The 70s cars were a product of the mentality of industries in America.
If they tend to break down, it was because of the complacency that dominate the industries that produced TV sets, washing machines, not only cars.
America was the biggest country, the richest country. America was militarily the greatest country in the world, too. Who would challenge her? She was number one maker of 70s automobiles. "We are number one!", exclaimed executives of industries.
However, with the oil crisis of 1973 and more stringent emissions regulations, smaller and more fuel-efficient Japanese imports from Honda, Toyota and Nissan took over the American market in the second half of the decade.
American cars were different in the 1970s. AMC was still around and Datsun (renamed Nissan) was one of the major foreign competitors. Cars with Diesel engines increased in popularity during the "energy crisis". Vans became popular by the middle of the decade but mini-vans weren't really on the scene and SUV's were pretty much unheard of, so people had station wagons until emission standards appeared and gasoline became more scarce.
1970s Volkswagen Van
More and More Regulations
The automotive safety lobby led by Ralph Nader decried offering powerful cars for public sale, particularly when targeted at young buyers: the power of many muscle cars underlined their marginal brakes, handling, and tire adhesion. In response, the automobile insurance industry levied surcharges on all high-powered models, an added cost that put many muscle cars out of reach of their intended buyers.
Simultaneously, efforts to combat air pollution—a problem that grew more complicated in 1973 when the OPEC oil embargo led to price controls and gasoline rationing—focused Detroit's attention on emissions control.
Nevertheless, the Big Three still manufactured 70s cars. One of those was Chevrolet's new Chevette which was unveiled in 1975. It was an economical (if plain-looking) sub-compact that could get up to 35 miles per gallon on the highway. In truth it was time for any kind of American car that could bring consumers into showrooms.
Another of the 70s cars was the Chevrolet Nova SS which some pundits observed as the '70s equivalent of the '57 Chevy. But these cars died a death in '72, making these last-of-the-line '71s perfect candidates for the "Chevy Muscle Hall of Fame."
The most interesting US models in the late 70s were throwbacks to an earlier era - Chevrolet's 1978 Silver Anniversary Corvette came with a Stingray-like fastback, while Ford's Mustang King Cobra was a throwback to the muscle car days, sporting stripes, a cool snake decal and a 122 horsepower engine.
After a successful debut in 1967, the Camaro hit a slump in 1972. That year also saw the end of the Super Sport (SS) package. Road & Track magazine mourned the passing of Chevrolet Camaro SS396, hailing the SS396 as the "best car built in America in 1971." The early Seventies were a bad trip for the automobiles, all 70s cars affected by regulations as well as the gas shortage.
Five years later, the Camaro would rise again, selling over a quarter of a million units - and with a design that survived 11 years without any serious alteration. This is one American icon that refuses to die.
One 70s cars which was hailed as "action and elegance in a sporty personal luxury package," was the Chevy Monte Carlo. It was only available as a coupe and came with power front discs, Elm-Burl dash panel inlays, and a choice of engines that ranged from the standard 350cid V8 to the SS454. It was sold at $3, 123 and cheap compared to the $5,000 Thunderbird. The Monte Carlo used the same platform as the redesigned 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix.
1975 Chevy Chevette
1971 Chevrolet Nova SS
1978 Silver Anniversary Corvette
1972 Chevy Camaro
1973 Chevy Monte Carlo
The '63 Riviera had been one of Buick's best-sellers, but by the late Sixties it was lagging far behind Ford's now-luxurious Thunderbird. Buick upped the stakes by unveiling a new Riviera in 1971 that was a little bit special. The new model was now bigger and more brash than it ever was. Handsome and dramatic, the "boat-tail," as it was nicknamed, had its stylistic roots in the split rear-window Sting Ray of '63.
It's base price was $5,251, more pricey than its arch rival T-bird by a wide margin. At last, Buick had a flagship model that was the envy of the industry. These 70s cars made Buick proud.
Ford's new Granada, a smaller and more fuel-conscious version of the Ford Maverick, quickly became the company's '7os top selling car, while Cadillac's new Seville - an "intermediate" luxury vehicle a la Mercedes Benz - racked up sales of 43,000.
In the UK, the Ford Capri was the car of choice for heavy-set boys. Their dads on the other hand, probably drove an Austin Allegro. The Allegro was genteel, economical - a company car for junior management.
1971 Buick Riviera
1972 Ford Granada
In the 1970's, America experienced its worst recession in years and Detroit felt the effects of American consumers' fascination with the more quality-made imports. AMC responded to the situation with the Gremlin, a tiny two-door hatchback with a base price starting below $2,000. Available in various unpleasant earth tones, the Gremlin was one of the quintessentially ugly cars of the 1970s.
In 1972, AMC launched the 'Levi's Edition' Gremlin to capitalize on America's current infatuation with denim. The car came complete with copper rivets and denim-like blue nylon on the seats and door panels - one 70s cars which are unusual, even comical.
AMC also introduced "The Machine": factory-modified 1970 AMC Rebel which ran 14.4-second quarter mile in stock trim. American Motors' mid-sized 1970 Rebel Machine, was also built for normal street use. It was thought by its designers as a competitor to the GTOs. With four-speed manual transmission, the Rebel could spring from zero to 60 miles per hour in just 6.4 seconds.
The quintessential 1970s US car was probably the Pacer, introduced by AMC as "the first wide small car". The car's bubble-like styling made it look like some "car of the future" from a 1950s showroom, but its heavy six cylinder engine made handling awkward, and caused the car to gobble far more fuel than the average domestic compact. For all its hype, sales were disappointing and the Pacer barely made it to the end of the decade.
Much easier on the eye were the 1973 Lincoln Continentals, the first Continentals to be manufactured with padded vinyl roofs and oval 'opera' windows. Lincoln stayed true to the popular look through to the end of the decade.
One pricey 70s cars was Lincoln Contental Mark IV that in 1972 was priced at $10,000. It was a luxury car fit to lock bumpers with Cadillac's finest. As big as they came and surprisingly fast, the all-new hunch-flanked body had a Rolls-Royce-esque grille and distinctive, fake spare-wheel cover.
Road-testers were unanimous in their praise for its power, luxury, and size, remarking that the Mark IV's hood "looks like an aircraft carrier landing-deck on final approach." It had air-conditioning, six-by-six-way power seats, power windows, antenna and door locks. And all came as standard.
Lincoln's limited-edition Continental Mark V Diamond Jubilee coupe was typically excessive, coming with a gold grille, special midnight-blue metallic paint, and a leather bound owner's manual and tool kit.
1972 AMC Gremlin
1972 Levi's Edition Gremlin
1970 AMC Rebel "The Machine"
1975 AMC Pacer
1972 Lincoln Continental Mark IV
Lincoln Continental Mark V Diamond Jubilee
With Chrysler suffering a sales drop of 34% with their 70s cars, they tried to rectify this with the 1975 Cordoba - the shortest Chrysler since WWII. Billed as "the new small Chrysler", the car remains most memorable for its TV spots, in which actor Ricardo Montalban praised such extras as "rich, Corinthian leather".
The 70s cars saw the 340 cu in.-powered 1970 Plymouth Duster. It was one of those smaller, more affordable cars. Based on the compact-sized Plymouth Valiant and priced at just US$2,547, the 340 Duster posted a 6.0-second 0-60 mph (97 km/h) time and ran the quarter mile in 14.7 seconds at 94.3 mph.
This "reasonably fast" compact muscle car had a stiff, slightly lowered suspension. The car was a success. Hot Rod rated the Duster "one of the best, if not the best, dollar buy in a performance car" in 1970.
By the early Seventies, the corpulent Cadillac could average only 12 mpg. The energy crisis of '74 made the now-obese line a soft target. Enter the Seville, which debuted in 1975 and was deliberately European in size, ride, handling, and economy. There was little ornamentation, and it was half a hood shorter than other Cadillacs.
The press called it the "best Caddy for 26 years." Launch price for the Seville was $13,700, $6,000 less than a comparable Mercedes and sales of the new car rightly worried the German manufacturer. Fortune magazine named Seville as one of the U.S.'s best-designed products, a quality 70s cars.
By 1976, Cadillacs had become so swollen that they plowed through corners, averaged 13 mpg and were as quick as off the line as an M24 tank. Despite a massive 500cid V8, output of the 1976 Eldorado was a lowly 190 hp, with a top speed of just 109 mph. Something had to change and Cadillac's response had been the '75 Seville.
But the '76 Eldorado marked the end of an era for another reason - it was the last American convertible. When Cadillac announced that the convertible was to be phased out at the end of '76, the market fought to buy the last 200. People even tried to cut in line by claiming they were distantly related to Cadillac's founder.
One 72-year old man in Nebraska bought six of them. A grand American institution had quietly passed away. Such was the demand for these last convertibles that some changed hands for as much as $20,000, nearly double the list price. Cadillac convertibles ...memorable 70s cars.
1975 Chrysler Cordoba
1970 Plymouth Duster
1975 Cadillac Seville
1976 Cadillac Eldorado