I grew up in an era in which cars like the Chrysler Valiant, the Chevrolet Kommando and the Ford Fairlane could be seen just about everywhere. Since then, the fuel crises occurred, and as a result, its popularity suffered.
Families also became smaller; four or more children became the exception rather than the rule. This meant that the very popular steering column-mounted gearlevers were phased out and individual seats became available on just about every car on the market. Another reason why these cars became a less common sight was the fact that many of them, especially Valiants, were stolen to be used as taxi’s. In fact, this tarnished the reputation of this once-popular car beyond redemption, and they were eventually discontinued.
However, most manufacturers continued making six-cylinder cars available to those who needed them for towing caravans, or who simply wanted a bigger car. The Datsun 260 C might not have been the most attractive car on the market, but it offered very good value for money and became quite popular. Its successor, the 280 L, later to become known as the Laurel, continued this tradition, and the early models with an automatic transmission were the last cars in its class to be available with a bench seat and a steering column-mounted gear selector. However, these cars could not be considered good-looking either and were replaced by a much more modern-looking version,. However, when the Skyline became available with the same engine, the Laurel quietly disappeared.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the local industry was forced to include a high percentage of locally manufactured products in every car built in this country. This meant that some manufacturers came up with ingenious models. Ford decided to fit the Mark III Cortina with the V6 engine from the Granada. As a result, the Cortina became the top seller in its class. South Africa was not the first country in the world to fit six-cylinder engines to the Cortina. The Australian models were already available with the same engines as the Falcon range, but the V6-engined Cortina models were unique to this country.
Toyota took a long time to introduce a six-cylinder model to its local range. In 1969, the company decided to take over the marketing and distribution of the Rambler Rogue, later replaced by the Hornet, instead of introducing the Crown here. After the Hornet was discontinued, the Cressida range was introduced. The top model, released a year after the four-cylinder models, was the LG, which was fitted with the same 2,6-litre engine as the Crown. This was a failure. The second-generation Cressida was an immediate success, and a GLI-6, with a 2-litre engine, was introduced in 1983. Despite not offering spectacular performance, it was extremely popular. This model was joined by the 2,8i a year later. Once again, this was a success, and few other manufacturers could compete.
General Motors enjoyed great success with the Opel Rekord/Commodore-based Chevrolet 2500/3800/4100 model range. Despite the 1973 fuel crisis, these models were top sellers for two years. They were eventually replaced with the more logically-named Rekord and Commodore. The Commodore still had the same engine as the 3800 and 4100. However, fuel consumption was a major concern, and in 1982, all models were given the Opel engines. They would also be known as Opels. The Rekord was on the South African market even after the Omega was introduced elsewhere. Meanwhile, General Motors fitted a 3,8-litre V6 engine to the Holden Commodore, and this engine was introduced to the Rekord.
Since then, six-cylinder cars from manufacturers whose products do not carry a prestige badge have just about disappeared. The reason is the introduction of car like the BMW 3-Series, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the Audi A4. The average South African motorist has become so badge-conscious that he or she would not consider anything else at the same price. The other popular alternative is an SUV, which seems to give some motorists a feeling of superiority.
However, there are some cars available in other parts of the world that would have been perfect for South African conditions; in fact, they would have offered great value for money, lots of power even at low revolutions and very spacious interiors. It’s a shame that only one Holden-based Chevrolet, the Lumina SS, is available here. In Australia a wide variety of Commodore, Calais and Caprice models are available, but South African’s badge snobbery militates against the introduction of these models to this country. The Nissan Maxima is still available overseas; after being initially successful, sales have dropped to such an extent that it has been discontinued in South Africa. The same goes for the Toyota Camry. A hybrid model has been introduced overseas, but chances of seeing it in this country are zero. The larger Aurion would also have been a welcome addition to the local Toyota line-up, but it will not reach this market. The Ford Falcon was on the market for a few years; the first generation to be introduced here was relatively successful, but the same could not be said of its successor.
Some manufacturers are still trying to cater for this market; the Chrysler 300 C is not doing too badly, but is generally underrated. The Hyundai Azera has been around for a while, but has anybody ever seen one? The VW CC is available with a 3,6-litre engine, but the 2,0-litre turbo models are far more popular. The fact that these cars are not as popular as they should be is a sign that South African motorists consider status to be a very important consideration when deciding on what car to buy, which is a real pity. If they judged cars purely on merit, the monthly sales charts would have looked completely different, and some underrated cars would have received the recognition they deserved.