Vintage Motor Life Editorial: The Truth About The Small New Cars (Falcon, Valiant, Corvair) – “Disappointed”

This short editorial from the January 1960 Motor Life is essentially an introduction to their comparison tests of the new Corvair, Falcon and Valiant, coming over the next few days. These new compacts were the single biggest event in American post-war automotive history; the Big Three finally committing to build small cars. Were they import-fighters, or just American cars back to the more reasonable size they had been prior to their constant inflation, starting in the late 1930s?

Depending on your point of view on that question, you were bound to be either disappointed or happy, as the two were quite different things. The imports were decidedly smaller, cheaper and more economical, with four cylinder engines. Detroit decided that was not for them, and all three turned out to be six-seaters with six-cylinder engines. For better or for worse.

So the editors of Motor Life weren’t totally disappointed. To the extent that they were, it’s because all three ended up with more or less the same size, and not one of them was a direct import competitor. How it would have turned out if that had been the case is subject to great speculation, like here in the comments. A smaller four-cylinder Corvair? A Ford v4 Cardinal?

Before you jump in, keep in mind that VW sales continued to increase in 1960 and each subsequent year, even though import market share did drop in 1960. It suggests that VW buyers weren’t seduced by the bigger domestic compacts at all, but some of the buyers of other imports in previous years might have become disappointed or disenchanted with their Lloyd, Simca, Austin or Zundapp. We’ll never know for sure.

But what we do know is that in the case of the Falcon and Valiant, they clearly cannibalized sales of their full-sized stablemates, both of which suffered big drops in 1960 and 1961. Which was prophesied in this line: “Finally, and what may be most important of all, with cars like these and the two compacts we’ve already had (Rambler and Lark) it is difficult to justify the existence of the standard sized cars”. And so it increasingly went, as full-size car market share continued its long and deadly decline, hurried along by the new compacts and their sporty and mid-size offshoots soon to come.