I’ve always loved Lincolns and Cadillacs. Lincolns, because my grandfather, Robert Klockau, owned several, and some of my earliest car memories are of riding in the back seat of his navy blue ’77 Mark V, peering thru that most excellent oval opera window with the Lincoln emblem embedded in the glass. Later on, it was traded in on a Rose Quartz metallic 1987 bustle back Continental.
But there were other factors, including the red Matchbox Mark V and blue Pocket Cars Mark IV that were among my favorite toys. Furthermore, once I mastered my first bicycle, one of the places I liked to go was to visit a triple black (meaning matching paint, vinyl top and leather seats) 1971 Continental sedan that lived a couple blocks away from my house.
All the years I checked it out, it never moved. About two feet of the trunk protruded out of the garage opening (both house and garage were circa late 1920s, designed for Model Ts not ’60s and ’70s Broughamasauruses), with the door snugged down to the top of the trunk lid.
Peering below the aforementioned door, one could see layer upon layer of dust and four very flat, dried out tires, but the car was clean and complete, and most compelling to Mini-Me me. I knew it was a ’71 due to the three triple taillight clusters per side.
I actually sneaked into the garage one time and actually got into the car. What can I say, kids do dumb things, especially when said dumb kid is totally infatuated with a then-twenty-year-old, neglected Lincoln.
I remember sitting in the back seat on plush black leather, and being totally smitten with that amazing dashboard and Y-spoke steering wheel. Is that not a great steering wheel or what? And the smell of the ’70s leather, plastic, rubber and carpet still is a distinct memory.
Back in the early ’90s, my dad took me and my little brother to an indoor rod & custom car show. One guy had a bunch of old car brochures.
Dad said he would buy me a couple, and of course I zeroed right in on the silvery covers of the 1971 Lincoln Continental and Mark III brochure, with “my” car in it! I also got the big, fat, lush 1971 Cadillac deluxe catalog. I still have both too.
And thus to we come to the present, featuring this absolutely gorgeous 1972 Continental coupe. The Continental coupe first appeared in 1966 (or should I say, reappeared, a two-door Lincoln had last been offered in 1960), complementing the four-door sedan and unmistakable four-door convertible.
With the complete redesign of the non-Mark Continentals in 1970, the Coupé returned, despite the fact that the 1969 Mark III’s appearance had substantially shrunk demand for the ‘standard’ Lincoln Coupé. But it gamely hung in there, and retained its classic good looks and lovely pleated premium cowhide.
The 1970-up Continentals have been said by some bloggers (who tend to love rust-eaten Fiats and inoperable VW Rabbits, but I digress) to be a bit of a letdown compared to its immediate predecessor.
But keep in mind, that generation, despite new sheetmetal for 1966, was rather long in the tooth. What was Lincoln supposed to do? Cadillac was all new in 1965, then was heavily revised in 1967 and again in 1969. Gotta keep up with the competition, dontcha know!
Several years back I became aware of libertyoldtimers.com, a Brugge-based “oldtimer” dealership of classic American iron, particularly luxury land yachts. Which sadly seems to no longer exist. At any rate, one day I clicked on the link and was immediately drawn to this classic 1972 Coupé.
In 1972, however, the all-new Mark IV was the belle of the ball. My grandfather ordered a new one, in triple dark green, from Bob Neal Lincoln-Mercury.
48,591 were sold. As for the Continental Coupé, she was the bridesmaid instead of the bride, with 10,408 assemblies. And yes, the Coupé was 225″ long, with a 127″ wheelbase. It was full-sized, by any standard.
It appeared to be painted in optional Blue Moondust Metallic, which contrasted nicely with the white leather interior and white top. This interior was classy without resorting to some of the rococo touches a few years later. So I saved some pictures to ‘The Vault’ and promptly forgot about it.
Several months later, after having a couple of cocktails, I remembered the pics, and my ill-gotten seat time in an old forgotten 1971 Continental. And wrote it up for the Cantankerous Coot. But never mind him. This spring I decided to revise it and run it right here on RG, primarily so I can share its true blue Broughamtastic lines without giving the Coot any additional clicks. So enjoy, and excuse me while I go get myself another bourbon. Cheers!
The guy in the white Mark IV ad shot looks like he will be ready when the bastards come for his Dreadnaught. Watch out Cantankerous coot!
HAHA! Good catch, I missed the bow and arrow!
It was a good catch!
What the heck with that?! I am assuming some sort of Freudian subtext, but it was the 70’s – who knows…
And I don’t know if he is armed enough to repel Jackbooted CAFE enforcers, but he is definitely ready for the Battle of Agincourt.
Had a few of that era Linc’s. 71 Mk III brown on brown, 72 Connie 4 dr pillared hardtop, also brown on brown, but lacking leather of the Mark. Then a 75 Mark IV, silver on cranberry. 76 Town, green on green. Bought all of them used, when 4 -6 years old dirt cheap. The OPEC embargo helped me be able to buy these slugs!
“The 1970-up Continentals have been said by some bloggers (who tend to love rust-eaten Fiats and inoperable VW Rabbits, but I digress) to be a bit of a letdown compared to its immediate predecessor. But keep in mind, that generation, despite new sheetmetal for 1966, was rather long in the tooth. What was Lincoln supposed to do?”
What could they have done? There are lots of alternative directions they could have taken. For example, how about using those new fangled computers to design a stiffer and lighter unit body instead of going back to body on frame? How about replacing the carb with Fuel Injection for better drivability, performance and fuel economy, which even lowly VW was offering in 1968? How about adding independent rear suspension for a better ride, superior handling, and bigger trunk to match up with MB, RR, Jaguar, and BMW and leap ahead of Cadillac and Imperial (and differentiate Lincoln from cheaper Fords)? How about not cutting back on the quality of the interior trim and finishes by banishing fake wood and plastic chrome? How about making the new MKIV closer in size to a BMW CS or MB W111 coupe or 450SLC – perhaps base it on the excellent European Ford Granada, and focusing on build quality, performance, and technology rather than jumbo size and cheap glitz?
The problem many of us have with 1970s American luxury cars is that they went from being the best in the world in the 1950s and 60s to being among the worst – no significant engineering advancements, backwards in performance, handling, and fuel economy, lower build quality and materials, bloated uninspiring styling, and less and less real or perceived differentiation from cheaper brands (Chevy, Ford, Plymouth).
If they had kept a unit Continental to the wheelbase of the 61 they perhaps could have had both. During a redo it would have been easy to add 4 wheel discs and perhaps a bolt on irs like the 93 Mustang Cobra. It would have been priced initially higher but I think they would have found like they did so many times later that the import buyer just does not want a car from them. So soon you are discounting the crap out of it to sell it to wives who just like it because it is smaller. The Seville had their success because they aimed at people they had a chance with. Imagine a MB ad with the bow and arrow guy subbing for the white coated concentration camp clerk MB usually showed, The two audiences were on different planets.
How Neidermeyer-esque…..not original, but hey….
I would like this pizza better if it was a salad…..why isn’t this pizza a salad?
I’d like this goldfish better if it had fur and didn’t have to live in a fishbowl and it was a cat….why can’t this goldfish be a cat?
Maybe if they would have restyled the Lincoln logo into a circle and removed one of legs, fixed the steering column, made the a/c suck and made the cars really expensive to repair, maybe that would have worked too…..
Thank goodness we’ve reached automotive parity, where now EVERY car is a bland unemotional blob indistinguishable from the next…..
Amazing that John and Carmine think that Ford, with far more resources and engineering capability than Jaguar, BMW, MB, and RR in 1971 don’t believe the Lincoln couldn’t have had more sophisticated suspensions, chassis, and powertrains AND also kept the stuff that US cars did very well such as great A/C, great automatics, excellent sound insulation, and reliable electric windows and power seats. In fact, the unwillingness to keep up with the smaller and financially poorer foreigners in terms of engineering advances is precisely why American cars started to also fall behind in the stuff they had formerly been the best at. Throughout the 1980 and 90s it was the foreigners that started to have more sophisticated automatic gearboxes, and dual/four zone climate control, double-pane glass, V-12 motors, DOHC V-8s, etc. that made them smoother, quieter, and more comfortable than Cadillac or Lincoln, which hadn’t been the case in the 1970s.
It also would have been nice if Uncle Sam hadn’t said “Here, you guys use your engineering budget to invent emissions controls, air bags, giant bumpers, etc. Do it in the middle of a recession, then inflation. We’re not going to impose such draconian measures upon the imports because; well, they simply don’t sell enough to matter. And you’ll be expected to hand over such technology royalty free, because it’s for the common good. By the way, in a few years we’ll also ask you to do the same thing with fuel economy, and create the same exemptions for imports because their dealers will have more political influence by then.”
And of course the anti-establishment types won’t want anything to do with your brands by then anyway.
Suggested reading: Businesses pages of major newspapers of the day. Go back and read if some American auto executives weren’t predicting some of this.
Every automaker who wanted to sell in the US had to meet US emission and safety standards, and while GM invented the catalytic converter and allowed everyone else to use it, it was much smaller foreigners who introduced the 3-way catalyst (Volvo) and CVCC (Honda), and were generally much faster at adopting fuel injection to meet emissions standards and maintain performance. Similarly, everyone had to develop 5 mph bumpers, but arguably the most effective version in terms of appearance and function was from little Porsche on the 911. GM invented airbags, but then fought like hell together with the Ford and Chrysler to delay their implementation due to high costs, and were big users of those horrible mousetrap seatbelts as a way of getting around later passive restraint standards in the late 1980s. The only advantage the foreigners had was with CAFE, because high fuel and displacement taxes in their home countries meant they had well-engineered small cars and motors readily at hand to meet the standards, while Washington succumbed to UAW pressures and prevented Detroit from using imported small cars to meet their CAFE fleet averages.
The problem with Detroit was that GM was afraid to be aggressive due to anti-trust concerns, and all the Big 3 had a very high cost structure that required the high profits of large cars to make a profit. The fuel crisis and CAFE made large cars less popular, and none of the Big 3 had a cost structure that would allow them to make a profit on US made small cars. The lighter CAFE standards on trucks are the only reason that any part of the Big 3 survive today.
“GM invented airbags”.
Eaton, working for Ford, developed the first practical airbags. The original crash test site is about 3 miles from my home. When I wrote the following post six years ago, the site was still accessible enough to take photos, but since then they’ve fenced it off (you can barely make out the track here: https://email@example.com,-83.2570933,445m/data=!3m1!1e3 )
You misunderstood me, probably purposely to avoid uncomfortable truths. No matter how good a fake MB they built, the MB buyer wasn’t interested in an American product. You can debate all you want about big business ties to Nixon, or the blacks on the line, or management, except for cocaine cloud Delorean, that were all old and white shoed. Hint: cocaine cloud Delorean was also old but had long sideburns and whore mongered while he sold everyone out that ever dealt with him. Maybe on the next clear day, everyone will see that.
There is also the problem that RR found with the Silver Shadow that when they tried to add the modernity all at once, it did have a detrimental effect on noise control and impact absorption. The result in those areas was no worse than MB but that was way below Detroit. Remember MB was only benchmarking cheap BL era Jaguar in ride and NVH, and falling short.
I understood you perfectly. You don’t believe import buyers of the 1970s would have been tempted by a Lincoln 450 SLC, and perhaps you are correct, but we will never know because Ford never made a serious effort to make more rationally sized and more technologically advanced luxury vehicles for American buyers (and I hope you can agree that the 1960 Ford Falcon based Versailles was not a serious effort or technologically advanced). The sad thing is we know Ford could have done it, because the European Ford Granada was much more advanced than any American Ford of the era, and could have been made into a real BMW/MB fighter in America with a little effort.
I’m not sure if the Granada was the answer; I suspect it would have gone over about as well as GM’s various attempts to sell Opels over here at MB/BMW price points. But perhaps it could have been used as a starting off point.
More broadly, I agree that the Detroit 3’s biggest mistake of the 1970s (and perhaps, by extension, their entire history) was not even attempting to compete in the already (and soon to be extremely) lucrative “Euro” luxury car market.
There weren’t that many Mercedes-Benz buyers back when Ford and GM had an opportunity to not cheapen their flagship products to cash in on short-term demand. They created all those buyers that you think were acting politically by building lower quality antiques after continuously improving their products until 1964.
“Throughout the 1980 and 90s it was the foreigners that started to have more sophisticated automatic gearboxes, and dual/four zone climate control, double-pane glass, V-12 motors, DOHC V-8s, etc”
And where are all those DOHC V12’s at et all right now?
In the same junkyard as the Cadillacs, but in import section…..
Trying to think of the last running early 750 or Audi V8 I’ve seen, or every $1500 S-class crawling on a busted air suspension, or a J-gate XJ6 that hasn’t been recycled.
These cars aren’t your bag, and thats cool but this armchair quarterbacking on every one of the posts is rather boring……
Carmine – you are absolutely right that a lot of that sophisticated technology becomes an expensive ticking bomb as the car ages, and sends many to the scrap yard relatively early, but most new prestige car buyers (leasers) don’t care about such bombs going off 8 to 15 years in the future because they trade every 3 to 5 years. I also doubt that Ford managers and designers in the 1970s were thinking “hey lets keep our prestige cars simple so that they are easy and cheap to repair in 15 years”. I like American cars, but I don’t need to apologize for seeing that they went from being innovation and quality leaders to innovation and quality laggards in the space of about 15 years. I do admire the well-kept versions of the land yachts that Tom often highlights, but they also bring a sense of sadness because they so often represent the combination of poorly thought-through government regulations and poor managerial decision making that allowed our world-leading auto industry to weaken and eventually collapse. You may disagree with my opinion, but last 50 years of US auto industry history certainly suggests that some serious mistakes were made.
Sometimes people think that 1970’s American land barges are the epitome of automotive ridiculousness. But then one considers rebuilding a garage so the garage door can close without smashing a Personal Luxury Vehicle’s trunk. We’ve lost something, yeah–that whole culture is gone, and I don’t know where.
Where the culture go? Instead of a 20 foot Lincoln sticking out of the garage, it is now a 20 food Suburban or Crew-Cab pickup that are not only too long to fit in an old garage, but also too tall.
Maybe if a few more of the drivers had held there weapons at the ready like the Mark IV guy when under assault, they wouldn’t have to degrade themselves by driving exempt commercial vehicles to try to feel some connection to their country’s culture.
Since when is the personal luxury vehicle a key part of American culture? It started with the 1958 T-Bird and was killed off less than 25 years later by increasingly tough CAFE standards. Commercial vehicles on the other hand, can trace back to the Conestoga wagons and covered farm wagons that led the western expansion of the country from the late 18th century to the close of the frontier 100 years later. The trail is picked up again by the use of trucks to transport troops during WWI that evolved into the pickups adopted by farmers and tradepeople who fed and housed the public. WWII brought the jeeps, Power-Wagons, and deuce and a half vehicles, and and post-war culture was influenced by woody station wagons from the 1930s and 40s that became part of American lore and song during the surf era of the 1950s and 60s. Commercial vehicles are way more American than apple pie and baseball, and certainly have a greater influence on culture than a 225 inch long Lincoln coupe.
If you want to lament the death of the American personal luxury land yachts of the 1950s to early 80s, you need to blame Washington for implementing CAFE that exempted trucks and SUVs, and therefore made “commercial vehicles” the only way that American car buyers could get the size and power they liked at a price they could afford, which is why the F-150 has been the best selling vehicle in America for 40 years. CAFE also exposed the dirty secret of Detroit, which profitably differentiated its luxury brands on the basis of bigger size and bigger motors versus their cheaper brands, rather than superior technology, materials, and workmanship. When CAFE forced cars to be down-sized, the primary differentiating reason to buy a Cadillac or Lincoln also disappeared. Interestingly, however, the brands continue to survive only because of the profits derived by truck based models that are little more than tarted up Chevrolets and Fords – just like the old days.
The PLC is designed by Americans to allow a man to suffer the long commute from his suburb house to his already long hour city job. An ever longer drive made necessary by the new diversity in the city itself, with only room for the rich and poor. So the advancements are in climate control, noise control, and stereo/infotainment. The diversity told him the world was spinning off track, but the PLC allowed a little more cocooning to tell the owner he will be okay. This was not yet going on in Europe. Japan tried to copy with some of their bigger 70s hardtops but were so laughably bad they kept them mostly for Japan. Austalia tried a few, remember the Chysler by Chrysler and the Leyland P76 Force 7V but that market was so small.
I do blame the government but not for safety or emission standards. I like safety and don’t like smog. I can even put up with CAFE because these cars were wasteful so why not have to pay a gas guzzler tax to recompense the country for having to import extra fuel. The problem with the government was allowing the Japanese to come in with their preditory rip off machines and feminizing by decree the workforce making the PLC driving man superfluous and of course they were so much more receptive to the smaller imports that the sisters were doing for themselves. Yuk!
France, Italy, and Germany still have a auto industry because they limited the onslaught from their Japanese friends. Britain and the USA do not except for commercial vehicles and niche machines.
The car magazines cheer leaded all this, It still continues. Notice how they gush for the Kia Telluride, a 3 row front drive CUV of a type they allegedly hate. Is their love from bringing over the long established tradition of taking big Korean families offroad. No it is just another rip off machine, now coming for our commercial vehicles. The Kia ad slogan is “Give it Everything”. How about just the middle finger this time.
When you play the race card Meghan Markle style, you are saying more about yourself than me. Civics textbooks in the South were not written by the KKK they were written by the same fools who wrote yours. The ones that said there is nothing to stand up for in this country because of the evils of the white, Christian man. Well obviously I disagree. Where did I say that the black man of the farmer can’t buy a Mark IV. The man in the ad with the bow and arrow is pointing at you for demanding he drive a 450 SLC, not me or the black man or the farmer.
Since Stingray deleted, (didn’t know you could do that) what I am responding to above, could you delete my response to it Jack? Alone it sounds like a non sequitur,
I didn’t delete, but someone or something deleted 3 of my posts and at least one that I responded to. Since I didn’t think any of deleted comments were politically incorrect or nasty I don’t know what the basis for the deletions could be beyond some glitch in the system perhaps.
Stingray, John, as Jack has pointed out between the lines in many of his writtings, the Escalade or Navigator of 2020 is the Fleetwood of 1976 or Town Car of 1978, The Denali of 2020 is the Buick Electria 225 of seventies, The Yukon is is the Olds 98 of the seventies, and the Surbuban is the Impala of the seventies. American drivers outside the Wuhan Virus City in the east and the whole left coast typically need a full size vehicle with body on frame. When the Big two and a half stopped giving the American driver what they wanted in a car they looked to the next best thing, which just happpened to be a truck based vehicle. Simple as that. Remember the 1980-1992 RWD Fleetwood, it was in production for 12 years with no major changes because customers keep buying them, to the suprise of the motoring press. At the same time, sales of GMC/Chevy Surburbans took off which up until the late 1970’s had been the vehicle of choice for Department of Highway crews and were unit the 1980’s still called “carry alls”. There was no Denali, or LTZ, or even LT version. They were work trucks with rubber mats for carpet, and vinyl bench seats. But they were full size body on frame with a choice of V-8’s and the seminal TH-400 three speed automatic, and had AC that worked. And up until approximately 1992 you could still get one that way, it was called a Cheyenne…..
The moral of the story here is that if gas was to remain 79 cents a gallon, and the Big two and half were not hit for note meeting CAFE, and parking spots were still laid out like they were 40 years ago, and the pace of the construction of roads – updating of highways had maintained the pace that occured between 1958-1980, we would be all (except for the motoring press and the 400sf apartment bound subway riders in WVC and the Left Coast) would be driving full size cars and those with a need would have a pickup or surburban as a third vehicle. IMHO…
Best and be careful out there…
Imagining the ad picture with the bow and arrow guy standing next to a Navigator reframes the whole thing into some sad cosplay of some fool pretending he still has testosterone. Imagining myself in a Navigator does the same.
I have a hard time imagining anyone today daring to take a large rear-wheel drive car out into a field to shoot some arrows. First, isn’t hunting politically incorrect, and second don’t you need high ground clearance, AWD, and six off-road driving modes to leave a paved road safely?
Part of the reason why I drive a 97 Town Car is the huge trunk! It holds my long rifles and ammo with ease and all out of sight! The car rides high (for a sedan) and I’ve never had any issue bumping around to the outdoor range. When I say long rifle, I mean 1898 Krag which is 48″ long and Schmidt–Rubin Model 1911 rifle which is 51″ long.
My comment was sarcasm based on the wimpification of the US as evidenced by the extended lock-down for WuFlu. I’ve driven 2 wheel drive cars and trucks far off-road and through deep snow and ice with no problems, but the wimps of today seem to think they need AWD to go to the grocery store during light rain. Your rifle collection sounds very interesting, particularly because they date from the time when men were men and women were grateful for it.
You can postulate any number of reasons for the decline and extinction of the PLC (some more likely than others!), but think of almost every technically advanced product introduced in the 20th century. Radios, TVs, refrigerators, all started out or grew into “status” items, radio/TV cabinets, refrigerators by name designers. Then as they became more ubiquitous, they morphed into more practical designs, undistinguishable from one another. Thus the car, more appliance like all the time, quantum leaps in reliability and efficiency, it was inevitable that a more efficient design format (boxy, upright) would become the norm.
For those of us who retain the romance of the car, it’s sad. For the millions who just want to get there (or just watch the TV or get a cold beer), function makes the form of the PLC a non-starter. Sad but true.
Interesting theory Glenn, but I am not sure I agree. I think you could argue that most cars from the 1930s to mid-50s were very practical and often fairly undistinguishable from each other by the average man on the street. By the mid-30s the boxy sedan that dominated sales had good utility for carrying 5 to 7 passengers reliably over long distances at the speeds that were allowed by speed limits and road conditions of the time. Similarly, a 49 Ford or 54 Chevy were boxy sedans and wagons that had good utility and more than adequate performance and comfort for their time. 1953 was the birth year for the mainstream specialty cars with some flash such as the Corvette, Studebaker Loewy Coupe, and Cadillac Eldorado and Buick Skylark, and in 1955 the T-bird, but it wasn’t until about 1957 when you started to get the seriously longer, lower, wider styling (and mass additions of chrome trim and tailfins) that greatly expanded the physical size and power and generally reduced the utility of most mainstream cars. Throughout the 1960s and 70s the number of specialty cars grew and mainstream models continued to grow in size and power (although chrome and tailfins were cleaned up), but the wider availability and improvements to options such as A/C, automatic gearboxes, and cruise control and rudimentary safety devices, it would be hard to argue that a 1971 Impala offered as much utility as a 1955 BelAir in terms of space utilization or fuel economy. Thus in contrast to your theory, cars were moving away from utilitarianism.
As one of my deleted posts noted, the styling of the 1970s PLC was basically the first retro-styling craze as the long hood, landau roof and opera windows, and short deck mimicked the proportions of 1930s Packard 12s, Cadillac 16s, and Mercedes 540s. My hypothesis that the PLC retro-styling grew stale, particularly after CAFE induced downsizing that made the sweeping retro-styling look odd, and that CAFE exemptions for trucks encouraged the Urban Cowboy fad that has yet to be displaced. While I’m sure a lot of CUVs, SUVs, and crew-cab pickups are sold to people that simply want an appliance like vehicle, I suspect many also like the “tough”, “outdoorsy”, “go anywhere” image that they provide versus a mid-size sedan or wagon or compact hatchback, which is why they are popular and much more profitable than cars. In other words, I think modern sales mixes reflect a continuing desire on the part of many car buyers to make a statement and is therefore not simply a utilitarian purchase. It will be interesting to see if the rise of noiseless EVs and self-driving take the romance and image aspects away from cars – will people still want off-road capability or 180 mph top speeds when the robot driver won’t take the car above the posted speed limit or off-road?
I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head, at least from a macro perspective. I’d add that the “sporty” mystique of the coupe and even sedan body style is much diluted in an age where any rental fleet mommymobile can hit illegal speeds as rapidly as a Countach back in the day. Also, due to safety regulations (all front passengers must have airbags), a modern coupe is significantly less practical than a 70s PLC with bench seat and column shifter.
I was going to write a long winded reply about limited engineering resources, CAFE (vs. fuel taxes) requirements for lighter weight (e.g. cheaper) materials, inability to enter closed markets (scale making smaller cars profitable). Oh yeah, point out the laughable talk of US labor costs while Germany (and all of western Europe, along with Korea) have the most militant and politically powerful labor unions…Meanwhile Japan has bloated social constructs that keep anyone employed who manages to show up. But before I could do that, someone started talking about “southern textbooks” and the KKK, so my mind said “Hell with this, I’m not going down a rat hole.”
However, Glenn nails the coffin shut. Society’s place for cars with personality shrinks everyday. Once the Chrysler L cars are gone, so goes anything of traditional-testosterone mass appeal, at least on the “car” side of things. Trucks will soldier on a bit longer.
As he most accurately stated, so many products that were once infused with personality are now commodities. Cars were the largest personality statement (and the ones that everyone sees) so they took the longest to die out. But they weren’t the ONLY such products. Television sets came from a dozen different companies, each offering a dozen cabinets styles. Do you foresee anyone replacing their 50″ black rectangles for a cabinet of “select hardwoods” in an early-American style? Refrigerators and stoves came in 5 different colors, with chrome trim to rival their automotive counterparts (and in the case of Frigidaire and Philco, were actually styled by automotive stylists). For 20 years, you’ve had a choice of faux stainless or rental-property white.
We, who care enough for the calorie-burn of turning our heads to look at something are a dying breed. Yesterday, I walked up to an identical black minivan in a parking lot (just being playful with my wife). Much to MY surprise, there was a teenager inside, windows up, feet on dash, scrolling away on a phone. Never even saw me. I probably could have gotten inside. Let’s face it, and the plannedemic reinforces it, people are increasingly content to live inside the matrix.
stingray and snortax,
Good points, but look at it as a bell shaped curve. First the straining to create a base level of functionality, then the explosion of design over the base level tech as the item is accepted, then the acceptance of the item as a tool and functional design standardization. Snortax makes the point that today’s performance equals exotics from 20 years ago, not to mention the quantum leap in reliability.
The car being mobile will have more variance, but the vehicle as a tool is now pretty much universal (outside of groups like us, when’s the last time you saw a “Chevy man”?) and the form is becoming more functional, less emotional.
Glenn – you and snortax are absolutely correct that performance of attainable and popular vehicles of today can match or beat the performance of exotic cars from just a few years ago, while also being able to carry 5-6 people, get 25+ mpg, and run flawlessly for 150-250K miles. Yet this fact also points to a desire among much of the public to have more than simple utilitarian transportation, because otherwise why wouldn’t we all be driving around in something slow, cheap, and practical such as Prius, Civic, or Caravan? I seem to remember a story in Car and Driver some years ago telling of some research that calculated that if then new cars did the same 0-60 time as cars from late 1970s, that they would be getting considerably higher EPA fuel ratings (because they would need far smaller engines and weigh less), but that most buyers preferred to tradeoff fuel economy potential for better performance and more size and comfort. So I think we are still some ways from appliance cars for large portions of the market.
People still want powerful cars (although that will probably change if/when self-driving tech becomes the norm). What I’m saying is consumers no longer think of coupes as being more powerful or faster than other body styles (e.g. midsize crossover), because 1) they really aren’t anymore and 2) that midsize crossover will hit 100mph faster than you can read this comment, so we’re getting into diminishing returns territory.
Interesting point, although if you go back to the PLC era – they may have looked sportier than the mid-size sedan they were based on, but they were not actually any faster or better handling in reality, during an era when nothing was particularly fast (i.e Corvettes with 160 HP motors and 8.5 0-60). But there are new cues besides styling to indicate real or potential speed such as brand. The PLC equivalent in the CUV market of today would be a premium brand offering – so someone wanting the image of speed would buy a BMW X3 3.0 instead of a RAV4 for the speedy image or an X3 M40 for image and actual serious power and speed. I think this explain the rapid growth of luxury and near luxury brands, because rather than buy a fancy version of a mass-market brand (such as a PLC) today’s consumer just skips to the fancy brand instead to convey success, speed, and good taste.
snortax and stingray,
I think that, given the current compression of performance differences between normal and fast (say 0-60 in 8.5 is “slow” and 4.0 is “fast”) coupled with the fact that “slow” is more than adequate for everyday performance, there will be a diminishing number of people who care. Not that this will go away completely, but the emphasis will be technology as a differentiator, style will move inside, with hand stitched, soft materials. Look at four door coupes, crossovers, etc. The exterior form is becoming more homogenized, the functional differences between mid price and luxury are smaller than ever. Look at road tests now as compared to 20-30 years ago. The issues then were things that broke, things that didn’t fit, bad performance/mileage and indifferent build quality. Now, the differentiators are the shift quality of the 10 speed automatic, the sound of the engine noise artificially piped into the passenger compartment, the seamless transition of the cylinder deactivation and the disappointment of only 30 MPG from the 7 second 0-60 full size SUV. Like I said earlier, once a technology is close to mature, it becomes a commodity and style and performance become based more on functionality. When’s the last time you based a TV purchase on the look of the box? I doubt that we’ll ever see the 6′ hood of my Mark III again!