Magic numbers???

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What was going on back in the 70’s with MGPG numbers???
Look at these ads. Did they know something we don’t ?
I realize cars were lighter, and less powerful. But still.
The Prius is light, and not that powerful.
These old cars seemed to get similar numbers without all the Sci Fi technology..

What gives?

46mpg with a Corolla?!
The all new one claims 35 on the freeway.

Unless you had to get the Corinthian leather.
(Which by the way was a word invented by Chrysler. It doesn’t mean anything. The leather didn’t come from Corinth, but Newark New Jersey)
Then you were stuck with the usual 10 to 12mpg….

Conversation 28 comments

  1. 500 to 1000 or more pounds is a lot of weight Vince. Hell, most of the weight was to make the cars “safer” but more mass creates more force on impact, meaning the cars have to be made even stronger, which adds more weight…

    That and battery packs and DC motors for hybrids (or even standard exhaust scrubbers) aren’t exactly light (or cheap) either.

  2. The formulas used by the EPA are much different today as compared to methods used some 40 years ago and hp were at smaller numbers too. I am guessing that the old Civic had 50 hp?

  3. If my memory serves me correctly and it may not be, I heard that back in the, oh I don’t know, 70’s or 80’s that there were prototypes with carbeurators making close to 100 mpg. They were deemed impractical since the carbeurators stuck through the hood of the car by a considerable amount. And yeah, so much for the high tech crap, these cars had carbeurators and 3 speed auto’s/4 speed manuals. Today we have direct injection and 6 speed autos, but yes, we are lugging around waaaayyy more weight with safety equipment and options. Also these cars went from 0 to 60 mph in….um….uuuhhhhhh…..could they even get to 60 mph?

  4. Honestly, that is a pretty stupid question Vince.

    In The Corolla and Civic now are both larger than the Camry and Accord were 20 years ago. The cars were much lighter because they did not have as much safety equipment and reinforcement or emissions regulations. Engines on smaller vehicles have almost doubled in size and have almost double the output. America demands larger cars so we get larger cars that are both heavier and less efficient than the cars of the past.

  5. I think there are three main reasons why these thirty year old small cars have better mileage ratings than our modern small cars:

    (1) CHANGE IN EPA MILEAGE RATING SYSTEM. In 2008 the EPA adjusted the test and calculation procedure used to determine fuel economy. This adjustment was meant to better reflect real world driving conditions. As a consequence of this change stated mileage numbers dropped.

    (2) WEIGHT. Economy cars of the late seventies generally weighed much less than the economy cars of today. Pushing around less mass requires less energy (ie, fuel).

    (3) ENGINE OUTPUT. Engine power in economy cars of the late 70’s was typically much lower than it is today. Correspondingly, the on road performance (acceleration, top speed, etc…) of the 70’s econocars is vastly inferior to today’s small cars.

    EXAMPLE: 1978 Toyota Corolla vs 2008 Toyota Corolla

    1978 Toyota Corolla 2 Door
    Engine: 1.2L I-4
    Transmission: 4 spd MT
    Horsepower: 55hp [N1]
    Weight: ~2,000lbs [N2]
    Mileage: 34 City / 46 Highway

    2008 Toyota Corolla 4 Door
    Engine: 1.8L I-4
    Transmission: 5 spd MT
    Horsepower: 126hp
    Weight: 2,530 lbs
    Pre 2008 System: 32 City / 41 Highway
    2008 System: 28 City / 37 Highway

    [N1] SAE changed their horsepower rating system in 2005. The number stated may be somewhat less if judged by the new system.
    [N2] I don’t know the actual weight. This number is a high estimate based on three internet sources.

    If we compare the 1978 and 2008 Corollas using the SAME pre-2008 EPA rating system we see that the highway ratings are 46 versus 41. The 1978 model gets 12% better highway fuel economy than the 2008 model. However, the 1978 model weighs about 20% less than the 2008 model. More amazingly, the (peak) horsepower output of the 1978 model is 56% LESS than the 2008 version. On the highway the 1978 Corolla does burn slightly less fuel than the 2008 Corolla … however, the trade off for this small savings is a vehicle that is quite a bit smaller (ie, less comfortable, not as safe) and much slower.

    Over the past thirty years mass market engine technology (ex: variable valve timing) HAS resulted in improved efficiency (ie, engine output versus fuel burned). However, we’re not really seeing this translate in to better fuel economy because cars have grown in size / weight (due to consumer preferences and the addition of safety equipment) and power / performance.

  6. Yes, Vince, you can have those numbers again. Just give up your a/c, your power windows locks mirrors and seats, your moonroof, 6 disc cd changer, your dvd player, all your airbags and crash protection. Hope you can drive a stick and don’t mind wheezing up to highway speeds with your 60hp 4 cylinder!

  7. “46mpg with a Corolla?!
    The all new one claims 35 on the freeway.”….

    To be fair, the 1978 corolla would crumple in an accident in a similar fashion to tin foil when brand new. Today, adding in age and possible rust into the equation, that crash behavior would be even worse.

    A brand new corolla today would do well in an accident. While its nice to have a lightweight car like the ’78 corolla for its gas millage, its far better to have an ’08 corolla for its safety.

  8. Also, the Honda in the ad has a 1200 CC engine putting out somewhere in the 50-60 HP range.

    I think you want a Smart Car.

  9. The B210 weighed 2000 lbs and had 65hp. Complare that to a Sentra that makes 140-200hp and weighs 1000lbs more. It matters. The difference is that, at 40,000 miles the Datsun was barely roadworthy and there was almost no crash protection. Almost all American cars in the 70s had heavy steel beams in the doors, providing some side impact protection. Many small Japanese cars did not have this until the mid 80s. Even with the gas penalty, I would much rather be in a tacky 4000lb 70s Cordoba than a 70s Civic sardine can.

  10. My dad had a 77 Grand Prix that was similar to the Cordova, those things were like a tank, the doors were 6 ft. long and he was able to actually climb in the engine compartment to repair stuff, try that in a modern car let alone the old econo cars.

    PS, those old tin cans had nothing on Ricardo, he looks so pimp in that suit!

  11. What’s really shocking here is you can see that Ford copied the styling of 25-year old Japanese cars to come up with the US Focus!

  12. Those things were basically the Chinese cars of today (but of course due to the raised safety regulation, they aren’t over here…yet). But as we’ve seen, the improvements of developing manufacturers are happening faster and faster.

    I find it hilarious that Toyota and Honda refuse to rename their vechicles as they grow vastly in size. But it’s a smart move (unlike FORD) because they can always advertise that the newer model is bigger and with more features than the previous version. However this would be more Accurate:




    Accord=Inspire (Logically makes the most sense to name it like this because it’s actually called this in some markets now) This thing is a FULL SIZE car now? The Accord should have NEVER been a full size vechicle!





    Avalon= A Toyota Badge at Lexus Pricing aka Grandparent Mobile





    Maxima=Identity Crisis

    What’s funny is that the Versa is still BIGGER and more powerful than the Sentra of 10 years ago!

  13. Hi Vince!! I hope you’re OK. I think it was a great question. And maybe one we should ALL be asking. True – there are some obvious reasons. [Obvious – when one thinks of them – like safely features and our insistance that even the least expensive cars have some ‘luxuries’] But maybe we should re-consider all of that and do without. At least when considering what we buy as a ‘second car’. I – for one – would LOVE to be able to buy a bare-bones car. Something with basically nothing. Just to get me to the store and back. And I mean no a/c, no power windows, no nothing. Just a plain-jane car. In fact – an updated version of the 1973 Honda Civic would be GREAT!! Sure – some safety features would add a few pounds – but with an extra gear in the transmission – I’m sure the MPG’s wouldn’t be too far off from what they optimistically projected back then. And what’s wrong with 12″ wheels? Seriously. I would LOVE to park a brand new version of the car that put Honda on the North American map. The first real Civic. And I’d park it right next to my 300C SRT8. It would be the perfect 2nd car. Craig

  14. Corinthian leather was much lighter weight than the leather they use today. The Cordoba only had half of a vinyl top- reducing the weight even further, allowing it to achieve such a high MPG. Seriously, those old Japanese cars may have got good gas mileage, but if they lasted 6 years before rusting out, you were lucky. Go on ebay and see how many are still left, compared to the American cars of that era. It was great to see those old ads though.

  15. Yeah I had a old Honda Civic in the 80s Got great fuel mileage too. Looked pretty funny when I towed my 19′ Hobie cat behind it. Luckily I never had someone run into me in that tin can. But now California has decided cars are evil polluters so we must all go back to those tin cans, Paul Mc Artney had a special hybrid FLOWN in to London so he could save fuel.
    I think we have a bunch of Eliot Spitizers pushing their rules on the public sheep who believe them.
    So if CA is so worried about Co2 you would think they would have special patrols to prevent and immediately extinguish those grass fires. Did you know 1 fire produces more pollutants then all the cars in USA for one year? Water vapor and methane are the top greenhouse gasses. I wonder why not more is being done to prevent these fires.
    I’ll bet someone is making money off this.

  16. Let’s not forget gas as well. Petrol has been changed, it’s alot more filtered, that itself has become weaker then compared to that sold in the 70’s.

  17. Cars today are 1000 lbs heavier and energy is taken from the system scrubbing the exhaust clean for the little crybabies…ANd before you crybabies start crying, cars have actually been cleaning the normal air since 1995.

  18. They actually changed the mileage calculation back in 1985. If I recall, the city mileage was brought down 10% and the highway by about 22%. Now, we’ve done it again. There is no way you can compare those numbers with today. I have a Road and Track buyers guide from 1984. Has the old numbers. Much different the following year with the same vehicles.

  19. Ebay is hardly the place to compare the prevalence of earlier Japanese cars to other cars.

    We still have plenty of old Japanese cars in Australia. Old Civics, Corollas, Coronas, Camrys, Accords….

  20. My parents had a 1978 Toyota Corona Wagon. I loved that thing! It was the only car I remember my mom being proficient at driving a stick in. I remember it getting pretty rusty on the side, but the broken A/C in Miami, FL was the only reason they got rid of it. We got a Mazda 323 in 1992 to replace it.

  21. Vince, The Honda Civic did not have a catalytic converter back then and Regular Gasoline with LEAD was still for sale. The Civic ran on either type of fuel, but got better mileage with the Leaded Regular. Those small lightweight cars were great because they didn’t need a lot of torque or horsepower to move them along! Hybrids today weigh a great deal more because of all the added safety features and the extra hardware and batteries required for them to use 2 power sources!

  22. You don’t have go to the past… Just go to Europe where they offer ‘smaller’ engines. The European Corolla 1.6 gets 42mpg on the highway and the 1.3 Civic hatchback gets 31/49mpg (sure it takes 14sec to get to 60mph but that’s comparable to 70’s).

    Engine plus weight is certainly the reason and part of the weight is also safety equipment you didn’t have in those days…

    Ford’s strategy seems to indicate smaller (turbo) engines will make a comeback but I don’t think they will go that far as Europe:-(.

  23. short-sighted politicians pushing ULEV/ZLEV emmisions forgot that, reducing emmisions by 20% would require an increase in 20% more fuel (no net loss in emissions).

    Numbers are not specific, purely generalization of the losses of emmisions devices (cat-converter, pre-heated/mixed intake air, heat-activated cats just aft of the engine (PV=nrT)….

  24. Ok Vince, I’m going to have to disagree with you on the word Corinthian. It was NOT invented by Chrysler. Corinthian is a type of Greek and Roman architecture. Look it up. And please use spell check! Your spelling makes you look like a first grader is writing your thoughts.

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