(first posted 12/21/2016) R&T decided to identify and compare the nine smallest economy sold in the US in 1975, none of which were domestics. The line up includes the smallest offerings of all of the major import brands of the time, with the exception of VW, which had two cars included. It was the The all-new Rabbit (Golf) overlapped with the last two years of the Beetle, which made for a vivid comparison of the huge changes that had taken place over the 40 years since the Beetle was designed. One oddity is that the ancient Beetle now had fuel injection while the Rabbit still had a carburetor. Not that it made much difference in their respective rankings at the top and bottom of the field.
That $3000 price adjusts to about $13,500 in today’s dollars. There’s not a whole lot that one can buy new for that in 2016; actually nothing. The cheapest MSRP is $14,325 for a Nissan Versa. A list of the ten cheapest cars in 2016 is here.
Needless to say, the Rabbit was the winner, and for many good reasons. It was roomy, light (1905 lbs), zippy, handled great, and very economical. VW showed the world how to build a winning small car, and it would soon be copied by everyone else. But for the time being, VW was simply ahead of the market of the time.
But in order to meet the $2999 base price, which VW felt was psychologically important, the base Rabbit was a poverty-spec mobile. But even spending an extra $300-500 to bring it up to the trim level of the Japanese cars still would have made it a good buy, according to R&T, due to its intrinsic superiority. Of course, nobody knew at the time that these first year Rabbits would have a lot of teething problems, and it would take a couple of years before they were really dialed in, relatively speaking.
The Honda Civic CVCC came in second, again reflecting its advanced design that was somewhat analogous to the Rabbit, albeit smaller. It was the fuel economy winner, with an average of 33 mpg.
Only 150″ long, the Civic was very roomy in the front, but there were some inevitable compromises in the back seat. Still, it was a marvel of space efficiency compared to the traditional RWD small cars of the times. It was also the second most-fun to drive winner in the test.
The Fiat 128, the true pioneer of modern FWD small cars of this grouping came in a solid third. It was a driver’s car, with a responsive engine, very good handling and other dynamic traits, but its ergonomic quirks dinged it some.
The Datsun B210 and the Corolla were essentially tied for 4th place. It’s hard to say exactly why the B210 beat the Corolla when reading the text, especially since the Corolla was quicker, quieter and smoother riding. The B210 was a bit sportier, and R&T always placed that in high regard.
The Mazda 808 was in the mid-pack, with pretty average qualities for a traditional RWD small car: nothing outstanding, nothing bad.
The R12 was the roomiest of the cars, being essentially a class bigger. But its engine was overworked, and steering and handling were below average. The famous French ride wasn’t even on full display in the R12.
The Subaru DL didn’t shine in any particular category, and its interior materials were deemed cheaper than the other Japanese cars. The little boxer four did run very smoothly, and performed above its displacement. Space efficiency was no better than the RWD cars.
And bringing up the rear was the VW Beetle, outclassed mostly because of its narrow, cramped body, limited trunk space, noisy engine and wind-sensitivity. Like the Rabbit, this version of the Beetle was also terribly stripped, equivalent to the ‘Standard’ Beetle, a model that had never been sold in the US. The expensive fuel injection was a necessity to make the old boxer meet the emission regulations.
There was a lot of variety in these nine cars, and this was a hot segment on the heels of the energy crisis and resulting recession. The real winners of this group were of course the Civic and Corolla, as the came to dominate this class, and still do.
As it turns out, I have wheel time in both the winner and the runner-up. Both were really fun cars to drive, especially from an era where the GM colonnade was the “default car” in my part of the country.
The exchange rates were really doing a number on European cars by 1975, so it is kind of amazing that VW was able to keep the Rabbit even a little competitive on price.
I believe that the exchange rate was a big factor in VW’s decision to start Rabbit production at the Westmoreland County plant in Pennsylvania within a few years of this test.
I had a Datsun B-210 around that time. I don’t remember a whole lot about it, other than that it was brown and rather dowdy, with a stick shift, very basic. Still, it got me around. I didn’t have much pride of ownership, preferring American cars to this day.
Pretty grim reading. Fiberboard door panels without armrests to keep the price low? Rubber floor mats? Yikes! The future looked pretty bleak indeed in 1975.
That’s what I was thinking. Though I do wish more vehicles came with rubber floors, like minivans.
Rubber mats aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, it’s a b***h keeping the mat clean in my P71 this time of year.
Nothing wrong with rubber floor mats. I just checked, you can still order them for your Toyota Avensis, for example. And that’s Toyota’s top model sedan / wagon here. I’ve got one on the left side in my Land Cruiser too, BTW. Perfect.
Rubber mats make a lot of sense; carpet is overrated, it’s not as if one can [legally] drive barefoot, and as the interior area most susceptible to dirt & wear, it’s a hassle to clean.
Same goes for those carpeted dash covers; I keep my cars a long time & have never had cracks here in the Sunbelt. I just use a windshield sun shade while parked outside.
But the carpeted dash covers are a great way to ensure your dash is all “soft-touch”. From what I read in the media, that’s very important these days.
Exactly. With companies like WeatherTech making full floor mats to cover the carpet, why have carpet in the first place ?
Who says? I drive barefoot often in the summertime if I’m wearing sandals during the day. AFAIK it’s not illegal here, and frankly I’d roll the dice if it was. Carpet feels oh so nice on my heels, and pedal grip and feel is almost addictive – it’s the difference between steering with bare hands and winter gloves..
You can relax. Barefoot driving is illegal in no jurisdiction within the United States, according to AAA.
Believe me, I’ve checked this out very thoroughly. 🙂
When you have occasional peroneal tendonitis in your right foot, driving for long distances in certain shoes can be agony. What I’d like to figure out is how and why the myth of “barefoot driving is illegal” got started, and even more so, I wish people would quit repeating it.
I’ve loved driving barefoot since I first learned to drive. It’s a real thing out there. Still do it occasionally but with socks on. Rubber flooring or carpet, I’m in.
when i drive barefoot, i leave flip flops on the floor, just in case i get pulled over.
“when i drive barefoot, i leave flip flops on the floor, just in case i get pulled over.”
Assuming you’re in the U.S., if you’re doing that to avoid a ticket, you need not worry (see above). Repeat: According to AAA, driving barefoot is NOT against the law in any U.S. state.
However, I do the same in case I need to step out of the car, and onto hot, dirty pavement.
I don’t find barefoot driving comfortable at all. But it’s definitely safer than driving with flip-flops. Don’t people worry they’ll slide off and get jammed behind the pedals somehow?
I’ll just stick to driving with normal shoes on.
William, you’re fortunate. There are times I wish I could leave my shoes on, but without taking this thread into a podiatric forum, it can be painful for people with certain foot conditions.
Now, driving with flip flops or any type of backless sandal? I’d never do it, unless I develop a death wish. Same goes for cycling shoes; I did that. Once. ?
I first drove barefoot because I got in the car with sandals on without thinking one lazy summer day, I didn’t get two blocks before realizing my folly, and after they slipped off for the dozenth time, off they went. I always put them in the back or passenger footwell since I don’t want them to slide under the pedals by accident, that’s the only valid argument against the practice IMO. I had a pair of workboots that were downright dangerous to wear in my Cougar, the soles were so bulky I’d occasionally hang my foot up underneath the brake pedal or the lower dash frame, now that was uncomfortable.
Barefoot driving was purported to be illegal when I started driving in the early ’70’s. That urban legend has history and legs. Back to these cars, I was surprised to realize that I had driven all except the Renault and Subaru, and the piston-engines Mazda (I’ve driven several RX3’s). My favorites were the Rabbit and 128 by far.
When driving sleepy, the best thing you can do is…
1) Pull over and sleep
2) Drive barefoot. I’ve heard it increases alertness because the feet have so many nerves in them.
3) Drive a modest car from 1975, because you’re sure not going to doze off thanks to the ‘comforts’ of that era of auto engineering.
But for safety’s sake, put your shoes any place besides the driver’s footwell. You don’t want them getting stuck under the pedals if you slam on the brakes.
Re legality, point taken. Amazing how much chat I provoked. I hardly think mashed-down carpeting is much more comfortable on the heels than rubber.
Good article, thanks for the trip down memory lane!
In junior high in the late 70s, I was an avid Car&Driver reader.
What’s interesting about this road test is that the competence of the test cars is considerably worse than what it would have been, had it been conducted in 1978 or 1979 (and the prices are lower).
The Dacia (er Renault) would be gone. The Rabbit would be fuel injected. The Horizon/Omni would be middling in 1979, but near the top of this batch. Ditto the lowly Chevette, which made up for it’s driveshaft hump and weak engine with (relatively) crisp handling. The Fiesta would be near the top, and the Corolla would be improved.
I had, and have, a soft spot for these “cheap” cars. It’s hard to design and build a good car for a little money, but the Rabbit, Fiesta, and Civic were great!
A very nice counterpoint to the earlier Car and Driver small car comparison of 1971 when the cars were the Vega, Pinto, Gremlin, Corolla, Simca 1204, and Beetle. Interesting how R&T left out the domestics (all three of which were still around) and only kept the Corolla and Beetle. Of course, there’s certainly no question that the ancient (by then) domestics would have trailed this much newer group, and badly. 1975 really seemed to expand the small car field. Was the Simca even still around by then? As rough as the 1975 cars might seem today, the domestics would have been like cars from a half century ago in comparison.
A real shame Fiat just could never get their quality act together.
RT explained the lack of domestics in the article. “Smallest lightest cars sold in America”. That left out 2500 lb Pintos, Gremlins and Vegas.
…and what about Chevettes???
The Chevette didn’t show up until 1976.
My Uncle had an early run Rabbit automatic. It was a POS. Noisy as hell. Hard punishing ride. And one of the worst automatic transmissions we ever encountered. My mom had to borrow his car one time because dad needed to take ours in to work that day and mom needed to run errands. She utterly hated driving that Rabbit and said it was quite possibly the worst driving car she ever drove to that point. That was in 1979 by which time the VW had a noisy exhaust, some body rust, failed A/C that quite working 3 years after purchase and road noise that would give a freight train a run for the money. It handled good though.
A junior high school classmate’s family bought one of the first Rabbits in town. A few years later, after we had graduated, his mother came to the store where I was working part-time. She wasn’t too happy. She had tried to move the Rabbit, and found that one side of the front suspension was completely disconnected from the car, due to rust.
Early Rabbits were notorious for severe rot between the strut towers and the cowl, when that went there was no fixing them.
My sister and BIL bought a used 77 in probably 1983. It was a cheap used car that, on close inspection, was actually 2 cars welded together in the middle. But the job was very well done and the car had not cost much. It was also far enough out from introduction that it was a decent car.
It was a stick and I got to drive it about 60 miles across 2 lane highways. What. A. Blast. It was really quick for the time and very fun to toss around. Within a year or so they dumped it for an 81 Rabbit diesel, and have had a string of VWs since, almost all diesels. My sister traded the last one off a couple of years ago.
The Fiat 128 is beautiful. It should have won easily- And it was a 1974 model up against 1975’s
The other cars in that test look a bit unfortunate
Beautiful is not good enough.
The problem with the Fiat 128 was the “Fix It Again Tony” syndrome – they were quite unreliable under American operating conditions, parts availability could be spotty, and dealers had a habit of packing up and disappearing without notice. I remember Consumer Reports top-rating the 128 to the chagrin of their subscribers who bought them only to experience the syndrome first-hand.
All Fiat owners had to do was follow the recommended maintenance schedule, most especially the timing belt change, and they were pretty good cars. I bought a new ’74 X1/9 and owned it for 6 years and put nearly 100K miles on it. Same drivetrain as the 128. All it needed was timing belt and oil changes, 2 new sets of tires and two brake jobs. Nothing but fun.
I think you’ll find that’s not the typical Fiat experience in the U.S. Certainly the people I know that owned them had a somewhat different experience. 🙂
I’ll take boring and reliable any day of the week.
The service departments were iffy, depending on where owners lived. My experience – and the experience of friends and a few family members in SoCal – were, by and large, very positive. Back in the ’70s, the Big 3 designed and manufactured cars were more disastrous than successful. That is my experience.
I would imagine that there were sufficient Fiat sales in southern California to sustain a reasonably competent dealer. Rust and cold weather also weren’t an issue in southern California.
Here in Pennsylvania, dealer support was sporadic, and the cars simply weren’t suited to use in bitterly cold weather and on roads were salt was applied during the winter.
You were better off buying an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme and using the money that would have been spent repairing the Fiat on gasoline. At least the Oldsmobile would have worked regularly, so you weren’t faced with the prospect of regularly bumming rides to the workplace.
Beauty just doesn’t cut it, ever. What good is a beautiful car if you’re pushing it all of the time?
The old adage that it’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow applies. If one hasn’t had the experience of driving a light, high-revving, great handling mid-engined sports car – e.g, an X1/9 – down a winding canyon road, one probably won’t understand how true that is.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder–I think the 128 is odd-looking. Probably great to drive (for a 70’s compact anyhow) but odd-looking. Best styling of the bunch for me would go to the crisp, angular Rabbit, with the Mazda a close second (fantastic-looking from the side but a bit of an odd “beakiness” up front).
I bought a new Subaru in 1977, a DL 4-door. I liked it well enough as it was good on gas, the dealer-installed AC worked well, and the car never had any serious mechanical problems. It had ignition points as I recall but overall was very easy to service.
Rust finally killed it, a common story for Japanese cars of that era. Subarus went without catalytic converters until at least the 1980 model year. (A friend had one of those and it was non-catalyst.)
The link regarding the cheapest cars of 2016 toward the top of the article is somewhat misleading. The writer purposely made an automatic transmission mandatory; thus inflating the price significantly on some models. There are actually 3 cars on the market for 2017 that can be had for $13,000 MSRP or less, if you can drive stick:
3. Chevrolet Spark, $13,000
2. Mitsubishi Mirage, $12,995
1. Nissan Versa, $11,990
I just checked out Precision Toyota’s fancy new showroom & indeed, the best reason to buy a Yaris is for price, as its MPG range differs little from the Corolla, which has better hwy mileage & slightly less city. Unexpectedly, the Yaris hatch is assembled in France, not where I thought the cheapest labor is to be found.
Of those three, probably the best choice is the Versa, the Mitsu was recently dinged for intentionally falsifying their mileage claims and the Spark is well, a rebadged Daewoo. And my last experiences with Chevrolet left a bad aftertaste.
I have always preferred low spec cars…. Never understood the desire to drive a living room.
Comfort, that’s why. Why drive a penalty box on wheels?
This was the first of many comparison tests where the VW Rabbit placed 1st. Remember that famous Isuzu ad where they bragged about the I-Mark coming in 2nd, behind the 1st place Rabbit? VW was so far ahead of everyone else that coming in 2nd was considered a remarkable achievement and something to be proud of. When have you ever seen that happen before?
I can’t think of a more revolutionary car in my lifetime than the first gen Rabbit / Scirocco. They really did do it all and I was blown away by the reviews as a kid. This was after the Audi Fox which itself was ground breaking. Unfortunately these cars were among the first from VW that were unreliable. R&T had a long-term review of the ’75 Rabbit where the clunky A/C compressor caused the Woodruff key on the crankshaft pulley to fall apart.
It was nice to see the Subaru get kudos for its smooth running flat-4 engine, which was peppy and fuel efficient.
IIRC that was Buick Division’s marketing; it wasn’t until 1981 when Isuzu’s own organization took over that the I-Mark name came in, And they didn’t do much marketing due to a small VRA quota, most of their national ads were for the P’up truck.
It was also a year or two later when the dollar/D-mark relationship had well and truly priced VW out of the “cheap wheels” bracket.
maybe it’s me but i always thought the first gen rabbit was a terrible handler. compared to rear wheel drive cars, the rabbit was awful.
The Subaru flat-four was inspired by the engine in the Lloyd Arabella. Some say that Subaru used Arabella engines as engineering prototypes.
The funny thing is that the reality of the 1975 VW Rabbits was pretty terrible. VW would get everything except the quality right in the next two years, but there was nothing about driving a carbureted, drum-braked 1975 Rabbit that was pleasant. The interior was pure Soviet military equipment spec. The paint was faded and the wheels rusty in less than a year. The engines sputtered and the clutches stank. They were Yugos before there were Zastavas sold in the US.
The paint was faded and the wheels rusty in less than a year. The engines sputtered and the clutches stank.
Then there was the oil burning, which, I later read, was put down to the valve guides. A guy in accounting where I worked in the late 70s had a Rabbit. That thing left a plume of blue smoke everywhere it went.
But then a guy in Engineering had a first year Accord. By 80 it was burning a quart of oil every 500 miles. Then the tops of the front fenders rusted through, and he had had aftermarket rustproofing applied, on top of what Honda did at the plant.
The writers were a little confused about the difference between the Super Beetle and Standard Beetle. In the US, the Super never came with disc brakes. The ’75 La Grande Beetle was a Super, there was never a Beetle with curved Super type windshield and torsion bar suspension. 1975 would be the last year for hardtop Super Beetles. All convertible’s were Super’s from ’71 until the final year ’79. ’76 and ’77 steel roofed cars were standard Beetle only.
I sold more than a few armrests for basic Beetle (and Rabbit drum brake strippers) owners to replace the door pulls they came with.
The Rabbit really was a leap ahead of other small cars of the day, but the ’75 and ’76 had junk Zenith carbs that caused a lot of problems. Too bad fuel injection came out first on the Beetle instead of the Rabbit, that was a big misstep on VW’s part. California models also had a lot of failed cat converters due to the troubled Zenith carbs. I owned a Deluxe model ’75 Rabbit 2 door with AC, and after replacing it’s Zenith carb with a Holly Weber, removing the air pump and installing a “test pipe”, I recorded a 17.1 1/4 mile run at Orange County Raceway in the early ’80’s.
As I started to read this old R/T review, I did recall reading this one back when these cars were new. Was interesting to see again after all these years. Fun read.
I had a work colleague who was considered a very mild-mannered, quiet fellow who never had a bad word to say about anything or anybody. Then he bought a ’77 Rabbit. His vocabulary would’ve made a sailor blush.
Yup, the Le Grande Bug was a dolled up Super Beetle. New that year was rack and pinion steering. I bought one new, then sold it to a friend a year later when I married. That car was one of the most reliable cars I’ve ever seen. I know it went to 200K miles at least before being replaced a Honda CRX.
Question : How would the European Ford Estcourt of the time have compared to the above ? Surely it was better than the Golf?
That is a tricky comparison to make, as the Escort wasn’t really marketed as an economy car in Europe when it was fitted with an engine comparable to the cars here, and when in 1600 form, it was notably more expensive and slower than it’s direct competitors, even in Britain.
Looking back on an old 12/75 road test in Motor magazine of an 1100 Escort L, they specifically note that for the price, the Escort was sparsely equipped and offered poor performance for the category. They also specifically point out that a Golf 1100 L is just as economical, a good bit quicker, and significantly cheaper as well. With that knowledge at hand, in an outright comparison test, I don’t think an Escort would fare too well here.
The 1980 FWD Ford Escort Mk3 was Ford’s first real VW Golf competitor. Apart from that, no Euro-Escort generation has ever been “better” than a contemporary Golf really.
Agree. Even when the Mk3 came on the scene, the Escort’s superiority was debatable at the time, as this vintage CAR comparison shows:
I had a 1987 Ford Escort Mk4 1.4, which was basically just an updated Mk3. A good car, no complaints. But it was not on a par with the Golf Mk2.
The Golf was better built, more solid, better materials, and the lowest depreciation of them all. There’s a reason that the C-segment is called the “Golf-class” here.
The story of the Escort, it was always lagging behind the Golf. That changed with the 1998 Ford Focus.
Has Curbside Classic ever covered the RWD Mk1 and Mk2 Escort?
I started selling cars at a VW-Mazda dealer in 76. If I had someone comparing Rabbit-Bug or Rabbit-Mazda, I always tried to steer them away from the Rabbit.
By 76 it was already apparent that every Rabbit we sold risked making an enemy. . Neither the Bug nor the Mazda (GLC was usually the model being compared) had anywhere near the advanced engineering in the Rabbit. What the Bug and the GLC did have was rock solid reliability.
Rabbit ownership usually led to all kinds of new “friendships” with the service manager, various mechanics, the service rental clerk and sometimes even the VW zone manager.
Kind of a lesson there on the value of early car reviews. Advanced engineering does sell. Trouble is if it doesn’t work, it only sells once.
And that, kids, courtesy of VW and the Beetle, was the definition of “stripped”.
I once read a Taurus without leather and moonroof referred to as being “stripped”.
One cannot find a stripped car today. They all have sophisticated tech, PS, PB, a full suite of safety equipment, disc brakes and radial tires. Fan forced ventilation as well.
I had not read this article before and I love small efficient cars. I’ll take the B-210, the Atomic Cockroach [as one of the rags referenced the styling].
My little brother had an aqua four door at one time and I got to drive it and liked it. The plus is the styling. I’ll take the Honey Bee.
Next would be the Subaru as Dad had a 78 that was weird, reliable and economical for years. The 75 looks very much the same.
I love the starkness of these cars: rubber flooring, manual transmissions, efficient use of materials. Completely purpose built.
Had I the money at the time, though, I would have gotten a Gremlin. Base model. Never would have considered a foreign make at that stage of my development.
Different now, and open to anything, but cars like these are no longer built. I think the closest one could get in the modern era was a Saturn SL [not even an SL1] , sans PS, AC, etc. But it was still better equipped than base 70s models.
Ah, Paul, you certainly are a master of understatement when you said that early Rabbits had “teething problems”. My yellow, not so mellow ,yellow fuel injected ’77 4 speed, sun roof Rabbit within less than a year experienced two incendiary fuel injection hood scorching fires and sequential, rapid failures of not one, not two, but three Bosch alternators– was Smith’s their subcontracting manufacturer? Throttle induced wheel hop was endemic. What a car experience, the worst car of my life. Yes, no doubt about it, “teething problems”. I couldn’t wait to get rid of this accursed VW. My next car was a ’77 Honda Accord, a world of difference, did it handle as well as the Rabbit, well no, but it was blissful automotive reliability in comparison, after which I never looked at VW again. Truly, no question about it, understatement. You nailed it.
I had an ’87 Jetta Carat and believe me the quality and reliability had not improved over those 12 model years. Worst. Car. Ever. That and the arrogant and dishonest dealer service dept. turned me off the brand forever.
Ahhh, memories! Around 1975, my Dad decided it was time to start looking for a small, economical car. Other than the Beetle, Renault and maybe the Datsun, I think I sat in the back seat of all of these over a 2-year period. (Paralysis by analysis loomed large in our family. Vehicle purchases almost always took a while.)
We were blown away by the zippy new Rabbit, found the Subie too cramped, and thought the Corolla was a bit industrial, noise-wise. Dad always liked the 128, but his 124 Spyder, while fun to drive, exemplified the reliability stereotype, so he didn’t sign up for a new round of grief.
A work colleague of Dad’s bought a first-year Rabbit, but hearing about the ongoing carb issues caused it to be stricken from our list. (The colleague stepped up to an injected Rabbit a couple years later and was much happier.)
Fast forward to 1977…… the Spyder got totaled in a rear-ender, the rental Corolla was as noisy as ever, and a Civic CVCC 5-speed appeared in the driveway. It was fun, reasonably zippy and served well as the family’s second car……for a while, anyway. After 3 head gaskets in less than 3 years, it got the boot and was replaced by a 1980 Volvo DL, which stayed in the family for over 20 years.
Needless to say, we’ve seen a little refinement in the intervening 40 years.
Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
Yellow appears to have been the silver of 1975. Weirdly, the one car that I associate with most often seeing in yellow, the Civic, here is black instead, the one color that I don’t recall ever seeing it in.
Honestly…forget any of those slow, loud, cramped, highway-hating penalty boxes. (Check the RPMs at 60MPH on some of them!) For about the same money…honestly, give me a base-model Dodge Dart!
For those who are not aware, the 55 MPH limit was mandated by the Feds back then.
Not that anybody actually DROVE 55…
“I can’t drive 55”
– Sammy Hagar
Not only are most “small” cars today a lot larger than 40 years ago, they are a heck of a lot quicker. Today a Fiat 500 is pilloried for taking nearly 10 seconds to stroll to 60. Most of the cars in this test take 15 seconds, or longer, to make it to 60. It’s also difficult today to find a small car, now matter how cheap, that does not have power windows, power locks and a/c as standard.
They have grown so much that this “smallest economy car”-segment of yore created two smaller segments.
The VW Golf and Toyota Auris (our Corolla successor) are both in the C-segment. Their smaller family members can be found in the A-segment (VW up! and Toyota Aygo) and B-segment (VW Polo and Toyota Yaris). The Honda Civic has also become a C-segment car over the years.
VW and Toyota are also examples of automakers that cover all segments, so from A to F. If you include Audi and Lexus, that is.
Yes, Steve. I doubt very many new car buyers have ever experienced a truly stripped car.
Just comparing my dream car 60 Comet to my pedestrian 05 ION, the newer car would have been the car of tomorrow back then: all aluminum DOHC, more than 1 HP per cubic inch, plastic body panels, space frame, electronic steering assist, PS, PB, 4 speed auto available or 5 speed manual, disc brakes, radial tires, air bags, fuel injection, distributorless ignition, am/fm stereo with cd player. All standard.
And even now being made obsolete by what has come over the last 12 years.
My 63 Valiant Signet was sold “stripped”: radio, heater and probably whitewalls as options. Nothing else.
My dad the accountant had a yellow and black B210 he affectionately called the Bee. I guess that was what they were referred to in the marketing literature of the day. As a late Gen Xer, I just played along because it did look like a bee, and it did indeed buzz a lot. Anyway, dad was quite proud to point out that between the Iroc Z and the SL Class parked on either side of it, the thief chose the Datsun to steal. Of course, all it took was a flat head screw driver as the ignition modules on these cars were notoriously weak and was a more practical score.
The car was later found unscathed somewhere a few blocks away with only a slight amount of fuel burned with the new feature of screwdriver start capability. Dad kept the car until the mechanic couldn’t find any more replacement parts for it and started using GM retrofits. The mechanic began urging my father to loosen his wallet and get a new vehicle. So he did. A 1989 Plymouth Sundance RS Turbo 2.5.
Oops. He continued loosening his wallet on that thing… no, I won’t be coy, it was a money pit! until he finally broke down himself and got a ’97 Protege, which I guess would be comparable to this R&T article’s 808.
Back to the Sundance: Dad gave me full autonomy for selling it as he was busy at the time. I promptly put in the classifieds, first $200 takes and it was sold in the first printing (this was before Craigslist). Dad was flabergasted that I’d sold it so quick and I said it was easy in that I super low-balled it because we all couldn’t stand the thing. Dad nearly croaked when I handed him the $200.
My dad the accountant had a yellow and black B210 he affectionately called the Bee.
Datsun had a low end, stripper, trim of the B210, known as the “Honey Bee”, which was yellow and black.
I had the misfortune of renting a B-210 during a Hawaiian vacation in the late 70s. Total masochist experience!
I am wondering why the Opel Manta/1900 was not tested? The base 2 door sedan would had fit in the pricing range of these tested cars.
With it’s one year only (In the USA) fuel injection this car was a “Pocket Rocket” that was quicker than the tested cars, with a much more pleasant ride and chair height seats.
Easy; the exchange rates of the time completely forced Opel out of the marketplace in which it was intended to compete. MSRP for the most basic 1900 in 1975 was $3,645 (compared to $3,175 the year prior, and just $2,520 in 1973!). Sales predictably collapsed to just 15,118 cars (all models) in 1975. German built Opels were gone thereafter.
I recall the original article, and I still want to reach in and turn the steering column upright in the interior picture of the Rabbit. How hard would it have been to get that one right the first time? I agree with and reinforce all the reliability (that is, lack of same-my problem was primarily electrical. I met lots of nice people in various neighborhoods and townships when mine would unaccountable stop, only to re-start about an hour later) comments for the early Rabbit. On this read I am impressed by how far performance has advanced for basic transportation. My Yaris is quicker, quieter, turns at a far better rate, gets better mileage, and cruises at a far slower, quieter engine speed than any of these. Still trying to get it to turn in as happily, though. How can you miss a car that caused you so much grief?
The improvements are astonishing. I, too, remember this article and this and others like it are an absolute delight to read again!
“…this version of the Beetle was also terribly stripped, equivalent to the ‘Standard’ Beetle, a model that had never been sold in the US.”
According to discussion at the link below, this was a one-year-only model for 1975 (“Model 110”) that existed purely to have a price leader with a MSRP below $3,000:
Isn’t that what I said? Or are you adding additional info?
Strictly speaking, I should have said that it was the Standard Beetle, not “equivalent” to it. I was making the point that the Standard Beetle had been sold since the very beginning in other countries but not the US, which had always gotten the “Export” model (or equivalent).
Adding additional info:
–That the “version of the Beetle [that] was..terribly stripped” of which you spoke was a specific model in the Beetle’s U.S. model lineup known as the Model 110. Exactly what this model was supposed to be called is apparently a bit nebulous, but in the one place it is referenced in the 1975 U.S. Beetle brochure, on the back cover, it is referred only to by its model number (Model 110). This number slotted in below the model numbers already in use for existing U.S. Beetle models.
–That this model seems to have existed not just to get a low base price but to get a base price that was below a specific round dollar amount that VW felt would be important to consumers ($3,000). The article gives its base price as $2895, however, so maybe that’s not quite right – maybe they were trying not only to get below $3,000, but even below $2,900?
–That this model was sold in the U.S. only for that one year, then dropped.
Clicking the link and reading the discussion there will yield still more info, such as:
–An attempt to work out exactly how these cars were equipped, and how they differed from other U.S. Beetles.
–Because this model was not marketed heavily in and of itself (as opposed to having its price used as the starting price for Beetles in advertisements; note my comments earlier about even what the model was supposed to be called being a bit unclear), and was only in the U.S. lineup for one year, it is very obscure, and many casual – and even not-so-casual – VW enthusiasts are unaware that it exists.
I found this information interesting when I came across that discussion thread, and I thought others might, too. An obscure, one year only, super stripped down model seems right up our alley. A Model 110 would make a great CC if anyone ever comes across one, and is able to identify it.
Assuming the people involved in the discussion at that link know what they’re talking about, I think “equivalent” to the Standard Beetle (or “essentially”, as the article text says) is probably more accurate than “it was the Standard Beetle”. My impression is that this was a unique concoction VW came up with for the U.S. market to meet a specific price point (“if we delete Part A, that drops the price $25; if we delete Part B, that drops the price another $33; what price are we up to so far?”). I’m sure it was very similar to the Standard Beetle sold in other markets, and drew a lot of its pieces from the Standard Beetle parts bin. But it is my understanding that it wasn’t literally the exact same model as the Standard Beetle that was sold elsewhere.
Scratch the part about specifically trying to get below $3,000 being an addition to what you had originally said – re-reading the entire article, I see that you brought up that point in discussing the base-price Rabbit (and later, when discussing the base-price Beetle, noted that it was similar in concept to the base-price Rabbit). I missed the reference to $3000 in the Rabbit section the first time I read it – I guess I was more interested in the Beetle than the Rabbit….
I had a used ’75 Civic two door sedan with a four speed. It was ten years old at the time.
I’m 5’10 and fit in there comfortably, it had adequate power, much better than the Hondamatic wagon I replaced it with. The wagon had four doors as well as a back hatch, comparable to a current Honda Fit, extremely versatile. My ’90 Civic SI could be considered a stripper since it had a five speed manual transmission, manual steering, but with power four wheel disc brakes. Manual Recaro style seats, windows, door locks, but a power moon roof. No a/c. It was a great car that I bought new, and remains one of my favorites.
I’ve gotten away from basic spec vehicles, though my F150 is a “work truck” model, with the base V6, auto, and air. No cruise, power windows, seats, or locks. Though it did come with a good AM/FM stereo radio, as well as rubber floors, no carpet. I really haven’t considered a modern low spec vehicle in a very long time. I think that it would be hard to find something new equipped like my truck.
In 1977 my Dad bought a bright orange ’74 B210 hatchback with about 25,000 miles for us kids to use. Interior was chintzy but held together. Rear suspension must have been derived from a coal cart. 1288 cc’s made for a lot of buzzing but not a lot of speed. The bright paint faded quickly.
It had good points. I took it from CT to IN for a summer engineering job in a steel mill and averaged 44 MPG on the trip. We had good snow tires for the winter and it was amazingly good in the snow. With the rear seat folder it approached wagon utility. It taught my younger siblings how to drive a manual, without the clutch getting fried, and it was stone cold reliable.
I can’t recall what year, but just as the tin worm started to chow down my brother prevented further misery by totaling the little buzz bomb. It was a great car for our uses, in the day.
Had the same issue with a housemate’s 120Y (the B210’s Aussie version) A liberal application of graphite grease between the spring leaves made a difference.
While it still wasn’t an Electra 225 in ride, it was a lot better.
It almostt certainly wouldn’t have made a difference in the outcome, but it would have been nice if R&T had waited four months to do a MY1976 comparison to be able to include the new Chevy Chevette.
I expected Rabbit/Civic CVCC to be 1-2, but with the Honda first. And the much beloved Beetle last. Easy picks. I was surprised to see the B210 do as well as it did, IMO those were real shi*boxes, slow and while meeting safety and emissions spec, not nearly as nice a car as it’s 1200 predecessor.
It’s hard for me to wrap my brain around the idea that this test is approaching 50 years old.
An inflation calculator tells me that $3000 in 1975 now buys $16,600, which is within range of a Spark or Versa or Mirage. And as miserable as those cars seem today, any of the 3 is 10,000 times better than any of the cars in this test by absolutely any metric.
$16,600 is about 10% short of a Mirage before dealers ladle on their fees. The other two you mentioned are not available as 2023 models around DC or in the state of Virginia. The 1975 inexpensive new car buyer had distinct options, and there is something to be said for that. I used cars.com to find out what new cars can be bought for less than $20,000 within 200 miles of my city.
I was 8 years old at the time but I already despised foreign cars. Looking at these makes me remember why.
Well, the Vega and Pinto were available for the masochist market.
IllI’take a Duster.
Once my ’69 beetle cratered, Dad helped me get a used ’75 Corolla to finish the last two years of college. Four speed manual, noisy as hell about 50 MPH, but got me thru school and the first few years of my career. Greatest difficulty was finding a garage that handled Toyotas. The were considered “foreign cars” at the time and most garages didn’t want to touch them.
Way different mindset when I bought my ’97 Camry…any body would work on it.
I learned something…I had no idea how relatively torquey a Beetle was. So relaxed at cruise…2850rpm@60mph, which the data says is its torque peak. Nothing else in the test comes remotely close. I drove many a Beetle in my youth (a 73 Super Beetle being my fave) and would never have guessed it was holding 60 turning so slowly. Thank you CC.
I’m surprised about not leaving comments the first time this article ran. I chose a Rabbit in 1975 for the same reasons as R&T — efficient packaging, great handling, and good fuel economy. What was unknown at the time was reliability, and mine was terrible in that regard. One of the comments above mentioned rusty wheels, and yes, mine rusted after a surprisingly short time, though not to the point of requiring their replacement.
I didn’t even consider buying the base model, given that it came with drum brakes all around and the back seat didn’t fold down. I paid for the $330 upgrade package (called the Custom model in later years) that included front discs and a fold-and-tumble rear seat with cargo cover. The bumpers though, were painted silver as in the base model, and there was no bright trim around any of the windows.
The R&T article reminded me that the upgrade package I purchased also included radial tires; the base model came with bias-ply tires. Mine were Michelin ZX models, predecessor to the XZX line.
Having owned a 1975 Rabbit, I agree wholeheartedly with the review. It was a fun car to drive, and extremely practical. I was fortunate enough to have the more upscale version with disk brakes in the front and folding seat in the rear. The folding seat and hatchback, uncommon at the time for small cars, make it possible to pack lots of the stuff in the back for my moves during my undesgraduate years.
The big downside was the reliability. I bought mine used in 1982, and it suffered from a variety of ailments, many of them designed in. For example, the cable from the radio antenna on the front left fender to the radio looped down over the fuse box – once the seals failed on the antenna-fender junction, water would drip onto the fuses and cause all sorts of electrical issues.
Despite that, I do miss it, and would like to have one as a project car. Sadly, due to rust, they are very thin on the ground these days, and I have been unable to find one that isn’t a total basket case. Which is too bad, as I would love to do a failthful restoration, with perhaps some period engine and suspension modifications.
I didn’t have my 1975 and later a 1979 Rabbit long enough to experience the water leakage problem through the radio antenna mount. But the ’79 at least (probably all of them) were recalled for that issue.
I’d take the 128. Follow the service recommendations and you’re fine. My Dad (90 and still going) managed to get the family Fiats serviced in 1960/70s New Guinea. Why was NJ so damn difficult?
The timeframe is relevant to my family; I had a ’74 Datsun 710, my Dad a ’76 Subaru DL.
Previous to that, my Dad owned a ’59 Beetle, and a ’68 Renault R10 (bought new). So I was familiar with several, save the Toyota and the Honda. I even briefly had a Fiat 128.
Since then, I’ve owned only watercooled VWs (3, 1 at a time, last 42 years).
It’s easy to forget how basic (and how light) these cars were. Nowdays, you can’t buy anything with so little equipment. My VW has power windows/locks, AM/FM, and air conditioning, it’s hard to get anything with less equipment nowdays (I still drive manual though that’s not common as it was in 1975). Some manufacturers bragged about AM radio, rear window defroster (not standard in ’75) and radial tires. My ’78 Scirocco was shipped with all my possessions when I moved to central Texas 40 years ago, the whole shipment including the car was 5000 lbs (including lots of textbooks I still owned)…the Scirocco was around 2000 lbs.
My Dad was looking for a 2nd car in ’76, he ended up with the Subaru DL…mostly because it was one of few FWD cars that wasn’t selling for more than list back then…he wanted FWD since we’d moved to Vermont (for the 2nd time). Saab was in another price class, Honda and VW were expensive; he looked at the Datsun F10 but didn’t like the hood vent that looked like a last minute engineering change, and I didn’t have good luck with Fiat so that was out…and the Subaru was what was left. It was an OK car, the common pale yellow color, ours was automatic, mostly so my Mom could drive it (our other car was a big wagon and Dad wanted her to drive the small car even though in practice it hardly happened). Mom learned on a semi-automatic but really wasn’t comfortable with anything but an automatic.
Yes, I ended up buying VW, but it was my only car (not a 2nd car like my Dad’s) so I splurged a little since they were still a bit pricey when I bought my first in 1981. By then my Dad had a 1980 Dodge Omni as his 2nd car, almost did the same, but fell in love with the A1 Scirocco and that was it for me.
There’s never been a time since in which I was familiar with so many cars…it helped that I also had a job as transporter at Hertz in ’77 and ’78, but they had mostly Ford (mostly domestics) only a Datsun and a Toyota as imports back then. Though I would say in 1986 is the time I did the most “looking around” for a car (test driving many different types of cars even)..haven’t come anywhere close since.