(first posted 4/28/2016) As the 1970s unfolded, Car and Driver introduced new terminology to define an emerging class of cars targeting driving enthusiasts: Super Coupes. It was a far cry from the mid-1960s, when C&D was writing about Super Cars, mid-sized powerhouses which defined the American Muscle Car scene. In contrast, these small, nimble, affordable Super Coupes offered less in the way of brute horsepower than the increasingly irrelevant Muscle Cars, but were still a blast to drive. Which one did C&D think was the best pick?
Ownership costs for C&D’s Super Cars had soared starting in the late 1960s. The Muscle Cars themselves were bigger and more expensive than ever, with poor economy and high maintenance costs. Compounding the problem, the insurance industry increasingly penalized any performance cars with extremely high rates. The net effect was that Muscle Cars were increasingly priced out of reach for many consumers, while seeming too inefficient and out-of-touch for the 1970s. Adding salt to the wound, government regulations were rapidly sapping the performance capabilities of the Super Cars, leaving them far less potent. Clearly a new answer was called for to the meet the needs of driving enthusiasts on a budget, and C&D set out to define this new class.
So for 1971, the roster defining “Super” looked quite a bit different than it had five years earlier. In place of mid-sized muscle machines you now had four efficient, imported cars, each with sporting intentions, and two domestics which had been developed primarily as economy cars.
The one car that arguably did not belong at all on this list was the Pinto. It really did not have any sporting pretenses whatsoever, and was outclassed in this comparison. To be fair, Ford typically positioned the Pinto as a budget-friendly small car, not a sportster. Chevrolet, by contrast, was more overt with the Vega GT, trying to push its economy offering into a sportier class, so it was fair game for the C&D test.
The Opel was the star of the show in Car and Driver’s eyes. It was sized just right, with an attractive style and engaging driving characteristics. Nothing revolutionary, just a well-thought-out package with first rate engineering and thoughtful ergonomics. Hmmm, sounds like what a small Chevrolet sports coupe should have been…
It’s really helpful to see a simple, straightforward chart like this ranking the contenders side-by-side according to a range of attributes. Even though the data is subjective, the numbers form a helpful frame of reference and the scores were backed up by details in the article.
Comprehensive specifications and performance results, arrayed in a straightforward manner for each car, are also much appreciated. Note that the Vega GT was the most expensive car as tested…
So in the end, Car and Driver went through the pros and cons of each car tested, and how they decided their rankings. According to C&D’s editors, the well-rounded Opel came out on top, followed by the feisty Mazda, while the Capri took third place. From there, the Celica landed fourth–great for everyday driving, but somewhat forgettable, while the good-looking but flawed Vega couldn’t overcome its faults and placed fifth. C&D even fessed-up and said that the 6th ranked Pinto didn’t really belong in the test at all, perhaps to the dismay of Ford Motor Company’s PR minions.
So that was how Car and Driver ranked the new Super Coupe class contenders. Did their conclusions line up with how you would have likely ranked the cars? And if you were going to buy one, which would it be?
For me, I have to admit that I have a soft spot for the Capri–I love its European take on the Pony Car theme. The performance results were certainly competitive and the price was right. I’d even take it in the groovy oh-so-70s orange of the Capri featured in the test!
In my eyes the Capri has stood the test of time the best out of that assortment, its looks are still appealing.
Its motorsports history probably has something to do with it – the Capri had a great record during an epic period for Touring Car racing. Hard to look at one and not think of its battles with the BMWs at the great (and unneutered) European race tracks.
This test was conducted squarely in the Germans’ playground of small road cars, so it should be no wonder that the two German entrants mopped up. The surprise is that the Mazda punched right there with them.
The Celica isn’t really a surprise – a comfortable daily cruiser but not so great on the track. Also, the Pinto is no surprise either – it was not trying to compete in this group. But in 1971, it was hard to say the word “Pinto” or “Vega” where the other was not in the same sentence.
The big surprise to me is the Vega. Offering a Vega GT, it is clear that Chevrolet WAS trying to be an American Opel, a small sporting GT car. We all know the big picture of the Vega’s massive blowout failure, but I had forgotten that the car was so forgettable even when fitted out as a sporty GT.
It’s almost comical to read “6-Car Comparison Test: SUPER COUPES” and see that one of the cars is the Pinto and another the Vega. When someone types into Google “When did the malaise era start for cars?” the link should take you directly to this cover of Car and Driver.
You’re missing the point. This was before the malaise era; but there was a growing interest in Euro-style sporty small cars then, and C/D coined the term ‘super coupe’ specifically for that segment of the market. The later equivalent was ‘hot hatch’.
Small cars with some degree of sporty appeal were a valid and growing segment of the market. Maybe ‘super coupe’ wasn’t the best name for them; blame C/D for that.
I think you’re missing my point which is that by model year 1972 our collective automotive expectations, even at magazines as revered as Car and Driver, were so low that the Pinto and Vega could be considered part of “Super Coupes”. My point wasn’t about the Capri, Opel, Mazda and Celica which were fine cars. But what Detroit was putting out, and getting ready to put out, was simply dreadful. Just look at the subjective scores for the Ford and Chevy.
To add insult to injury the Vega was the most expensive by far. Pricing is one of the things that gets left out of the malaise discussion but I remember it well even though I was very young. Inflation was out of control so not only were the cars crappy they were expensive too, especially the domestics. The thing I remember most about the Mustang II, which had many redeeming qualities, was its incredibly high price.
Like it or not this all started around 1972. As for when it ended I would pick up on your point and say around the time they started using “Hot Hatch” which was 78-80 (Rabbit, Fiesta, Colt) and never included the US-spec Escort. We had healed by then.
I always think of the malaise era as resulting from stronger emission controls and higher insurance rates for powerful cars, effectively a detuning through regulation, that caused automakers to pile on the luxury side instead. Like everything (fins, horsepower, etc) it kept getting one upped, until we ended up with rolling furniture.
It was an intermixed feeling about our lives and the future of cars that things were not going to get better. It started around 1972 with the “Pinto & Vega”, Watergate and inflation.
Emission standards were a big part of it but so were A/C and power steering, everyone wanted that now. Before serpentine belts and microprocessors there were hoses and pulleys everywhere. The engines were literally being strangled to death and what’s more depressing than watching something die?
You could see it, feel it and sometimes smell it because the cars ran so hot. The poster child for me was the ’72 Lincoln Mark IV because it had the misfortune of debuting the year they went to SAE net and had single exhaust in place of the Mark III’s dual. The pretty but worthless front bumper was part of it too, at least for me.
I didn’t mind 5-mph bumpers so much, it was like a design competition every year to see who could do the best bumpers and there were some truly great solutions.
We can argue about when this era started but there can be no doubt it peaked with the ’73 Colonnade sedans and ’74 Mustang II. The beginning of the end was the ’77 Rabbit with fuel-injection. You knew from one drive and look at the engine that things were going to get better.
Ford must have listened because they softened the spring’s on the Pinto several times after this. By 77, CR said the Pinto was among the quietest and smoothest riding subcompact on the market, albeit a bit dated in its packaging effiency. And yes, in another magazine road test, the 2.0 Capri did 0-60 in 10.8 sec and the Pinto equipped with the same rear axle ratio took 11.2. So yup, the Pinto was slightly slower. But being the loyal Ford guy, I’d have chosen the Pinto. And bought some Ak Miller parts for it. And switched to radials and different shocks. Then the comparison would have been much different.
A lot of you have forgotten that the Vega because of its size and style as well as price range was compared to the Maverick more than the Pinto. It was considered In a different class than the Pinto. And against the Maverick, it would have acquitted itself much better.
Wishful or revisionist thinking. Nobody compared the Vega to the Maverick. Find me one comparison test that includes both.
Anyway, compared to the 1960 Falcon-in-drag Maverick, with its slow dull steering and tippy handling, the Vega was like an Alfa Romeo in comparison, except for its agricultural engine.
There were no actual comparison road tests, but during the Vega introductory articles all the magazines said Chevy was going after Maverick sales mainly instead of the Pinto because of the Vegas higher price class. It was mentioned several times. Go back and read ’em if you want to.
This is probably true since the Maverick was introduced a full year ahead of the Pinto (and at a price comparable to the Vega). In fact, it might actually have been Ford that was doing the initial comparing of the Maverick to the Vega. This is also the time frame when Ford had the one-year-only, intermediate-based Falcon strippo pillared 2-door sedan. For that one year (1970), the Maverick did battle with the Vega while the Falcon-Torino took on the Duster and Nova.
Of course, once the Pinto arrived on the scene, the Torino-Falcon was gone and the Maverick was moved up into the class it always belonged, that being the same occupied as the compact Nova and Valiant (and the sixties’ Falcon, which was really the car the Maverick replaced).
It’s worth noting that Chrysler, after the quick departure of the Plymouth Cricket (aka Hillman Avenger), also began putting the Duster up against the Vega and Pinto,
Yup, I remember those ads.
The Vega wasn’t introduced until the 1971 model year, or the same year as the Ford Pinto. Ford wouldn’t have compared the Maverick to a Chevrolet that didn’t yet exist.
Ford did initially compare the Maverick to the VW Beetle, but once the Pinto debuted, it took over that role for Ford.
Yes, Vega wasn’t even sold for 1970 Model year, fyi. But, early spring 1969 had ads and articles with Maverick aimed at VW Bug. “Maverick vs. the Mob” was a Popular Mechanics road test. Aug. 1969
Pinto was arch rival to Vega, brought out same season, fall 1970 as ’71 models. Then Maverick/Comet were moved up.
According to The Encyclopedia of American Cars, there was a “regular” Falcon, available for a few months, in all 3 body styles, and a 70 1/2 Falcon (Torino body), again, available in all three body styles. The Falcon in a Torino body outsold the “original” Falcon by about 2 to 1. The Maverick out sold the Falcon/Torino by about 9 or 10 to 1.
BTW, in 1971 the Pinto outsold the Vega.
Yeah, I never have paid any attention to the 70 1/2 Falcons. I want a 70 real bad. But the Torino based ones do nothing for me.
I have driven several Vegas with Small Block Chevy V8 engines replacing the agricultural 4 cylinder engine. The V8 “looks like it grew there” and transforms the whole car. Not just in power, but in NVH control and overall refinement.
A Vega station wagon, with a mild, stock SBC has been on my Wish List for years.
Having owned and built a number of V-8 Vegas back in the day, I have to say that’s the first time I’ve ever heard the word “refinement” used in connection with them! They were fun at the time though.
They were a lot happier, and easier to live with, with a V-6 anywhere other than a dragstrip.
I was always on the lookout for a nice ’72 or ’73 GT wagon, but solid examples were rare even in the late ’70s. If I found one today I’d be inclined to put a nice stock 4.3 Vortec in it.
Yes! My ’71 notchback was well balanced and a hoot to drive after the Buick V6 swap.
I used the word “refinement” when compared the agricultural, rough running, noisy Vega 4 cylinder engine when compared to a small block Chevy V8 engine.
The closest to a Maverick/Vega matchup was a test of a 302 Comet (striped version) against a Mazda RX-2. Which the Mazda won.
In the long run, people would have been better off buying the Comet with the 302 – at least if they planned on keeping the car for any length of time.
No. From a class standpoint, the Maverick was typically considered compact while the Vega was a sub-compact.
Maverick was Ford’s Nova / Valiant fighter at the time.
Vega and Pinto were rather direct segment competitors. The GM H platform and the Pinto generally matched each other model for model over their long runs.
Plymouth’s answer was to import the Cricket.
I’m talking about price range. The Vega was closer to the Maverick in price than to the Pinto. And I’m also just repeating what was said at the time in the car mags. They really did suggest the Vega was more a Maverick type car than a Pinto. When I get home in a few days, I’ll post ’em.
That’s entirely possible, but keep in mind the Maverick coupe beat GM to a new small car and was initially a coupe only – and quite popular out of the box. While GM marketing may have ballyhooed the Vega as an answer to the new and fast selling Maverick, as the model lines filled out, and the Pinto came along, it was pretty clear where the various cars fell in place as sub-compact and compact competitors.
The car mags also likely saw the Vega as initially a bit more sophisticated, and the eventual Pinto as a miniature Maverick. Then too, the initial Maverick overlapped with the late ’60s style Falcon during 1969 and early 1970. People probably weren’t sure what to make of the Maverick until the Falcon was gone and the Maverick sedan appeared.
When the dust settled by 1972, the Vega base price was dropped to $2,060 and the Pinto started at $1,960.
For ’72 the Maverick and Nova were $2,245 and $2,405 respectively. Ford was competing a bit harder on price.
Yes, and that’s exactly what I’m quoting. The Maverick was screwed together better, you gotta give it that. In fact according to CR, the Maverick from 70-72 was the most reliable domestic compact sold. In 73, the Grand Marquis took over the reliability charts and stayed there until 76.
The Vega was more expensive than the Pinto because GM ran up the car costs by including some unorthodox engineering (primarily centered around the engine). One reason the Vega’s base interior was so cheap was that the bean counters attempted to cut costs there.
Ford simply exercised more discipline regarding costs when it developed the Pinto – particularly with the engines it used. Of course, we later discovered that Ford had watched costs a bit TOO closely, as the car’s structure wasn’t strong enough to adequately protect the fuel tank and fuel filler neck from a strong, direct impact to the rear of the car.
I wonder if many of the 50’s-60’s cars with rear bumper filling gas tanks were any better than the Pinto in that respect. I can remember at the time many of them pulling out from gas stations spewing gas all over the road.
If this was in multiple car mags, I would bet that the source was some Chevy PR guy trying to put a positive spin on the car’s high price. I got Popular Science at the time and they had a lot of coverage of the new Pinto and Vega, and I never heard this once. In the part of the world where I lived, everyone knew that Pinto = Vega and Maverick = Nova. The fact that the base Vega stickered at an almost 10% premium over the Pinto at nearly $2200 (when the 1970 Maverick had introduced in 1969 at $1995) makes me suspect that Chevy was trying to trying to justify their (too) expensive small car.
Of course they were.
I vaguely remember the first positioning ads on the Maverick making it sound like a domestic alternative to the VW Beetle. It was pitched more as an import-figher at the beginning than a direct competitor to any GM product. The Pinto took over that role in ’71 and the Maverick was allowed to go against the Nova more directly.
Yes, in the beginning it was considered a Beetle fighter. But VW increased it’s sales in 70, so that obviously didn’t work. VW’s chief Kurt Loder said he wasn’t worried about the Maverick.
At this time the demand for small cars was increasing exponentially so it’s no surprise sales of the Beetle were up in ’70. You’d have to look at Beetle’s share of segment to arrive at the conclusion you did. Brown numbers here but it was probably 90% or so in 1969 and then two years later more like 30%? If the Beetle was so hot it would have captured more of those easy sales in ’71. But the Datsuns and Toyotas hurt it and so did the Pinto and Vega. Maverick too, at least in ’70.
As for the Mav it was one of the best-selling new nameplates in Ford’s history.
VW’s total U.S. sales peaked in 1970, if I recall correctly, and then began steadily declining. By 1975 Toyota had knocked it out of the number-one spot for imported cars, and by the early 1990s there was serious talk of VW leaving the American market.
This road test article is another reason why “Car & Driver” was my “go to” car magazine for over 30 years. Logical, well written, lots of awesome pictures and easy to understand graphs and well reasoned logic always pleases me. The firm editorial hand of David E. Davis was evident in every issue. Thru my Father, and later me, we enjoyed a continuous subscription to “C&D” for decades. However, when my current subscription runs out I will NOT renew.
Based on this article my Father purchased an Opel 1900/Manta, a delightful car that felt to be at least one generation ahead of a Pinto or Vega. A car so easy and fun to drive that his wife and son grabbed the keys whenever possible.
I traded off my ’71 Pinto (WHAT was I thinking?) on a ’73 Opel Manta Luxus and some years later purchased the one year only (in the USA) fuel injected ’75 Manta as a college commuter car.
No argument about the content of Car and Driver during this era, but the inclusion of the Ford Pinto in this comparison test makes no sense. Ford never promoted the Pinto during the early 1970s as anything but a car that was economical to buy and operate. There wasn’t even a Pinto equivalent to the Vega GT at this time. Ford was already represented by the Capri (even if it was sold by Lincoln-Mercury dealers in this country), which was promoted as a stylish, sporty coupe.
And hence the Mustang II, which was aimed at Celica.
Serious categorizing problems in this article. I think C&D included the Pinto along with the Vega to appease domestic-oriented readers. As sporty 2+2s, the Capri & Celica were “Mini Mustangs,” to borrow Pop. Science’s term. I’d call the Opel & RX-2 “sports sedans” in the 2002 vein, as the Mazda was merely a Capella with an optional rotary.
You know what, maybe they included were to appease Domestic Car advertisers too? but then there was Capri and Opel?
Having turned 21 in 1971 it was time for my first new car and the budget dictated Pinto or Vega. Dad got the loan through his credit union and refused my choice of the Vega (or any import for that matter)…so a Pinto 2000cc 4-speed it was. AND it WAS fun but unsophisticated among the group tested here…in fact I remember reading this exact article probably a hundred times! In 3 years I finally traded up to a 1974 Capri 2000cc 4-speed and man-O-man I felt like I was driving a Porsche! 42 years later and I can still “see, smell and feel” that bright red Capri like it’s right in front of me now. Getting old suxx but boy do I have some wonderful memories!
Muscle cars were out of reach of many young buyers and guess who vetoed their purchase a lot? Parents.
Countries with the most demanding market for given product tend to produce the better products. Hence, Opel & Ford Europe would’ve been out of business if they failed to heed German driving expectations, so their results here are unsurprising.
Did anyone compare the Cortina & Pinto?
The gas-guzzling RX-2 a harbinger? Yes, of Mazda’s post Oil-Crisis near-death experience!
I have a older friend who graduated in 72. He went car shopping and compared the Vega ( he said it had horrible panel fit), the Pinto ( which he liked but didn’t buy), and a Mazda RX2. He bought the Mazda because it included AC at almost no increase in price (the dealer was having a special sale). Said he kept it for about 5 years. Don’t remember why he got rid of it. Only story he had was when for fun they removed the exhaust manifolds and did a few doughnuts in the local police parking garage. Surprisingly, they didn’t get caught. If he can be believed. He did say the rotary had a very weird exhaust note without manifolds. Far different than piston engines. Of fact he said it was a kinda of frightening sound. It was very eerie sounding. He said it would just make you feel weird. So they put the manifolds back in pretty quickly.
Rotaries are absolutely ear-splitting without exhaust. I had to move my RX7 with the exhaust off once during a repair and it was loud just cranking over, once it fired it made a staggering amount of noise.
Was there any mention of burning oil? Seems like Mazda’s rotor seals were notorious for their inability to keep oil out of the combustion chamber. I can personally attest that my 1982 RX-7 did, indeed, burn a quart of oil every 1000 miles, but part of that was due to using the just-introduced, low-viscosity Mobil 1 synthetic oil. In that application, higher-viscosity dino oil actually works better.
I think the oil consumption is a feature, as the RX-8 evidently continues the pattern, & still has EPA figures comparable with a domestic V8 pickup. It’s been claimed rotaries are good in other applications like aviation.
Back in the day before the 80’s 1,000 mile oil consumption was considered very good, 500 miles was the norm. GM in the 30’s-early 70’s did not consider 3-400 mile a quart consumption a problem under warranty. Once you got to 1-200 mile a quart consumption then it was considered excessive and was time to something about it. Today people worry way too much about everything in life that was considered normal 50-60 years ago. I have personally in the past run cars that used a quart of oil every 50-200 miles and not worried about it and having taken such vehicles on trips of 3-500 miles with no problems other than to watch the oil level.
Yes, the Wankel is designed to burn oil; a small amount is injected into the combustion chamber with each stroke.
This is mentioned in the owner’s manual, if you bother to read it.
I still have this issue of “C&D” in my archives, dogged eared, filament tape on the spine.
If one compares this issue of “Car & Driver” to a current issue; one can see how bland, dull and homogenized the magazine has become (just like the cars they test).
I agree, I ended my subscription to “Honda Accord or no car” decade ago.
After saving up my money working construction jobs during the summer and afterschool, I purchased a used Opel Manta Rallye in the spring of 1978, when I was a senior in high school. I will always have fond memories of it, as the car took a constant beating in my inexperienced hands. Great fun. Not a lot of horsepower, but great handling, and very simple to work on. I performed my first clutch replacement on it, and amazingly, I got it all back together.
One of the very best cars I ever owned.
Interesting counterpoint to a C&D article eleven months earlier (previously covered by Paul) in which the following subcompact cars finished (from first to last):
Fact check nit pick: they said the Opel was a pushrod engine. It was a semi-OHC, with the cam in the head, hydraulic lifters, and rocker arms. But no pushrods.
And yes, I’d take the Opel. With a bit of engine tuning, its power deficit was easily overcome.
Significant to note that the Celica was the clear winner in the street driving evaluation. Which is of course where 99.9% of the buyers of these cars drove them.
The 1975 Opel, with it’s Bosch L fuel injection, made the same 1.9 litre engine SO much more tractable, with a noticeable bump in horsepower and a plumper torque curve.
Pity the 1971 test car didn’t have it.
The Celica was undone at the track by its Japanese Dunlop tube-type tires. Tubes in radials in 1970? I thought that was strictly the domain of cars with wire wheels. While it is possible that Toyota wasn’t world class in their shock and spring settings in 1970, just as Hyundai lags today, I have a hard time believing they were that much worse than what came in the Pinto or RX2.
Toyotas of the late 60s and early 70s or so pretty much all had an understeer issue, except perhaps the little Corolla. Most/all reviews of the time noted it. It seems to have come from Toyota wanting their cars to be ‘America-friendly’, and overdoing it some in terms of their suspension tuning.
They rode softer than pretty much all other imports, and quieter. It’s a big part of why the Coronal was so successful. But the Celica could have used a bit firmer springs/shocks.
It’s nothing that couldn’t be readily fixed with aftermarket units, as well as better tires.
Thanks. I wasn’t driving them when they were new, and it is just hard for me to conceive of cars that much more flaccid than the wallowing domestic cars of the era that I’m so much more familiar with. I guess the results back it up though.
As a point of interest, an article in the Nov. 1974 issue of Car and Driver attempted to get to the bottom of the Celica’s handling deficiencies and overwhelming understeer. Surprisingly, they found that the stiffer GT suspension actually made things worse, particularly in slalom speeds, and that adding a rear anti-roll bar did as much harm as good.
After a lot of unsatisfactory experiments with aftermarket suspension modifications, they determined that the issue was primarily one of front suspension geometry. Since there was no front camber adjustment, they relocated the inner pivots of the lower control arms to dial in about 1.5 degrees of negative camber and some additional caster, which helped significantly. They also moved the battery to the trunk to try to take some weight off the nose.
Toyota eventually achieved essentially the same thing with the 1976 revisions, which included a wider front track and a longer wheelbase that made the Celica less nose-heavy. As a result, the ’76–’77 Celica handled much better than the early cars.
Nice to see you back here! We’ve missed you.
Yes, I’m remembering that from a similar discussion we had some years back about this issue. And that the 1976 had a significantly revised front end, which was much more satisfactory.
I agree that the plain Pinto didn’t belong in this road test. And Vega GT is pushing it. C&D’s terminology “super coupe” didn’t stick, though. The Celica ended up being the class leader and were known as “sport compacts”. Also, this class of car is why Lee Iacocca approved the Mustang II.
But regarding Mavericks, only for its first model year was it compared to other sub-compact cars. There was an article called “Maverick vs. the mob” in maybe Popular Mechanics magazine? Placed it against Beetle and others
But as soon as the Pinto and Vega debuted, those two were matched as Mustang vs. Camaro. Maverick and Comet were moved up market in ’71, with addition of 4 door and the LDO packages. Aimed squarely at Nova/Dart/Valiant. The BOP versions of Nova was a reaction to Duster/Dart sales, too.
Found a link!
“Maverick versus the Mob” was a Popular Mechanics road test.
Maverick took on Beetle, Renault R-10 and Toyota Corona [now Camry]. Can also find it on Google Books.
I looked up the Pop. Mechanics article and here are quotes:
“… the public fancy … tends to compare [Maverick] with economy imports”
“More accurately … Maverick should be compared with Rambler or Valiant…”
Can read free on Google Books:
IMO, and in my experience, the Valiant had the Maverick handled on every front but styling, and that only for people who liked the Maverick’s styling.
How about the quote, “VW’s interior is austere but functional”? What would qualify as non-functional? No seats? Missing steering wheel? Pedals outside of the car? Sure, VW’s interior was functional, provided you had small passengers, little to carry, didn’t need to be warm in the winter, and didn’t need much ventilation in the summer. I suppose it was more functional than the interior of a Sprite.
They should tested the Celica GT, not the ST version.
If the Capri was a bit too wild / youthful for your taste, Ford Europe also offered the Taunus coupe in the seventies…
…and the Granada coupe.
Tests like this in the early 70s were why I bought a Vega, even though I had never owned or even driven a Chevy before.
This test, and later C&D tests are why I badgered one of my sisters into (eventually) trading her 67 Mustang for a V6 Capri. The other older sister would buy a Mustang II Ghia, instead of the Cougar XR7 that she and her husband really wanted. The Capri would be one of that sister’s favorite cars while the Mustang II was a colossal pile of S..T.
By 76 the Maverick was competing fairly well with the other compacts. Here’s CR test results with manual transmissions.
What a blast from the past, I read this comparo many eons ago, its interesting that while they call these cars super coupes they chose the mild power options on the Capri and Celica, the Mazda has the (optional here) rotary but the Celica was available with the MK2 Corona twin cam motor and the Capri had a couple of sixes on offer 2.3 and 3L,
Roadholding of Japanese cars has never been up to much as noted in the text on these cars understeer ruled on the Celica as it did on the Corona that donated the running gear for it, RX2s despite being a successful rally car are woefully underdone in factory form and on twisty roads can be genuinely scary with the amount of power available few survive here and thats one reason the other was gas prices that have never come down since the OPEC issue with israel.
The Capri is a Cortina in a sport coat and behaves like one and seems to do rather well though the testers have problems with the controls, The Opeldoes well too and its suspension and indeed the entire powertrain was used by every GM division outside the US with huge sales and racing success.
The only thing Car & Driver magazine has in common today with this 1971 issue is the name. I cancelled my subscription years ago. This was the golden era of C/D.
I had a lot of driving time with 3 of the tested cars.
The ’71 Vega I bought around ’79 was not a gt, but was a 4 speed liftback with the more powerful 2bbl engine. It was so noisy and rough running, along with loads of gear whine from the transmission, I actually replaced the transmission with a $75.00 unit I bought out of the recycler magazine. It made no difference, the sounds were normal for the car. It was underpowered as well. Going up Angeles Crest Highway was no fun, but rolling downhill for miles and miles of twist road was loads of fun in the Vega. You could keep the engine rev’s down and with good tires it was loads of fun and really could handle well. It was a great downhill racer!
Parents had a ’72 Pinto coupe 4 speed with 2.0 and AC. That car had good power and although still somewhat noisy, worlds ahead in powertrain refinement compared to the Vega. The rear suspension on leaf springs compared to the trailing arm coil spring suspension was a lot cruder. I never noticed long braking distances along with axle hop in our Pinto. It did not handle as well as the Vega, and was skittish in the rain, the rear end was not planted well, if felt too light on the rear end. On dry smooth twisty roads it handled OK. But it was reliable and worlds ahead of the Vega, especially in durability except for handling.
Traded my ’66 VW Sundial Camper Bus for a few weeks for a co-workers ’72 RX2. It would move out at high revs with the little Hitachi 4 bbl carb opened up. It had aluminum mag wheels with wide for the times 175-70-13 tires which helped handling. It felt cheaply made, the interior plastics were flimsy looking, and the whole car just felt tinny and weak. The test says it weighed 2325 lbs. It felt and looked like it weighed a lot less, the Pinto was lighter and the Vega only a little heavier, so I guess this is not really the case. It also used a lot of premium fuel. I decided not to make the car trade permanent and was happy to get my Bus back.
Does seem strange the 15 lb lighter Pinto with 3.55 rear was 1.5 0-60 seconds slower than the Capri with 3.44 rear and identical engine. Capri revved up to 6100, Pinto 5450 rpm. 8.2 vs 9.0 compression ratio must have played a part. Capri was a good looking car, the ad’s of the day called it the “Sexy European”.
EDIT Some of the HP difference is the Capri was a higher compression 9.0 to one ’71 100 HP Model.
’71 Pinto 2.0 had 8.6 cr and 95 HP. ’72 Pinto 2.0 had 8.2 cr and 86 HP.
’71 US SAE hp ratings were gross, ’72 were net.
Sometimes, mainly with nineties models, I point out what values some American cars were compared to some Japanese. Here I will do the opposite. The Celica is a heck of a buy compared with Vega, at least with the outlandishly expensive GT package.
This article brings back memories for me, as I read it when new, and by this point in time I was way more interested in sports cars, autocross, rallying, sprints, the SCCA (Erie had a very good chapter in the Misery Bay Region, although they were bigoted as all get out against anything American), and anything that had to do with performance cars that weren’t GTO’s and their ilk.
And during the 1972-75 period, I got to drive almost all of the cars in this test, either thru personal ownership, friend’s ownership, or test drives with friends looking for new cars.
First off, I owned a ’73 Vega GT. I’m trying to figure out the $2900.00 price tag, because I clearly remember mine: GT package, 4-speed, AM radio, standard interior (BIG mistake!), floor mats and a couple of other minor bits stickered out at just slightly over $2300.00. The engine was as reported here, but the handling was VERY good. I did a lot of B-sedan autocross in it and had a wonderful time.
The Pinto? Get the 2 liter engine and 4-speed, then upgrade the shocks, add sway bars and wider better tires . . . . . and the Alfa GTA’s were definitely in trouble, and the BMW 1600 and 2002’s could be beaten. Yeah, it was cheap, uncomfortable and noisy. But we were in our twenties and really believed we could be the next Emerson Fittipaldi, so what did comfort matter?
If anything, that Opel 1900 Rallye was not given enough credit in this review. The two that I drove didn’t inspire me as much towards autocross as my buddy’s suspension modified Pinto, but it had class, poise and I really wish dad hadn’t limited me to Chevrolet (no Corvettes) for my graduation present.
The Capri was nice. My girlfriend at the time was looking at one as a replacement for her Fiat 124 Spyder, and we really pissed off the salesman with the test drive . . . . and that was the problem. America wasn’t getting the sporting version at the time. Nice car, good engine, nice handling, but there was something lacking. Plus the salesman’s attitude was obvious that he’d rather be selling her a Couger.
That generation Celica? Chick car, chick car, chick car, and not in a good way. All looks, I couldn’t have dreamed taking that to an autocross, it’s strengths were in build quality and general execution, not performance. All looks, not enough to get into the down and dirty.
Never got to drive a Mazda RX-2. Pity, I remember a later test when a mag (C&D?) ran it against a 302 Comet, and the Mazda burned the hell out of it.
There was no way your optioned GT “stickered for $2300. A stripped hatchback coupe started at $2192. Your memory must be playing tricks on you.
Not the sticker, but he might (should) have gotten a discount and that’s the number he remembered. Dad got 17% off a ’73 Buick by paying cash. Percentages were lower on cheaper cars.
this must be the start of the decades long penchant for mazda to build cars that magazines loved but mainstream buyers ignored.
My brother had a RX3 coupe it went like a bullet but drank fuel like nothing else around he traded it on a Falcon V8 302 sedan and the Falcon was cheaper to run and went better.
Opel for the win! The Manta is a beautiful car in the flesh and the less smogged over ones ran well. I wonder how a Cosworth Vega would have compared?
I had an RX2 coupe, it had the 12A twin dissy engine, and you really had to catch it right to start. If you missed starting first up, it would just spin and not fire. Was a lot of fun.
KJ in Oz
With both engines having distant Chevy DNA and similar displacement, it is interesting to compare the outputs of the Celica(108hp) and the Manta(75hp) engines. What a difference it made for Toyota to be able to maintain such a high compression ratio in the face of emission standards. I wonder how many Celica buyers actually put premium gas in their cars? Given the lower weight of the Manta, a Celica like tuning would have worked wonders.
Neither of these engines has the slightest bit of Chevy DNA. They’re both clean-sheet modern OHC engines.
Oh how I miss “Car & Driver” and “Road & Track” from this time period!
The current offerings are all “sanitized & martinized” versions of what they used to be.
I have subscriptions to both, as I (earlier thru my Father) have had since the mid 1960’s.
When the current mail order delivery run is over; I will NOT renew either/both.
David E. Davis (C&D) and Elaine Bond (R&T) produced some darn fine magazines.
I would definitely take the Opel!
But I liked the Capri and Celica. Before we moved back to the US, where I first saw Datusn 240Z-280Z, the Celica was my favorite Japanese car.
Back in the 70s, Car & Driver was my favorite magazine. I agree with the tone of many of the other commenters–today’s sanitized version does not compare with the interesting, informative, and entertaining C & D of the 70s.
Or maybe I’m just getting old….
Going way, way, OT here, but anyone else notice the Kaywoodie pipe ad?
$35 for the Collector’s version was good money then.
Back on track, I’d take the Opel. And I’d like to drive a Vega just once, I’ve never even seen one either in Australia or the USA
Just read up on Kaywoodie. Not many people smoke pipes any more, but the name is still tacked on to a foreign made pipe. In the twenties they introduced a filtering system in the pipes that made them considered premium after starting out in New York around 1850.
That fancy $35 Kaywoodie would be a rare and very desirable find today. The other two are far more typical. There is definitely collector interest in vintage pipes. And yes, there’s a lot of history there if one wants to go down that rabbit hole.
I owned 2 1974 Opels, a 1900 coupe and a Manta. Both were great little cars and very dependable. I wish I had a 1900 2 door wagon today. Very rare!
Here is a link to a November 1971 head-to-head Vega v. Pinto 15,000 mile comparison test.
I find it fascinating reading. C&D weren’t particularly impressed with either car, and their comments about the quality of American car engineering, build-quality, and dealer service are well worth noting.
If you don’t choose to read the whole article, just note that the Vega engine was so rough (engineered that way) that it shook the carburetor loose from the intake, even though GM loctited to bolts at the factory, and the Pinto came with a camshaft 10 degrees out of phase…and neither of two dealerships caught it, despite a TSB from Ford. Nice.
It doesn’t take much of crystal ball to see why the Japanese car invasion was bound to happen, regardless of gasoline prices.
Here’s a youtube of a Vega with a 5 spd transplant and who knows what exhaust. Yeah, it’s loud.
Gotta love those C&D 0 to 60 times. Real world, the RX-2 did between 10 and 11 seconds, unless you abused the car. Vega, Opel, Capri 4 cylinder, Celica, about 13 seconds. The Pinto was a bit slower. You couldn’t abuse those cars to make them go faster (we tried). The 1/4 mile times seem about right, at least bang-on at 17 seconds for the RX-2. This was all verified in the real world by my circle of friends who owned all of these things, and we obsessively tested them for 0 to 60 at the time. The 1/4 mile RX-2 time is what I saw at Carlsbad Raceway at the Saturday Night run-what-you-brung.
C&D had a reputation for getting much faster 0 to 60 times out of cars than the other magazines, back in the day. The other magazines (Road Test, Motor Trend) seemed to get it real-world right.
Loved my two Capris. Both were 2 Liters, and while never really fast, they handled very well for the time.
When I saw this post, I guessed that the Opel would win, and thought the Capri would get second.
I also wondered what the Pinto was doing there.
Optioned well, I suppose it could compete but it wasn’t really in the same league.
Poor Vega. Most people seem to at least think it was pretty but to me it’s not even close to the Capri.
I like that Celica. If it was good enough for Dr. David Banner it is good enough for me.
– except I’m too tall.
I don’t think I ever saw this C/D back in the days so when I saw the picture I too thought who put the Pinto in there. Now Paul says this was 1972 and things were evolving. However, I have intimate knowledge of the Pinto starting in 1971 and know, for a fact, there was never anything super about that car. Yes, you could put a 289 in it but in every other category it was a crappy uncomfortable car.
Car and Driver seemed to disagree with you. They prepped a Pinto for racing.
C&D also prepped an RX-2 for racing and did far better with it than the Pinto.
C&D also prepared an RX-2 for racing and did much better with it than the Pinto.
C/D insisted on calling these “super coupes” for a few years in the early ’70s, perhaps to make us miss muscle cars less. Their crystal ball wasn’t working too well here – the Wankel was “the engine of the future”? Whoops, even though Mazda confirmed this week that they will be using rotary engines as EV range extenders (which I think is a better use for these than as a main powerplant actually).
Anyway, I’ll take the Celica, by far the best interior here in looks, ergonomics, comfort, and quietness, as well as best reliability. Tight but usable rear seat. The imitation-Mustang shape looks better now than it probably did in 1971.
Spent very little for repairs and upkeep, fun to drive. The Opel 1900 Manta Rallye was the star of the show for me personally. My girlfriend liked it too.
I had a ’74 Opel Manta for four years; drove the tail off it. No, it wasn’t particularly fast getting up to speed, but once there, it would cruise all day at 70 (I know that for fact as I was pulled over on I-80 in Clearfield County, PA by a County Mountie who tagged me at 72 in a 55 zone. The car was comfortable; had a great 4-speed transmission; handled wonderfully and I cruised all over OH, PA, NY and MD in it for four years. But starting in early ’78, it started costing me about $150/month to keep it running. Traded it on a ’78 Corolla SR-5 Liftback – great idea for a car but a hog compared to the Opel I still miss it.
My first car was a 1973 Manta, bought in 1978. Liked it but some undetected collision damage caused me to trade several months later for a 1974 1900 Sportwagon with 24,000 miles. Ran it up to 150-160,000 miles, found a ’75 wagon with a bum transmission and swapped the ’74 gearbox into the ’75. By then it was the late 1980’s and the ’75 soon began to show its age. Great cars, very well balanced, and C&D picked the best one.
I probably read this road test in 1971, as I read pretty much every issue of CD and R&T but obviously didn’t pay too much attention to it when I bought my used ‘73 Vega GT in late 1976. I’ll spare everyone my rose-tinted memories of my Vega, but just note two things:
1) by 1976, Vega resale value was so bad that on the used market they were a much better value than a used mush-o-matic Celica; by 1976 the Opel screamed “orphan” and the RX2, well there was a reason Mazda was selling a lot of remanufactured engines by then.
2) this is the only test I’ve read that accurately describes the Vega’s axle hop. The cornering was excellent in medium and fast sweepers, especially with good radials, but even the weak Vega motor could deliver enough torque exiting a hairpin turn, to make things shake back there like no car I’ve ever driven. I can’t imagine what a V8 or even V6 would do to that 4 link rear suspension.
That undoubtedly explains why the Vega-based Monza had a different (better) rear suspension design, and why the Vega got that starting in 1976.
Thanks, I’d forgotten all about that. I actually drove a V8 Monza but they were only available with the automatic in California, and between that, tall gearing and the weak 262 (I think) motor I felt no incentive to give it the axle hop test.
The Opal is the “stylin ride here. The “Celica” likely the most reliable.