The nameplate explosion
Then AMC boss George Romney shook things up with his compact Rambler, and Volkswagen and its foreign friends burst upon the scene.
From a product standpoint, the 1960s was as wild a decade as the auto industry has seen. You could buy a Chevrolet that was called a Corvair, a Chevy II, a Nova, a Chevelle, a Monte Carlo, a Camaro, a Caprice - and, of course, a Bel Air, Impala or Corvette.
Ford chipped in with Falcon, Maverick, Torino, Galaxie, LTD and Mustang, as well as Thunderbird. Other domestic makers followed suit.
The proliferation of nameplates changed the way the makers designed, built and marketed cars. It changed the way Americans bought cars. It opened the gates for the industry of today.
Americans had a hankering for smaller cars - witness the growing sales of Romney's Rambler and the VW Beetle. The Big 3 answered with the Chevrolet Corvair, Ford Falcon and Plymouth Valiant in the 1960 model year, and the proliferation of nameplates had begun.
Other domestic makes joined the compact parade, and then it was time for the next step: the intermediates, the mid-sized cars, such as the Chevrolet Chevelle.
Close on their heels came the specialty cars, and the Ford Mustang was clearly the leader. The Mustang debuted April 17, 1964, and a record 418,812 of the sporty little coupes and convertibles were sold in its first full calendar year on the market.
Car sales rose to 11.2 million in 1973, and then OPEC turned off the spigot. A gasoline shortage strangled the world's most gasoline-hungry nation.
Imported cars, led by the VW Beetle, established a beachhead in the United States soon after World War II. They became important in the 1950s. They stood their ground in the 1960s, and exploded in the 1970s when the Japanese turned their full attention to this market.
And the laissez-faire existence of the U.S. auto industry ended as the congressional camel stuck its nose into the tent. Autos became a regulated industry.
Those developments will be examined in other sections of this issue.