Home » Here’s How Absurd Cars Could Have Been If There Had Never Been An Energy Crisis

Here’s How Absurd Cars Could Have Been If There Had Never Been An Energy Crisis

What If No Oil Crisis Ts1
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BONK! Let’s say your Autopian self is actually living on in the year 1960, and you’ve just been hit in the head by your car’s engine hood shutting while you were under it. You were under there with a timing light (under the age of forty? Look it up) to tune your small block V8, and now you’re comatose. Don’t worry, though; you will come out of this coma, but a whopping twenty-five years later.

Awakening in a daze, people are trying to ease you into the world of 1985. You’re amazed at how big everyone’s hair is, and you’re shocked that Ronald Reagan, the star of really dumb movies, is now President of the United States. Still, that’s not what disturbs you the most as you look out the hospital window at the parking lot. “Good God!” you scream out with great shock. “What the hell happened to the cars?!”

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Who Shrunk The Cars?

Your confusion is understandable. When you were knocked out in 1960, a new Cadillac was a massive, outrageous, and glorious machine more lavish than a Rolls Royce that stopped people in their tracks with awe:

1960 Cadillac Sedan Deville
Vintage Car Collector

In 1985, a new Caddy is a generic-looking compact-sized box; one of these things only stopped people in their tracks if the 4100 V8 under the hood blew its head gasket, which happened regularly.

1985 Cadillac Sedan Deville (2)
Wikimedia/ That Hartford Guy

Sure, the new Cadillac has a similarly-sized passenger compartment to the 1960 car, but the fact that both of these things are considered top-of-the-line American cars is hurting your brain.

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General Motors / Beverly Hills Car Club

Wait until your Rip Van Winkle self sees a Cadillac Cimarron– yikes. Obviously, some catastrophic event happened to cause this massive and seemingly hasty, half-baked shift in car design – but in fact, it was two similar events. America had over time become more and more dependent on oil from the middle east. A conflict with Israel in 1973 created a scenario where oil was used as a weapon, and prices skyrocketed for fuel. That is, if you could find fuel; shortages resulted in lines of cars around the block at stations that actually had gas to sell.

General Motors responded to the situtation by chopping nine inches of length and half a ton from the Cadillac Deville. Part of GM’s celebrated, outstanding new 1977 line of “downsized” large cars, this smaller Caddy just managed to pull off being almost as imposing looking (and just as big on the inside) as the previous one while driving much better and getting improved fuel economy (the engine shrank from 8.2 liters to a miniscule 7.0 liters in displacement).

Downsized
Orlando Classic Cars / Ideal Classic Cars

Sadly, things only got worse. In 1979, a revolution in Iran once again resulted in the cutoff of oil, with a replay of the gas lines and insane price hikes of five years before. This time, GM went headlong into totally transforming their car lineup with things like its ill-developed diesel engines and the aforementioned overly-compacted C-body Cadillac DeVille/ Buick Electra/ Oldsmobile 98 for 1985 models that were nearly two feet shorter than their predecessors. This time, there was no mistaking that premium cars had not been sympathetically “downsized.” Interior space was surprisingly good for the overall size, but outwardly the results made fans of the brand scratch their heads. Worse was the lack of differentiation between Cadillac and the lesser-branded cars. Many typical Cadillac customers switched brands and bought the Panther-body, true full-sized Lincoln Town Cars which had stayed in production – a fact that Lincoln played up in its advertising:

Lincoln Commercial 1 10

If you got behind the wheel of the little front-drive DeVille, you’d be even more disappointed; Car and Driver tested one of the first of these Shrinky-Dink’d Cadillacs and claimed it drove worse than the car it replaced (and was barely any more efficient). This was a sad state of affairs.

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A Commenter Ponders An Alternate Reality

I’ve been digging through the comments of my old post where readers have offered suggestions for bizarre alternate realities that make we wonder why I’m the one called out for being strange. A recent one, however, seemed less than silly: an Autopian named “Space” commented on an article that Mercedes Streeter had written about a fiberglass pickup truck-based motorhome that died in the market thanks to the first oil crisis:

Commment 1 10

That’s a really good question, and Mercedes Streeter agreed with Space that if anyone could illustrate what cars might look like with an endless oil supply, it would be me. Sadly, she’s probably right. While “Space’s” suggestion is quite straightforward, don’t worry; I promise that the solution will be a bit over the top.

Bigger Would Still Be Seen As Better

My guess is that the real question that “Space” is likely asking is if cheap, readily available fuel would have resulted in American cars remaining large, or getting even larger. Honestly, there’s nothing to prove that such a scenario wouldn’t happen. Many of you are likely skeptical of this. “Well”, you say as you scratch your chin, “I think Americans would begin to follow European designs and create smaller cars”. That seems to be a solid argument, but ultimately it doesn’t hold water. Let’s go back to 1960 again; the disparity between the typical US family Chevy and a French Renault couldn’t have been greater. You could have bought a Renault in America back then, but sales were limited to cheapskates, people that appreciated maneuverability, and hipsters that wanted to rebel against the mainstream.

1960 Cars 17
General Motors, Renault

Years later, right before the first oil crisis in the early seventies, things hadn’t changed much; a Honda Civic was dwarfed by a Chevy Caprice, and many European and Japanese cars were actually getting larger instead of smaller with things like “Super Beetles” and six-cylinder Toyota Crowns (Honda was working on its Accord “mid sized” car as well). I don’t think large American luxury cars would have shrunken considerably; look at the aforementioned shame that General Motors went through when gas prices dropped in the eighties and they had dinky cars.

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The question is, how big could cars have gotten?

Pushing The Limits Of Space (Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy)

Regardless of how cheap fuel remained, there are still some established sizes of the places that cars have to go that might limit how large they could get. Garages in most American homes don’t stretch beyond twenty feet, and parking spaces never get larger than a certain size. Despite this, I think that car makers would still push these boundaries, and some buyers would accept or even demand this.

There ain’t no substitute for sheer size. Case in point: the massive, last-of-the-line 1979 Lincoln Mark V was one of the largest, most space inefficient cars ever produced, yet it sold surprisingly well in its final year. Replacing it was the 1980 Mark VI, based on the brand-new-for-then Panther platform (incomprehensively, I’ve put a sum total of 200,000 miles on two Panthers). The signature Lincoln “fender gills” barely fit between the front wheels and the door. Admittedly, the Panther chassis was far more sensible and roadable than the giant seventies car but this smaller Mark was honestly no longer something that any self-respecting pimp would want to be seen in. Damn, the nattily-clad yachtsman in the picture below with the Mark V have been replaced by some dude next to a Mark VI that looks like he operates the kiddie boat ride and the local fair:

Marks 1 7
Ford

Had there never been fuel shortages or lines at gas pumps, that Mark VI would have looked much different. Let’s go big! But how?

Cheap Fuel Creates A Monster

Even if we accept the fact that parking spaces and garages are limiting the size of our luxury car, there are still tricks that could be done to “upsize”. Take a look at an example of a last-of-the-line Lincoln similar to the Rose family car from Schitt’s Creek below, for example.

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Town Car 1 7
Private Collection Motors

Notice how the five-mile-per-hour bumpers extend like battering rams out the front and rear of the body? If manufacturers could copy what a C4 Corvette or a Porsche 928 did with incorporating the bumpers into the body, they could make a far longer looking car that was in fact not much (if any longer) than the car it would be replacing. Ultimately, we be getting more physical car body within the overall length. The last of the giant Cadillac Eldorados (up to 1978) actually did something similar to this with the bumpers incorporated into the cathedral-like corner trims (backed up by flexible body-colored sections, or at least flexible for the first five years or so until the cracked to bits):

1978 Eldorado 1 7
Orlando Classic Cars

We’ll do the same body-all-the-way-to-the-limits thing with my alternate concept to that new-for-1980 Lincoln Mark VI. For inspiration, I wanted to find some of the most extreme examples of “the future” as seen from the time before and the era after. In the sixties, before he became known for Blade Runner and Tron,  illustrator Syd Mead created some renderings of luxury cars of tomorrow (meaning around 1980 or so); all low, hopelessly long machines with ample chrome and glitz:

Syd Mead 1 7
ebay (print for sale)

Of course, in the eighties, tomorrow’s world was envisioned as a dystopian mess where the well-to-do drove the similarly oversized and overstyled 6000SUX (a customized Collonade-body 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass).

6000sux 1 7
Screencap from Robocop‘s in-movie commercial. Click the pic to watch!

Putting those two visions together, I give you this magnificent monster; long and loooooow. In fact, the hood is so long that it might need to open from center, accessible from the side like on a pre-war car. The long doors would need to have articulated hinges similar to what’s been used on coupes like the Z30 Toyota Soarer/Lexus SC. I also envision helper motors to allow them to close, or at least “soft close” motors. Surprisingly, my one nod to “modern” is the lack of vinyl or landau roof on the car; there is a blacked-out glass accent panel on the B pillar with a chrome logo that has an electroluminescent glow at night.

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Bring A Trailer base image; overlay art by The Bishop

At the rear, the traditional tire hump exists, and the “peaks” of the fenders actually can light up at night with a fiber optic glow to allow you to see the extremes of the car (and I mean extremes). Not that anyone driving this thing would ever want to parallel park it; one would assume that people with the means to own it would valet wherever they go and make this behemoth someone else’s problem. These owners wouldn’t care about ease of parking or the ability for it to stop on a dime; they would hopefully not even know what a dime is.

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What’s actually under that massive hood? I think that the war of escalated engine sizes would eventually level off at around 8 liters or so, but not the sophistication of the motors. Our Lincoln would offer the new “Titan XVI” engine (Roman numeral 16, ya know), also known as the “Twinsor” by some wags since it would be comprised of two Windsor V8s connected together for a total of sixteen cylinders. Each unit would only displace about 4.2 liters (like the awful, anemic 4.2 offered in 1981-82 Ford cars), giving room for expansion later on. Two throttle body fuel injection units sit atop each powerplant, and even though fuel is cheap in this alternate reality, we’d still have all of the emission controls of the era. Don’t expect much more than 260-275 horsepower out of this monster.

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What An (American) Luxury Car Should Be

I’ll use the dashboard of the late seventies Lincoln as a guide for what my replacement 1980 model will look like. The most important thing to keep in mind with American barges is no matter how complex the mechanical systems are (like the two engines and multiple fuel systems) you never provide the driver with anything more than readouts for speed and fuel. Manufacturers didn’t want to concern drivers with something that they have no interest in, and couldn’t deal with if they became a problem anyway (joking aside, a tach and multiple gauge readouts are pretty useless for ninety percent of drivers).

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The digital readouts for minimal information and the tech-fot-the-time trip computer all appear in a small strip right at the top of the dash, and what looks like a black trim strip across the upper surface of the protruding “box” actually hides the warning lights.

The thick “box” is to conceal an airbag which was yet to be required by US law, so Lincoln would use that big glove box lid to hold your choice of inserts. It could contain cassette or 8 track tapes, or have real working-depth cup holders. Other options are a  little tool kit (flashlight, tire gauge) or a cosmetics organizer with a tissue dispenser.

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Could It Happen Again?

So are you telling me that we’d all be driving mammoth-sized rides like this had there been no energy crisis? Of course not. My parents, for example, drove Volkswagens and the small-for-the-time Mustang when gasoline flowed like a river. They had no interest in driving something the size of the Principality of Monaco to the A&P. However, that’s not the case for those traditional buyers that thought an enormous car was a reward for a life of toiling at the office and to show the neighborhood that they’d made it; go big or go home is their motto. General Motors’ 1985 small-scale “big” cars proved that out, a victim of the bigger-is-better monster that GM had in fact created themselves over the years before.

Proving this theory of the giant dream car is the fact that when gas prices dropped again in later decades (albeit never to pre-crisis levels) many “large family vehicles” grew tremendously. The trick? They weren’t “cars”, but trucks. Some of these full-sized SUVs were even larger than the biggest GM “clamshell” wagons of the early seventies; the high water mark likely was the humongous Ford Excursion which sold nearly 70,000 units when introduced in 1999 but became liabilities with (you guessed it) the energy crisis of the 2000s.

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Excursion 1 7 24
Ford

Will we ever see the likes of these barges again? With cars shifting to electric power the whole “gas guzzler” and “super polluter” elements are out the window, so there really isn’t anything holding car makers back. Never say never.

Regardless, I want to thank “Space” for his suggestion; keep them coming!

 

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Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
5 months ago

I like the body extensions. They are like the big antennae that they put on super tall buildings so they can still claim it’s the worlds tallest.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
5 months ago

I JUST watched Robocop again the other night and was thinking “what is underneath all that sheet metal / fiberglass on the 6000SUX?” Now I know!

Pedro
Pedro
5 months ago

It was epa regulations that really moved ICE tech forward. Unfortunately, the huge battlewagon has merely been replaced by the huge SUV.

Littlepixel
Littlepixel
5 months ago

Congrats! You invented an Aston Martin Lagonda Coupé! 🙂

Grey alien in a beige sedan
Grey alien in a beige sedan
5 months ago

Now Bishop… let’s imagine an alternate reality where other luxury marques that exist today would have existed in your timeline. We need an extended Datsun Z that was sold as an Infiniti back in 1974. That car would have been all hood my friends.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
5 months ago

Consider that in the face of the ‘bigger is better’ mantra that started in the 1950s, the VW Beetle and other small/smaller cars gained in popularity.

There comes a point where a vehicle becomes too big for many people… particularly people like me who live in the city where the streets and parking is tight… and who prefer a more efficient vehicle on principle alone.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
5 months ago

So maybe a good question for us should be: “What do you want to be driving when the shit really hits the fan?”
Because eventually it will. This is inevitable, history repeats over and over.
And we usually don’t learn our lessons easily.

I was 16 in 1973 and remember that shit well. As such ever since mpg has been my primary consideration when choosing a new ride. And will continue to be. But hope to get a decent hybrid next.

And yeah, most cars/trucks are still ridiculous in both size and weight. Except for gas mileage and power, we are still living in the old days.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
5 months ago

“keep them coming!”

How about a world with atomic powered cars?

Oh wait…

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=jpWy0nNeSWU

Phuzz
Phuzz
5 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

If you reallly stretch the definition, then many French cars are nuclear-powered…(in that France gets a lot of it’s electricity from nuclear power stations, and that electricity powers cars.)

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
5 months ago
Reply to  Phuzz

By that logic Germany is rolling coal in about a quarter of their EVs.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
5 months ago

Cadillac was working on v16 cars in the 70s and 80s

https://www.deansgarage.com/wayne-kady/

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
5 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Crawford

You got the decades wrong. It was 1960s, not 1970s and 1980s. Those V16 concept cars were just bunches of sketches. The closest concept car with V16 from Cadillac was Sixteen introduced in 2003: Sixteen was almost approved for the production, but the Great Recession killed it along with Northstar V12 engine (from Cien concept car) planned for Escalade.

Lardo
Lardo
5 months ago

excursions sell for big money now.

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
5 months ago
Reply to  Lardo

Yep, especially in the Scandinavian countries…

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
5 months ago

But here’s the thing about the Mark V – It wasn’t any smaller than the Mark IV, even tho it was @600lbs lighter.
And Lincoln had a very specific style at that time – So a sleeker raked hood and a bodyside that wasn’t based on a simple beveled slab just wasn’t going to happen in the early 80’s regardless of fuel cost realities.
Given that the Mark IV lasted 5 years, I would think that the Mark V could have lasted into the 1981 model year – by which time a 1982 Mark VI might have been designed more like the Lancelot/Versailles prototype seen here:
http://www.lincolnversailles.com/ca2002.htm
You’ll note just a slight slope to the front fenders – nothing radical – and certainly not a laid back grille.

My biggest gripes with the Mark VI is that Lincoln went with the shorter wheelbase for the coupe (the Town Coupe recieved the longer sedan wheelbase) and framed side glass.
When you look at it – the heavy uprights and framing around the door glass make the Mark Coupe look cheap and stodgy. Ford (and the other US manufacturers) taught us since the early 50’s to see frameless glass/hardtops as “Premium” and “Luxury” and framed door glass with vent windows as “cheap”- then they gave us a top-line car with these details, and wondered why we stayed away in droves?

So imagine a Mark VI coupe with the same exterior styling, but with a longer wheelbase, a laid back windshield and frameless door glass.

As far as an engine that made sense for non-fuel efficiency needs – a 600 cubic inch V12 (based on the Ford 300 inline 6) would have made more sense.
Lincoln might have more likely called it the “Zephyr V12”

Barry Allen
Barry Allen
5 months ago
Reply to  Urban Runabout

The V12 is a solid idea. V16s are fun in theory but almost never produced because the crankshaft flexes too much, apparently, so the engine either has to be very small (see various race engines), low revving, very compact (the VW/Bugatti W16) or think outside the box and take power from the middle of the crank instead of the back of the engine (Cizeta Moroder).

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
5 months ago
Reply to  Barry Allen

“…take power from the middle of the crank instead of the back of the engine”

Like Ford’s concept for T-Drive!
https://drivingenthusiast.net/the-forgotten-experiment-fords-t-drive-engine-concept/

Barry Allen
Barry Allen
5 months ago
Reply to  Urban Runabout

Didn’t know about that, thanks!

Boulevard_Yachtsman
Boulevard_Yachtsman
5 months ago

This is magnificent. I would so much like to have witnessed some Syd-Mead level Boulevard Yachts in production.

Instead, we got the ticky-tac FWD deVill-ettes of the mid-80’s. For a life-long fan of Cadillac, those comparison shots were something of a gut-punch. At least the Brougham was there in the background, even if it had to make do with a wheezy 307 Olds V8 throwing down 140 hp.

The Twinsor would have been great! Just the thing to have nudged Cadillac into putting their “Sixteen” concept into production. With the cylinder race going on, maybe Dodge would have done something extra silly, like a twin-V10 Imperial-Oppressor Deluxe Citadel LeBaron, Gold-Opulence-Trim edition.

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