Vintage Comparison Test: 1967 Economy Imports – Road Test Reviews A Large Crop Of Little Cars

(first posted 2/2/2018)        The case of the missing Simca is solved.  Last week, when we took a look at Road Test‘s extensive comparison of 1968 economy imports, it was clear that the magazine didn’t actually drive a Simca for the comparison, despite including it as part of the article. Turns out, they did in fact drive it the prior year as part of the magazine’s review of Economy Imports in the February 1967 issue.  So, for your extended reading pleasure, here is that comparison test.  There are different cars covered, an obsession with how the cars’ jacks worked, and still more mysterious omissions.  Like last time, this post is a long one (61 pages) so take your time and enjoy!

It’s interesting to see Road Test post information on the drivers participating in the comparison test, including their age, height and weight, which is actually helpful to consider when reading the comments about comfort and access to the back seat of the cars.  The group included a mix of Road Test employees as well as some local Southern California businessmen.

Sorry Ford Anglia fans, this is about all you will see concerning that car in the test.  Likewise, the Fiat 1100 also vanishes, while the diminutive Fiat 600 only gets minimal coverage.  The main cars tested for 1967 were the Datsun 410, Fiat 124, Ford Cortina, MG 1100, Opel Kadett, Renault 10, Simca 1000, Toyota Corona and Volkswagen Beetle.

Road Test certainly provided extensive coverage on the cars’ interiors, including ingress/egress, seat comfort, control operation and interior storage.  But then the magazine ventured into unusual territory with extensive coverage on the operation of the cars’ jacks, including a rather comical mishap.

I cannot think of another car magazine that devoted so much coverage to trunk tools and jacks.  It’s also interesting to note that Road Test removed both tires on the elevated side of the car–surely not a normal occurrence, even then when people were more likely to need to change one tire every now and then.

Given that the Fiat 124 was all-new at this point, it’s no surprise that it was able to inch into the top three “hottest” cars.  In reality, none of the cars were quick–their mission was economy, not performance.

The front-wheel-drive MG was a very new beast in the context of 1967.  Road Test liked it, but found that it required some “getting used to.”  The conventional front-engine rear-drive cars were likely the easiest to drive for the typical American driver, while the rear-engine rear-drive cars exhibited the handling quirks expected from that layout.

Safety was gaining in importance for buyers in 1967, though additional new Federal safety requirements wouldn’t be imposed until 1968.  Road Test paid attention to seat belts and interior door handles that were harder to inadvertently unlatch as examples of smarter safety features.

Not surprisingly, in the braking tests, the Fiat 124 and Renault 1o–both equipped with disc brakes–performed the best. This was a laudable safety feature that domestic makers were painfully slow to adopt, even on their high-performance and luxury lines, never mind their low-cost entry-level products.

VW simply dominated the segment when it came to resale value.  The combination of high quality, clever marketing, extensive dealer body (at 909 dealers, VW’s network was by far the largest of the economy imports) and low service costs also kept Volkswagen as the undisputed leader in small car sales, with 454,801 finding U.S. homes for 1967.  This was over 200,000 more units than the rest of the economy imports combined!

Pricing and equipment in the segment was pretty competitive.  The cheapest base price belonged to the smallest car: the Fiat 600 sold for a minuscule $1,267 ($9,494 adjusted).  The most expensive of the cars listed was the Ford Cortina 4-door at $1,966 ($14,731 adjusted), which was still quite affordable and showcased the value these entry-level products provided.

Another interesting tidbit for 1967 was the consideration of bumper performance and alignment.  Bumper protection was certainly an issue, though it typically received scant coverage in a market still more obsessed with style.  That said, I have to admit that seeing the top photograph of the Cadillac Eldorado bumpers versus the economy imports just makes me love Bill Mitchell’s styling even more.  Look at those sharply pointed daggers aimed right at those meek little cars!  Cadillac certainly made a statement, front or back!

Just as in the 1968 Economy Import comparison test we saw last week, the Road Test Renault love-fest for ’67 was quite apparent.  However, the harsh reality in 1967 was that Renault still suffered from a severely tarnished reputation due to the extensive issues associated with the earlier Renault Dauphine, which rightfully soured Americans on the brand.  Even the highly praised features of the new Renault 10 (seat comfort, brakes) couldn’t offset buyer’s distrust, and brand sales in the U.S. remained relatively small at 21,219 for 1967.  Likewise, the all-new Fiat 124, though quite modern, also had an uphill battle given the brand’s distribution, service and quality challenges.  Total Fiat sales were just 15,933 for the year.  MG was in that same boat as well, plus the 1100 had the added challenges of “unique” looks and the “untested” front-wheel-drive layout.  MG sales for the year barely budged despite the new arrival, climbing a mere 3% to 22,387.

Other cars in the test would be significantly updated or replaced for 1968, including the Datsun, Ford, Opel and Simca.  The Standard Catalog of Imported Cars doesn’t list 1967 sales data for Simca, but results for the other brands are as follows: Datsun – 45,496 (up 55%!), Ford – 16,193 and Opel – 51,693.  Though the mainstay Corona was mostly unchanged for 1967, the Toyota brand still posted a nice sales increase, climbing 82% to 38,073.  It seems that Toyota’s high-quality reputation in the U.S. was taking root.

So now once again, it’s time for your pick of the Economy Imports.  As noted last week, for 1968, my choice would have been the new Datsun 510, but for 1967 I’m not sure I would have gone with the Datsun 410.  I think my pick would have been the Fiat 124.  Road Test found a lot to like about the car, and its clean, modern styling would have seemed very fresh in 1967.  So that’s my choice of the Economy Imports for 1967, what’s yours?