Cars that changed consumer perceptions

Yugo, introduced a whole new car philosophy, cheap. Smart cars, the wave of the future?

It’s a shame that few appreciate Volkswagen’s most beneficial design elements which were the lack of some of the expensive failure prone systems. There was no power steering, power brakes, water pump, radiator or any of the various hoses for the cooling system. And an automatic transmission wasn’t offered until after the 111s had become well established in the US market. Break downs were rare because there were fewer components to break down. If properly maintained the car could reliably last 100,000+ miles without a break down and when it began to show signs of wear a good shop could quickly and relatively cheaply rebuild the engine and replace the clutch in a few hours. For the hard core practical car shopper nothing came close to the Volkswagen.

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@Rod_Knox. The VW Beetle did sell to people who were practical. It also sold to people who could buy much more expensive cars, but wanted the image of being practical minded.
Image is a big component in selling cars and manufacturers know that. The VW Beetle, by keeping the same style, kicked the U.S. manufacturers in the teeth with their every other year styling changes. The having the latest style to keep up your image was replaced by the image of being practical.
Tom and Ray in one Cartalk show thought that the image of the Cadillac was damaged because gangsters were driving Cadillacs. Tom and Ray suggested that GM would be wise to give Lexus automobiles to certified gangsters for free, thus destroying the Lexus image. There may be some wisdom in the idea. When I watched “The Untouchables” on television, the gangsters of the 1930s era drove Packards. I always enjoyed seeing these big Packards roll around s corner while the rear suicide door opened and a stiff thrown out on the street. After WW II, the Cadillac evolved into the gangsters’ cars.

I was. And my '76 Corolla was eons ahead of my Chevy of the same vintage and price range in quality, reliability and longevity.
Your relative is certainly welcome to his opinion, but millions clearly disagreed. Toyotas and Hondas became ubiquitous in the '70s.

It might depend on where you lived. Back in the early-mid 70s, where I lived the Japanese cars had terrible reputation for rusting out very quickly. I owned a Corona and while it performed well in snow, it rusted out faster than any other car I had before it. It took some years to overcome that reputation in the rust belt but they soon outpaced american cars in that regard. But in the early years, they were terrible…

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I lived in North Dakota and then NH, neither climate known for being kind to cars.
My Corolla was simply a much better car in every respect.

Many years later, in '95, at the urging of my then-wife, I got a Saturn. At the time I also had an '89 Toyota pickup. That and every other Toyota I’ve ever had was simply a higher quality vehicle than the Saturn. Even my kids, without any input from me, called the Saturn a piece of junk. The Saturn had serious problems by 100,000 miles. The pickup ran well for 338,000 miles, and was only scrapped after having been hit and totaled.

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Back in 1962 when I needed to replace my 1947 Pontiac which I had purchased for $75, a mechanic suggested to me that I stick with Fords and Chevys. The college town where I was going to graduate school did not have a VW dealer at the time. Fords and Chevys were popular and there were ways around most problems that developed. For instance, the oil passages in the Y block Fords of the 1950s would sludge up and oil would not get to the rocker arms. The solution was to install an outside the block oil line kit. I bought a 1955 Pontiac and this same problem developed. However, there was no such fix because the Pontiac V8 had stud mounted rocker arms.
I am sure my mechanic friend, if he were alive today would say to stick with your Corollas and Civics. Parts and service are widely available and the cars are reliable.

Maybe my friends 70’s era Corolla just needed a tune up, it was a cheap feeling car and he had to floor it going down the hill to make it up the next, The AC also served as an emergency brake :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Yes, Germans used to like “Battleship Grey”, and many Volkswagen vans were that color. The British liked so-called “Racing Green” which was the official color for their racing cars, but rather ugly from an aesthetic point of view.

In North America we went through a Turquoise phase in the fifties, and Charcoal grey & pink combinations to reflect men’s clothing schemes in the fifties And we had 3-tone car paint schemes…

The Datsun 510 was a fine machine, and the first successful Toyota Corolla was good, too, but they did rust. Ran long after the body had become so rusty it was very dangerous. A good friend had a car he called a Toyota Corroder, and it was.


Well I’ve said it before but I bought my 59 VW in about 1967. I paid $500 for it from a RR dealer. I think it had something like 58K on it. He said an architect had owned it before and would use the sun roof to carry long items. With no weight on the front, you didn’t need power steering at all. Brakes? 4 wheel drum but a light car. While I liked the car, I can’t really say it was trouble free. Luckily my off campus apartment was within walking distance of the VW dealer. Points had to be done every 2000 miles or it would stall along with valve adjustments. The front end had to be rebuilt, generator replaced, rusted bumper supports welded in place, etc. Best I ever got was 25 mpg with the 36 hp engine. The guy across the hall said got great mileage driving from New York to South Dakota by drafting behind semis. I was unwilling to do that.

Oh and I should add that in the winter, below zero, it would not start without an engine heater. How do you add and engine heater to an air cooled engine? Dipstick heater.

While it was a simple car, I think the reputation was a little like Toyotas now and a little less than deserved. I think I had fewer problems when I got into my 59 Pontiac with power steering, brakes, v8, automatic, and a wonder bar radio.


Compared to Austins, Renaults, Fiats, and other European small cars, the Beetle was sturdy indeed.

A social worker in the South was featured in one of the ads, as she had logged 900,000 miles in one with 3 engine overhauls. Those were overhauls cheap, and the bodies were better than average.

I drove a 1956 model throughout Europe in 1960, putting on 10,000 km in 14 countries.
A broken speedometer cable, fixed for $7 or so was the only repair.

And, with VW’s totally superior parts network, when you did need repairs the dealer almost always had the necessary part(s) in stock. By comparison, parts for Renaults could take a couple of weeks, and parts for Fiats were so hard to come-by that some dealers would cannibalize parts from new, unsold cars, and when the replacement parts finally arrived from Italy–possibly MONTHS later–they would install the replacement parts in the new, unsold cars.

If I’m not mistaken , there were some mopars from the 1960s and 1970s with rather outlandish factory color choices . . .

One vehicle that changed the public perception of what a truck should be was the invasion of the small Japanese pickups in the late 1960s. There was the Datsun, Toyota, Chevrolet LUV, and Ford Courier. The Courier and the LUV were made in Japan. I think that Plymouth jumped in with a compact pickup in the 1970s.


I’d add that the first Dodge Ram with the “big truck look” also changed perceptions of what a pickup should be, but in the opposite direction. Prior to that they were designed to do work. That “big truck” look started a trend of bigger-is-better that continues to this day. Trucks have grown enormous, beyond usability. Modern F-150 beds are so high they’re difficult to use.

Somebody has got to mention Tesla. Not the first electric car but the company that really made electric cars cool, defying that limited range and performance golf cart image of electrics.
Also the Toyota Prius, for really proving that hybrid technology could sell.


@the_same_mountainbike The same thing is happening with trucks that happened with cars in the late 1950s–they got bigger and lost some of their utility. Maybe the new Ford Ranger that is coming will start downsizing trend in trucks just as VW did in cars.

I completely agree with you

We still have a few Ford trucks in our fleet from the late 1990s, and it’s much easier to step into the cab or throw something in the bed . . . versus the brand new Ford trucks

And here’s a personal pet peeve . . . the newer Ford trucks have bucket seats which are absolute murder on my back with scoliosis. No such problems with the old bench seats

I’d add VW’s 1975 + Rabbit, b/c of its (mechanical) fuel injection that came standard with the car. Folks who bought this car soon realized driving a fuel injected car is a fundamentally better driving experience. There were fuel injected cars before the Rabbit of course, but none which sold in that volume. And I’d add also whichever car manufacture(s) produce the first reliable electronic injected engines that came standard in high volume production. Electronic fuel injection doesn’t up the driving experience. Instead it provide the same excellent drivability along with improved. reliability and emissions. I’m not sure which manufacturer lays claim to that one.

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