What Car Are You?
16 artifacts in this set
Do you remember when "Made in Japan" referred to tin toys and cheap trinkets? Neither do most people, and this car is one of the reasons. Roomy, well built, economical, and dead reliable, Toyota Coronas were initially popular on the West Coast, where trends often begin in America. The Corona and Nissan's Datsun 510 were the cars that established Japanese auto makers in the United States market.
The earliest station wagons appeared in the 1910s and actually were used to haul people and luggage between railroad stations and hotels. They featured special wooden bodies installed on standard car chassis. Wood continued to be used in station wagons bodies until after World War II. Plymouth's 1949 Suburban was the first station wagon with an all steel body. It transformed the wagon into a practical family vehicle.
Most Americans weren't very interested in small cars -- until 1973, when Middle Eastern oil-producing countries cut back on oil exports. Gas prices skyrocketed in the U.S., and shortages led to long lines at service stations. Many people still wanted big American-style cars, but more and more actually bought small four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive, European-inspired cars like this Ford Escort. "The new world car" evoked the Model T's slogan:...
Honda introduced its Accord in 1976 as a compact car. It was economical, well-built, and fun to drive. Over the years Accords got bigger, and by 1989 they could accommodate families. In 1989 Accord became the first Japanese nameplate to become the best-selling car in the United States. Ironically, many Accords, including this one, were built at Honda's plant in Marysville, Ohio.
By the 1950s, Americans expected to have cars and travel widely. Even people of average income wanted their cars to reflect their personalities. If you wanted to turn heads, then Studebaker was the brand for you. Studebaker competed for customers with Ford, Chevy, and Plymouth, using airplane-inspired styling and radical wraparound rear windows. This model seems to leap forward even when standing still.
Chevrolet turned its image around in 1955. Its new V-8 engine was light modern, powerful and reliable. Combined with a clean, classic new body style it changed customers' impression of Chevrolet from stodgy and conservative to sporty and youthful almost overnight. This car, in fashionable coral and smoke grey colors, epitomizes Chevy's new slogan, "The Hot One."
Ford Motor Company's Mustang, introduced in 1964, was such a success that other car makers soon copied it, including Ford itself. Mercury's Cougar was based on the Mustang, but with more upscale styling and interior appointments that made it something of a "poor man's Jaguar." This Cougar has the rare XR7-G package with a hood scoop, sun roof, and other special trim features.
De Soto appealed to drivers who desired the cutting edge of technology. Soaring fins and an airy roof suggested military jet fighters. Pushbuttons replaced old-fashioned transmission levers. And De Sotos were powerful -- perfect for the new high-speed, four-lane turnpikes and the newly-funded interstate highway system.
Volkswagen introduced its "box on wheels," the VW Type 2 Bus, in 1949. A few years later, VW contracted with Westfalia and introduced converted campers. First exported to the US in 1956, Westfalia campers provided home-like camping comfort and created a post-war recreational vehicle lifestyle. This soon-to-be cultural icon transported Americans down highways and byways and into the great outdoors.
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?
Hybrid automobiles improve fuel efficiency and reduce tailpipe emissions compared to standard internal combustion-powered cars. Hybrids use small internal combustion engines and battery-powered electric motors. Powerful computers and sophisticated software coordinate the smooth, seamless transfer of power between the two units. This Prius is one of Toyota's first-generation hybrids, introduced in the United States in 2000.
Plymouth Voyager advertising called this the "all-new space-age American family wagon," and it really was a new kind of vehicle. Shorter than typical sedans, station wagons, or large vans, the new "mini-vans" were easy to drive but could carry seven people, plus lots of luggage, camping gear, or sports equipment. They were instantly popular with buyers and were immediately copied by other manufacturers, foreign and domestic.
It's an old auto industry cliche -- "you can't sell a young man an old man's car, but you can sell an old man a young man's car." It's also true. The sporty Mustang was a young man's -- and woman's -- car. The under-30 crowd loved it. But older people also bought them, often as a second car. The Mustang hit a sweet spot in the market, appealing to a wide range of buyers.
Rich from building radios and refrigerators, Powel Crosley thought a small, affordable car might appeal to Americans. His sporty $924 roadster had an overhead cam engine and removable doors. Although it won races against foreign sports cars, it lost the U.S. sales race to big American machines. After losing three million dollars, Crosley finally abandoned his dream in 1952.
The Thunderbird recalled the early days of automobiling, when cars were more fun than functional. Thunderbirds and other small two-seaters were sold as "personal cars" -- often second cars -- in which motorists could enjoy driving for its own sake. This Thunderbird's owner, Ford engineer William Burnett, had a uniquely personal relationship with it -- he supervised the development of the first Thunderbird.
Corvettes became the iconic American sports car -- but not right away. Sports cars are automobiles reduced to their essence -- a motor, two seats, a simple body, and a powerful emotional appeal. The first Corvettes, with six-cylinder engines and automatic transmissions, promised more than they delivered. But when a 195-horsepower V-8 arrived in 1955, the Corvette's go finally matched its show.