Compact cars were a necessary evil for the Big Three (GM, Ford and Chrysler) at the dawn of the 1960s.
The big boys from Detroit were forced to offer a smaller car with a frugal approach to gas consumption in order to compete with the Volkswagen Beetle’s domination in this segment of the domestic market.
The stakes were high because the Beetle had a sales head start of roughly a decade on the new US compacts. The early domestic compacts offered a second car alternative for nuclear families who used them for practical transportation purposes, primarily short local trips.
The early domestic compact cars bore little resemblance to each other in terms of overall style. Bored 1960s kids confined together on a long road trip would have little difficulty with a “Name that Car” contest where identifying the next car seen on the journey (before the other kids in the car) boiled down to an early compact model.
North American car makers changed the game as the Sixties moved away from the start line of 1960. Compact cars became sleeker and faster as the 1960s marched forward during that tumultuous decade.
The dawn of the Muscle Car Wars during the mid to late Sixties was not lost on the compacts because they were given beefier V-8 engine options for owners who wanted to use the compact car’s power-to-weight ratio to its maximum advantage.
One of the more unusual aspects of the compact car style evolution occurred in 1966 and carried into ’67 when the Chevy Nova (along with the Acadian in Canada) retooled their appearance and developed a brand new look for this compact GM model.
The rear deck of the ’66 Nova got a complete makeover that included a re-designed and taller vertical tail light configuration and bore no resemblance to the 1965 model’s smaller and square-ish tail lights.
Chrysler also offered a completely new design for its Plymouth Valiant in 1967 and debuted a radically different model from its ’66 Valiant. The interesting part of the new design was the rear deck where a long vertical tail light assembly replaced the Plymouth Barracuda-like tail light configuration found on American Valiants built in ’66.
Many Canadian MyStarCollectorCar readers will recall that a Chrysler of Canada Plymouth Valiant built in 1966 had a rear deck that closely resembled an American version of the ’66 Dodge Dart.
However, the Canadian and American car markets began to align in 1967 after the 1965 Auto Pact Agreement so a ’67 Plymouth Valiant looked the same in either country. Here is the unusual factor in the equation: the rear deck of the 1967 Plymouth Valiant also bore a striking resemblance to the 1966-67 Chevy Nova.
In fact, the cars are easily confused when they are seen at a distance because of the rear deck similarities between the GM compact and its Chrysler rival from 1967.
The front ends of the two cars were different enough to make a “Name that Car” contest easier for kids on a long road trip and confined to a car–but the rear decks were very similar in an imitation/flattery way.
There was no word on whether the GM designers were flattered by the Chrysler designers’ imitation of the Nova models’ rear decks in 1967, but the similarities are obvious 52 years later.
BY: Jim Sutherland
Jim Sutherland is a veteran automotive writer whose work has been published by many major print and online publications. The list includes Calgary Herald, The Truth About Cars, Red Deer Advocate, RPM Magazine, Edmonton Journal, Montreal Gazette, Windsor Star, Vancouver Province, and Post Media Wheels Section.