By on February 14, 2012

These days the big kids on the block are giant pickup trucks and luxury model sport utility vehicles. A bygone era in Detroit featured giant cars with giant engines and painfully small mpg ratings.

The movement toward big and beautiful really caught fire in the late 50s when the Big Three fought a size-really-matters battle with their high end luxury models.

Purists would argue that high end pre-war cars were pioneers in the giant automobile craze, and they would be right. But the big car era became pretty main-stream until the 1973 oil embargo swung the size-matters pendulum the other way.

Even then, the big car managed to limp into the eighties as a regular production vehicle for the large and tall customer, or the senior who had yet to discover bungalow-sized diesel-pusher motorhomes.

But the experience behind the wheel of an old-school land yacht should be mandatory for every car guy-young and old. If these babies were good enough for the underworld broken noses chasing Jimmy Rockford around the greater LA region, then they are good enough for the average Joe in today’s collector car world.

The biggest drawback for today’s younger drivers is the sheer size of the beasts. They like a car that can dance through traffic while they text, watch a movie, check out the latest tattoo creeping closer to their face, and listen to an MP3 file. They are unfamiliar with the idea of a wallowing ride and 8 tracks that work at least 65 percent of the time. And massive weight coupled with drum brakes that made drivers pay strict attention to the road.

The big boys were really made for the open road where living room comfortable seats made the front seat seem like a plush couch with a windshield and steering wheel in front of it.

It made for a great driving experience – one that should be shared by every driver at some point in life. Just make sure to tee up a Doobie Brothers 8 track with ‘Rockin down the Highway’ on it for the journey. Then it will make complete sense.

 

For more of Jim Sutherland’s work go to mystarcollectorcar.com

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65 Comments on “Why Every Car Guy Needs To Pilot A Giant Old School Land Yacht Barge...”


  • avatar
    don1967

    “Pilot” is a good choice of words, because these land yachts actually made pretty good flight simulators. There is nothing like a ’71 Imperial to illustrate the concept of “yaw” or “pitch”. In fact, to this day I suspect that steering was accomplished through a rudder that merely pushed air to one side in the hope that the car would eventually follow.

    • 0 avatar
      PJ McCombs

      Indeed! I bought a ’73 DeVille sedan with saved-up after-school work funds in 1998. You sure did get to understand yaw (especially at the rear, over a supermarket parking-lot speed bump) and anticipate steering inputs oh, about two or three seconds before chassis response was required (as on fast, twisting Northern CA highways).

      To be honest, though, today’s new drivers are probably more talented with excess mass and inscrutable vehicular edges than I ever was. At least I could see where I was going and where the corners of the car were. Makes you feel lucky to have had a reasonably-cheap-to-maintain 7.7L V8 and filled up with sub-$2/gallon gas.

    • 0 avatar
      afflo

      I was surprised driving a rental Fusion SEL just how much of that wallowy feeling is left in some cars these days. That and an automatic transmission made it a bit stressful to drive in the heavy traffic in DC where you need a car with quick reflexes.

      My only experience with these old-style tanks has been a mid-60′s Cutlass than a friend let me drive, and a late model Grand Marquis. I guess it’s mostly nostalgia for you guys, like listening to LPs and taking pictures with Polaroid SX-70 film. It’s just a matter of time before the Hipsters find them!

      (The Grand Marquis especially… It’s inexcusable for a car to be that big and not be more spacious… I swear, I don’t think it was any bigger inside than an Accord, though I’m sure the trunk is bigger.)

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      My first car was my mom’s ’75 Olds Custom Cruiser wagon. You didn’t drive that car – you gave orders to the helmsman, like Captain Smith on the Titanic.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        “hail the engine room, full reverse!”

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Exactly! Turn the wheel, and after a heartbeat’s delay, you turned.

        In the Olds’ case, it was less like the Titanic and more like the freakin’ Exxon Valdez, which was an apt comparison given the car’s endless appetite for gas.

      • 0 avatar
        caltemus

        My first car is a 1989 Lincoln Town car, and it is unlike anything I’ve driven before. Coming off of the 2005 LeSabre I learned to drive on, I’ts like I was given the keys to an aircraft carrier with wheels. You could even land a plane on the hood…

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      I, too, owned a bunch of these Yank Tanks or Landyachts I bought new and many of them I kept running for twenty or more years. But eventually it is no longer economically or even physically feasible to maintain them. And it was always something that needed to be repaired on them, even when new. I’m too old now to constantly wrench and tool on jalopies.

      And while our 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee or our 2008 Highlander are OK, they are no match for the comfort and cushy ride of our Olds 98, Caddy Sedan de Ville, Towncar, Mercury Grand Marquis, Olds Custom Cruiser or Buick Park Avenue.

      • 0 avatar

        Did you try Toyota Camry/Avalon and Honda Accord. Or even better Lexus ES and Acura TSX? Typical land yachts, pretty spacious inside too. I can imagine the popularity of Camcords and Lexucuras is tied to being spiritual ancestors to older American land yachts.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      You’re talking about the ’70s land yachts. The earlier ’60s full size weren’t quite the wallowers the ’70s were. My ’62 Buick LeSabre actually handled okay. My ’63 Chrysler Newport much better. The wallow was added later, as I noticed when my sister’s father-in-law lent me his ’74 Newport wagon. You don’t realize what the early smog controls did to power until you compare the ’63 Newport’s screaming 361 cid to the slant six-like performance of the 440 cid. It was enough to make a grown man cry.

  • avatar
    FJ60LandCruiser

    The now extinct Panther was the spiritual successor of this age.

    There was something to be said about the cars of that age with the (relatively) short wheelbases, massive overhang, and torquey engines with scant horsepower.

    I remember driving a friend’s Fleetwood circa mid 70s. I clipped a stop sign the first time because (like in most large pickups) you have to overshoot before turning right to avoid hitting stuff on the curb.

  • avatar

    There’s still something to be said for the mini-boats of our era: The Crown Victoria & Grand Marquis siblings. I had a ’94 Taurus wagon for awhile, and got used to driving with comparatively no hood. So when I bought a ’91 Grand Marquis from my brother, it was a totally different feeling to drive that beast for the first time. You know that scene in(one of the movies, the exact # escapes me at the moment) Ocean’s 1X where Brad Pitt & George Clooney are driving in the convertible and the camera is fixed above the car (probably on a trailer). The scenery glides past, like the car is standing still but the world is rolling by beneath it… that’s exactly how it felt to go back to driving that particular car with those acres of hood for the first time in a long time.

    You don’t drive, you waft in one of those. The newer ones handle and accelerate even better, but you can’t beat that pillowy ride for highway cruising.

    And speaking of low horsepower… the ’88-91 CV/GM came with a mere 150 horsepower, but 270 ft-lbs of Torque.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    As a current owner of a yesteryear land yacht (65 Newport), I’ll say that when I first drove it, it felt like a wallowing tank, yawing and leaning every which way when turning.. but you get used to it. And yes, it does make you do something few drivers do anymore, pay attention! One thing though, for being nearly 50 years old, the lack of squeaks/rattles when going over bumps still amazes me. Solid car.

    • 0 avatar
      BigOldChryslers

      I find the 1966 Chrysler to be just about the nicest car I’ve ever driven; just one of the reasons I own more than one of them. Maybe the rear springs in your 65 are sagging or have a broken leaf, or you need new shocks? My 2-door hardtop was getting rather wallowy in the past couple years, and I know it needed new front shocks.

      The front subframe in fullsize Mopars of this era was rigidly bolted to the unibody. I’ve never driven a fuselage-era C-body, which had rubber isolators between the front subframe and the body. That made for most of the “floaty” ride that most people associate with these large cars today.

      • 0 avatar
        fincar1

        I will agree here. I had a 1965 Chrysler 300L hardtop that was the best-handling big car I’ve ever owned. I also owned a 1960 New Yorker 2-door hardtop and a 1957 New Yorker 4-door hardtop at different times and they were great drivers too. Particularly the 1957 – it was certainly not a small car but I could see all four corners of it from the driver’s seat, and while it was not exactly nimble it would go where I pointed it. I had no problems driving any of the three in heavy traffic. I took a trip from western WA to southern CA in the 300L, and was surprised on the way back at how steep some of the downgrades were – they hadn’t seemed that steep going up. A 413-cubic-inch engine will do that for you.

  • avatar
    MrGreenMan

    The comparatively new Mercedes-cum-Chrysler Chargers and 300s provide an extreme version of land yacht piloting: Going from a Mercury Grand Marquis to a Charger just to test drive it had me running back to the Grand Marquis, as the contrivance of the Chrysler design — straight-ahead hood, no bowing to aerodynamics, gunslit windows, oddly far away internal dash — makes you think they you are moving a much bigger vehicle and you do not know where the corners of it are located. Once you got the trick of any Panther car, they have the same maneuverability as a Corolla or Cobalt, just with a little more situational awareness.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    I have a 97 Crown Vic used mainly for road trips to visit the kids in college. The smooth 210 HP 4.5L V8 coupled with only 3800 lbs of car has plenty of zip. Also, the sofa type split front seat is very easy on the back for long trips. With only 64K on it, I plan on driving it for a long time. Four wheel disc brakes stop it quickly unlike the old land barges. Great road car.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I learned to drive in the large cars of the day and drove one myself – Impalas. Loved every one of them. That’s why I still drive an Impala. Fortunately, it gets light-years more fuel economy that the Imps of old could only dream about!

    The land yachts of the ’70′s? I hated every stinking one of them and went to small cars until 1997, when we bought an Intrepid. Happy current Impala owner since 2004.

  • avatar
    PaulVincent

    As for drum brakes, in 1969 the Ford Country Squire with towing package had 4 wheel disc brakes. Any earlier, I’m not sure.

  • avatar
    Hank

    Good article. If you’re a real car, it seems to me, you can find the redeeming attributes of anything on wheels. I learned to drive in such barges, and my first car was a barge-sized ’68 Fury. Float? You betcha. But if you spent enough time learning its ways, you could dance that car through traffic and fishtail around corners like the Duke boys, not problem. It was light on its feet like a Kung Fu Panda when you knew what you were doing. And I left all the ’80s Mustangs & Camaros eating my dust…and humiliated that what they thought was just a land-barge granny mobile was disappearing on the West Texas horizon.

  • avatar
    slance66

    I have fond memories of my dad’s ’77 Cougar XR7, which I drove while in High School in the early 80′s. 351 Windsor, but it couldn’t spin the tires without sand. Almost impossible to navigate around corners without hitting curbs.

    Yet an excellent side benefit. While giving a very cute cheerleader named Sandy a ride one day (sans seat belts of course), I took a fairly hard right hand corner. With the vinyl covered “split buckets” up front, she slid right into me. They just don’t make them like they used to.

  • avatar
    bryanska

    My first car, in 1996, was a 1980 diesel Eldorado. Now these were “downsized” Eldos, but nothing was so much fun as to heel it around a corner, sliding across the leather bench, and imagining a camera in front the wheelwell capturing all the action. I miss that car. It had the 8-track with CB.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    Bigger was better for a long time. It connotated luxury. Size mattered since the dawn of the auto age. So naturally, folks born during the first half of the 20th Century would see size as an indicator of a luxury car.

    Mainstream middle class vehicles have remained similarly sized during the entire century, however. Today’s Camcord offers similar space as the 1955 full size Ford, Dodge and Chevrolet.

    It was the coupling of horsepower and a need for brand divergence that created the giant cars of the 1960-1980 era. Since size equalled luxury in the minds of yesterday’s buyers, full size vehicles became the size of previous luxury brands. Luxury brands grew even larger as a result. We end up with Mammoth Luxury from 1957 to 1980.

    Giant cars were a good fit for their era. Families were markedly larger. These were generations where both parents and children lived in the same house, and this was far more common than today. By 1960, compact cars become second cars for these households. A need to fit six or more family members into a car more than once a week was normal. People aren’t stupid – these cars offered a tranportation solution for their times.

    By 1960, we see a plethora of new fabrics, plastics and materials unavailable earlier. Folks buying these cars often dressed in unbreathable fabrics themselves while purchasing vehicles filled with vinyl, polyester, nylon, acetate, and other oil-based materials.

    Brand differentiation meant that the luxury cars which used to seat six with room, now sat six with even more room. Sound insulation at that time meant weight. Ford started a bragging war over how quiet their new LTD was compared to a Rolls Royce. By 1975, many brands bragged about how silent and disconnected their car’s rides were from the road.

    With pump prices under $.40, it didn’t cost buyers to get big. 7 mpg was not unusual in 1974. There was no external pressure to change that until that year.

    There is no reason for a car to be as large as a 1957 Lincoln. Thats the point. Just as there is no logical reason to wear diamonds, live with your wife in a house larger than 1000 square feet, own 10 pairs of shoes, own a private jet, have a cleaning and gardening staff, having a car as large as what was commonly driven on US roads during the latter half of the 20th Century was seen as desirable, and affordable, luxury.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Ah, the good old days. You guys do realize that all of those barges are actually not all that big or heavy by modern standards, right? A full size pickup or SUV is a whole lot bigger and heavier than the full-size land yachts of yesteryear. Even something like the last Saab 9-5 Aero wieghed 5000lbs. Cars are dense these days. Accords and Camrys even are as heavy as the old cars one size down from the biggies of the ’70s.

    But those old barges certainly did lack handling and brakes. Amazes me that people put up with that.

  • avatar
    redliner

    No need to go all the way back to the 1960s, a 1995 Cadillac Deville will provide a reasonable facsimile with (slightly) more reliability.

    • 0 avatar
      Joe McKinney

      The 1991-96 Chevy Caprice and Buick Roadmaster will suffice as well. They had contemporary, aerodynamic styling on the outside, but the ride and handling were comparable to 1970′s era GM full-size cars. I had a mid-1990′s Caprice as a rental once, and the floaty suspension and overboosted power steering and brakes reminded me of my grandfather’s 1978 LeSabre. The hard, shiney plastic on the dash and swithchgear was also familier.

  • avatar

    My oldest son, 24, has owned a ’92 Subaru and a Legacy wagon and currently owns a ’93 Accord.

    He’s terrified at the thought of trying to drive anything like my ’91 Caprice Wagon. Although he and his band toured last summer in a ’90 Chevy G-20 Van. He still drives it occasionally to gigs and recording sessions but the size is an issue.

    My other son, who’s a little more adventuresome and a little more mechanically inclined, admitted after borrowing the Caprice for a few days helped him to get used to driving something other than just smaller cars.

    Driving something that actually requires some thought should be part of every youngster’s training as far as I’m concerned. Maybe they’ll learn it’s not like driving something in Grand Theft Auto.

  • avatar
    Caraholica

    One of the purposes of these monsters was to impress the hell out of your neighbors or other peons as you floated by. The sheer enormity of what you were guiding down the road was impressive in our little town where people actually knew what you drove. How they drove was kind of beside the point, but getting out of my Vega into my Dad’s 75 Lincoln sedan was a bracing experience in silent and disconnected motoring. At least until the 1st corner arrived when Alfred Hitchcock couldnt have frightened a passenger any more. They are a still frightening to try and keep up with the L A 500 commute each day, but they are a fun reminder of a time when using the earth’s resources to make these status seeking ego boosters seemed like a good idea.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    I had a 69 Coronet convertible with a big block. Though acceleration was immediate everything else was a mere suggestion. Especially when some lightweight was trying to stop it with manual 4 wheel drum brakes (which was an effective weak man’s ABS by the way). Then I went the complete opposite direction and traded it for a 427 Cobra replica. Talk about recalibrating your brain!

  • avatar
    mzr

    I miss my ’77 Thunderbird. I’ve gone to small cars and minivans, but sometimes I just want to drive as ostentatious and outsized as a malaise mobile.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    I miss some of the cars from that era. I miss the land barges like I would miss an abscessed tooth.

  • avatar
    CougarXR7

    I had a civilian model 2001 Ford Crown Vic until I traded it on a clean, low-mileage ’95 Lexus LS400 about three years ago. Vicky was a great highway cruiser, but with the grandma-spec non cop car suspension, it got squirrrely over 70, especially on a wavy road. I’ve had the Lexus up to over 100 and it’s rock solid. I still miss that old Ford sometimes but the Lexus is a superior car in every respect.

    I currently have my own malaise-era land yacht sitting in the garage. It’s a ’72 Olds Delta 88 Royale convertible with the 455 engine. It was my faithful summer and weekend cruiser right up until the fragile OEM nylon timing gear let go. Whoops.

    While it’s laid up I’m making some much-needed handling upgrades.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    I get sorely tempted to buy one of these monsters and can list a 1/2 dozen eBay sites that regularly list late 60 into the late 70s monsters for sale. You know what? I should break down and buy one and then get one of those new 40mpg wonders to drive the majority of the time. Enjoy the monsters before they all get crushed, sent to China, melted down, and come back to us as Chinese cars.

  • avatar
    Junebug

    Ah the good old days, Dad had a 1966 Buick 225 and Mom a 1968 LeSabre. I used the 225 as a Motel 6 many nights, teenage “love” was in full swing. I had a buddy that borrowed his mom’s Crown Vic and took his girlfriend, and me and my girl out one night. After pizza it was agreed upon to get beer and go parking. (Hey back in those days you were legal at 18) anyway, my girlfriend decided to go over the front seat to change the radio, she shoulda just asked first as they were ..er..busy!

  • avatar
    Rob Finfrock

    I was extremely lucky to have several different kinds of vehicles to choose from when I was a senior in high school. In addition to my micro-sized Geo Storm, the folks also had a ’92 Honda Accord, a late-80s Chevy conversion van, a 1992 C3500 dually…

    …And my favorite of all, a 1963 Pontiac Bonneville 4-door hardtop.

    I drove each to school (33 miles away) several times. The Bonnie was my favorite, but each vehicle taught me invaluable lessons on different aspects of what’s required to operate a motor vehicle.

  • avatar

    I think every car guy needs to experience an air-cooled Volkswagen as well, preferably on a long highway road trip in cold weather. Don’t forget to adjust the valves!

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    I’ve driven an Eldorado rag-top, a Ford country squire wagon, a Fleetwood and a New Yorker all 70′s vintage, I think I can now die in peace.

  • avatar
    kenzter

    Great timing on this. The largest car I have ever driven is one I just bought a few weeks ago. A 1969 Cadillac Sedan Deville hardtop. It makes driving our Silverado feel like our GTI, and the GTI feel like a Porsche. It does take some getting used to. You know those yellow “recommended maximum speed” signs on curves? They are for this car.

  • avatar
    alan996

    While my present car, a 95 TC, does not qualify as an old style land yacht my 85 Fleetwood Brougham did. I found it interesting how my two children reacted to the two cars. My daughter the school teacher with two kids living in Chicago loves to drive them (she does have the advantage of being tall and can see the front end) and at least twice a year asks if I am ready to get rid of the Lincoln. My son the career Army Officer who has driven everything from modified dune buggies to APCs on three continents wants no part of them.

    As for me I grew up with them know how to drive them even in the midwest snow season and at my age love the ride. My only problem is will the Lincoln outlast me.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    In the mid 80s a buddy of mine inherited a 75′ Olds Delta 98, we drove it from Houston to St Louis. You didn’t so much steer that thing as give it suggestions via the wheel, and then hoped it listened.

  • avatar
    Chipper Carb

    Makes me happy that I just bought a 1976 Chrysler Cordoba

  • avatar
    BobAsh

    As a young European driver, who likes cars to dance through traffic, going sideways time from time, and wants to be able to eat, drink or phone behind the wheel, I strongly disagree that old land yachts are unable to do this.

    My ’88 Chevy Caprice was pretty able to drive on Central-European winding backroads at quite impressive speeds. And it was much more pleasant to drive in Czech towns than many new European hatchbacks…

  • avatar
    dm2012

    In late 2006, after divorcing my first wife, I drove my ’63 Chrysler Imperial from northwest WA back to southern CA in a 2 day trek down I-5. Made it from Anacortes, WA to Williams, CA (40 mi N of Sacramento) the first day. Saw some fabulous scenery (Mt. Rainier, Columbia River, Mt. Shasta) from the JFK-era-living-room comfort of that gigantic front bench seat while looking forward to my new life as a born-again bachelor. Yeah, with that 413 V-8 and all-drum brakes, you notice the steepness of Siskyou Pass a lot more driving down it than up it.

  • avatar
    gottacook

    I drove a 1966 Bonneville convertible – with a 124-inch wheelbase, 222-inch overall length, and monstrously large trunk – from 1974 to 1991. Leather-and-vinyl six-way power front bench seat, a/c, power windows, and (of course) drum brakes all around. It handled like a barge; I put radial tires on it in 1975, which helped some, but (as noted by others here) the car was made for speed and not maneuverability. And go fast it did, even with the base 389; the Turbo-Hydramatic transmission was excellent. My one regret is that I sold it the year before meeting my wife-to-be.

  • avatar
    texan01

    I grew up driving a 76 Chevy Malibu Classic sedan, while a mid-sizer back in the day, it dwarfs all but most full size SUVs now. Funny thing is it’s towered over by all the cars on the road. It sits low.

    My current sled of choice is a 77 version of the same car. It has the malasey 305 with 145hp, which is good for 11 second 0-60 times. I have upgraded the original marshmellow suspension with cop car parts, which sharpened its reflexes quite a bit, and coupled with an anemic but willing V8 and a quick reflex autobox it can be driven 9/10s in traffic and with fun as long as you know where the corners of the car are. The front is easy, its 6 inches in front of the hood ornament. the rear is 5 feet behind the bottom edge of the back window due to the taper from the semi-fastback design.

    Pinky power steering and bags of torque at cruising rpm make 70mph effortless, and it knocks down 20mpg at 75-80. tops out at 110. Throw an arm of the bench seat, turn on the radio to a good station or in my case, pop the tape adapter into the stock radio and turn on the ipod and let the tunes waft out of the quad speakers while you watch the world slide by while looking down the hood at that chrome circle sticking up at the end of the hood.

    It did leave me stranded once, it ate a pickup coil in the distributor and the resulting backfire shredded the remains of GM’s lesser ideas of nylon timing sets. That alone told me that the 10486 showing in the non-functional speed/odometer was probably closer to 150,000 miles and that the motor has never been apart. New chain, and gaskets all around and oil consumption is a quart every 1500 miles and it’s been trouble-free otherwise.

  • avatar
    Peter Reynolds

    Growing up in the British colonies we didn’t feel the need to drive a yank tank to know what a whale on wheels was like to drive.

  • avatar
    Loser

    I learned how to drive in a ’74 Delta 88 and took my driver test in my uncles ’71 Chrysler Town & Country wagon. Funny how a Cutlass was too small for some folks back then but now looks like a tank to most today. I still love to drive these old tanks but I have gone soft. I couldn’t drive one of these tanks cross country now that I’m spoiled by the comforts of todays cars.

    I laugh when people today insist they can not drive in snow unless they have a front drive car with traction control and anti-lock brakes. As a high school kid I somehow made it through Cleveland winters in a ’74 Caprice on tires I would find discarded behind the local gas station.

  • avatar
    Dynasty

    I think what a lot of people do not realize is the suspension and steering on the 30 year + old cars are in serious need of being rebuilt.

    Then drive one, and you would be totally surprised at how NICE these cars can actually drive.

  • avatar

    Learned to drive in a 1977 Buick Le Sabre… Achievement Unlocked.

  • avatar
    CougarXR7

    @Dynasty-

    That’s exactly the process I’m undergoing on my ’72 Delta 88 convertible.

    I’ve already replaced the sagging original rear coil springs with brand new ones spec’d for police / taxi 71-76 GM B-bodies. Up front I’m going with heavy-duty coils spec’d for a 74-76 big-block Caprice wagon. I’m also going with KYB Gas-A-Just shocks all around.

    Next will come a 1 1/4 inch sway bar in front and either a 7/8 or 1 inch bar in back, with urethane bushings.

    I might even upgrade to a fast-ratio steering box if I don’t sell the car to finance my other ongoing projects first.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    I had slightly the opposite recently, going from an extended cab Ranger that was dying to a smaller, 2003 Mazda Protege5, now talk about getting used to it.

    40mph for a while felt as fast as 60mph was in the truck and I got good at being able to feel the truck on for size and slide it between tight spaces where people in cars smaller than it felt that they could not squeeze through. I had NO problem with it in traffic, despite the leaky canopy being perpetually fogged up during the cold, wet winter months and that meant changing lanes was sometimes a challenge as I had to crane around to see who’s on my right rear flank, through the cab’s dirty sliding window, and the equally dirty sliding window of the canopy and then the often fogged up side window of the canopy but I did it and utilized my right hand mirror too, that is until some idiot smacked it back into the door, partially breaking the glass out of it.

    The Mazda, on the other hand, feels tighter, much more nimble and quick on its feet than any of the other vehicles, save the 2 Hondas, with the Civic being more so than the Accord due to its smaller size.

    But I DID start my driving career on large domestic sedans, such as Dad’s 75 Gran Fury with the 360 V8 and my first car was an unrestored ’68 Chrysler Newport before downsizing to a pair of 70′s era Novas, a 78 Ford Fairmont before dropping down even more for an early 80′s Civic hatchback and then slightly upsized for the 88 Honda Accord before getting the truck.

    As to the old Chrysler, it wallowed, partly due to the fact that the suspension sagged some from age (at around 113K original miles on it back in the very early 80′s). That thing has a long, nearly flat hood with the turn signals on the front fenders and a long, flat rear deck so seeing where the ends of your land yacht wasn’t too difficult and it is a good way to learn how to feel for where your wheels are and try avoiding potholes and such as it can make you MUCH more aware of your wheels in later cars, even if much smaller.

    But do I want one that big? Only as a pleasure car for cruising and such, but not as a daily driver. For that, something like my Protege is preferred. :-)

  • avatar
    MusicMachine

    I took my driver’s test in an ’83 Country Squire Wagon–Wood grained.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    A friend had a mint condition 1972 Buick Electra 225 4-door hardtop long after most of us had moved on to driving cars that were bought new in the late ’80s or early ’90s. Even though I’d driven the wheels off of everything from an Edsel to a 911 Turbo in high school and college, I’d pretty much settled into BMW ownership and lost my touch for driving challenging cars by my mid-20s. That particular Buick had POWER DISC BRAKES(noted on a chrome strip across the brake pedal) and lap belts. The brakes were as over-boosted as the steering, and try as I might, I couldn’t apply them without risking my teeth on the steering wheel. I’m sure they’d have been okay at higher speeds, but my drive took place in a large complex of parking lots. I don’t think I’ve driven anything else with brakes remotely as touchy, and my driver’s ed range car was a retired police pursuit 1976 Pontiac LeMans 400. Trying to pilot that Buick may be when I began to conclude that my driving skill was declining as my cars got better.

  • avatar
    nikita

    I learned to drive in a ’65 Impala wagon. It had scary-small non-power drum brakes inside 14 inch wheels. Mountain road driving was a “learning” experience.

    The biggest and plushest boat piloted was a ’64 Lincoln suicide-door Continental, and that was trim compared to contemporary Cadillacs and Imperials. Great highway car when premium gas was 40 cents a gallon.

    Mom still has a ’72 Buick, inherited from her mother. At least it has decent brakes and suspension geometry, even if sprung and damped way to soft. GM was still using different stiffness of rubber suspension bushings on its different makes back then, Buick softest and Pontiac stiffest.

  • avatar
    afflo

    “The big boys were really made for the open road where living room comfortable seats made the front seat seem like a plush couch with a windshield and steering wheel in front of it.”

    I wonder if, in addition to changing tastes* and an interest in fuel economy (though gas is still pretty cheap), the open road has lost some of its mystique. Interstates have brought urban buildup into the countryside, and most highway trips are punctuated by segments of city freeway where a nimble car is an asset. Unless you do your traveling at 2AM, you’re likely to get caught in heavy traffic. Even then, tight turns on ramps and flyovers are more common these days… Even some midsizers don’t like being taken around a cloverleaf above the speed on the yellow advisory speed signs.

  • avatar

    In college I had a 1967 Fury II. It was a massive two door coupe, with a full six foot back seat, and six foot bench in front as well. 383 “supercommando” V8. Big Brakes. It had a good two inches of slippage between the steering wheel and the front contact patches.

    It was a time warp car, with only a rip on the seat as “wear”. The prior owner bought it, waxed it and passed-on. The perfect old-man car buy.

    If you could get past the 6-10 mpg, it started and ran like hell, easily overcoming the “by the pound” steel used. Momentum, once gained was to be managed…something you don’t learn as easily in, say, some tiny import. Turns were planned in Advance.

    The only “car” I’ve recently driven that was anything like this old school road hugging weight car was a Ram 1500 crew cab pickup.

    I should have de-badged the car because it was stolen one evening from Boston streets…and the only reason anyone would take it would be for that 383.


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