Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Detroit tried to squash the Beetle

The idea that Detroit did nothing when faced with competition from Volkswagen in the fifties is nonsense - see previous post. In all the weeping and wailing over the collapse of Detroit this myth is taking hold. Nothing could be further from the truth.
By chance I have been reading Morgan: Performance plus Tradition by Jonathan Wood, about the British sports car. Writing about the alloy Buick V8 from General Motors, later the Rover V8 fitted to the Morgan, he says:
At 215cu in (3.5 litres), the new GM
engine had a small capacity by
American standards, and had been
conceived to power a trio of GM's so-
called compacts, produced in
response to European imports such as
- in particular - the Volkswagen
Beetle. American Motors had quickly
come up with its Rambler and this
had been followed in 1959 by the
Chevrolet Corvair, Ford Falcon and
Plymouth Valiant. It was now the turn
of GM's Buick, Oldsmobile and
Pontiac marques to produce their
compacts, and the Buick Special,
Oldsmobile F-85 and Pontiac Tempest
were duly introduced in the autumn of
1960 for the following season,
complete with the new V8.
The Chevrolet II of 1961 came with four and six cylinder engines aimed squarely at the Volkswagen. Later import-fighters were the AMC Gremlin (1970) and Pacer (1975). The Dodge Omni and the Plymouth Horizon were imported by Chrysler from 1978 (sold as the Chrysler Horizon in the UK). The root cause of the failure of all these efforts was the quality issue which opened the door to Japanese imports. When Volkswagen stumbled over quality with their U.S.-built Rabbit cars, the Datsun (later Nissan), Honda and Toyota marques moved in and cleaned up.

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