45 AM , I can close my eyes and visualize those barges coming down the line.
Was there a dictate from the 14th Floor that most of these be brown or green? I cannot think of ever seeing one in person that was another color.
Having only driven one B-body of this generation (a ’74 Olds Delta 88), I cannot imagine being in one in city traffic 8+ hours per day. I drove that Olds on rural two-lane roads and it was, let’s say, a novelty to 17 year old me.
However, it and Buick B-body I rode in much earlier both had the same weird rattle/squeak combination when hitting imperfections in the pavement. I can still hear it; it was like the body, door panels, and suspension were singing some badly off key harmony.
There was a medium metallic blue that filled out the schedule.
My 74 is Green…and yes, I hate that color. However I hate all greens. Can’t afford to repaint it though.
It is difficult to overstate how great was the gulf between the 70 and the 71 Chevrolet (and the rest of the B body cars.) The interiors suddenly made that of a contemporary Plymouth look nice, which is saying something. Molded plastic was everywhere and the exaggerated curve of the side windows and lower doors made you feel like you were in a barrel.
And on the road the structure of these things twisted and shook in ways like no GM car I had ever been in. I could tell that things were changing inside of GM from the moment I first slammed a door closed on one of these. That rock-solid feel of every door I had slammed on every GM car in my life (and there were lots and lots of them) was gone.
All this said, I liked the styling of the 73. I would actually love to find a 6 cylinder 3 speed Bel Air of this generation, just for the rarity.
Japan was watching and learning – a little too well in Nissan/Datsun’s case since they went from the 510 to the 710 just a couple years later which was a similar downgrade.
Yes, but the two doors got that famous GM slam:
When the doors rusted out at the bottom. That lasted over 10 years until the last of the G body cars.
Ah yes, those awful molded plastic interiors of this generation. After 5 years they all bore the infamous GM Mark of Excellence, a huge crack running the length of the top of the dash.
I thought the worst part was those one-piece molded lower door panels. They looked dreadfully cheap when they were new and turned to all kinds of unworldly colors as they aged.
The hard plastic that got that chalky outer layer after a few years.
My 74 Sport Coupe has held up OK in the door panel area, not great, but not too bad.
I drove a ’71 Impala for years, it was a nice cruiser. It had a 350, 2 bbl, with a three on the tree. My dad swapped a THM350 for the manual, it was setup to hold first gear until about 55 mph, and second gear until about 90 mph. I had a lot of fun with that car.
British may say the best cab is London taxi can, rest of Europe agree as a taxi Mercedes W123 and W124 are the one. But I still have to say the best taxi cab is Toyota Crown Comfort. It serves the taxi duty in both city and occasional highway well. The original one comes with 4-speed column shift manual transmission and can carry up to 5 passengers
From a driver/operator’s perspective the Prius is probably the best, from a passenger’s there’s no cab like a minivan cab.
I was always sad to get a van cab when I lived in Edinburgh.
A ride in a “London” cab always felt like you were on a grand day out. And then there’s the infinite legroom and the way the back end curves around your head.
I doubt Prius can ran up to 1 million kilometers. But when Crown comfort in its prime, Toyota had not introduced the new hybrid technology cars like Prius. Crown Comfort is still the main work horse for the taxi industry in Japanese and Hong Kong. If New York taxi fleet is an indicator, hybrid Camry is the the most common vehicle these days. The taxi driver can not drive around a Prius all days without fatigue. Maybe Prius V is a bit better but the fuel consumption is higher, Toyota has discontued it this year. I rented a Prius few years ago in LA, my impression to this vehicle is merely OK, good fuel economy with cheap car feel and poor performance and handling. I would like to try Ford CMax and Fusion hybrid one day.
High water mark for me; up till 72 for most of the GM Bs. The only ones who got it right in 1973 was Chevrolet. Despite the bumper, it’s as handsome as the 71 and actually better looking than the ‘slipped grille’ 72. Nice to see a (relative) strippo with dog dishes; just proves how good this shape is.
High water mark for me
Yeah, for me too. I always felt like I was drowning when driving it. 🙂
Must be something about the grass being greener on the other side of the big pond.
The grass is, it is! (Or maybe it’s just more potent?).
I’m with Don (if I read him correctly), these cars have beautiful styling. Just look at the profile shot. And the whole is swishy and integrated, and just, well, really nice.
From outside the US, such as here on pond otherside, there’s a great cultural appeal for these barges. They filled our cinema screens, our tv’s with a world where driving a yacht is just part of the scenery. Imagine such a place, imagine the plenty!
I haven’t the slightest doubt they are a driving disaster – the tv antics kinda showed that up, to the delight of this kid – but that’s irrelevant when it’s just a glamourous prop. Admittedly, it does not have an ancient six and two automated speeds in that role.
See if you can put aside the absurd size, the hopeless space utilization, the crap suspension tune, the wheeze, and see if you can’t see a really handsome beast. Coz it is, y’know.
R.I.P. “Whale of a Wash”. Broadway just north of Houston Street NYC till the late 90s or so…
The Shark from Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas
These were awful cars.
I learned to drive in a new 1975 “Spirit of America” bicentennial Impala coupe. Driving these things was like being in a coma. No road feel, no view out, poor handling, imaginary braking, no leg room, cheap plastic interior, idiot lights on the dashboard, these cars sucked the fun out of driving. Ford was no better. My dad had Chryslers and they were better, but had the quality of a Yugo. 7 Miles per gallon – there wasn’t even an attempt to do anything efficient with these cars.
Detroit wasn’t trying anymore. They slopped out these gloppy barges in the cheapest way and then pocketed the loot. When they were forced into making smaller cars, they were just smaller version of these bad cars. So being given a Ford Fairmont, a Dodge Omni or a Ford Escort was shocking to a Midwesterner used to driving Detroit heaps.
It makes me sad to think of how Americans could have kept Detroit from turning into an ulcer had the Big Three done their jobs. Even when it did get to putting excellent cars on the road, Americans still gravitated to cars that sapped our economy and put their neighbors out of work.
We wanted good cars, but during this era, Detroit would have no of that. All of us are still paying the price of their neglect of this vital American industry back then.
7? Maybe with a 454. My 74 (which still uses points) gets 13.5 on Hwy (with 3.08 rear gears) and about the same in town. If I do the Quadrajet conversion, it’ll probably pick up 1 more or so.
You can still buy points and condensers?
I buy NOS made in America AC Delco points and condensers off ebay. Some folks sell ’em cheap, some don’t, but I have several. I also buy the old Ford “Tune Up Cans” for my six cylinder Mavericks.
I had a lot of experience with these as I worked for a Chevrolet dealership in 1973 & ’74. They were overwrought indeed and the triple whammy of increased size/weight (starting in ’71), ever tightening emission controls and then the Federally mandated 5 MPH bumper (1973) on top of that created a true slothmobile.
I can say this at least, those with the optional 454 CI motor still had some go; even when emasculated by analog emission controls the torque from that motor would really launch such a beast. Not so with the optional 400 CI small block, a true, overheating when taxed, boat anchor of an engine. Now the 350 CI versions could be a surprise as in they were inconsistent (as was everything else about the domestic car biz in those days). Some ran like you would expect, i.e. uninspired but others wanted to move out surprisingly well. I always made it a point to “tweak” a poor running one for my customers so at least they would overlook that detraction of the barge-o-matic B body Chevy.
Of course as luck would have it, in 1977 while working for an electronics service bureau, I ended up with a pretty well used up ’73 Impala four door hardtop as a company car. It had a ball-joint issue up front so that if you took a turn too fast you would lose control with a shuddering, under steering slide. The trunk leaked so badly that it was like hauling a swimming pool around with you all day and the trunk was, of course, rendered unusable ( I got my Black & Decker out and just drilled a bunch of holes in the floor and lower quarter panels to at least let the water out as fast as it flooded in). My best experience with that heap was having the passenger side exhaust manifold preheater assembly rot out and drop onto the electrical contacts for the starter solenoid while cruising (very quickly!) through the worst part of town. Dead short circuit! The ends got blown off of all of the wires but I found a nearby old school Chevrolet dealership that was willing to muck some new ends back on to the trashed wiring harness.
The last draw was a blow-out of an incredibly worn out tire only to find out the car had no jack and the spare tire wasn’t much better. A cop stopped to help but then told me that he could write me up for not having a jack. He didn’t actually do that, he was just trying to make a point.
I finally told my handlers that either the Impala had to go or I was going to go (I hated the job anyway). To my surprise, they blew the dust balls off of the check book and leased me something brand new. And that in itself is another story for another day.
While the “it’s illegal to not have a jack” story sounds like typical, pure cop bullshit, if true, I wonder if the law is still in effect and how that works with all the new cars that no longer come with a spare and jack but, instead, just have an aerosol can of Fix-a-Flat.
Those Wayne Kady sketches are really sleek, interesting shapes. I’ve never seen them before. GM should have built its production models the way these are drawn, rather than the mediocre, compromised styling actually used (though I would shorten the hood on that V-16 a little)!
The July 1970 Motor Trend included some sketches of 1971 cars about to debut, and although some were fairly accurate, the 1971 Coupe de Ville sketch was clearly based on the Kady Cadillac coupe above – hidden headlamps, underslung bumper with fog lights, etc. I was rather disappointed by the actual ’71 Cadillac as a result…
I disagree, surely making cars that could fit people inside would be better! I wonder whether he was an actual car stylist or one of the guys that illustrated the ads and brochures with half-scale people.
The distance between front and rear seat backrests appears smaller than the diameter of the wheels! (not tires) If I was his boss I would have told him to stop wasting the company’s time.
I love, and am amazed by the existence of, that Mercedes bus.
That was rather unusual for the US. San Diego transit did it as an experiment, to reduce fuel consumption and offer more frequency, as well as to provide service to less dense areas. They bought quite a good number of them, to augment their big GMC buses. But the experiment didn’t last very long, and the buses were sold off after some years. I suspect it was the price of fuel going down as well as perhaps the challenges of servicing such very different vehicles.
Ottawa used them in the 1970s as well. Mostly for suburban ‘Dial-a-Bus’ service I recall.
I really enjoyed this Paul. Your personal insight as a taxi driver during this time sheds a whole new light on these cars.
My parents had a 1976 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale hardtop sedan. Even then I noticed that the interior – particularly the back seat – wasn’t very spacious in relation to the (massive) exterior. It was, however, reliable, even if the front fenders and hood did flap on back country roads like the wings of a jet airliner.
Well, as a “wonder years” kid, I loved these cars. Wanted one as a kid, and got not one, but two of them back to back as a teenager/young man. A ‘71 Impala 4 door hardtop, followed by a ‘72 4 door sedan. Both powered by 400 small blocks, a true dog of a motor. Yes, they were barges. But considering my relative lack of experience with other, previous large cars, they were as good as anything else. Which is to say they were prodigious garbage can bruisers and very competent front yard trenchers that could take a licking and keep on ticking (which is what they did when they overheated, which was regularly). Alas, they could only withstand 6 to 8 months of my punishment before their painful demise. The ‘71 did relieve me of my virginity, however, so no matter how you cut it….it was a good car.
Attached is the only picture I have of the ‘72; notice the garbage can rash on the front plate?
Attached is a pic of the ‘71. It took me all over the Delmarva peninsula before being driven to a junkyard in Wilmington, Delaware. A very roomy backseat, if you know what I mean…
I’ve seen comments on the site before about the growth in size and weight of the 1971 GM full-size cars. But that got me to thinking—having driven GM cars from the previous generation (specifically, a friend’s ’70 Impala 4-door sedan), which itself was just a gigantic car—could the next generation really have been that much bigger? Well, according to the Automobile Catalog™ online (“The complete catalog of cars since 1945”), no, not really—a ’71 Chevrolet Impala is only a teensy, tiny bit longer and heavier than a similarly equipped ’70, and is in fact a fraction of an inch NARROWER than the previous generation car! Here are the links for proof:
1970 Impala 4-door sedan, 350 V8 automatic:
1971 Impala 4-door sedan, 350 V8 automatic:
It’s all there in black and white… and it’s on the Internet, so it must be true, right? 🙂 But seriously, I’m hoping someone more knowledgeable than me can weigh in on this and explain the apparent misperception about the size difference between the two generations. Again, as you’ll see from the links above, the ’71 is only 3/4″ longer, a mere 80 lbs heavier, and (very surprisingly) about 1/4″ narrower than the ’70.
My buddies Dad was a mega big shot at GM.. His Mom didn’t like our crowd.. His Dad however, was a pretty cool dude. Mom ruled,we were never allowed past the driveway.
As I recall she had the sweetest 72 Impala convertible . Red with a white interior. What a beautiful car !!! Of course we were privileged to even be allowed to look at at it.
Ironically my buddy ended up with the rest of us, working the line at GM. He retired after 36 years.
A very interesting and enjoyable read! The gas “shortage” of the 1970s was entirely artificially created by global politics, it was never real since there was never really a “shortage” of oil. Today there’s more of the stuff available than ever, we’re swimming in it. But the “oil crisis” had the beneficial effect of shocking American automakers into building vehicles that were more sensibly sized and rationally designed. Alas, we seemed to have gone backwards now with huge gas-guzzling SUVs that barely get 20 mpg. Whatever happened to the 1985 CAFE target of 27.5 mpg for each fleet?
Very true. There were some short term dislocations caused by the embargo, but those would have sorted out quite quickly except for one thing. Nixon made an ill-fated attempt to control growing inflation by imposing wage and price controls in August of 1971. Although those controls expired after 90 days controls remained in effect on gasoline, causing terrible disruptions as prices for other things were allowed to adjust for inflation but gasoline could not. In other words, shortages. The 1979 shortages were again localized and the result of price and distribution controls on gasoline which Reagan abolished immediately upon taking office in 1981. The “energy crisis” had much more to do with bad policy than about the scarcity of “energy”.
The gas “shortage” could be compared to a man stuck in the desert for 4 days with just a gallon of water. There is technically no shortage of water but try telling him that.
Contrary to what many posters on CC believe, according to Chevrolet these Impalas [despite their inefficient space utilization, sloppy build quality, uninspired looks, and weak engines] “Make Sense for America”. Chevy also claimed this was the #1 selling car in the U.S. 14 years in a row. I guess they were giving people what they wanted. How do you argue with success?
Yes, the full-sized Chevy was the best-selling American car for the 1960 through 1974 model years. In 1975 it was the Ford Granada. In 1976 it was the Oldsmobile Cutlass. In 1977 it was the down-sized full-sized Chevy again and in 1978 it was the Ford Fairmont.
Only ad from that time I know of thats shows the 74 Sport Coupe. Which is what mine is.
I guess I find myself somewhat in the indifferent category, not so much because I feel the 71+ is unfairly criticized as much as the 70 doesn’t seem that much better in many substantial areas, both are huge and inefficient, and personally I think the 70 styling is even more deliberately anonymous looking as the 73. But for me the last truly appealing Impala was made in 63 or 64, and every one since got bigger and heavier and less interesting inside and out.
What I do like about these, and classic low wide sedans in general, however is the low trunk and huge opening. Liftover is easy from the rear AND sides, which nothing(including pickups) is good at anymore – just cram everything into a hole from one direction now a days.
I distinctly remember having Mercedes busses very similar to the one pictures in my hometown of Vista, CA in the northern part of San Diego County. They replaced the mid sized box things that were really bad. The Mercs did not hold up and were public health hazzards after about a year of service. Absolute smoking, leaking, slow and stinking piles. Even pointing one at a hill would have one begging to be put out of its miserey. They finally learned their lesson and bought G.M. after that and you could still spot one in the late 90’s still doing service.
Sometime in the 70’s, I had a brief ride in either a ’72 or ’73 Bel Air TWO door with a 6 cylinder/3 speed manual trans.
I remember being astonished at the time, because I had no idea you could even GET a 6-cylinder engine in a full size Chevy.
Just to put things in perspective, the 73 Chevy Bel Air with a 6 cyl weighed about 3900 lbs. According to the chart above, it produced 100 hp. Today’s Mitsubishi Mirage, weighs about 2000 lbs and it’s 3 cyl engine produces 78 hp. It is the whipping boy of today’s new cars but it is better in every way except size and weight, but at least it can pull it’s size and weight.
GM did at least take the risk of downsizing for ’77. Ford sat and waited to see if they would get disappointed buyers, and had to be dragged into it, kicking and screaming.*
*Just kidding, it was “Hank II” who was skeptical, and loved “road hugging weight”. But others saw writing on the wall and Ford brought out Fox platform, and other modern cars.
Now, 40 years later, what are the top 3 selling vehicles? Umm, not Camry, Accord and Altima.
GM could certainly be myopic in the ’60s, their approach to the Vega could be the foundation for a treatise on this. But, I’d venture the 14th floor knew the following during various points in the 1966 – 1969 gestation of the ’71 big cars:
*The GM 1968 mid-size sedans would be the biggest ever with a 116″ wheelbase, surpassing the 1955 full-size Chevrolet’s 115″. The biggest GM mid-size wagons that year had 121″ wheelbases! Looonger, looower, wiiider, baby!
*By 1971 there would be four lines of standard GM cars including sub-compact, compact, mid-size and full-size. With mid-size cars reaching full-size status, it probably seemed like there was either a need to, or at least room to grow the top cars bigger. The eventual ’73 mid-size GM cars, bigger than ever, were supposed to be ’72 models, right on the heels of the ’71 big cars.
*During the ’60s, the 119″ wheelbase seemed to be where the “low price three” – Plymouth, Ford and Chevrolet settled the size battle for full-size. Somebody was bound to crack, and in 1969 both Ford and Plymouth had all new full-size cars featuring 121″ and 120″ wheelbases respectively. This was war, and GM was not to be trifled with.
*The ’65-’70 full-size cars were a very long generation at GM, and GM may have even worried that ’69 could see Chrysler getting some kind of upper hand like they did in 1957. The “fuselage” generation of Mopars was a new look and the ’71 GM cars did follow them with a similar approach to sedan door frames, and rounded wider bodies with a much more pronounced tumblehome and longer wheelbases. While usually the other way around, it did seem that GM was chasing Ma Mopar around the table again, which rarely seemed to work out well when GM did this.
I’d venture that GM felt in 1968 that there was nowhere to go but up. All of the big three lived to regret this in different ways, but GM and Chevrolet kept their full-size supremacy during the early ’70s, both before and after OPEC.
The ’71s were in fact narrower than the ’70s. See my comment above. Everyone on CC keeps talking how much bigger this generation of GM B-bodies was, but wheelbase aside, the facts tell a different story.
To repeat, here again are the length, width and curb weight stats for comparison:
1970 Impala 4-door sedan, 350 V8 automatic:
1971 Impala 4-door sedan, 350 V8 automatic:
Of course, the featured car would be somewhat longer and likely heavier, saddled as it is with the new for ’73 5 MPH front bumper.
Wow, you worked 8 hours a day as a cabbie and made money doing so?
Im between jobs and currently work as a cabbie, and have to work 14-16 hours a day to get $100 in my pocket. I make zero at only 8 hours.
Our cars are even older, mostly 2008’s to 2011’s with 350k to 450k miles.
I hate to tell you this, but yes. Not only lived on the money I earned, but rented a cute little house on a hill overlooking San Diego Bay and the airport. I don’t want to think what that house would cost to rent or buy today.
And I mostly supported my GF, who was picking up temp jobs occasionally. SD and a very tight job market back then, because lots of youngish folks (like us) were moving there because it was so gorgeous, especially the weather.
Cabbies were paid differently back then: the take was split 45/55 between the company and the driver. The company provided the car and gas and all costs; one just drove the car for them, and split the income, from the first dollar. Which meant that on really slow days I didn’t make much, but I still made a bit. I’d just go to the beach and sit in the front seat with the door open listening to the radio and watching the waves crash. Pretty laid back.
The world was different back then. One could support oneself with just about any job. I was a high school dropout, and had no real skills except having driven a city bus. I have mostly very happy memories of that year; weekends we’d hop in my van and explore the desert, or the mountains.
Sorry; life has gotten quite a bit more difficult. I’m quite a ware of the challenges out there. Best of luck to you.
It’s alright, its temporary as the kids are too small to get into afterschool care, the job and economic pendulum will swing the other way again, as its done many times for me in the past.
It does however allow me to work when I can or want, which is why I do it; being a single dad, i take 50% of the week off, when i have the kids, working the other half.
Being debt free house owner, is certainly helpful, we are really enjoying our time together the kids and I, so im not complaining. But thanks for your kind words.
Being a car nut, I just couldnt resist the oppurtunity to try out all the different cars the cab company has, plenty of CV police interceptors.
If you’re a debt-free house owner, than you’re going to be ok. That’s the most important thing of all. That was a dream back then for me that seemed hard to fulfill, but it has been fulfilled, several times over. For that I’m very thankful.
Just read this story more than four years after its publication, but it did take me on a trip down Memory Lane.
Case in point: My ’73 Impala Custom Coupe that I owned from 1990 to 1993. 350 2-barrel, THM 350, AT, PS, PB, A/C, the usual, one might say. Drove it in my hometown near Cologne, Germany, and in Munich.
Way too big for congested German cities, cheap plastic interior, cracks in the dashboard, a bit of rust in the lower right rear fender.
Still, I loved it at the time, warts and all. Nothing like a full-sized American sedan.
Here’s a photo from 1992, I believe, with my car serving as a wedding limo and a youthful, dapper 31-year old me.