The fastest of the compact Nova SSs could reach 60 mph (97 km/h) from standstill in under 6 seconds. Abundant wheelspin and heavy steering only boosted the car's macho appeal. The leading automobile manufacturer in the U.S.A. served up all-new vehicles at both ends of the size spectrum for 1971 but dropped out of first place in the sales race. Huge price increases on most GM products hurt sales at all divisions.
As for new product, at the small end was the subcompact Vega, and at the larger end were the totally redesigned full-size Chevrolets. These two models are covered in more detail later. The remainder of the Chevrolet line received minimal changes, except for the mid-size Chevelle, which had its third facelift in as many years. The Chevelle had a revised grille and headlight treatment that featured single headlamp units on each side with large wrap-around parking lights located at the ends of the grille on the leading edge of the fenders. The grille itself had a strong horizontal theme, compared to the eggcrate style grilles used on nearly all other Chevrolet models. At the back end, the traditional round Chevy taillights were used for the first time on a Chevelle model.
In between, the same basic styling was used, and interiors were only slightly revised. As with all GM intermediates, a new model was scheduled to be introduced for the 1972 model year, but a strike during the year would change those plans, and limit the 1971 production totals for many Chevrolet lines. The compact Nova, new-for-1970 Monte Carlo and sporty Camaro and Corvette models received only minimal changes. Most of the changes involved interior/exterior trim changes, or revised grilles. Under the hoods, most cars were given lower compression ratios to help with emissions. The Nova replaced its base 4-cylinder engine with a 6-cylinder powerplant, leaving the all-new Vega as the division's economy champ.
The Vega was one of the last big gambles taken by General Motors during the 20th century. Other ambitious but seemingly "safe bet" cars, such as the X-car (Citation, et al.), J-car (Cavalier), and the down-sized full-size cars of the late 1970s were gambles only in the uncertainty of whether they would be successful and make the corporation money. Sooner or later those cars would have been produced, if for no other reason than market pressures and consumer demand for such vehicles. The Vega was a subcompact car, a safe bet in that it met the demand for small cars. The gamble came into play under the hood and in the design. The nation's economy was not as healthy as it had once been, and that state was directly translated into the well-being of larger corporations. At the same time, General Motors had reached a point of ever increasing bureaucracy that was starting to affect the design and quality of its products adversely.
These factors combined would remove some of the features that the Vega was originally slated to have, and would account for some cost cutting that affected the overall quality of the car. The gamble in design was not so much in the car's styling as in the extensive use of computer-aided technology. The Vega was one of the earliest cars to be designed and built with the aid of computers on a large scale. Also, pre-introduction marketing surveys were used extensively. Finally, the powerplant used by the Vega was of an advanced aluminum construction design that would prove to be costly and troublesome for an inexpensive subcompact. But at first the car looked promising. Sales met expectations, and the press liked the car so well that Motor Trend magazine named the Vega its 1971 Car of the Year.
At the other end of the size scale, the full-size Chevrolets received a total makeover. The Biscayne, Bel Air, Impala, and Caprice were among the largest automobiles ever produced by Chevrolet. The wheelbase went above 120 inches, and the weight of wagon models topped 4500 pounds! As with all other full-size GM cars, these new models featured a modern wide-body design and were very well equipped automobiles, especially when compared with their counterparts of just five or six years earlier. The wider bodies allowed for increased passenger hip and shoulder room, which made the cars feel far more spacious. The increased wheelbase gave a smoother ride, which was one of Ford's big selling points during this period. Styling, especially from the front, was less like previous Chevrolets and more like Cadillac in appearance. Of course these cars were far from the stellar performance cars they had once been. The added weight, length, and features coupled with the decrease in available engine power was putting a damper on the performance image the big Chevrolet had earned during the sixties.