Many say that the 1970s are an era of mediocrity especially in the area of automobile production. Because of the oil crisis of 1973, stringent emissions and fuel economy regulations, plus a stagnant economy, the car industry’s struggle was real. Smaller and more fuel-efficient cars from Japan flocked over the American market.
American cars were also different that time because the American Motors Corporation (AMC) was still around, and Datsun (known today as Nissan) was one of the major competitors. SUVs were pretty much unheard of, but vans were popular.
Here are some of the cars that were popular back in the 1970s:
1. Lamborghini Countach
Back in the day, the Lamborghini Countach seemed shockingly futuristic. The V12 sports car was first introduced in 1974 with a 4.0-liter engine and 375 horsepower. Its original design somehow looked just as blocky, bold and sleek as it was during the 1990s. Because of its looks, it remained perfect poster material during the 70s until the 90s. It was listed by American magazine Sports Car International as one of the top sports cars of the 1970s and 80s.
2. Ford Pinto
Considered as one of the worst automotive blunders in the 1970s, the Ford Pinto was subject to controversy because of its safety record. When people think of Pinto, especially those who got to live in the 1970s, they remember explosions and people dying in fires. Once a misfortune would happen to a Pinto driver, like being hit by another vehicle from behind, the car might burst into flame because the fuel tank is barely protected. The Pinto also had doors prone to jamming shut in wrecks. Ford knew the problem, but after doing cost analysis studies, the company decided to just pay for settlements for fatal accidents that happened with a Pinto, instead of forgoing design changes. The controversy caused Pinto to be a favorite topic of case studies in business ethics.
3. Ford Mustang II
In 1974, Ford offered a more fuel-efficient Mustang to comply with new US emission and safety regulations. Naming it the Mustang II, Ford reduced its size to compete with imported sports coupes like the European Ford Capri and the Japanese Toyota Celica. Originally, it was planned to be based on the Ford Maverick but ultimately was based on the unloved Ford Pinto subcompact. It shared a chassis with Pinto but has a better engine option overall. It was also heavier. Sales of the Mustang II during the first year was lower than the original Mustang’s sales record on a year, and one reason is that you can’t get one with a V8.
4. Lamborghini Miura
When the Lamborghini Miura was released in 1966, it was the fastest road car ever made. The Miura was a star – it received stellar receptions from car showgoers and the press. Its sleek styling and revolutionary design earned itself a whole new level of patriarchal status during the early 70s. During that era, it became the unofficial car of the Rat Pack actors and musical talents like Miles Davis and Rod Stewart.
5. Chevrolet Vega
The Chevrolet Vega quickly became a popular choice with the American public when it was released in 1970 as part of Chevrolet’s line of economy cars. Its performance wasn’t impressive, but it sold well enough to be considered a success for General Motors. The Vega earned notable awards and recognition in its early years, such as the Motor Trend Car of the Year during 1971. However, it soon lost its magic when many problems started to arise. The Vega was plagued with defective axles, problems with fires, buckling and leaking engine, and rusting body. Despite issuing a series of major recalls and upgrades, consumers grew tired of the under-powered vehicle. Problems with Vega tarnished its own reputation, as well as General Motors’.
6. AMC Gremlin
America experienced its worst recession during the 1970s, so AMC responded to the national situation with introducing a small, two-door hatchback with a price starting at below $2,000 during April Fool’s Day in 1970. Because of its price, you’d expect no more than an economy car should be. It wasn’t bad mechanically, and it actually became a popular choice for car owners below 35 years old, probably because of being promoted by AMC as a “cute and different” automobile. However, it gained a negative reputation overall, as its design was considered “uninspired” and downright “ugly” and “unpleasant.” It competed with the problematic Ford Pinto and Chevy Vega not just in sales, but in its reputation of being awful.
7. AMC Pacer
If you’ve watched Wayne’s World movies, you have seen an AMC Pacer. Its uniqueness and appeal are all in the design. Sold from 1975 to 1980, the Pacer was promoted as “the first wide small car,” allowing more space for people than other compact cars that time. During that time, its rounded jellybean style and large glass area (its surface was 37% glass) were unusual compared to the typical three-box design. It was an icon during the 1970s and was dubbed as “The Flying Fishbowl” by Car and Driver. It was the first modern, commercially available automobile designed with the cab forward concept.