The Changing Shape Of Cars: The Best Selling Cars 50 Years Ago And Now – 1974 Chevrolet Impala and Toyota RAV4

Ideally this would be a 1971 Chevrolet Impala, to make my title truly accurate; but close enough. The ’74 is almost identical except for the 5-mile bumpers and a new front end design. But what are the odds of finding the best selling cars from 50 years ago and today? Close enough. And a rather stark contrast they do make, representing the evolution of not only their body shapes, but just about everything else too.

This overlay by Chris Cieslak shows just how different these shapes are.

And this chart shows it in numbers. Without digging up an options list, it’s probably a fair guess to say that a 1974 Impala with some of the basic basic comfort/convenience features like automatic, radio, a/c, and maybe power windows probably takes it right about to what a RAV4 starts at. So some things have changed less than others.

We all know what a RAV4 looks like, so let’s ignore that and take a look at this Impala, a none-too common sights on our streets anymore. The ’74 had a much better front end than the ’73, which looked really cobbled up.


If a wide but low bench seat is your idea of automotive, you’ve come to the right place. I spent quite a bit of time in a similar but more spartan Biscayne Chevy taxi, motivated (barely) by a six and a Powerglide. A 350/350 makes for a much better power train, although none too economical. The only person reporting on the fuel economy of a 1974 Chevrolet at is averaging 8.2 mpg, the lowest of any full size Chevy through the decades there. Maybe it’s got a 454, or more likely it’s just a reflection of the driving patterns, but in any case, getting double digit mpgs in one of these was not a given. The RAV4 is rated at 30mpg combined, but the popular hybrid checks in at 40 mpg. Now that’s some serious progress.

Sorry, but I have zero desire to crawl back down in one of these low and wide caves. My nostalgia for the good old days does not include the packaging and seating accommodations of the cars.

That goes for the back seat. The seat cushion in my taxi was not attached anymore to the body, and kept sliding forward when braking. That did very little to enhance the urge to tip me generously by my fares.

Go ahead and wax nostalgically about this fine old Chevy. I’ll be waiting in my RAV4.