Driving in the 1970s: Big Problems, Small Cars
18 artifacts in this set
By 1970, the date of this Ford Motor Company booklet, automobile companies were reassuring their customers that they were engaging in intensive research programs to eliminate "offending" emissions, by then widely recognized as a significant source of air pollution.
Although not new, mileage calculators became much more popular during the gasoline crisis in the 1970s. In addition to calculating miles per gallon, this Texaco giveaway contains a mileage record on the back with the advice, "Conserve While You Consume."
In October 1973, the Arab nations of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) placed a five-month embargo on oil shipped to the United States -- considered an "enemy of the Arab cause" for supplying military aid to Israel during the so-called Yom Kippur War. The previous month, Libya nationalized foreign oil companies and the Arab oil squeeze was on.
Beginning in 1977, the Environmental Protection Agency (established in 1970) published an annual booklet that compared mileage estimates for all the different classes of cars on the market. These were supposed to help consumers make responsible purchasing choices.
As auto companies were increasingly pressured to comply with more stringent government regulations, the catalytic converter emerged as a popular device that both improved fuel economy and reduced emissions. Noxious by-products of combustion passed from the engine through the catalytic converter, where chemical reactions converted the emissions to less toxic substances.
Motor Trend magazine, first published in 1949, provides car buyers and driving enthusiasts with information about automobiles and the industry. A popular annual feature of the magazine is its Car of the Year award. In February 1978 Motor Trend chose Chrysler's Dodge Omni and its twin, the Plymouth Horizon, as its car of the year.
According to this sales brochure, the new horizon for 1978 was a Plymouth Horizon. The car had front-wheel-drive, maximized its interior space, and provided needed fuel economy. Plymouth offered luxury options, too. The Horizon and its twin, the Dodge Omni, were Motor Trend's Car of the Year for 1978.
This little car was a reaction to the high gasoline prices brought on by the 1973 Arab oil embargo and the new fuel economy standards passed by Congress in 1975. It, and its twin the Plymouth Horizon, were the first American cars to adopt a front-wheel drive, hatchback configuration that was common in Europe. Motor Trend magazine named them "Car of the Year."
The Ford Motor Company, and other car companies, publicized their commitment to comply with 1970 clean air standards. This booklet, produced by Ford, contains articles about air pollution causes, federal legislation, alternative power sources, and ways for the public to help.
As Americans turned to more energy-efficient cars than the American auto companies were turning out, they found that the Volkswagen Rabbit -- a small front-wheel drive replacement for the VW Beetle available to Americans by the mid-1970s -- delivered superb fuel economy. Specifically, it was the diesel-powered Rabbit that averaged 52 mpg on the highway (and 39 mpg in the city).
In 1970, General Motors released this brochure about its automotive emissions research. The brochure provided background information about air pollution challenges, a progress report, and GM's plans to achieve its goals.
The Comuta-Car, and its predecessor the CitiCar, were electric cars designed for limited use in cities. Sharp increases in gasoline prices in the 1970s persuaded some 4000 people to buy the tiny vehicles. But every time the price of fuel spiked, it always fell again, and demand for specialized urban electrics always fell along with it. Will the time for such cars ever come?
"Dodge Omni Totes the Tots, Hits Night Spots, Carries Plants, Visits Aunts, Likes Antiques, Climbs the Peaks, Plays Ball, Does it All," 1977
Car brochures have evolved from straightforward product catalogues into polished creative sales tools. Their quality paper, rich color, inventive formats, and sophisticated graphic design all contribute to a buyer's developing impression of a car in a showroom. Advertising might entice people to a dealership, but brochures extend and deepen the relationship between vehicle and potential buyer.
Although not new, mileage calculators became much more popular during the gasoline crisis in the 1970s. In addition to calculating miles per gallon, this Skelly giveaway contains a mileage record on the back, proclaiming it is "The New Champ!" in fuel economy.
Oil crises brought a jump in gas prices -- and a surge in small car sales -- in the 1970s. Japanese automaker Honda was well positioned to meet the demand. Its compact Civic managed 40 miles per gallon on the highway. Honda sold some 39,000 cars in the U.S. in 1973. Annual sales soared to more than 353,000 by 1979.