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OLD CARS -The truth .Owners tales.How they really were.

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  • grbeckgrbeck Posts: 2,361
    I'm curious, as someone who wasn't there to witness it firsthand...what were the major faults (and strengths) of the products of each of the four major automakers (GM, Ford, Chrysler and AMC) back in the 1960s?

    Were Chevys more durable than Fords and Plymouths, or did each have their own strengths and weaknesses?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,420
    My impressions back then, from my own wrench-turning, and family members "in the business" was like this:

    1. Style -- GM was King from 1960 to about 67, then Mopar. Ford had Mustang but not much else.

    2. Build Quality -- GM all the way. No contest. Of course, this was relative. All 60s American cars were sort of slammed together on an assembly line, some makes better than others but none had anything to brag about. What changed as you bought a more $$$ car was not the build quality, but the quality of the materials used. A Cadillac was a richer, chromier Chevrolet but had no better paint, door fit, etc.

    3. Engineering -- GM early in the 60s, Mopar thereafter

    4. Reliability -- GM overall but Mopar had, if primitive, still very rugged drivelines.

    5. Performance -- GM early on, the Mopar became king of the streets at least--so they had the performance "image" if not the stats.

    Ford was also ran in everything except the Mustang and without Shelby it wouldn't shine so brightly today.

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  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,851
    with at least with the old GM and Mopar cars I've had from the 1960's, is that the Mopars just seemed thicker and more solid somehow. I wonder if they used a thicker gauge sheetmetal or something?

    GM also started using more plastic in their cars sooner than Mopar did. Stuff like switchgear, buttons, knobs, etc. Even with dashboards, GM seemed to have crash padding that was integrated with the design of the dash, where Mopar would just put a strip across the top of the dash and, if you were lucky, also across the bottom.

    From a safety standpoint, a plastic pull-out knob for the headlights is probably better than a metal one, but it sure feels flimsy in comparison!

    Usually, Mopars also seemed bigger inside, car for car, than their GM counterparts, so I guess you literally got more car for your money. However, one exceptions I noted was a '67 Newport I had. It was a 2-door hardtop. It didn't seem any bigger inside than my '67 Catalina, which is a convertible! It was a lot more noticeable with smaller cars, though. Especially Mopar's midsized cars. But that could be because what Mopar's midsizers were originally born as ill-fated downsized big cars, whereas GM's intermediates started off as compacts and then "grew up". And I remember CR once saying that a '68 Dart they tested actually had more legroom, both front and rear, than a '68 Impala they tested! But then a Dart sedan was really boxy, whereas the Impala was pretty swoopy, so styling probably had a big influence there.
  • itochuitochu Posts: 107
    Oh yeah - another thing about the Camaro! It had the gauges on the console - and the oil pressure gauge was NOT electronic- it had a line to the engine and measured real pressure. Well, I was cleaning the car and removed the floor mat on the passenger side and the carpet was all wet - with oil! Seems the hole in the firewall for the oil tube was too small - every time you started the car and the pressure came up it would chafe on the firewall and developed a leak. Had to enlarge the hole, put in rubber grommet, new line to the gauge and replace the carpet!!!!

    I would have to say this about quality - I was a GM man. I would say overall they were the best made cars - Fischer body, solid cars with doors that "thunked". Yeah you could get a Monday or a Friday car - not good, and a pre-strike car - even worse! But all in all they were the best of the big three - IMHO. :) But you will get Ford fans and MOPAR fans arguing their case. GM engines were pretty bullet proof provided you did not abuse them, and they could be their own enemy. The TH400 Camaro 396/350 in drive would not shift into 2nd until about 6500 RPM - the engine red line was 5500!!! So when I saw the holes in the pistons? Valve float was the cause of the dropped valves. The Chrysler torqueflie was probably the best AT, the Chevy 12 bolt Posi or the Ford 9" the best rear ends. But none lasted like today's cars - the Chevy would need a fuel pump before 50K.

    I preferred coil springs to overall handling and ride comfort but for the drag strip the leafs were the way to go with traction bars. The argument will be eternal as to which was better. Your preference really. :D
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,851
    GM engines were pretty bullet proof provided you did not abuse them, and they could be their own enemy. The TH400 Camaro 396/350 in drive would not shift into 2nd until about 6500 RPM - the engine red line was 5500!!!

    I have a TH400 in my '67 Catalina. It doesn't have a tach, so I have no idea how high the rpms get, but if I really floor it, it'll hold first on up to about 55 mph, and then actually chirp the rear tire when going into second. I used to think that was some cool stuff, until I realized that if I floor it, my '79 NYer with its choked down 360-2bbl will also hold first to about 55 mph. With a few notable differences. First, it won't chirp the tires. Second, it takes a lot longer to get to 55! :blush:
  • itochuitochu Posts: 107
    I shudder when I think of what I used to do with my father's '61 Pontiac Catalina when he was not in the car and left it running - would floor it and rev it up while parked just to hear the engine. Now that I know how low a red line that old 389 had (5000) RPM!!?? :surprise: YIKES!!!! I am SURE I must have over revved it a few times!

    And bulletproof? Once when I was acclerating in a '65 Corvair Corsa with the 4 carbs the linkage stuck wide open at full throttle when I went to shift into 2nd - the tach pegged at 7K (redline 5500) before I could shut it off. Coasted to the side of the road - fiddled with the linkage and freed it up - looked under the car - no oil dripping or parts hanging out! Turned the key with some apprehension - started up and purred like a kitten! Then there was the story of the Z28 with the 302 engine - driver came into the pits with the engine limping a bit - it had a tell tale tach but someone forgot to tell him it had a 2-1 reduction ratio - he thought he had revved it to 6500 RPM . Wrong - 13000 RPM!! :surprise: The only damage? A bent connecting rod!
  • grbeckgrbeck Posts: 2,361
    Thank you for the feedback...but you say that, "A Cadillac was a richer, chromier Chevrolet but had no better paint, door fit, etc."

    There have been quite a few all-original GM cars at various Hershey and Carlisle events, and the Cadillacs, particularly the Fleetwood models, seem to have better panel and trim fit, and better applied paint (probably not longer lasting paint, but it looks better, without major runs or other flaws).

    At least through the late 1960s...things really started to decline with Cadillac's 1971 models.
  • itochuitochu Posts: 107
    Of course one MAJOR distinguishing feature between GM and its competitors - Ford and Chrysler? EACH division was an independent entity - the cars each had their own line of engines - there were no "corporate" engines like with Ford and Chrysler - nor any corporate transmissions. Chevy had the Powerfglide 2 speed and the other divisions various versions of the Hydramatic, the Buick dynaflow, etc.
    Our '61 Pontiac had a 3 speed hydramatic, but the Bonnevilles had 4 speed. I remember that '61 shifting from 1 st to 2nd - you thought the tranny was dropping out of the car - talk about a rough shift! Ford had the Cruise -O-Matic and Chrysler the Torqueflite - 3 speeds each. The distinction among GM divisions lead to the divisional NASCAR battles between the 409/427 Chevies and the 421 Super Duty Pontiacs. I still remember Pontian dropping the 421 SD into a '63 Tempest with IRS and racing that thing! I think Mickey Thompson was the driver or Marvin "Pancho" Panch. What a hoot! Now those cars REALLY put the STOCK in National Asssociation for STOCK Car Auto Racing (NASCAR). You raced what you sold in the showroom, with some mods. But you wanted a hemi - you could buy one. A 427 Galaxie 4 speed? Yup. A 427 "porcupine head" Biscayne Chevy with solid lifters and 4 speed? Yup. Now in that sense, those WERE the good old days!
  • bumpybumpy Posts: 4,435
    The Z28 is about the only small-block that could get away with that, having a super-short (for a domestic V-8) 76 millimeter stroke.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,420
    Hard to say...no reason WHY the fit and finish should be any better. Same assembly techniques, same paint, same type of worker. Also many of those claimed "originals" really aren't, if you look closely. But the fabrics were better on Cadillacs....but better paint on a fully-optioned Impala than a base Cadillac?----I'm skeptical. On a Corvair, yeah, sure.

    Mopars had awful fit and finish. The overspray and sloppy undercoating is legendary--and actually DUPLICATED by restoration fanatics!!!

    But the Chrysler products were generally tough cars. You could beat the hell out of them, and I did, I did. :P

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  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,168
    The quality of all the big three brands was good through '54. In fact, in terms of materials, ruggedness, durability, comfort (ride and room) and convenience (automatic transmissions, A/C, power options), straight line acceleration, style and value, American cars had no equals in the world through the '50s and, with few exceptions, the '60s and part of the '70s. 'The European cars, by contrast, generally handled better, were more responsive and provided much better feedback, held the road better, had better brakes and manual transmissions, were more economical, and offered more variation in terms of drivetrains (rear engines, FWD, conventional front engine/RWD, front engine/rear mounted transmission, air cooled and liquid cooled engines). European cars generally had an edge in terms of workmanship, and fit and finish after 1954. They were also generally more fun to drive, except on the new interstates and long straightaways. Their engines were too small and their gearing was too low for our wide open spaces.

    In terms of the Japanese cars, there were so few of them imported in the '50s and '60s, and their quality was frequently so poor, that there's nothing to talk about until the '70s. Beginning in the '70s there's lots and lots to talk about, but we don't need to because we all know the reasons why the Japanese succeeded so well in North America.

    Regarding the Big Three, GM and Chrysler (Corp.) had the best quality through '54. Ford (Motor Co.) lagged by some measure. GM had style leadership, although Ford was a strong competitor on styling from '49-'54. Chrysler had very conservative styling through '54.

    Beginning In 1955 much changed. With a few exceptions, cars got bigger and bigger and heavier and heavier, and styling and color schemes became much bolder. Unfortunately, workmanship and build quality began to suffer big time, with GM deteriorating less than Ford, and Ford less than Chrysler. Chrysler's quality started to deteriorate rather dramatically after '54. All three offered styling innovation and excitement, new and larger engines that more than compensated for the size and weight gains, and more power options.
  • lemkolemko Posts: 15,120
    One of the things that led to Chrysler's deterioration in quality was their purchase of Briggs. Briggs bodies were so durable and rust resistant that you could see a 1950 Plymouth sitting in the woods for decades and the body would largely still be intact. On the other hand, a 1957 Plymouth body would be lucky to make it through two winters without showing significant rust.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,851
    One of the things that led to Chrysler's deterioration in quality was their purchase of Briggs. Briggs bodies were so durable and rust resistant that you could see a 1950 Plymouth sitting in the woods for decades and the body would largely still be intact. On the other hand, a 1957 Plymouth body would be lucky to make it through two winters without showing significant rust.

    That's been my experience, at least from the junkyard trips I've taken. There's a junkyard down south of Culpeper, VA, called Leon's, that's about 100 acres, been open since about 1963, and a lot of his cars have been in there since he opened! Last time I was down there was 1997. He did start crushing cars around 1994 when he ran on financial problems, but for awhile land was so cheap that if they ran out of space, they'd just buy up adjoining farmland!

    Anyway, as an example of how things changed for Mopar, there's a '51-52 DeSoto hardtop coupe next to a '58 Firedome hardtop coupe. The '51-52 still had a front tag that dated to 1962. I have no idea how long it had been in the junkyard, but judging from the trees growing up around it, easily decades. Plus, it was in a low area of the junkyard near a creek that tended to stay damp. Still, that car looked like it had plenty of salvageable sheetmetal, and if someone really wanted to restore it, it might even make a good shell. In contrast, the '58 parked next to it was collapsing upon itself as the rear quarter panels rusted and caved in. The front clip wasn't too bad as I recall, probably saved because the car still had its front tires on it, and the engine had been removed, so it was sitting high up front.

    All throughout that junkyard, there were 1949-54 Mopars that looked almost rust-free. Now, I'm sure they were rusted out underneath, where you couldn't easily see, from sitting around for decades, but on the surface they looked good. In contrast, the '55-56 models in that junkyard showed a decline. No worse than any Ford or GM product of the same vintage in that yard, but still not as tank-like as the '49-54 models. Now the '57-58 models were, by and large, like that '58 Firedome I mentioned above. Just about ready to return to Mother Earth.

    Oddly though, the '59 models seemed like they had held up better. I heard that Chrysler actually did improve the quality of the '58 models over the '57, and then the '59 models were improved even further. I don't know how much of an indication this is, but when I was in the National DeSoto club, I remember looking at the club roster, and as I recall there were as many '59 DeSotos in it as there were '57's. Very few '58's. As for total production, DeSoto built about 117K cars in 1957, 49K in 1958, and 46K in 1959. So either there's something about a '59 DeSoto that makes people lust after it more nowadays, or they really were built better enough that more of them survived than the much more popular-when-new 1957.

    Another thing I noticed that was a bit odd, was that there were a good number of unitized 1960-64 Mopars in that junkyard. For the most part, they looked like they had held up much better than the body-on-frame '57-59 models. So I'm wondering if that was an indication that Mopar really started getting their act together with the '60 models? I figured that being unitized, the rust would have gotten to them sooner, but perhaps the rustproofing measures they took really were better?
  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,168
    "Another thing I noticed that was a bit odd, was that there were a good number of unitized 1960-64 Mopars in that junkyard. For the most part, they looked like they had held up much better than the body-on-frame '57-59 models."

    Indeed, rust resistance did improve with the introduction of initized Mopars in the '60 model year, compared with the '57-'59s, and maybe compared to the '55-'56s, which were better than the '57-'59s, but still not as good as the pre-'55s. Now, I don't know whether or how much unit construction contributed to the improvement, but Chrysler realized that its assembly quality and rust resistence had slipped significantly, and that it was damaging its earlier well earned reputation for building solid, if not-too-exciting cars (kind of like Toyota today, maybe?). So the company made an effort to reverse this trend for '60, and I believe it included the message in its advertising that rust resistence had been improved.
  • grbeckgrbeck Posts: 2,361
    Until the late 1960s, Cadillacs were built in either the main Detroit plant, or the Fleetwood plant. Production lines were slower than in the Chevrolet plants, and the workers had longer tenure than workers at other plants, and were more likely to have worked exclusively at Cadillac. The production line for the 1967-68 Eldorado, for example, was noted as being the slowest in the industry at that time. This changed in the early 1970s, when GM began building Cadillacs in other plants.

    Carlisle and Hershey do feature many original Cadillacs...they were more likely to be bought by rich older people who took care of them and didn't drive them much. From what I've seen, through about 1970, there really is a difference in panel fit and paint application quality with Cadillacs as compared to less expensive American cars, particularly the Fleetwood models.

    Now, I don't think that Cadillacs had higher quality chrome or more durable paint, and I haven't been able to look at the "guts" of the cars. Everything just appears to be assembled with more care. I've never read anything that says a Cadillac of this vintage was more durable than a full-size Chevrolet or Oldsmobile.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,420
    It would be interesting woujldn't it, to do a side by side comparison of two original cars, one Chevy one Cadillac?

    I've been asked to appraise "original cars" and invariably 9 out of 10 aren't---wrong engines or obviously re-paints, new windshields, new upholstery, etc. Perfectly original cars are quite rare and often a bit shabby after 50 years.

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  • grbeckgrbeck Posts: 2,361
    The 1949 Ford had been rushed into production, because the company was facing bankruptcy and could not afford to wait for the new model. As a result, a lot of last-minute tweaks were not made, and quality, particulary body fit, suffered, although Ford did try to make improvements for each successive model year. The all-new 1952 models from Ford were a big improvement.

    With GM, it seemed as though Chevrolet really dropped off in quality after 1964. The 1965 full-size models had some issues, as did the all-new Corvair, particularly in regard to assembly quality and body rigidity.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,420
    yeah but 1949 saved Ford's butt nonetheless.

    I think Ford really started a downhill slide beginning in 1955. Heavy, rough-running, leaking, rattling---a '55 Chevy seemed years ahead in my young little mind.

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  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,420
    yeah but 1949 saved Ford's butt nonetheless.

    I think Ford really started a downhill slide beginning in 1955. Heavy, rough-running, leaking, rattling---a '55 Chevy seemed years ahead in my young little mind as it viewed these cars some ten years later.

    I remember thinking that Ford was in the past and Chevy was headed toward the future.

    In the 60s, the only Ford I remember being remotely popular with young kids was the '57 model. Everybody wanted a Chevy or a Pontiac. Oldsmobile was still an older person's car, Buicks were for doctors or real estate moguls. Chevy spoke to youth and to adventure and well, that small block V8 was a great engine.

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  • grbeckgrbeck Posts: 2,361
    Ironically, the 1957 Ford had serious quality control issues, although the cars looked sleek and youthful.

    Prior to the advent of the small-block V8, Ford had the youth market with the flathead V-8, but then with one stroke, Chevy stole the hearts and minds of young hot-rodders everywhere. Ford did have the station wagon market with the Country Sedan and the Country Squire, which spread to the rest of the line and gave its vehicles a more "family" car image. They were what your parents drove.

    Pontiacs always seemed a bit more upscale to me. When I was a kid, one of the first relatives to graduate from college and get a decent job drove a 1964 Grand Prix...which still seems appropriate, even though it was a few years old by the time I first saw it. It had a younthful air, but somehow was more sophisticated than a Chevrolet Impala SS.
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