Why Wheels withheld Car of the Year in 1972

No car of the year award will be made by Wheels for 1972. Wheels makes this announcement with a deep feeling of responsibility — and real regret.


NO car of the year award will be made by Wheels for 1972. Wheels makes this announcement with a deep feeling of responsibility—and real regret.

First published in the January 1973 issue of Wheels magazine, Australia’s most experienced and most trusted car magazine since 1953.

The most coveted award in Australian motor industry has been withheld because, in the opinion of Wheels, no car during 1972 came up to the standard required.

It is the first time in the 10-year history of the Car Of The Year that an award had been put through an exhaustive series of tests during the year.

For the full reasons behind this important decision, read below:

  • Reduced glass area on FALCON HARDTOP plus added width over rear wheels makes it a nightmare to park.
  • Considering overall length of car rear seat leg and knee room in FALCON is poor. This is not a problem restricted only to the Falcon but typical of local Big Three cars.
  • Boot of XA FALCON shows lack of practical detail design. Long petrol filler pipe takes valuable space and lower lip of boot, protrudes from floor. Spare wheel is under rubber mat so luggage must be removed if car gets a flat.
  • Body panels on CORTINA SIX still fail to match perfectly. Area between rear door and body is worst example.
  • MARINA is not for the twisty sections, especially if the road is bumpy. The 1948 Morris Minor suspension is hardly good enough in 1972.
  • Styling of MARINA COUPE fails because it uses same front doors as four-door sedan. Lack of length makes rear side windows seem too long.
  • DATSUN 180B engine produces plenty of power but is noisy by modern standards and harsh at top end.
  • High lid and petrol tank between boot and rear seat means DATSUN 180B boot is too small for most Australians.


Wheels, in making its announcement on The Car of The Year, wants to make one point clear — not all the Australian cars released during 1972 were poorly designed vehicles.

Some of them were good, others better than good. But being a GOOD car is simply not enough to win the award.

The guidelines laid down for the award require that the car must present a significant product advance. None of the cars released really achieved this criterion.

The award is based on engineering excellence and includes considerations of innovation in design, fulfilment of the car's design concept, road behaviour and performance — plus the contribution it makes to standards of engineering and safety. The standard of quality and the manufacturer's attitude to marketing and service and finally the way the car compares in its relative market are also taken into account.

A tough set of requirements — and sadly no new car assembled or wholly manufactured in Australia in 1972 fulfilled all the conditions to a sufficiently high standard to merit receiving the award.

In retrospect, 1972 was a year of marking time, a year in which there were plenty of new models. But it was also a year which reflected the uncertainty produced by the first waves of safety and government controls which began in 1968.

In the intervening years, the influence of Governments in car design has become clearer and now there is communication between manufacturers and legislators. But back in 1968, when most of the new cars released in 1972 were being designed, rumours and conflicting statements were rife.

Obviously most manufacturers preferred to sit tight and develop existing themes, to work with the engineering concepts which were simple and easily understood, both by the public and in terms of tooling and monetary outlay.

The role of the styling and marketing departments were particularly obvious in deciding how the final product finally came out and shaped up. Today, while marketing is particularly important, the styling departments have to consider all sorts of physical limitations imposed by the safety requirements and this has tended to restrict their work

For the past few years the engineers, too, have been forced to spend many millions of man hours working out feasible answers to the safety requirements instead of working on advanced technical concepts.

The result, of course, is a series of cars which are conservative in their engineering and lacking in any worthwhile innovation. There will be plenty more in the same vein in the years to come — but 1972 seemed to mark the coming together of all these problems.

It was significant, perhaps, that 1972 was a year in which GMH had little that was new apart from the face-lifted Torana and the marketing exercises based on the HQ - the SS and Vacationer — HQ was all new in 1971 and it will not be until late 1973 or early 1974 that we see another new car — the Torana replacement — from Australia's biggest manufacturer.

There is still hope for the future. In 1973, we will see the long-awaited Leyland P-76 with its — by local standards — advanced concept and refreshing styling and with many small but practical features which could take it beyond the normal equipment and development level of the Big Three.

Chrysler has its Torana Six challenger and there are a couple of surprises from the other manufacturers as well. It should be an interesting year — with, we hope, a COTY at the end of it for one deserving company.

A rundown of the leading candidates shows why none of them is the Wheels Car Of The Year in 1972.

Morris Marina

The local version of Leyland's fortune-saving Marina is much better than the English model, if only for the fitting of the ohc engines. However, in terms of suspension — in other words ride, roadholding and handling — it is at least 10 years out of date. The vagueness in the steering, the excessive understeer, axle-hop under hard braking and general lack of refinement mark it down as a car for people who drive at 40 mph on perfectly smooth roads. In these areas it is a whole league behind the front-wheel drive 1500.

Datsun 180B

Until Wheels drove the 180B, we felt this car would be the strongest contender — which just goes to show how wrong you can be. There is no denying it is outstanding value for money, but it is not the advance over the 1600 it should be, except in terms of seat design and dashboard layout.

The lack of mechanical refinement, the noise level and failings in the steering and front suspension design are carried over from the 180B and in many ways are exaggerated by the new body.

Ford Cortina Six

If Ford’s quality control improved 100 percent — and there were no rough roads — the Cortina Six would probably have won. Following, and improving upon, the Torana Six concept, the Cortina is certain to be a very popular car because its combination of performance and size are almost ideal for Australia. But the edge has gone from the four cylinders handling, and the steering is heavier in general driving.

The biggest problem is still the dreadful rough road ride. The knocking and bottoming and general lack of absorption by the Cortina suspension leads us to the belief that an expensive re-think is the only positive answer. The finish, too, is still suspect after more than 12 months production of the virtually identical (body-wise) fours. The Cortina Six is a much better car than the Torana — but it is not good enough.

Ford Falcon XA

Perhaps the most obvious choice in 1972, the Falcon XA turned out to be a fine car in many areas — just so long as you paid extra for the right set of options. Given the wide wheels, radial ply tyres, bucket seats, automatic transmission and at least the 250 engine (but preferably one of the V8s), it became a marvellous touring car. The interior control and dashboard layout, too, is by far the best on one of the Big Three cars.

But — and it is a big bit — under the rather dull and in many ways already dated styling, the running gear is virtually unchanged from the old XR-XY models.

The Falcon Hardtop failed because of its abysmal lack of visibility. It is a hard, almost dangerous car to drive in traffic and especially to park. It is, in fact, no more than an exercise in marketing and styling.

Other candidates…

Ford Fairlane ZF… for the same reasons as the Falcon XA, but also because it lost the distinctive appearance of the previous models.

Holden SS… GMH is getting the HQ all together now, but the SS points up the basic suspension deficiencies of the suspension.

Austin Tasman/Kimberley Mk. II… Getting better all the time but the whole concept is now on the chopping block in Australia.

Torana LJ… Better than the LC certainly but the poor road-holding and confined interior are still major problems.

Rambler Matador… As an example of American engineering it comes over very well but the mechanicals are out-dated and the shape old hat.

Charger SE 340… Last year’s winner in a more luxurious form with an even bigger V8 engine but still essentially the same car. 


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