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The Grand Guide to Realistic American Cars


#1

What makes for a realistic car in [some year]?


A question many of us end up asking, even the most experienced among us. But whereas the most experienced among us might be caught up in some minor details, the inexperienced or uninformed among us might not even get the broad strokes correct.

And that’s fine!

We all have to start somewhere and at some point even all of us “experienced folk” were once dodos too who though that DOHC 4-valve might be appropriate in the 1940s. Yeah in a 1940s fighter aircraft sure. But not in cars :smile:.

The point here is that if you have to ask, you’re (still) just learning and a lot of Automation regulars are here to help; ask away!

Anyways, that is why I am writing this. This is a guide on the how to make car that is realistic and technologically appropriate for an era, more specifically for American cars. That is because I am an American who knows American cars best. Some of what will be said here is applicable to the cars of other nationalities as well, but not all. So before you skewer me on how “herrrr durrrr, [insert non-American manufacturer here] was doing [x] in [year] what you just said is horsecrap,” remember that this is about American cars and the American market.

Before We Start:


Lets get a few things straight:

  1. Automation IS NOT reality!
  2. This is a REALISM guide, not an Automation guide.
  3. I am knowledgeable, but not an expert.

Lets take these one at a time.

Automation is NOT reality.

The universe that we build cars for in Automation is NOT tuned for realism; it is tuned for good and sensible cars. The buyers of Gasmea, Fruinia, Hetvesia, Archana, and Delluha have their sensibilities about them and even in days of old prefer cars that have something resembling the things we care about in our cars today i.e. handling, amenities, fuel economy, and size absolutely matters. Any of you who have a 1960s car that scores in excess of 100 in a Family category and who also exported and drove that car in BeamNG might be now scratching your heads going “This thing handles like a 2000s Toyota Corolla”. Which I mean, that isn’t great by modern standards but for a 1960s car that would be freaking fantastic!

What is historically accurate does not necessarily make for good cars in Automation and whats good in Automation is not necessarily historically accurate. As you get into the 1990s, this discrepancy narrows a lot but it can still be a problem.

This is a realism guide, not an Automation guide.

What I am attempting to do here is to guide you through making cars that are realistic for an era and not guide you through making cars that will score well by Automation standards in an era. Obviously, there are some things that will be said here that will be applicable to making good Automation cars as well as realistic ones, particularly as they apply to Engineering Time and Production Units / cost. There are certain things you just simply wouldn’t do in an era because it would be infeasible from an engineering standpoint and Automation will punish you for such boneheaded decisions. But going back to Point Number 1, there are also things that are completely feasible that Automation will expect you to do because not doing so would be just categorically bad design practice. I will cover that somewhat, but for guides on Automation-oriented technical design, please refer to the in-game tutorials and to Killrob’s videos.

I am knowledgeable, but not an expert.

I think this is pretty straightforward and needs no further explanation. If I get something wrong or omitted something important, go ahead and correct / add on to what I say.

Index


The Fighting 40s
The Swinging 60s


Useful threads
#2

The Swinging '60s


I am going to start with an era that is beloved to most Americans and one of the most misunderstood when it comes to Automation. Because Automation ABHORS many realistic 1960s American designs. And you know something?

Automation is at least justified in its hate of 1960s American designs, from a technological standpoint.

And that “technical” thing is important because I don’t think anyone in their right mind could hate 1960s American styling. I mean really; who could hate this?


(This is my other car, by the way. A 1967 Pontiac Bonneville)

But technically speaking, our cars of that era were behind the curve of what much of the rest of the world had. There are reasons for this, some good and some bad, (context is king here; understand that that good or bad is an awfully polar way to describe a complicated issue) but fact is they are NOT the god machines we often revere as. And yeah, you can hate me for saying that but suck it fellow Yanks. We’re not the best; try to argue it. And in the opinion of this author, Europe and Japan had it right.

Okay, lets take this one step at a time through the tabs of the Automation designer:

Platform and Chassis:


This right here is pretty typical of what you would see in an American car of the 1960s. Steel panels, steel body, steel frame. Galvanized or stainless steel frames might have been used on some utility vehicles but don’t quote me on that.

Panel Materials:

Steel was by and large the most common thing for in fact any car of any nationality of the 1960s to have its body work constructed from. This should be your default unless you have a really good, justified reason for it not to be.

Some exceptions. High-end American sports cars and cargo vans would sometimes forgo ye ol’ steel in favor of much lighter materials:

  • The Shelby Cobra had aluminum body work.
  • The Chevrolet Corvette had fiberglass body work.
  • Cargo vans often used aluminum paneling

Wait… cargo vans?

Yes actually. They are actually one major class exception here that will justify aluminum body work. Because while formed aluminum is expensive and difficult to work, riveted sheet aluminum is dirt cheap. And light. So it was actually quite common for box trucks and panel vans of the era to use aluminum body work because sheet aluminum was inexpensive and the weight saved was weight you could use for cargo. And it saved on gas which commercial buyers sorta did care about.

The takeway: Unless you are building a top-notch American sports car or delivery van, stick to steel.

Chassis Type:

This right here is pretty much THE NUMBER 1 REASON that Automation hates Murican 60s cars so much. We Yanks used these things called “ladder frames” in whats known as “body-on-frame” construction where the whole body of the car can be removed from its drive train and chassis with the removal of only a couple bolts. Its very heavy; its does not lend itself to safe design; and it allows for lots of body torsion meaning bad handling.

On the other hand, it is very simple to engineer and makes for much easier repairs of chassis damage. This is why the Ford Crown Victoria is such an exalted taxi and police car; refurbishing them after collisions is much much easier than with monocoque aka unibody construction, where the body is designed to be its own support with only a minimal frame then welded on. European and Japanese manufacturers were transitioning into unibody construction in the 1960s (if they hadn’t already >.> Citroen) while the US held onto body-on-frame for most of its vehicles into the early 1980s.

Now, a slight redaction here:

1960s cars from ANYWHERE were steel death boxes. So the extra “safety” delivered by unibody construction is, well, questionable in the early years? and probably moot. And early unibody cars sometimes had no perimeter frame whatsoever which means they were less stiff than body-on-frame cars. The point is that I personally think Automation places too large a penalty on body-on-frame construction in the 1960s which may have been arguably superior. But nonetheless, it is inferior past the 1960s and this is why Automation hates your car. Just an FYI.

Ladder chassis should be your go-to for a realistic 1960s American car, especially if it is a truck / van / offroader.

Some exceptions, mostly smaller cars. Some examples of cars that did use unibody construction:

  • GM Y-bodies (1959 - 1963):
    • Chevrolet Corvair
    • Oldsmobile F85
    • Pontiac Tempest
    • Buick Skylark
  • Ford Falcon
  • Ford Mustang
  • 1960 onwards Chrysler C-bodies
    • Chrysler New Yorker
    • Chrysler Town and Country
    • Chrysler Newport
    • Dodge Monaco
    • Dodge Polara
    • Plymouth Fury

You could make a fair justification for unibody construction but it just wasn’t that common.

Chassis Material:

Steel. Not much else to say. As I said before, some trucks and utility vehciles might have used galvanized or stainless steel but I am not to be quoted on that. The main reason you would use either of those is to prevent corrosion and improve vehicle longevity.

Engine Placement:

Front longitudinal, meaning the engine points straight backwards. Almost without exception. The Chevrolet Corvair had a rear longitudinal engine but that is about it.

Mid engine? Not in any American production car at least but for limited production / concepts it might be appropriate. For instance, the Ford Mustang I concept car was mid engined as was the Ford GT40 race car that won at the 24 Hour Le Mans in 1966.

Transverse? Again, not for production vehicles. The first American cars with a transverse engine didn’t show up until the late 1970s. I am actually not sure if any American concept or race car featured say, a transverse mid engine but I would be skeptical since the transverse mid engine was an innovation of the Lamborghini Miura, debuting in 1966.

Takeaway: Front longitudinal by default. Optionally mid longitudinal for concept / race cars.

Front Supension:

For passenger vehicles, i.e. sedans, sports cars, and station wagons, the days of dependent front suspensions were dead. American passenger cars of the 1960s had independent front suspensions using double wishbones. Yes even the unibody cars like the Ford Falcon. MacPherson strut doesn’t come on the scene until the 1970s.

For utility and offroad vehicles, like trucks, vans, and Jeeps, solid axles were still very common for the front and either solid axle leaf or solid axle coil would be appropriate choices. As a note, solid axle leaf gives superior ride height and load capacity compared to coils in case you car about that :wink:. The typical linkage system used on coil spring suspensions generally makes it comfortable however.

Not to get too technical but the reason for this is basically because of better suspension isolation and articulation. Coil spring designs also use a trailing arm for forward-backward positioning whereas leaf spring designs use the springs themselves. This means that coil spring solid axle designs tend to be less jarring and do not suffer “wind-up” as badly under hard acceleration.

Rear Suspension:

Almost all American cars of the 1960s had solid axle rear suspensions, either coil or leaf spring. GM tended towards coil springs; Chrysler tended towards leaves but that is not so important. The point is they used solid axles.

Some exceptions.

  • High-end sports cars like again the Chevrolet Corvette and Shelby Cobra had independent rear suspensions, usually double wishbone.
  • The first-gen Pontiac Tempest had an independent rear suspension. Its an interesting design - not totally sure how to classify it :stuck_out_tongue:.

The Engines


Here are your engine options for a 1960s American car:

  • Straight 6
  • 90 degree V8 :crazy_face:

[end of list]

Okay, that’s not totally true :joy:. As always there are exceptions. But as a rule - straight-6 or V8. Because Murica!

Anyways, exceptions:

  • The 1st-gen Pontiac Tempest had a base straight-4. (Yes, the 1st gen tempest was an odd car by American standards)
  • The AMC Metropolitan also had a straight-4.
  • The Chevrolet Corvair had a boxer-6. All aluminum no less. Obamanotbadface.jpg
  • The Buick Skylark / Special had a 90 degree V6. This same engine was later sold to Kaiser and is found in Jeep CJ-5s
  • Many Jeeps and International Harvesters used straight-4s, specifically the Hurricane and Comanche straight-4s respectively.

But generally speaking, straight-6 or V8. And on American V8s, you ALWAYS use a crossplane crankshaft. That is what makes them so burbly and cool sounding.

Flatplane V8 cranks were seen on American race cars but as far as I know, crossplane V8 cranks are ubiquitous on production cars, the main reason being they make for a much smoother running engine.

Valvetrains:

Almost all American engines of the 1960s used cam-in-block overhead valves with two valves per cylinder. Yes Pontiac and Jeep did both make overhead cam straight-6s in the 1960s, but as far as exceptions go, that is pretty much it. OHV was still common around the world but OHC was beginning to have its heyday and this is another reason Automation hates 1960s American cars. OHV is simple and cheap but it doesn’t let engines rev or breath as well meaning lower efficiency engines.

Displacement:

And we made up for our valvetrain tech in displacement. Whereas the rest of the world considered 2.5L or about 150 cubic inches a larger engine, 2.5L was about as small as American engines got. More typically they would be between 3.0L and 4.5L (180 and 275 cid) for straight-6s and 4.0L and 8.0L (240 and 480 cid) for V8s.

Also, most American engines tended to use oversquare designs i.e. having a larger piston bore than stroke. Larger bore than stroke leads to smoother, higher revving engines, and allows for engines to be shorter which was crucial to 1960s American styling which needed low hood lines to achieve their desired look. Normally, the disparity between bore and stroke was only about 5-15 mm (1/5 to 3/5 of an inch) but some engines like the Ford 302 did have a much larger disparity of up to 25 mm (1 inch) with its 4.00 in bore and 3.00 inch stroke (101.6 x 76.2 mm).

Materials:

Cast iron is love. Cast iron is life.

Aluminum construction was seen in some early 1960s engines like the Buick 215 V8 (which later became the Rover V8 fyi) but the Buick 215 lasted only until 1963 at which point it was replaced by a conventional cast iron design. Even American sports cars used cast iron engines.

You might seen an aluminum head but aluminum blocks were rare.

Fuel Systems

STAY AWAY FROM THE FUEL INJECTION!

Carburetors were the law of the land. Now not literally of course, but fuel injection was basically just an experiment in the 1960s. Any road car would have a carburetor and it would be running rich. Because gas was cheap and richer mixture means more power!

Guidelines:

  • Two barrel as a default for any engine unless its a V8 with more than about 6.6L (400 cid) of displacement.
  • Single barrel for the basest of base straight-6s. Never on V8s though.
  • 4 barrel for mid to high trim engines.
  • 2x4 barrel or 3x2 barrel for top-tier performance engines.

This will pain a lot of you, but say goodbye to anything in the 14s or even high 13s for air-fuel ratio. Tuning guidelines:

  • 4 barrel performance tuned carbs will be pushing DEEP into 12:1 AFR territory. 12.5:1 is a sorta hot rodder optimal but I’ve heard of people pushing as rich as 11.8 in racing applications.
  • 2 barrel and 4-barrel economy carburetors will probably see AFRs somewhere between about 13.5 and 12.5 to one. Generally a 2 barrel should use a less aggressive AFR than a 4-barrel since it sacrifices more by having a rich fuel mixture than a 4 barrel does
  • Single barrel carburetors will somewhere around 13.5:1.

If you want the full explanation, see my follow up post on suspension and carb tuning.

Since its visible in this image, lets talk about redlines. You WILL have to quality spam your valvetrain to get some engines to rev as they would realistically. Even larger V8s of the era would redline at around 5000 RPM or even 6000 RPM with certain designs like in the Corvette. But you will find that with OHV, you’re only going to get about 4000 RPM before valve float starts happening.

That being said, American engines of the era were generally low revving. Chrysler slant-6s for instance redlined at like 4000 RPM. An American engine that revs over 5000 RPM in the 1960s would be an exception, not the rule.

An Expose on Power and Torque Ratings

Okay, you American gearheads who just bought this game, we have to talk about something. Sorry Not Sorry, but I have to to break this to you:

You’ve been lied to about 1960s American muscle.

What do I mean? Well…

This is the power torque graph of a recreation of a Pontiac 400 V8 that I made. Those of you who know your Pontiacs might be looking at those figures, doing some conversions and going:

WRONG!

Here is the thing about 1960s American horsepower and torque ratings. They were advertising stunts. Go look up SAE Net versus SAE Gross ratings on Wikipedia. In fact here, I’ll even give you the link:

SAE Gross Horespower

TL;DR - SAE Gross horsepower is a rating method where the engine is rated out of the car and with ALL peripherals removed, and I mean ALL. No alternator, water pump, power steering, air-con compressor, exhaust, not even a fucking air filter. SAE Net ratings however, starting use in 1972, rate engines as they would be installed in the car i.e. with all normal peripherals that SAE gross allows omission of.

So the fact that this Carter AFB, 10.2:1 compression, Pontiac 400 recreation only makes 270 hp when it was advertised at 325 hp is no problem to realism at all because guess which method of rating Automation simulates? Thats right! SAE Net

Drivetrain


This would be a typical American drivetrain. Almost all 1960s American cars were rear-wheel-drive with the only notable exceptions being the late 1960s Cadillac Eldorado and Oldsmobile Toronado, which were front-wheel-drive. Trucks, vans, and utility vehicles were usually also rear-wheel-drive but four-wheel-drive became common as an option or even a standard during this era for off-roaders and upper-trim trucks.

Transmission guidelines:

  • 3-speed manual:
    • Never on luxury cars
    • Base transmission for most other cars
  • 4-speed manual:
    • Never on luxury cars, except high performance models
    • Optional transmission for any size
    • Base transmission on high-end sports cars
  • 5-speed manual
    • As far ask I know, only ever used on race cars
  • 2-speed automatic
    • Optional on small and mid-size cars
    • Sometimes seen as an option on large cars of entry level brands like Chevrolet
  • 3-speed automatic
    • Base transmission on luxury cars
    • Optional transmission for any size car though uncommon on early 1960s compacts

American cars often have long gearing. The final drive gears (set by the Top Speed setting) are typically between 2.5 and 4.0:1 and gear spacing is usually tight. If you find yourself going above 70 on the Spacing setting, I would be skeptical.

Unless that is to say it is a truck or offroader, which normally did have much shorter gears for better towing and crawling.

Differentials:

  • Open diff as a default
  • Lockers were rarely default equipment. Normally an option or part of a towing package.

Wheels and Tires


First off: Radials were not common!

The first American road car to make radial tires standard was the 1970 Lincoln Mark III. Cross ply tires were favored for their inexpensive nature and comfort. Radial tires were an option on some higher-end makes, like the Lincoln Mark III, but in general, you should not be using radials on a 1960s American car.

This is in contrast to much of the rest of the world where radial tires started becoming common in the mid 1950s and another reason why faithful 1960s American designs are hated by Automation. Cross ply tires do not have good handling characteristics because they flex more and cannot be made low profile. Get used to 80 and 90 sidewall tires!

A for sizing, here are some guidelines for passenger cars:

  • Compact (wheelbase ~110 inches):
    • 165 - 185 mm wide
    • 13 inch wheels
  • Mid size (wheelbase ~115 inches):
    • 185 - 205 mm wide
    • 14 inch wheels
  • Full size (wheel base ~120 inches):
    • 205 - 225
    • 14 inch wheels
  • Limousine (wheel base 130+ inches):
    • 215+ mm wide
    • 15 inch wheels

Each class would likely have an option for a 1 inch larger diameter wheel. Wheels should be steel. High performance models might have mag or alloy wheels as an option.

Trucks and offroaders are a little bit different and might see wheel diameters as large as 18 inches. 15 or 16 would be a good starting place however. Still would use tall skinny tires though.

Tire compound is largely a matter of your choosing and what market you are targeting.

Brakes


The brakes on 1960s American cars were not good. Lets start there.

10 or 11 inch (250 - 275 mm) drum brakes were standard on all four wheels and usually also without a booster. Thats right. Manual shittastic brakes! Power brakes were often times still considered options as were disc brakes. And discs, although optional on many American cars starting in the mid 1960s, were usually only optional the front wheels. Some high-end performance cars did have 4-wheel disc brakes that but it was not common.

On the other hand, asbestos brake pads were also a thing and if you didn’t know, asbestos makes for a high risk of cancer a superb brake lining. Very good stopping force, so cars were able to stop but would still suffer horrible brake fade.

And by good force I mean probably can lock the rear wheels if you are trying but that’s about it. Old American steel doesn’t stop very well. Old cars in general don’t stop well.

Aerodynamics


Not much to say here. Just basically that 1960s American cars typically did not have aerodynamic improvements like undertrays, wings, spoilers, or brake vents unless they were race cars. Top trim levels might have a spoiler and more attention paid to aerodynamic design, sure, but almost nothing else.

Interior and Amenities


A couple of things to say here.

First of all, if you by the number of seat belts, many 1960s American cars are technically 4-seaters. Yes. The middle passenger did not have a seat belt. But we all know that is a ploy to allow the car to be classified as a 4-seater for safety regulations when really its a 6-seater because most American cars had bench seats.

That being said, small sportier makes like the Mustang or GTO did actually employ bucket seats in the front and were legitimately 4-seater cars since the rear bench would have recesses for the two passengers by the doors; the middle hump was not really intended as a seat. But it still could be.

So for realism, I would say set your car up as having either benches front and rear – 6-seater – or front bucket seats and rear bench – 5-seater.

Trucks were virtually always bench seats. Cargo vans might have bucket seats though since they would only seat a driver and a passenger and when forward control became a concept, the space usually occupied by a bench was instead occupied by an engine cover.

As for entertainment, radios were still a novelty in the early 1960s but transistor technology made it commonplace by the late 1960s.

A guideline for what to include in a car:

  • Entry level (Chevrolet, Ford, Plymouth equivalent): Radios not standard until the late 1960s. Optional on mid-size and large cars in the early 1960s. Optional on small cars in the mid 1960s onward.

    • Stick the Basic or Standard radio options
  • Premium (Dodge, Pontiac, Buick, Mercury, etc equivalent): Radios not standard until the mid 1960s. Generally optional on all makes though even in the early years.

    • Stick to Standard or Premium radio options
  • Luxury (Cadillac, Imperial, Lincoln equivalent): Radios standard even in the early years. The game doesn’t currently allow for this but 8-track players started becoming optional in luxury makes in the late 1960s.

    • Stick to Luxury options

Power steering
Manual steering was still common in the 1960s especially on small cars but power steering was, however, normally an option. Mid size and large cars usually had power steering by default starting circa 1963.

Suspension Tuning


image

American cars of the 1960s had sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooft suspension, typically between about 1.1 and 1.5 hz and often on the lower end of that range. The damping coefficients were similarly soft between like 0.2 and 0.3. Sports and race cars are a different story and will shoot for higher marks around 1.5 - 2.0 Hz, but for passenger cars, these are the targets to hit.

And old American cars bottom out easily – very easily – because of that soft suspension coupled with low ride heights because the lowrider motto of “Low n Slow” was embraced by Detroit stylists as well.

No. Seriously. My 1967 Pontiac – its almost 6 meters long but if you stand next to it and extend your arm horizontal, the roof is a full 15 cm below it. Low ‘n’ slow! There have been times I have gone over speed humps in it and got out to check the oil pan afterwards because I felt a thud and heard a bad noise

As for suspension options:

  • Is your name Citroen? No? Standard rate springs. Don’t use hydropneumatic. Yes some Cadillacs and Lincolns had air-ride suspensions but that isn’t the same as hydropneumatic which is a Citroen thing.

  • Progressive rate springs might be seen as an option on offroaders, trucks, and commercial vehicles. Also perhaps on a exclusive luxury makes.

  • Gas monotube dampers will become an option in the late 1960s - generally reserved for sportier makes

For the full explanation of progressive versus standard springs check out my follow up post.

And here is the big one:

You should strongly consider whether or not to include sway bars!

Many American cars did not have sway bars in the 1960s. AT ALL! And even when they did, they were generally only on the front suspension for two reasons:

  • Front sway bars help induce understeer and make the car more controllable
  • Sway bars essentially introduce dependent suspension behavior back into an independent design but most American cars still had solid rear axles, a dependent design. Sooo… nah. Don’t need it in the rear.

Starting in the late 1950s, high-end luxury cars as well as many standard full size cars (~120+ in wheelbase) started to include front sway bars to help mitigate excessive body roll in order to make for a more comfortable and controllable ride. Many small and midsize cars still omitted them as a cost cutting measure however, at very least on the base trims. The Corvair is one particularly infamous example of this where a standard front sway bar would have eliminated the handling problems of the pre-1963 models where it was optional.

Sports and muscle cars commonly did include a sway bar standard, often trumpeted as improving handling and ride quality, the former of which though is dubious claim given the still prolific use of crossply tires and the natural front-heaviness of many such cars.

By 1970, a front sway bar was usually standard equipment on most cars with the complete lack of sway bars disappearing during the early 1970s.

Even despite being rear wheel drive, American cars (apart from the Corvair :roll_eyes: :smirk:) will also understeer at their limits. This is true of almost all cars by the way, not just American ones. So make sure to have the car understeering.


WOOF!

That was a lot. Hope this helps answer some questions!


#3

Really appreciate you putting this together! 1960s American cars were truly one of a kind, thanks for shedding light on their history and design!

I’ve been reading about a few of the innovative American cars like the Tempest, Corvair, and Toronado. What do you think prevented them from succeeding, even if they were technically superior? Did people just not care about handling and braking distances at all?


#4

Superb guide!


#5

Its complicated but I think biggest reason was that immediately Post-War, US manufacturers were run by old men in suits if you know what I mean. They were still being run by the goliaths who founded them.

Stated another way, they didn’t put the same effort into their innovative designs as they did their conventional designs. Their innovative designs were begrudgingly made because “its what the kids want these days” and the quality suffered from underengineering and bean counting as a result.

The Corvair is a great example of this. The Corvair actually sold pretty well. Now, it was never quite Mustang or Falcon level success but Chevy was selling up to and even slightly exceeding 300,000 Corvairs a year… before 1966. What happened in 1966? Well, the public read Unsafe At Any Speed.

Chevrolet engineers knew about the Corvair’s terminal oversteer characteristics and insisted on installing a front sway bar to ameliorate this critical handling flaw. But management overrode them on grounds of cost cutting. In 1963, the front sway bar became standard equipment but the damage was done. At the time Ralph Nader wrote is book, most Corvairs on the road had a critical design flaw. Obviously, once you get a chapter of a book written about you, you’re never going to live that down and the Corvair didn’t. Even despite the completely revamped suspension design in 1965 which got rid of the swing axle rear and used a proper double U-joint half-axle – making it probably the best handling American family car – people saw it as an unsafe and undesirable car.

The Corvair’s fraternal twin, the 1st-gen Pontiac Tempest, was another great example of this but for slightly different reasons. In the late 1950s, Pontiacs were pensioner cars – something you’re grandmother would drive. So, Pontiac division head Bunky Knudsen and lead engineer John DeLorean (yes, THE John DeLorean), were trying to revitalize Pontiac. But because of Pontiac’s bad image and poor sales, they didn’t exactly have buckets of cash to play with even despite it being part of Big Daddy General Motors. Both valid design reasons and GM’s edict on large displacement engines in small cars posed a problem for powering the Tempest. Consquently, Knudsen and Delorean had to make an engine on the cheap and the result was a straight-4 which was LITERALLY a Pontiac 389 cid V8 with the left bank cut off. At 3.2L and with no balance shaft, the Pontiac Trophy 4 ran VERY rough and was a reliability hazard.

The other big reason is the economics of the era. Conventional designers are cheaper to make and therefore cheaper to buy. And American families were large in the 1950s and 1960s because soldiers on deployment were trading one kind of action for another if you know what I mean - 3 to 5 years of pent-up sex drive. So they got home and screwed like rabbits.

As a result, if you’re a large family in the 1960s, gas is cheap, your roads are good quality and weren’t bombed into rubble, and you live in a nation that is the size of most continents, why would you buy a small car? Get the big roomy car with soft suspension and a massive V8. Its not so much that consumers didn’t care about the things the innovative designs had so much as the other aspects of those designs weren’t quite correct.


#6

So if someone HAD executed an innovative car properly, do you think it could have been revolutionary? For instance, if Honda designed an Accord ten years earlier and made it more American-sized, would it have been just as game-changing as it was during the oil crisis?


#7

Thanks for this guide, it had some things that I didn’t know and I’m about to start building the lore of an American company.


#8

That was exactaly what I though when I’ve first drove my american sedan on beamng. Too controlable! Back to the drawing board! Thanks for the help!


#9

Early model Corvair’s had air cooled engines. In the heat of summer and in stop n’ go traffic, this caused some of them to overheat and warp the cylinder heads. Chevrolet would solve this issue but the damage had been done to their sales. Also, some customers, like my Aunt Mary-Ann had traded in a 1960 Biscayne for a 1966 Corvair and disliked the smaller truck space and less passenger space. When you have five nephews and nieces to haul around, passenger space is a must have. Her husband, my Uncle Tommy, loved the car because it was sporty with out actually being a sports car.

The early model Toronados were seen by some consummers (my Dad) as an experiment that would not last. Plus, at the time, ( 1966 - 1978) Oldsmobile had a reputation for producing luxury performance cars like the Delta 88 and Delta 98 or family cars like the Cutlass and the Toronado did not fit that bill. A front wheel drive luxury family car? But for 1966 (same model year as Oldsmobile), Cadillac reintroduced the Eldorado, this time with front wheel drive and since Cadillac was a symbol of being a “Made Man” and Cadillac had let Oldsmobile work out the kinks in the system, the Eldorado became a hit. And by the way, Toronados and Eldorados, they didn’t stop on a dime! By 1972, the Eldorado will have a 500ci engine under the hood because the car would weighed in at around 5,000 lbs and required some effort to get it rolling. The reason they handle better than other American cars of the time, they had almost all their weight over the drive wheels. Add in a long wheel base. The 1966 Toronado had a 119" wheel base, this made them very stable machines.


#10

I personally think the Y-Body Tempest was an interesting but flawed parts bin mess. Starting with the engines, a pointless and unrefined large displacement I4 when there was a well proven, smooth and reliable straight 6 available? The earliest version of the Buick 215 V8 which at the time wasn’t quite sorted yet? Rover eventually got the engine to work satisfactory but only after extensive redesigns that added considerable amounts of weight.
Rear Axle from the first gen Corvair, have you ever driven a car equipped with a swing axle? Regardless of engine placement (Mercedes too used swing axles exclusively from the 1930s to late 1960s) a swing axle in a softly sprung and damped classic car is a terrible idea due to massive camber changes in both directions during braking, cornering, bumps etc. that completely ruin any semblance of stability.


#11

Not going to start a shitstorm about anything, and you are correct about, well everything. Just a reminder though, there is no reason to glorify 60s european and definitely not japanese cars in general compared to american cars either. Sure, BMW, Jaguar and some other brands offered 4 wheel disc brakes, IRS, overhead camshafts etc. - but they are about as representative for the generic euro bread & butter car from the 60s as a Corvette is for an US car. Take a 1960 Opel Rekord for example, it has an anemic four banger with its roots in the pre-war era, pushrod of course, wallowy suspension (leaf springs in the rear) with absolutely no bias towards handling, skinny crossplies that couldn’t even spell “grip” , drum brakes all around and… yeah, well, it was not a bad car for its era, but representative for what people was driving around in here back then. Compare it to the 1970 model, well, it has a somewhat more modern pushrod 4, a coil sprung solid rear axle and somewhat stiffened suspension, still no radials from the factory but at least disc brakes up front…yeah, hardly any ground breaking technology there either, but a solid, good family car for its era, that was by no means behind most of the competition. And, honestly speaking, very much like a 1970 american compact.

The japanese? Well, don’t even mention them. Nissan was catching up in its bigger models with IRS and OHC engines in the late 60s and was regarded as somewhat of the poor mans BMW, and I understand why the Datsun 510 was for the japanese automobile what the CB750 had been for the japanese motorcycle. But still in the late 70s (well beyond this era) japanese compact cars was mostly primitive, leaf sprung crackerboxes on wheels. Sure, they did things that the US subcompacts couldn’t do, like hold together even after the payments ended, but that was more regarding to tried- and true technology rather than something ground breaking or amazing. A Hakosuka GTR or 240Z is by no means the average japanese car of the 60s…

But sure, japanese or euro cars are a completely different chapter (and TBH probably every euro country deserve its own thread at least before the 80s since there was nothing in common between 60s french and british cars for example). Just felt like I had to mention it because there seems to be many young people knowing how “bad” 60s american cars were without realizing that european or japanese cars from the era seldom was any engineering marvels either. Then in the 70s and 80s, I can agree that USA was lagging behind very much, but that’s also a completely different chapter.


#12

I love to discuss these sort of things. I found german and british manufacturers to be more american in the way they constructed their cars, might be related that Ford and GM both had subsidiaries there. Independent manufacturers were far more advanced by comparison.

The French and italians used similar assets, but far more optimised than that. Of course this is discounting Lancia and Citroen because those two always did things completely different to anyone else.

Take Peugeot for example. The 203 of 1948 looked like your average miniature Chevy, but was already unibody, had an engine with pushrods and hemispherical combustion chambers (years before Chrysler) and a coil sprung live rear axle with a panhard rod. The 1955 403 improved on that with Michelin “X” radial tires and rack and pinion steering. They not only handled better than most other cars of the era but were also tougher than most cars and became incredibly popular in the north african territories. The completely unrelated Volvo 444 and its successors were actually quite similar in terms of engineering. Alfa Romeo who were the gold standard of sports saloons in the 1950s and 1960s used similar chassis tech combined with their lightweight aluminium DOHC engines.
The british meanwhile mostly just kept doing what they did in the 1930s until the 1970s or so. Most british cars weren’t a Mini.

TL; DR: Many continental european makes nominally weren’t much more advanced that american makes, yet these same basic ingredients (live rear axles, pushrod engines) were far more refined and optimized than what american style brands offered.

Conclusion: Peugeot was the mack daddy in those days.


#13

Yes, I have always seen the RWD Peugeots and the RWD Volvos as brothers from different mothers, sane engineering focusing on reliability, safety and ruggedness, putting technology where it did count and keeping it simple when it was good enough for Joe Average… But now we are maybe drifting away a bit from the original subject…

I just wanted to come with a different point of view than the tiresome “trackday bro muricans bro dont like twincams bro dont like irs bro the skyline bro had it in the 60s bro like all japanese cars bro i know that because I have played more Gran Turismo 9 than you bro” that I tend to see way too often…not that it was appearing here, at least not yet…but…


#14

Keep in mind that one of the reasons ordinary families could afford “American-sized” cars was because they were so primitive. Imagine a typical full-sized/E segment car, but priced at about the same as a fleet spec Toyota Corolla and with a foot of extra metal (for no practical purpose except to enlarge the trunk and impress your neighbors) of extra overhang on each end. Then you add cylinders and displacement and velour and 8 track players and other bits as your heart desires and bank account permits. This–selling the same car at price points from $2000 to $8000–was Detroit’s foundational business until the oil crisis and Clean Air Act forced them to make cars more like the rest of the world’s. A stripped out Chevrolet sedan cost not a whole lot more than a Volkswagen, and was probably cheaper to fix.

Other things to keep in mind:

  • American cars, like all cars of the era, broke down, a lot. However, American cities were developing the huge tracts of sprawl they’re known for today, and these places are basically prisons without a car to get around them. This meant that as an American car owner back when (some) people were more plugged into their communities, churches, etc., if somebody else’s car broke down, say a coworker or a relative, you might be asked to schlep them and their family around somewhere. This could easily lead to six or eight people in the car.
  • The huge, lazy V8s would give a big surge of torque anytime, anywhere when your foot touched the gas, and after the sober postwar years when people had to deal with Detroit’s horrendous reverse flow sixes, this was incredibly seductive. You can go up hills, accelerate, pass people, with very little effort and very little noise since the power comes so early. American V8s are stereotyped as being loud due to muscle cars and restomods, but they could also be very quiet, especially since they would often be running at 1500 rpm or so on the highway.

So with Detroit’s legions of “bean counters” having perfected the formula to sell literally the most car for the least money, a more rational Euro-style design will have to either (a) be smaller, (b) cost more, or both. I’ve built cars like this, I’ve put high tech crossflow sixes in them that make as much power as standard small-block V8s, I’ve tested them out in BeamNG.Drive and just the fact that you have to push the pedal in quite a bit and go well beyond 4000 rpm in passing maneuvers and uphill acceleration makes me think an American buyer who is not an enthusiast would think it’s “slow” or “cheap” compared to a 350 ci V8.

EDIT: Yet another thing to remember is that by 1960 America’s passenger rail network was starting to fall into disuse and decay for a variety of political and economic reasons, and air travel was still an expensive and glamorous luxury–only the “jet set” could really afford it, hence their name. The annual family vacation meant packing yourself, the S.O., 2.5 kids, dog, and all the stuff you need for two weeks into the car and driving 1000-3000 miles both ways. A Peugeot 304 wasn’t going to cut it. You could get a wagon but wagons were often hideously ugly (they’re not the kind people reminisce about on Jalopnik), cost more, and carried a major stigma sort of like minivans today. Those aircraft carrier rear decks housed enormous trunks and the suspension designed allowed for high payloads. Being almost truck-like in their construction, Detroit cars also could tow, and could often be ordered with tow/haul packages to tow 2000 kg more or less comfortably, which is how the upper middle class wealthy did family vacations. The Peugeot would fry its clutch trying to drag a camper around behind it.

(Nowadays, of course, American workers can no longer afford family vacations. Hooray for progress?)


#15

Regarding family vacations: My mom has four siblings, so imagine seven people plus two weeks worth of luggage going on a 1000 mile trip to Italy in a 1968 Ford P7 with the 90hp 2.0L V6, and since there weren’t any tunnels they had to climb through most of the alps during the trip. Guess what, it can be done, and since american cars were spectacularly space inefficient for their size I am almost certain it wasn’t much more of a squeeze than an Impala with front and rear bench.


#16

It can be done, if you must, perhaps, but no American family is going to take that car over any full-sized car and it would absolutely be much more of a squeeze, especially side to side, as American cars of the era were very wide and had relatively thin doors. A 225" American car of the 1960s is more in line interior-wise with a 200" 300SEL than a 185" Ford Taunus. They were huge inside and out. Even if it can be done, it’s going to be unpleasant in the Taunus. You’ll probably have some of the stuff in the car with you or travel lighter than what Americans of the era would consider acceptable, the kids will complain, the suspension will sag, the engine will wheeze and scream. Instead you could waft serenely along on 400 cubic inches of American torque, nice and easy, sitting on an almost literal overstuffed sofa.


#17

Well kids are always going to complain about something, no matter the car.


#18

Yeah, well they’ll complain a lot more when they’re all leaning against one another and the rinky dink little V6 is droning all the way from North Carolina to Oregon. Also the Ford Taunus was an expensive car and many American families who could afford a V8 Chevrolet, Ford, or Plymouth would not be able to afford a Ford Taunus. They did sell cars like the Opel Kadett, Ford Sierra, Ford Capri, in the US under various names throughout the '60s and '70s but they had to compete with premium brands and usually lost except among specific niche demographics, who all got hoovered up by BMW, Audi, and Mercedes after the 1979 second oil crisis nailed the traditional US luxury car’s coffin shut.

BTW you can still get a big ol’ American large barge today–only it will be called a Ford F-150, Ram 1500, or GMC Sierra Denali and it will be even bigger. Same basic business model: a cheap large vehicle that can carry a lot, tow, and can be garnished a la carte with a massive variety of options, with huge profits at the top end where rich people buy $100,000 pickup trucks (seriously) with 400+ horsepower. They are now much more popular than sedans where I live, and you see them absolutely everywhere. They depreciate fast so even poor people drive them, just older ones. The space inside a modern full-sized pickup is way beyond the old Detroit land yachts; absolutely nothing will prepare you for it. They even get surprisingly good fuel economy on the highway because they run at super low revs, have very long gearing, and tricks like automatic engine shutoff and cylinder deactivation.


#19

To think that a half-century ago it was still acceptable to drive (or be driven) around in something whose size and heft was more reminiscent of a tank than an actual car. As you were saying, it took an oil crisis and strict emissions legislation for Americans to be convinced otherwise.


#20

American cars of the era were not actually as heavy as you think–the average sedan was 1350 to around 1900 kg, with only high-end luxury cars much exceeding 1900 kg. Tanks start at around 35,000 kg and go up from there.

The typical E-segment sedan today weighs considerably more than your average downmarket land barge from the '60s due to all the safety features, reinforcements, and amenities built into it.

E: forgot a kg is 2.2 lbs. not 2 lbs. Values adjusted.