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Consumer Reports celebrates 50 years

By Staff
By: Susan Frissell, Motor News Media Corporation
Consumer Reports celebrates 50 years
As vehicles become more and more sophisticated, resembling what once would only pass as "concept," it is good to keep in mind how they arrived where they are today, in part by remembering what came before them.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Consumer Reports annual April auto issue, the magazine compiled a list of what its auto experts believe are the 10 most influential vehicles. This vehicle laid the groundwork for the sports sedan. A two-door sedan, it offered sport car-like handling and strong performance.
The Chevrolet Corvette is one of the few vehicles that can claim styling,performance and longevity. The 1953 Corvette set the standard for future American sports cars.
Chrysler's 1984 minivans, Dodge Caravan/Plymouth Voyager, were the first to lead the way in what is still a very popular vehicle segment.
In 1982, the F-Series truck was one of the first trucks to outsell all passenger cars in the U.S. and has been the highest selling vehicle, and best-selling truck for 26 years.
The Ford Taurus was a groundbreaking design in 1986. Taurus introduced other automakers to a rounded, aerodynamic style.
The Ford Mustang. Who could argue with this choice? The original 1964 and a half "pony car" was the inspiration for affordable sports coupes to follow, namely, Pontiac Firebird and Chevy Camaro.
Jeep Cherokee. Leading the way for what is now one of the most popular vehicle segments, Jeep went from a niche 4×4 SUV to a family vehicle. Toyota RAV4 was the first car-based sport-utility-vehicle. This small Toyota began a new movement in SUV design.
Volkswagen Rabbit/GTI. Beginning in the 1970s, the Rabbit popularized the small hatchback design in the U.S. The GTI version started the "hot hatch" niche of small, sporty cars.
Another influential car not to be missed, the Volkswagen Beetle lives on and on. Introduced in the 1950s in the U.S., the Beetle started the import invasion. A small, economical and easy-to-maintain car, the Beetle is truly the people's car.
Publishing its first cover-to-cover auto issue in 1953, Consumer Reports reviewed 50 cars. In comparison, 2003's annual April auto issue covered a 210-vehicle mix of cars, pickups, minivans and SUVs. Covered are 37 brands from automakers based in six countries. The 1953 issue included only 20 major brands, all American and several that are now gone.
Considering how today's automobiles evolved, this magazine took a look at styling and power trends. For instance, in the 1950s, power and tail fins began; horsepower was increased and automatic transmissions and wagons were added. Many did not realize it was then that imports began to arrive; Detroit noticed. Then in the 1960s choices began to grow, as did engines. The muscle car was born and cleaner air laws came into effect.
In the 1970s, cars began to get cleaner as oil became scarce. Car bodies grew leaner, engines became cleaner and the power dropped. Then during the 1980s, wagons became passe, surpassed by minivans. The 1990s saw the sophistication of the family SUV and pickups became popular. Electric vehicles came on the scene, although not widely accepted. Today, in the early 2000s, new and old exist together. As car bodies become "edgier," hybrids go mainstream and the average fuel mileage drops.
When Consumer Reports began testing vehicles in 1936, they borrowed cars from friends. Their test operation was based in a service garage and they ran on a rented racetrack. To test the vehicles, they used a "fifth wheel" to gauge a vehicle's speed for acceleration and braking tests. Today, state-of-the-art computerized equipment is used with Global Positioning Satellites.
When their auto experts began 50 years ago they used a downhill slope to test brakes. Since the 1960s brakes have been tested on a flat straightaway. In the early 1990s, when antilock braking systems became commonplace, Consumer Reports built a customized stretch of blacktop to test them.
Testing fuel consumption in the early years, a glass beaker piped fuel from the cabin to the carburetor. As one engineer drove down the highway, another manipulated valves to empty a measured amount of gasoline into the engine. Today, a digital metering system is employed.
During the early testing years, engineers drove around the track at high speeds to conduct tests for emergency handling. Today, there are three tests used: skid pad, quick laps around a serpentine handling course, and an avoidance maneuver. These tests provide data on how safe a vehicle will handle during an emergency.