Question about American cars

This really relates to American built cars of the 70s and maybe 80s. It seems that most cars built in that era had large capacity engines, larger than you would think was necessary. Certainly larger than equivelant size British or Japanese cars, for example. The large engine didn’t seem to be for power purposes, and it probably made them horribly uneconomical.

Also, why were many cars so big? Not talking about compacts and small cars, but the family saloons and station wagons seemed very large, again in comparison to European or Japanese models.

Also, when did this trend stop and why?

The trend stopped during the 1979 oil shortage. At that time I had my dad’s old scutlass that got about 10 mpg (with the engine shut off, coasting down hill, with a tail wind). Pushing the car in line waiting for $5.00 worth of gas three times a week really, really sucked. Every odd day (Odd numbered plate - get your gas on the odd numbered day) I was late for work.

The large engines were needed for the larger and heavier cars.

Why were they popular -

Even though that Olds got real crappy mileage it was a hoot to drive - at least until the lack of wheel alignment kicked in. IMHO driving an old GTO or NOVA doesn’t compare to the little pocket rockets scooting around today.

The trend stopped during the 1979 oil shortage. At that time I had my dad’s old scutlass that got about 10 mpg (with the engine shut off, coasting down hill, with a tail wind). Pushing the car in line waiting for $5.00 worth of gas three times a week really, really sucked. Every odd day (Odd numbered plate - get your gas on the odd numbered day) I was late for work.

The large engines were needed for the larger and heavier cars.

Why were they popular -

Even though that Olds got real crappy mileage it was a hoot to drive - at least until the lack of wheel alignment kicked in at about 60mph. IMHO driving an old GTO or NOVA doesn’t compare to the little pocket rockets scooting around today.

As for the engines, I think it was because thats what the North American mfgs where used to making. They had the V8 engines down pat and, with a few exceptions, didn’t deviate much from them. Therefore, when trying to tame the emissions and boost fuel economy, they just tried to tune the exisiting engines instead of starting from scratch… which was becoming quite necessary as the 70s continued. This went so far that even to make would really should have been a totally different design they would still try to adapt an existing engine. Case in point the GM 350 diesel … which was an absolutely awful engine.

Why were they big? I’d chalk it up to a cross between that was their forte and what they thought the public wanted… until they were forced to change (losing market share) and the CAFE(?) regs forced them to make smaller more economical vehicles which would have been mid-late 70s.

Thanks for the answers so far.

This question came about after I read an old Auto Universum book from 1972. It suprised me how many cars had 5 and 6 litre V8s. I suspect that American cars now have much smaller, more efficient and more economical engines.

By the way, I have nothing against American cars per se. I rented a car in the USA a few years ago. I got a big family car, because it was only a few dollars extra per day. I loved it. Comfy, air con, cruise control. You’d be surprised how few Brit cars have those as standard. The only down side was the auto gear box was a struggle going up steep hills (I drove to some national park in Virginia, and the engine/gear box found it hard work). Also, the windscreen wiper fuse blew just before I took it back! I forgot to mention to the rental agency about the fuse - must have slipped my mind. :slight_smile:

Herge, I assure you that the trend never stopped. The big cars simply shifted over to even huger SUVs and minivans. The fuel economy still stinks, but families can haul around their kids and the neighbors’ kids and all their stuff. Americans love space and love to fill it up.

There are still plenty of 5 liter (litre) V-8s around. The “average sedan” in the US probably is a mid sized that seats 6 and has a 3.5 to 4.0 liter V-6, but the average American doesn’t usually drive an average sedan. He has an SUV or pickup truck as at least one of his cars. Keep in mind also, that the number of registered cars in the US exceeds the number of licensed drivers.

For large cars, large engines are not as much of a negative influence on gas mileage as you might think. A slow turning large engine has low internal losses and advanced fuel injection and electronic engine control systems allow the engines to run very lean at highway speeds. 25 to 30 mpg with 6 passenger sedans is not uncommon on the open highway.

I average about 23mpg with my big, 32-valve V8 on my 5-person, full-size, sedan automobile.

Most of the people that can afford it prefer larger sized vehicles. Even people that can’t afford it manage to take out seven years loans for loaded pickups or SUV’s. Of course there are exceptions – a lot of people buy Focuses and Grand Ams and other small-to-midsize vehicles. Then there are those kids (oh my God, am I saying “those kids” now?) who like their little, tiny Hondas and so forth that could actually afford a decent, large car, but instead sink their bucks into strange modifications, like trying to make a Civic as fast as a Mustang (for thrice the cost of a Mustang).

I’d love to pay the price of a small car for plenty of surrounding metal, but metal seems worth more than money to me.

Oh, but it was for the power. Some people really enjoy speed, especially in terms of quick acceleration. And even those who don’t think about that tend to like not having to think about how long it will take to get up to pace when entering a freeway.

Economy wasn’t an issue. Fuel was cheap. The majority of Americans preferred American cars to the foreign cars then available, and the cars sold. There was no reason to change – until 1974, and the first oil embargo.

Even now, power sells. Over the last 30 years, auto engineering and design have evolved immensely. Powerful engines are more compact and fuel efficient. And tastes have changed – a greater percentage of people are willing to forgo power for fuel economy. But the marketplace makes it clear that there is still a significant appetite for robust performance.
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Compared to smaller cars, they were more roomy, usually more comfortable, better able to haul a family and all its luggage for a trip. America is a pretty big country. Space has not been at such a premium as in Europe and especially Japan. Big cars fit the road and there was no reason NOT to make them big over here.

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As has been mentioned, the 1974 oil embargo and its aftereffects changed things. Fuel cost more, and sometimes was harder to get. The incentive for the public to chose fuel-efficient cars increased noticeably, sales of smaller cars took off, and the American manufacturers changed their ways. They were somewhat late, slow, and short on quality doing it, but they did respond to the marketplace. Some pretty big models are still availabe, but they don’t dominate the market like they used to decades ago.

Old-time car builders went to their graves swearing that V-8s ran smoother and more efficiently and lasted longer than 4 or 6 cylinder engines, particularly the larger displacement 4 and 6 cyliner models.

I once asked an engine guy at Ford what was the best engine the company ever built. Without even blinking he answered the “Windsor” (I think it was the basic 5-liter V-8) and the “Cleveland” 351 V-8.

Another factor is that, in America, cars are not taxed on the basis of the size of their engines. Some states, such as California, include in their yearly registration fees a “property tax” based upon the estimated value of the vehicle. Other states base their yearly registration fee only on what it costs them for the paperwork.

I understand that most, if not all, European countries and possibly Japan as well, levy a yearly fee based on the size of the engine. Thus, you see engine sizes of 1198cc or 1996cc to come in just under various limits.

This, in combination with the cheaper gas in the U.S., encouraged the production of larger cars with larger engines.

This seems like an opportunity to ask a question. Reading here and elsewhere I get the impression that the majority of American cars have automatic gearboxes. Am I mistaken?

V

No, that is correct.

To amplify a bit on this, the changeover to front wheel drive on many cars resulted in automatic transmissions being closer in price to manual transmissions. Also, advances in transmission technology have eliminated most of the gas mileage advantage of the manual transmission. Small cars and “sporty” cars often have a standard transmission available but most larger sedans and mini-vans are now available only with an automatic.

Still have it, 78 Cougar. It is like a land yacht, smooths those bumps away. As it has only 65k on it, I will keep it. Another reason is i’m still smarter than it is…

I don’t think anyone has mentioned towing a trailer. In somewhat mountainous areas, like the whole west side of the country, pulling a load up a mountain isn’t unusual.

Sure you can gear down, but that’s for sissies.

The USA is really, really big. In the west, it’s not unusual for cities of any size to be hundreds of kilometers apart. That fact, coupled with the extremely inexpensive gasoline prices in the USA (which continue to this day), had major effects on the size and capabilities of the american automobile.

Sorry, I meant PETROL prices. :slight_smile: