Big cars were back in 1982 — especially in Alberta

Car buyers in Alberta were spending big on the big cars on dealers' lots in 1982.

Cheaper gas meant U.S. and Alberta buyers were scooping up 'comfortable' cars

Big cars flying off the lot in Alberta

40 years ago
Duration 1:57
After a slump due to gas prices, buyers are driving away in big cars -- especially in Alberta.

Automakers in Eastern Canada were working overtime to produce "big cars" in July 1982.

Not for the domestic market, but for the U.S., "where the demand is," said CBC reporter Bob Nicholson in a story for Calgary Newshour.   

Sales of big cars were up in the United States due to the falling price of gasoline by "as much as 30 cents a gallon" in some states. 

In Canada, sales of big cars were declining, down to seven per cent of the market from 12 per cent a year earlier. But there was an exception: Alberta.

'Why not spend it?'

"The majority of people buying these are paying cash," noted a Calgary auto dealer. (Calgary Newshour/CBC Archives)

"Big cars have always sold well here," said Nicholson. "They're doing even better now."

A dealership representative at Calgary's Metro Ford explained why, he added.

"They say the big distances in Alberta and the loyalty of the farm community help sell the big cars."

Big cars were selling at a Chrysler dealer, too: "big luxury cars" like the New Yorker, which was priced at $21,000 (or $58,000 in 2022 dollars).

And the majority of people were paying for their new cars with cash, said a sales agent at the Chrysler lot.

"They see their money go down in value and they say 'hey, why not spend it?'" he explained.

At a GM dealership, where the Chevrolet Impala was a best-seller, a salesman on the lot said buyers liked the "comfort and convenience" of a bigger ride.

Another incentive

Gas was selling at less than 35 cents a litre in Alberta in 1982, equivalent to 85 cents in 2020. (Calgary Newshour/CBC Archives)

Lower gas prices helped "more than anything else" when it came to selling big cars, said Nicholson.

"At 34 cents a litre, it's still a bargain compared with 53 cents a litre in Quebec," he elaborated, adding that fuel economy had improved for some big cars.

But a GM spokesman had told the reporter the "big-car surge" wouldn't last, he added.

"In the long run, he says, there's only so much petroleum in the ground," said Nicholson. 

"Sooner or later, even Albertans are going to have to turn to smaller, front-wheel drive cars."

Reporter Bob Nicholson drives away after signing off with a double honk. (Calgary Newshour/CBC Archives)

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now