Tracking The Award: Times Change, So Does Motor Trend

#hashtags: #Motor Trend #Golden Calipers #SUV

Like the automotive industry itself, Motor Trend’s Of the Year program has evolved to reflect the changing transportation landscape. So, too, has the trophy, from a mere mention in an article to a medallion to a plaque to an extruded aluminum rod and finally to the familiar Golden Calipers. We’ve handed out 65 official Car of the Year awards alone. Since the seed was planted in 1949, we added Truck of the Year in 1978, and SUV of the Year in 1999, incidentally coinciding with our 50th anniversary. Let’s track the tides of the award, the trophy, and what it all says about what we drive. 1949 In 1949, we named Cadillac our Car of the Year, but in reference to the whole line, not one specific model.The initial mention of a Car of the Year in the November 1949 issue wasn’t an award. Rather, it was the headline of an article by the renowned John Bond in recognition of the ’49 Cadillac and its then-innovative overhead-valve V-8 in favor of L-head V-8s of the time, which used side valves. “The new Cadillac,” he wrote, “is the first evidence in the U.S. of a trend toward OHV engines.” This design afforded a smaller, lighter engine block with a shorter stroke and increased durability and power. We noted that it developed 160 hp “stripped, or 133 bhp as installed” with all accessories such as an alternator and air-conditioning compressor. 1951 Two years later, Motor Trend ran a three-page article honoring the ’51 Chrysler Division for its engineering excellence. The award, which relied mostly on empirical overall engine performance, was called the Motor Trend Engineering Achievement Award. This marked the first trophy, this one a medallion embossed with the 1951 model year, an image of a Chrysler, and the first appearance of calipers, indicating precision engineering. 1952 A 1953 Cadillac Series 62 Eldorado Convertible is shown hereThe following year, we revisited our Motor Trend Engineering Achievement Award, this time naming the Cadillac Model 62 “the car of 1952.” This was the first time the award was promoted on the cover of the magazine with the words “Car of the Year.” Along with engine performance, criteria were expanded to include handling, safety, economy, and maintenance. 1956 In an attempt to institutionalize an award program, the “Annual Motor Trend Award” would be “presented each year to the automotive manufacturer making the most significant advancement on a U.S. production car.” The winner of the marble monolith of a trophy was Ford Motor Company for its pioneering efforts to improve overall automotive safety by instituting such now-commonplace safety features as seatbelts, a collapsible steering column, padded dash panels and sunvisors, folding side-view mirrors, and crash testing that revealed the values of recessed instruments and a car designed to crumple rather than remain rigid in the unfortunate event of a collision. 1958 Two years passed before the term “Car of the Year” was again associated with the Motor Trend Award. This time, the fully redesigned ’58 Ford Thunderbird and its combination of “safety, performance, comfort, and compactness” were recognized. From here forward, Car of the Year became the name of Motor Trend’s award. However, those words wouldn’t be used on the trophy for another three years. 1960 The Chevrolet Corvair was the most radically new domestic car in decades. It featured a rear-mounted, air-cooled, aluminum flat-six engine and transaxle, plus four-wheel independent suspension. Five years later Ralph Nader made it infamous as the focus of his polemic “Unsafe at Any Speed.” 1961 Finally, the words “Car of the Year” and the trophy were combined for the first time when the Pontiac Tempest won for its “Progress in Design.” With America’s first aluminum V-8 up front joined to a rear-mounted transaxle through a torque tube, the Tempest boasted 50:50 weight distribution, and we proclaimed it “one of the most advanced cars to be developed in America in more than two decades.” 1962 We introduced a new trophy. It featured a silver sphere atop a gold-anodized, extruded-aluminum shaft topped with a calipers-esque drafting compass. Resembling a modern paper towel holder, it was intended as “a reward to manufacturers with the courage, foresight, and ability to set new precedents within the industry.” The Buick Special, powered by America’s first mass-produced V-6 engine, took home the gold. 1966 The very first front-wheel-drive car to win the Motor Trend Award and a suitably googie-futurist-styled trophy was the groundbreaking Oldsmobile Toronado. The advantages of more interior room, no drivetrain hump, improved traction on slippery surfaces, and the unusual capability to lay rubber with the front tires were covered exhaustively in the 23-page feature story. 1967 We abandoned the Motor Trend Award in favor of the Car of the Year award due to its widespread recognition by the industry and the motoring public. To commemorate the occasion, we introduced a new trophy featuring the now-famous Golden Calipers atop a sturdy base. The Mercury Cougar, which gave Ford’s ponycar buyers a roomier, more upscale, and more luxurious option, won in 1967. 1970 The mid-engine Porsche 914 earned our inaugural Import Car of the Year (ICOY) award. Dubbed “the first modern sports car for the masses,” it marked the upswing of imports and design influences from overseas. 1971 Winners like the Vega often say more about the times (rising fuel and insurance prices) than the technology.The now-iconic Golden Caliper trophy was first awarded to the compact Chevrolet Vega 2300. Rising gasoline and insurance costs and increased tax and unemployment rates meant that “zeroing in on the mini-cars was inevitable at this time in America.” The editors decided that a model’s market significance should play as big a role in deciding the award as engineering or performance once did. The fledgling ICOY award was put on hiatus after just one year, and both domestic and import brands competed side-by-side. 1976 After a five-year absence, ICOY returned, recognizing the undeniable success of the Toyota Celica line of sport coupes, which then accounted for half of all Toyotas sold in the country. 1978 For the first time, vans and light trucks began to outsell the top car models, especially among people with active lifestyles. We saw the trend and inaugurated the Truck of the Year (TOTY) award in our December 1977 issue with the Ford Econoline Van, which we called “the most multipurpose personal transportation ever to come out of Detroit.” This version of the TOTY award lasted just three years, however, until it returned in 1989 with the force of pickup trucks and sport/utilities gaining traction. 1985 The first import-badged American-built car to win the Car of the Year award was Volkswagen’s second-generation GTI. Built in Pennsylvania, the editors called it “the definitive econosportser,” and in retrospect, we all know this to be the birth of what we now call “hot hatches.” 1989 The ’80s also ushered in the new trend of small pickups, and we responded by reinstating the Truck of the Year award. We wrote, “The personal-use end of the truck market is exploding and is the fastest growing slice of this increasingly popular pie.” Of the TOTY winner that year, the Toyota Xtracab SR5 V6, we wrote, “The truck is so automobile-like that one must keep noticing the cargo box to confirm it isn’t a car.” 1999 Ever-vigilant to recognize a dramatic shift in the automotive landscape, we saw the Lexus RX 300 pointing the way for literally millions of vehicles to come. This inaugural Sport/Utility of the Year winner was based on a car platform rather than a truck’s, as nearly all others were at the time. Setting a new standard for ride quality and drivability while retaining all the utility and all-weather capability most SUV buyers would ever need, the RX 300 was the one that put SUVs in a separate category from trucks. 2010 This year we doubled the criteria from three (superiority, significance, value) to our current six. The Ford Fusion grabbed the gold.   Car of the Year Hits and Misses Hits 1972 Citroën SM: Our first foreign COTY featured futuristic French styling and a Maserati V-6.1986 Ford Taurus: America’s Audi 5000—at last, a cool Yank sedan.2004 Toyota Prius: The styling said science project. Its hybrid bits were ready for prime time.2009 Nissan GT-R: Italian supercar performance with Godzilla styling.2013 Tesla Model S: The first electric vehicle with usable range. Misses 1973 Chevrolet Monte Carlo: This rehash beat a Ferrari 246 GT Dino.1974 Ford Mustang II: This stretched Pinto ponycar beat a Honda Civic and the W116 Mercedes S-Class.1984 Chevrolet Corvette: The first all-new ’Vette since 1963 earned a reputation for horrid quality.1989 Mitsubishi Galant GS: We selected the Galant as ICOY over the Miata, a line that would become the world’s best-selling roadster. Ah, hmmm. 2016 For the first time in the history of the storied Of the Year awards, we decided to announce Car of the Year, SUV of the Year, and Truck of the Year awards together at a special celebration on November 16, 2015. We also added a fourth award to the mix, Person of the Year, to highlight the achievements of the man or woman who tops our Power List. To mark these changes and the special occasion, we redesigned the trophy by adding more height and golden glimmer to the pedestal upon which the calipers sit.