Gas mileage in the cars of the past. Some things don't seem to have improved much!

Now, I am not talking about the Caprices, Crown Vics, the big trucks, and the like, but the little economy cars. Having recently purchased a 1994 Geo Metro for mileage, I am amazed that an old cheap car is getting 52-55 mpg. This discussion came up and people were talking about getting similar mileage in the 1980’s with the Dodge Omni, Dodge Colt Vista, Chevy Sprint (basically a Geo Metro), Suzuki Swift (same as Geo Metro), Ford Festiva, Honda CRX, and the like. These were all cheap cars and the mileage meets or exceeds the mileage of modern day hybrids. I am sure the newer cars are safer and more luxurious but why can’t we get the same mileage today without all these complicated systems? Working on my Geo is unbelievably simple. It is just too bad that many of these cars have met their end because of rust. They obviously didn’t take this real seriously on these little cars.

Its all about weight! A metro weighed 1800lbs near the end of the 90’s. A new prius weighs 3200-3300, Most people today would not drive a metro, many people here criticize cars like the old chevette, while they got good mileage they were slow and crude.

Cars must now have sub 10 second 0-60 times, all the gadgets and all the safety stuff.

Honestly would you rather be in a wreck in a metro or a prius?

You can’t have cars like that 'cause the gov’t won’t let you.

Excessive safety requirements = excessive weight = bad MPG (relatively). Also, excessive pollution regs = unable to “lean burn” and similar.

Wreck any of those cars you mentioned into a modern Prius, then take off those rose colored glasses when you see the results

Yes, the main answer is that the weight of cars has increased considerably from the early 1990’s. Some folks – me for example – consider the mid-90’s as the golden age of the automobile. Since then it is more airbags, more tire pressure sensors, more anti-lock brakes, more stability control, plus bigger more powerful engines, and bigger cars in general, and all that stuff weighs the car down and results in poorer fuel economy.

I agree w/you. There’s a still a place for a car like the mid-90’s Metro. But I don’t see it happening anytime soon. Car buyers are very focussed on uncompromised safety and better acceleration stats now than then. They’d rather pay more up front in the purchase price, and also pay more for gas, than give any of that stuff up. The car manufacturers are simply responding to what car buyers say they want. And apparently they are saying they don’t want a Metro of the 1994 era design.

I agree with you, we make a big deal now when a car gets 45mpg, but we were surpassing that along time ago. But it sort of parallels another discussion here about basic transportation, there is not huge demand for basic transportation. They still make basic no frills cars, and not many people buy them, people would rather have a few year old car with the bells and whistles even if they don’t make sense.

The safety standards will not allow another metro, and I wouldn’t drive one in this day in age. I swear drivers in the past 10 years have gotten much worse.

Most poor people around here drive around in old explorers and mid 90’s suvs with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths and then they wonder why they have no money. I bought an old 90 caprice in decent shape for a toy. The car was sitting on the lot and they owner could not sell it, not much interest, 15 years ago people would have been all over a car like that. Now its too old and stodgy.

There is a trailer park around here where many “undocumented workers” who are new to our country move. Are they driving basic cars, no… You see many Navigators, expeditions, trailblazers, escalades ect… They buy them from a weekly buy here pay here lot and most of them have expensive rims.

Its a different time now then it was in the 80’s or 90’s, most people live beyond their means and look down on people who try to be budget conscious.

Some of those old “econo-box” cars were really poor performers in regards to acceleration and climbing hills, etc. Some were so slow as to be seen as a safety hazard. Buyers were looking for more zip from their economy cars which means larger motors and somewhat less mpg.

I don’t believe any of those mileage figures. 55 mpg ? Now, add automatic, air conditioning, etc. and come down to earth ! Most of the driving world could not survive w/o air and most could not drive a standard transmission. These cars were incapable and unlikely if they ( Metro) got 55 mpg doing anything but driving down hill in the summer at 35 mph. if they did, it was a well kept secrete. The shorter the car, the harder it is to maintain speed and mileage at highway speeds. Short cars like the early metro two door hatch were incapable of that kind of real world commuting mileage at speeds making them less ten useful. Never going to happen that a 3 cylinder 1L motor from 1994 would survive on the streets today and be a seller. It did not for good reason. There is no market for standard transmissions and tiny cars that are death traps without safety features, practically no worthwhile performance, terrible rides and a little mass. Did anyone notice…they aren’t selling anymore.

A Metro has the structural integrity of a Coors Silver Bullet can. Weight + safety equipment = MUCH lower chance of death. It’s really that simple.


I do believe that the first metros got 53-55mpg on the highway, remember they only weighed 1600lbs, Once they added airbags, better seats and whatnot they got a few hundred pounds heavier.

There was a metro xfi, those were known to get 60+. They had really tall gearing, different cam, sprockets, piston rings, ect. They were mileage machines.

Back in the 1940s and through the 1960s, good gasoline mileage did not sell cars. The 1949 Nash Airflyte 600 had the 600 designation because it could attain 30 mpg when equipped with the optional overdrive and it was a full sized 6 passenger car. For those who wanted even better mileage, there was the Crosley which was about the same size as the Geo Metro.
Some of my colleagues thought I was crazy back in 1965 when I bought a manual transmission 1965 Rambler Classic 550 (bottom of the line) because I wanted good gas mileage. I think it got about 24 mpg on the road where many cars got 15-17 mpg highway in those days. Interestingly, I get about the same road mileage on my 2011 Sienna and 2003 4Runner and these vehicles have air conditioning, automatic transmissions and are a lot heavier.

Again, what would the public choose to buy if a 20% down payment and 24 month financing was required? We seem to live large on extended time financing.

I think I’m with @dagosa I don’t believe it. Back in the late 60’s the best I ever got with my 36 hp VW bug was 25 on the highway. I don’t know how you would have improved on that and it was among the most fuel efficient around. In the mid 80’s though with fuel injection, FWD, computers, and lightening up the cars, we would get 27 plus with out Buick Park Avenue and Riviera. I think until technology and weight took over, there wasn’t a big inprovement. In 81 the only way I could get 25 to 27 was to get a diesel, otherwise it was 18 plus.

I get that occasionally in some very special circumstances maybe one could at less then 55 mph. With a tail wind, flat ground , no load. Guess anything is possible. Triedaqs observations are more in line with the real omparisons or cars then with now.

True! The Metro is definitely a lightweight little car and I wouldn’t want to meet an Expedition in a crash! It is definitely a no frills car and is a 5 speed manual. Yes, I actually complain if I get less than 50 mpg in the car. I did tune it up and actually spend some money replacing sensors and such so it is running well. Some of the XFI models beat 60 mpg without modifications. They were EPA rated at 58.

Mine is the 1.0L 3 cylinder. While it is no powerhouse, it has no problem keeping up with traffic or highway speeds. I don’t like to push it to the max and try to keep it around 65 or less is it is very light and feels like it wants to flat once you push it past 70. The only complaint is if you get slowed down by something such as a truck passing another truck on a big hill. You do not regain speed until the top of the hill. Sustaining is isn’t a problem until you hit the brakes.

Yes, I have driven the automatic and it is dreadful. Talk about flogging a dead mule! The manual feels like a totally different car and it gets way better mileage. It may be a beer can on wheels but it is a fun little beer can on wheels. I feel like I am driving an oversized go-kart.

I guess safety requirements, consumer preference, and emissions standards all require heavier cars.

Back in the 70s a friend owned a '61 Pontiac Tempest sedan with the 215 V-8 and manual transmission. That car would tick off 30 MPG steady as a clock while loaded down.

The 87 Omni I had would get 42 MPG on a 3,000 mile trip. The overdrive was way overdrive and fourth gear was perfect for climbing hills. With a better first gear it would have been a nicer machine. No AC but the trips were in March and October. The 87 Horizon had AC and automatic trans but would still get about 30 MPG and I never went a long way with it.

The 83 Corolla had a cassette deck and rear window louvers for options. The 5 speed was perfect and a 110 mile day trip would give you 41 MPG when you filled the tank after driving in town for another ten days. I would love to have a similar car today.

I had Civics, Chevy Prisms, Geo Prisms and Corollas, all ( except Civic) we’re Corollas, all manuals. The best mileage I got was from the last one, a 2002 Prism, which was consistently around 38 mpg. Fuel Injection, manual and high gear ratios and low sleek designs with tough egress were the biggest contributors to good mileage in these cars. I could see a Corolla with FI, doing over 40 mpg, but only if not driven too fast and lightly loaded. Otherwise, the carb models were nothing special.
They make a car similar to the manual Corollas of old…it’s a new one. Just turn the AC off and “enjoy”. They are slightly bigger to acommodate our fat astoroids, the biggest reason IMHO why some cars have dropped in mileage. Upright seating and easy of entry have also hurt aerodynamics, all necessary for larger and older tooshes making runs to the fast food places. The cars and motors are all better and more efficient. We are just asking them to do more. So, if you want your Metro or Corolla of old, be prepared for the inconvenience of old too.

A guy I used to work with had a Chevy Sprint, which is basically a rebadged Geo Metro, if I remember right. He got broadsided by a motorcycle that ran a stop sign. The guy on the bike went flying over the handlebars and completely over the car, but only had a few scrapes. My friend’s car was almost totaled by the impact. And this was a MOTORCYCLE that hit him! He still continued to drive it until the car began to use about a quart of oil every 200 miles, though he had to always get in the passenger side due to the damage.

Yes, you can get 50 MPG out of a an old car like this. If you don’t mind 15-20 seconds to get up to 60 MPH, worse with the A/C on. (if you even have A/C) At least the old Omnis had a little bit of pep in comparison. The hamsters under the hood must have been on steroids.

I will cheerfully suffer my 15-26 MPG in my car, while enjoying the pickup, smoothness, and amenities. It sometimes hurts when I fill up, but I smile the rest of the time. If I still commuted 50 miles each way like I did about 12 years ago, I might be in the market for a more economical car.

I used to drive beater Ford pickups,mostly 3 spd,dont think they weighed over 4000 lbs.The mileage was around 15 for the 6 cyl and around 13 for the small V-8s(I never looked back)-Kevin