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The Best Cars From The '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s

hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,167
edited September 2011 in General
Considering prices and positioning in the marketplace, which three cars or brands excelled, in your opinion?

My choices for the '50s would be Chevrolet, VW Beetle and Chrysler.

For the '60s Ford (Falcon, Fairlane and Mustang were strong entries in new segments, and the '55-'58 Galaxies and LTDs competed well with Chevy and Mopar), Pontiac (affordable performance) and Lincoln (beginning with the '61, it featured elegant design over glitz).

For the '70s, Toyota, Nissan and Honda were the most significant new entries, squeezing the domestics and VW. The Japanese demonstrated that quality and reliability didn't have to be sacrificed for price in economy cars. It was a new business model, or, maybe, one that the automotive world had forgotten. GM deserves credit for their excellent downsized '77 and '78 models, but I'd still give the trophy to the Japanese for this decade.

In the '80s, BMW and Mercedes as the new standards of the luxury market. In the mid-priced field, Volvo made strong inroads with safety features. Chrysler Corp. deserves credit for reinventing the minivan, but important as this was, if forced to choose I think that the dethroning of Cadillac and Lincoln were more significant events.

For the decade of the '90s, Acura (introduced in the '80s), Lexus and, to a lesser degree, Infiniti, took the wind out of the European luxury brands, by excelling in quality, reliabiliy and value. They also delivered a hard punch to Detroit's most profitable models.


  • omarmanomarman Posts: 693
    50s: 1. Cadillac 2. Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa 3. 1959 Austin Mini
    The standard of the world, the ultimate red head and icon of style, baby.

    60s: 1. GM 2. Jaguar E-type 3. Ford GT40 MkII 4. Honorable mention to Chrysler. Thanks for the Hemis.
    In the market place the General was in command, so much so that the feds were dragging them off to court with anti-trust actions. We should have such worries today. Jaguar E-type. Ultimate love gun in movies, myth and real life? Shag-uar...In racing, Ford beat Ferrari in the 24 Hours of Le Mans when no other domestic could. But racing at home on the drag strip? Mopar put everything else on the trailer.

    '70s: 1. GM 2.Mercedes 3. A distant blip on the radar called Japan.
    Detroit would never find itself building so many cars in the face of so much competition again. But again, it was mostly the GM Show in the market place. GM stuff from that era is still collectible and a few are considered "classic." Early 70s big block muscle cars and Vettes, etc. still bring heavy hammer prices. Even a '74 Trans Am SD455 will draw crazy bids. Later bandit Trans Ams get minor-collectible attention. And Chevy will never sell as many Corvettes as they did in the late 70s.
    The mother of all 70s imports was Mercedes Benz. Priced for the affluent and positioned in the coveted market once seen as Cadillac's gated community, Mercedes showed the Japanese that they had much to learn about taking it to the house.
    Japanese imports from that era were reinventing themselves as they went along and in later decades became bigger, better and more like the nameplates we recognize today. Toyota stretched and reinvented products and market positions better than others. People collect FJ40s and mock the Celica Supras (with plastic hubcaps) from the same 70s era.

    80s: 1. The domestic SUV. 2. Voluntary restraint widgets from Japan imported in staggering numbers regardless. 3. Honorable mention Honda.
    Aside from healthy German brands in the 80s, I remember when Detroit began swallowing up all manner of sick, aging, cash-poor euro marques for reasons I never fully understood. And then the news was official: Japan Inc was a world-beater at entry level, family sedans, and positioned to crack into the luxury market. Domestic news? GM wanted to build Saab, Ford wanted to build Jaguar, and Chrysler want to build Lamborghini...WTF?! Where in the name of William Crapo Durant did Detroit get this kind of cash to burn anyway? The SUV affliction had begun...Honda starts building Accords in Marysville, Ohio.

    90s: Japan.
    If you are what you eat, then...Turns out that rebuilding old, euro luxury marques is not fun and unprofitable at the same time. The era of voluntary restraints was over and "all your (market) base are belonging to us." German brands reformulated their "Old World" image to reflect a "New Order" of hip hop influence. It wasn't and still isn't pretty. But Germans did become very adept at packaging their products in attractive leasing terms. Japan became shockingly accurate in hitting more price/product tiers with bull's eyes. pwnage.
  • fintailfintail Posts: 33,506
    50s and 60s - GM led in so many ways. The others had some cool products too, but GM did very little wrong for an insanely long time.

    70s Europe slowly enters the luxo class, but GM retains the lead, albeit slipping away, for reliability the Japanese make themselves known.

    Best car of the 80s - MB W126. It enabled Lexus to exist. In drier climates, the Japanese start owning the mass market.

    90s Toyota took over, but lost their soul at the same time.
  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,167
    Good choices!

    I put Chrysler in the '50s because the first generation hemi was introduced in '51, and by '53 it was used in Chrysler, Imperial, DeSoto and Dodge. Chryslers were also the first to offer power steering. Then there was torsion bar suspensions and push-button automatic transmission controls. As for styling, all Chrysler Corp. cars featured new, advanced styling for '55. Finally, dramatic, all-new styling was introduced for the '57 model year, and Torque-Flyte was also introduced that year. The styling was so striking that it stole the leadership from GM, and prompted GM, mainly, to rush to restyle its cars.

    I think all those reasons trump the introduction of Chrysler's second generation hemi, in the '60s, mighty as it was.

    I agree with you regarding the Mini. It set the standard for configuration efficiency that still stands.
  • wevkwevk Posts: 178
    For the 70s I would add a Datsun 240Z. A stunning demonstration that Japan could produce something besides a cheap tin can.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,404
    Boy that 240Z certainly took a wrong turn real fast. From the poor man's Jaguar XK it became a parody of an Avanti II automatic in a couple of years.

    I'd have to throw in the original Datsun 510 as a remarkable car. It is STILL out there on the race tracks, competing in SCCA, so that tells you something.


  • lemmerlemmer Posts: 2,676
    I had an old Z. I really liked it. It was still a cheap tin cap, but it was reliable, decent looking and fun to drive.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,404
    yeah, Japanese cars of those days were none too sturdily built. But the mechanicals were great. Just keep replacing the body! :P


  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,167
    edited September 2011
    "... that 240Z certainly took a wrong turn real fast."

    Yes and no. I know what you're saying, and even agree with you, but there's another side to the Z story. Here's my take on it:

    The Z began going soft and straying from its original roots with the 280s (the 260s didn't run well). However, sales of the third generation, the ZX300 ('84-'89), were the highest ever attained for Datsun/Nissan Zs. While it was no longer true to the spirit of the 240, since it was softened and transformed into more of a cruiser, it was a good cruiser. Comfortable, reliable, well constructed. I've got a '88 2+2 with 190,000 miles that runs great. It'll never be worth more than old car value, even though it's been well maintained, but it's been a low maintenance, nice driver. Kind of like a Japanese 4-passenger Thunderbird. And like the 'Birds, the '55-'57s are the most desireable collectibles, but the '58 and later 4-passengers outsold the 2-seaters by huge margins.

    The all-new '90 300Z was a terrific car for its day. I think it was an attempt to return to the original, sporty roots of the original 240, except that it was no longer low priced.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,404
    Okay, not a "wrong" turn, but a predictably compromising one. Lots of the most mediocre cars in the world sold in big numbers.


  • omarmanomarman Posts: 693
    I really liked the '90 300Z and so did Car & Driver. With all the 510 and Z car memories going on, does anyone know what became of Yutaka Katayama?
  • andys120andys120 Loudon NHPosts: 16,593
    The Fifties- Dominated by Detroit's big iron which in 1950 were thought to be the best cars in the world

    -Cadillac 1949-56, after '56 like many cars they became parodies of themselves.
    -Corvette C1 1955-61, a strong success in arcing and a moderate one in the market.
    -Chevrolet 1955-57, hugely influential particularly for the small block V8
    -Volkswagen Beetle, the basis of the Porsche and Corvair lines and influenced an entire generation of rear-motored Euro cars.
    -Jaguar XK-120, another fabulous motor in a hugely successful sports car.
    -Austin/Morris Mini, the car that popularized small FWD sedans.
    -Mercedes-Benz 300SL, way ahead of it's time but not without it's quirks.

    The Sixties were heavily influenced by European designs even as the Euros were copying American styling themes.

    -Jaguar E-Type, fabulous performance and looks.
    -Corvette C2, the 'Vette comes of age
    -Ferrari 250GT/GTL/GT Lusso/GTE, another fabulous engine on road and track combined with superb styling
    -Ford Mustang, most successful introduction in history, spawned a generation of pony cars.
    -Pontiac GTO, similarly birthed a generation of muscle cars and muscle pony cars.
    --Porsche 911, need I say more.
    -Toyota Corona built the brand on the world's biggest car market
    -Datsun 510, something for everyone and outsold Toyota and Honda in it's day.

    The Seventies were heavily influenced by fuel shortages and produced only a handful of great cars.

    -Mercedes Benz S-Class (W109, W116) the cars that put Daimler-Benz at the top of the automobile pecking order for two decades.

    -Honda Civic CVCC, Honda Accord CVCC, Front-wheel drive comes to America in a big way

    -Porsche 911/930 Turbo, forced induction comes to stay.

    I'll comment on the 80s and 90s later.

    2000 BMW 528i, 2001 BMW 330CiC

  • lemmerlemmer Posts: 2,676
    I had a '74 260Z. It was already going downhill because of poorly engineered emissions equipment and huge bumpers.

    I also had a '95 300ZX, one of my favorite cars ever.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,593
    I have to disagree about 60's Chrysler products. I think GM had it all over them. Probably the worst things about Chryslers were the center plane brakes that never stopped well and were difficult to work on. They had weak front ends and handled horribly compared to other cars.

    To their credit, they built the best transmission in those years. a Torqueflight was hard to break. GM struggled with Roto Hydramatics, Turboglides, Dual Paths and other troublesome transmissions.

    The slant sixes and the small block V-8's were tough and strong.

    Poor workmanship was another sore point. Ford wasn't much better in that department in those years.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,593
    They only made 260's in 1974 and the shops despised them. The carburators and emission equipment made them very difficult to get running right.
  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,167
    "...a predictably compromising one."

    Well, yeah, I'd agree that Datsun/Nissan discontinued its hugely successful sports car and replaced it with a near-luxury coupe. In so doing, they sacrificed the value seeking driving enthusiast for a larger niche. This product change yielded higher sales.

    "Lots of the most mediocre cars in the world sold in big numbers."

    That's certainly true. The Renault Dauphine and Chevy Vega are two examples that come immediately to mind.
  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,167
    I believe Yutaka Katayama is 91 or 92 years old now.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,404
    those were actually *terrible* cars. Mediocre cars are harmless enough, perhaps even reliable...they excel at nothing however.


  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,167
    edited September 2011
    My ranking and comments regarding Chryslers related to the '50s. Here's what I said in my message #5:

    "I put Chrysler in the '50s because the first generation hemi was introduced in '51, and by '53 it was used in Chrysler, Imperial, DeSoto and Dodge. Chryslers were also the first to offer power steering. Then there was torsion bar suspensions and push-button automatic transmission controls. As for styling, all Chrysler Corp. cars featured new, advanced styling for '55. Finally, dramatic, all-new styling was introduced for the '57 model year, and Torque-Flyte was also introduced that year. The styling was so striking that it stole the leadership from GM, and prompted GM, mainly, to rush to restyle its cars."
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,848
    I've always heard that Mopars were some of the best handling big cars around, at least starting with the torsion bar "Forward-look" cars of 1957. Biggest problem with the braking system was that it was overly complicated. That "center-plane" braking, which Mopar marketed as "Total Contact" gave superior braking power, but also required the use of two brake cylinders per wheel up front, and went out of adjustment pretty easily. And the back brake drums were pressed on, so to pull them off you needed a special wheel puller. They wouldn't just slide off like the wheel does.

    Now, as the 50's wore on into the 60's, maybe GM and Ford improved their handling, but I was always under the impression that the torsion bar setup with leaf springs in the back made the Mopars good handling cars. The only thing it couldn't really do very well was give a good luxury car ride. So cars like the New Yorker and Imperial wouldn't give you that nice, cushy ride that a Lincoln, Caddy, Electra, etc could, and if they tried to hard to do it, they sacrificed handling too much, without a big enough gain in ride/cushiness.

    I had a '67 Chrysler Newport for a few months, and also had my '67 Catalina convertible back then. The Catalina was definitely a better riding, performing, and handling car. However, it had also had a lot of work done to it before I bought it, whereas the Newport was pretty original, and I think was still riding on bias-ply tires! So, not the fairest comparison in the world.
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