After seeing the 2012 NY auto show, things seem like 1982 all over again…

Much like auto shows of 2012, this 1982 Ford display touts electric cars as “the future”.

Attending this year’s New York auto show press preview April 4-5, we heard alot about fuel economy, four-cylinder engines giving performance of V8s, diesel engines, hybrid electric cars, lighter vehicle platforms, and front-wheel-drive.

Those, like us, old enough to remember 30 years ago began to notice this all sounded very similar to what the auto industry was pitching back in 1982 in answer to a similar 3-year span of high gas prices, weak national economic conditions, and impending government fuel economy regulations.  There were even DeLoreans and Fiats on the show floor this year, something else that hadn’t occurred since 1982.

Looking at opening passages from an official 1982 New York auto show booklet, one reads…

“The scientific, engineering and styling advances that are ‘in’ for 1982 include cars with greater fuel economy than ever before, and with more ingenious electronics and on-board computers controlling operating performance.  They are also endowed with new and better powerplants, with front-wheel-drive for improved handling and increased interior passenger room.  They are made of new lighter weight and stronger structural materials, along with sleeker aerodynamic styling which also boosts operating efficiency”

Half a decade ago at shows, manufacturers talked about how they had managed to fit 6-cylinder engines in a space where 4-cylinders normally dwelled.  8-cylinders where 6-cylinders normally dwelled.  And finally in some cases, 10- or 12-cylinder engines.  The race for brute horsepower was on.

Today, seeing large, heavier Chevy Impala, Lincoln MKZ, Ford Explorer, and Range Rover models being introduced with four-cylinder engines, one realizes this is quite the reverse of recent years past.  So we took a closer look back at 1982…

SOME FACTS ABOUT 1982 AUTOMOTIVE TRENDS AT THAT YEAR’S NEW YORK AUTO SHOW:

FRONT-WHEEL-DRIVE 4-CYLINDERS

According to the 1982 auto show booklet, “The trend towards front-wheel-drive is in motion because it makes possible larger and more efficient cars, and better riding and handling…American Motors goes yet one step further to four-wheel-drive on its Eagle and Eagle SX/4, for even surer control than front-wheel-drive.”

  • 1982 was the first year that the number-one selling car in America (Ford Escort) was front-wheel-drive and had no engine options larger than a 4-cylinder.  Except for the following year (’83 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme), best-selling cars would be front-wheel-drive and offer 4-cylinders.

1982 Ford Escort ad (photo credit: Ford Motor Company)

  • 4-cylinder engines were suddenly available where they had not been before: in 6-passenger family cars and sports cars.  The downsized, front-wheel-drive  Chrysler LeBaron and (slighly longer) New Yorker weighed some 700+ pounds less than their forebearers and featured only 4-cylinder engines through the rest of the 1980s.

Before 1982, Chrysler LeBarons were always large, V8-powered, and rear-wheel-drive. New ones introduced in this ad (1983 shown) were small cars with 4-cylinder turbos. Photo credit: Chrysler Corporation

  •  The new-for-’82 Buick Century, Chevrolet Celebrity, and Olds Ciera were midsize cars on a front-wheel-drive platform offering 4-cylinders.  All were approximately 600 pounds lighter than rear-wheel-drive ’81 models they were designed to replace.

Today, Buick introduces smaller-than-usual models such as the Verano, Encore, and Regal focusing on 4-cylinder economy. In 1982, it was this new Century model.  (Photo credit: General Motors Corporation)

  • Even the downsized-for-’82 Chevrolet Camaro featured a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder as its base engine choice.  Because the new Camaro was some 400 pounds lighter than the previous 1970-81 style, 4-cylinder performance was about the same as the old model with a larger V6.  Quite a number of 4-cylinder Camaros were sold through 1986.

4-cylinder engines were offered in Chevrolet Camaros from 1982-86 (1982 model shown).  Photo credit: S. Palmer

4-CYLINDER TURBO ENGINES

  • As popular as they grew to become in the 1980s, only Saab was selling them in the United States (since 1979) on ’82 models.  4-cylinder turbo engines were big news at the ’82 auto show, and would very soon be making appearances on upcoming 1983 Subarus, 1983 Mitsubishis, 1983 Ford Mustang & Thunderbird SVT editions, 1984 Buick Skyhawks/Pontiac Sunbirds, most 1984 Chrysler company front-wheel-drive vehicles, and on 1984 Nissan Pulsars & 200SXs.

This Chrysler New Yorker ad similarly represents auto industry focus (then and now) on luxury models with turbo engines a fraction of earlier sizes. (Photo credit: Chrysler Corporation)

1982 Volvo Turbo ad

Much like promotional material from many automakers at the auto show this year, this 1982 Volvo Turbo ad speaks of 4-clyinder turbos making V8 engines obsolete. (Photo credit: Volvo Cars North America)

Today: 2013 Ford Explorer and Taurus models are front-wheel-drive based, with all-wheel-drive as an option.  Powertrain choices on both are a 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder making 240 horsepower, or 3.5-liter V6 making 290 horsepower.  V8 engines from last year’s Explorer, and previous Taurus SHOs are gone.  For more info, see http://www.ford.com/?searchid=35041264|1184031124|

Similarly, the new-for-2013 Lincoln MKZ is a large, front-wheel-drive sedan replacing the rear-wheel-drive, V8-powered Town Car.  Engine choices are a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder hybrid engine making 188 horsepower, a 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder making 240 horsepower, or 3.7-liter V6 producing 300 horsepower. All-wheel-drive is optional.  For more info, see Lincoln’s website http://www.lincoln.com/cars/mkz/2013/

SMALLER ENGINES ALL AROUND.

Cars that hadn’t yet switched to front-wheel-drive were coming with smaller engines for the first time too.

  • For the first time ever, a 4.1-liter V6 engine was available in full-size Cadillacs during 1981-82, phasing it out after introducing a new 4.1-liter V8 engine as the only eight-cylinder engine choice in all models for 1982.  Versions of the V6 were also available in full-size Chevrolet Caprice/Impala and Buick LeSabre/Electra sister cars.
  • The Ford Granada midsize sedan of 1981-82 was 300 pounds lighter than the previous 1975-80 generation.  For the first time, a 4-cylinder was the base engine choice.  A V8 was still optional, but the size had dropped from 5.0 to 4.2 liters.  This 4.2-liter was also now offered in the full-size Ford LTD also.
  • Similarly, a smallest-ever Chevrolet 4.4-liter V8 had been in use for several years on Caprices, Impalas, Monte Carlos, and 1980-81 Camaros.
  • Lincoln introduces it’s smallest ever Continental for 1982, with a V6 offered for the first time in any Lincoln.

Today: The new-for-2014 Chevy Impala offers a 182 horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder hybrid electric engine with integrated stop/start, a 195 horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, and 303 horsepower 3.6-liter V6 engine choices.  Gone is the V8-powered SS model. For more info, see http://www.chevrolet.com/culture/article/2014-impala-sports-sedan/

Replacing the V8-powered Cadillac DTS is a new-for-2013 XTS front-wheel-drive sedan.  The sole powerplant is a 3.6-liter V6 engine producing 303 horsepower from the Chevy Impala. For more info, see Cadillac’s website http://bit.ly/HqFGvZ

As well, over the last three years, Audi and Volkswagen have systematically dropped the cylinder count on A3, A4, S4, A6, S6, A5, S5, Touareg and Passat models.

DIESEL ENGINES

  • A passage from the 1982 New York auto show book reads “Diesel engines are rapidly expanding in American cars because of their economy and simple maintenance requirements.”
  • New passenger car diesel entries for 1982 being touted at the show were the Chevrolet Chevette and Citation (4-cylinder diesels); Volvo 240 (4-cyl); Audi 4000 (4-cyl); Chevrolet Celebrity, Malibue, and Monte Carlo (V6s); Buick Riviera, Century, and Regal (V6s); Olds Ciera and Cutlass Supreme (V6s).

This 1982 GM ad in the New York Auto show booklet emphasizes new company focus on smaller engines, lighter weight cars, and diesels. Much like the industry now. Photo credit: General Motors Corporation

  • Those above joined already other existing diesel offerings from Mercedes-Benz, General Motors, Volkswagen, and Peugeot.
  • As well, diesel engines would soon be offered on 1984-85 Mazda 626s, 1984-85 Lincoln Continentals, 1984-85, 1984-87 Ford Escorts, 1984-86, Ford Tempos, 1984-86 Toyota Camrys, 1984-85 Toyota Corolla fwd, and on 1985-86 BMW 5-series.
  • Ford was even readying a 4-cylinder propane engine which was offered on production 1983-84 midsize LTDs!

Today: Diesel engines with clean-emissions technology are featured at the show on new BMW, Audi, Volkswagen, Mercedes, Porsche models as well as on large Dodge, Ford and Chevrolet pickup trucks and sport utilities.

Similar to product literature at the 2012 auto show, this 1982 Cadillac ad introduces a strong focus on fuel economy on its largest of car models. (Photo credit: General Motors)

In 1982, 80% of Mercedes-Benzes sold in the US were diesels. All German automakers are bringing more diesel models back to our market today. Photo credit: Daimler-Benz

If you have any doubts the auto industry was not singing the same song as today, this 1982 Buick full-size Electra Diesel ad will convince you. (Photo credit: General Motors)

Much like today, many European brands had a new focus on bringing diesel engine technology to the United States. (Photo credit: Volvo Cars North America)

DELOREANS

According to the 1982 New York show pamphlet, “From the moment of its first public appearance the DeLorean sports car has been a design success. Its carefully crafted lines, from the pen of Ital Design’s Giurgiaro, broke new ground in the world of high performance automobiles.  But there’s more to the DeLorean than sleek Italian styling, sweeping expanses of glass, and lustrous stainless steel…”

  • 1982 was the first and only New York auto show the DeLorean Motor Company DMC-12 gullwing coupe of 1981-82 made an appearance before the company declared bankruptcy December 1982.  Originally featuring a 2.8-liter V6 engine making 141 horsepower, Road & Track magazine commented “It’s not a barn burner with a 0-60 mph time of 10.5 seconds. Frankly, that’s not quick for a sports/GT car in this price category.”
  • In 1995, Englishman Stephen Wynne started a separate company using the DeLorean Motor Company name and shortly thereafter acquired the remaining parts inventory and stylized “DMC” logo trademark. Primarily, his business was supplying the repair industry with parts needed to maintain original DMC12s.

Today in the basement level of this year’s 2012 show is a display by Mr. Wynne’s DeLorean Motor Company detailing their production of  new vehicles with original-spec body parts. Power will no longer be from gasoline engines, but solely from electric motors running off battery packs.  For more details, see http://delorean.com/