1960s economy cars

In a GQ thread about Toyota’s Prius, KlondikeGeoff wrote:

That got me to thinking about old cars. (I think everyone knows by now that I like old cars.) This was the era of the ‘muscle car’, starting with the 1964 Pontiac GTO. I wasn’t driving then, of course. But I remember riding with my sister around 1970 or so, and she bought regular gasoline for 29.9 cents/gallon. My dad had a 7-litre Ford that got 8 mpg. Sure there were VW Beetles and the odd Datsun or Toyota, and there were a lot of European sports cars around that got pretty good mileage. But I’ve never thought of the 1960s as being a time when people were concerned about fuel efficiency.

I have several Road & Track magazines from the 1960s. One thing that surprised me was that the car reviews mentioned gas mileage at all. The next thing to surprise me were the mileage figures. For example:
[ul][li]1961 Buick Special: 18/22 mpg[/li][li]1961 Chevrolet Corvair 4-speed: 20/23 mpg[/li][li]1966 BMW 1800 TI: 20-25 mpg[/li][li]1966 Fiat 1500 Spider: 27 mpg[/li][li]Honda S-600: 32 mpg[/li][li]Mercedes-Benz 230 SL Automatic: 20 mpg[/li][li]Volkswagen 1300: 27 mpg[/ul][/li]It’s not at all surprising that the imports got pretty good mileage. But a Buick? A Chevrolet? I had no idea. (Well, actually, I never thought about it.) Of course the '66 Corvette averaged only 10 mpg, the FWD Olds Toronado got 10-13 mpg, and I’ve already mentioned the 8 mpg of dad’s 7-litre Galaxie 500. But I think it’s cool that there were actually some American cars that got 20 mpg or more int he 1960s.

(I seem to remember seeing an old cartoon, ad, commercial, or something where someone is in a 1950s American sub-compact. ‘Just give me a gallon. I’m only going a hundred miles.’)

I’m not sure gas mileage was measured the same way back then, but even assuming it was, it really didn’t matter that much. Nevertheless, the car companies figured there was some freak out there who was cheap, so you could buy a full-size Ford, Chevy or Plymouth with the stock 6-cylinder engine, and even a stick shift if you wanted. Sure, you got better gas mileage, but you were also looking at going from 0-60 in about an hour.

But there were lots of cars specifically marketed as being economical to drive: Studebaker, Rambler, Valiant, Chevy II and brands you’ve never even heard of. They were, at best, niche products, and to a large degree, that’s what American carmakers still think of them.

As a kid in the mid-70s, I recall the first wave Japanese imports; the Datsuns and Hondas getting well over 50mpgs.

I’ve always operated under the assumption that safety and pollution regulations have been the main factor in the decline in gas mileage. NTTABT and of course, YMMV