Category: Compact and Economy Cars

Frugal basic transportation of all shapes and sizes.

Supermini: The Autobianchi A112 Abarth

Many of our articles are inspired by the cars we spot in and around Los Angeles. Your author has encountered cars as diverse as a Bugatti Veyron, a Jaguar XJ12C, and a Fiat Multipla — not at car shows or museums, but parked on the street or driving in traffic. Every so often, we run across something exotic enough that even we can’t immediately identify it — something like this Autobianchi A112 Abarth.

1972 Autobianchi A112 Abarth badge
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From Small Things: The Nash Metropolitan and the Birth of American Motors

Diminutive size, clown-car looks, and Fifties-style two-tone paint — it could only be the Nash Metropolitan. Designed in Wisconsin and built in England, the “Met” was one of America’s first subcompact cars. More than that, it helped to make the career of a former Mormon missionary named George Romney and to transform Nash Motors into the American Motors Corporation (AMC).

1957 Nash Metropolitan side
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The Salesman and the Statistician: Robert McNamara, Lee Iacocca, and the Ford Falcon

In late 1959, Ford Motor Company released the smallest car it had sold in the U.S. since the 1930s: the 1960 Ford Falcon. The Falcon proved to be the most successful of Detroit’s new breed of compact cars and it gave birth to many spin-offs and derivatives, from the Ford Mustang to the plush Granada. More significantly, though, the Falcon marked the flash point of a conflict between two different philosophies of management and two very different men: Lido Anthony Iacocca and Robert Strange McNamara. This week, the history of the 1960-1970 American Ford Falcon.

1963 Ford Falcon convertible badge
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The Strange Tale of the Buick Special, Buick-Rover V8, and 3800 V6

From the “what tangled webs we weave” department comes this odd tale of how Buick’s efforts to build an economy car in the early 1960s gave birth to the premier British hot rod engine and a V6 that was still powering new GM cars some 45 years after its original demise. This is the story of the 1961-1963 Buick Special and Skylark, the aluminum Buick / Rover V8, and the long-lived GM 3800 V6 engine.

1963 Buick Special Skylark badge
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The Strange Odyssey of Yutaka Katayama: The Datsun 510 and the Rise of Japanese Cars in America

Today, there are quite a few American buyers who have never purchased a domestic-brand car, and who are as loyal to Toyota or Honda as a previous generation was to Ford or Chevrolet. It was not always so; Toyota began importing cars to America in 1957, Nissan in 1958, but in the early years, Japanese cars were rarer in most parts of the U.S. than Roll-Royces or Ferraris. When did the tide turn? Many point to the 1970s and the wake of the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, but a major turning point came with the 1968 debut of the Datsun 510. This is the story of the 1968-1972 Datsun 510 and of the man most responsible for its creation: Yutaka Katayama.

1971 Datsun 510 badge
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High, Wide, and Handsome: The AMC Pacer

Even when the compact Gremlin bowed in 1970, AMC knew it would not be enough to stem the tide of imported subcompact cars. By the beginning of 1971, the company was already at work on a follow-up. When it finally appeared in 1975, it was hailed as a revolution. When it died four and a half years later, it was already becoming the butt of jokes. We’re referring, of course, to the unmistakable 1975-1980 AMC Pacer.

197 AMC Pacer badge
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Do Not Feed After Midnight: The AMC Gremlin

By the late 1960s, the demand for small, compact imports, temporarily sated by Detroit compacts like the Ford Falcon, was on the rise again and Detroit was getting scared. Each American automaker fielded its own response, but American Motors, which had built its market position with economy cars, came up with two. The first was a clever improvisation, the second was a brave attempt to do something genuinely new. Some people call them the ugliest cars of the 1970s — a title for which there are many contenders — but nobody would ever mistake them for anything else. We’re referring of course, to the Gremlin and Pacer.

We begin with the 1970-1978 AMC Gremlin.

1976 AMC Gremlin badge
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