Three Identical Strangers
Model year 1960 was the year of the American compact, when Chevrolet, Plymouth, and Ford launched their three-quarter-scale "compact" cars for the new suburban generation. They made the big splash, and they paved the way. For 1961, Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac stepped up with three versions of what was essentially the same car—the unitized construction Y-bodied compact, which shared rough dimensions with the Chevrolet Corvair, but replaced the rear-mounted air-cooled flat-six with more or less conventional powertrains that varied wildly between divisions.
But General Motors' marketing plans for the compact trio put these cars in such different places, well in line with each division's purview, that you could be forgiven for not realizing they were basically the same car underneath. Initially, Pontiac's ads for its four-cylinder Tempest focused on combining small-car economy with big-car room, while mentioning—but not particularly focusing on—its innovative rear transaxle. (As time went on, Pontiac assumed a more aggressive, sporting posture thanks to its new-for-1963 326-cu.in. V-8.)
Corvette boasted one horsepower per cubic inch in 1957; why couldn't Oldsmobile do the same half a decade later? Scant mention of its 1962 compact car being compact— instead, the Rocket Division focused on power and high-tech components like turbochargers.
Buick, eschewing the whole compact moniker, stressed that its Special and Skylark were "happy-medium-sized," splitting the difference between traditional American and dinky import sizing—and highlighted the innovative new V-6, derived from its equally innovative all-aluminum 215-hp V-8—as its featured powerplant.
Oldsmobile, with its F-85 and Cutlass models, gave little, if any, lip service to the cars' relatively compact dimensions, instead emphasizing high-tech aluminum V-8 power and driving comfort. The higher the price tag, it appears, the less GM thought its customers wanted to think about the reasons for buying a smaller car in the first place.
Were buyers convinced? Possibly, but not enough of them: For 1964, all of the former compact model lines were enlarged, and became midsized models. Compact cars within the lineups of GM's middle divisions would have to wait another decade to emerge. Ultimately, compacts infiltrating GM's lineup were the right idea—just a decade too early.
Engines were very much a focal point in the 1961 ads: Pontiac's "gas-saving '4' with Pontiac Punch!", Buick emphasizing the efficiency and technical advances in its all-aluminum V-8, lighter than a model, and a high-compression version of the aluminum V-8 for Oldsmobile's initial performance image. Convertibles were not forgotten either, as these Skylark and Tempest Le Mans ads attest.
Article courtesy of Hemmings, written by Jeff Koch.