In the 1970s, excess and ugliness competed with lame attempts at fuel efficiency. The result? Lots of underpowered, hideous-looking cars that looked back toward the glory of the ’60s and extended a great big middle finger at them.
First, though, we have to give a little credit to the ’70s for at least trying to deal with a triple blow to the auto industry. First, the Clean Air Act of 1970 was passed, which by itself wasn’t that big of a deal to the automakers. But then the stock market crashed in January 1973, followed by an OPEC oil embargo that raised the price of a barrel of oil by 70 percent.
A sinking economy, government regulations, and high gas prices are just as much to blame for the Pinto as Ford is. Even in those hard times, though, some cars shined and still have a lasting influence today.
Take Toyota, for example. It’s $1,700 Corolla came to the States in 1968, perfectly timed to take advantage of Americans looking for fuel efficiency and low prices, rather than big block V8s. Some early quality and safety issues were addressed, and here we are now 40 years later with a Toyota that arguably owes its U.S. success to the problems of the 1970s. For that, we are thankful. (Anyone care to make a modern-day Hyundai comparison?)
We’re also thankful for the 1978 Pontiac Trans Am. This was one of the last great cars from Pontiac before the brand dropped its large displacement engines in the face of tighter emissions restrictions. Savor those T-Tops and that 400-cubic-inch engine, friends, because once the 1980s arrived, we had a whole new ballgame.
Are any of your favorite cars from the 1970s?