Review by Mike Schlee

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Icons of the 1970s

When one thinks of the 1970s, images of bell bottoms, disco balls and leather jackets usually come to mind. You will notice none of these had anything to do with automobiles. That is because many consider the 1970s to be a forgettable decade as far as the automobile is concerned.  This decade suffered a massive oil crisis smack dab in the middle of it, but that is what makes it so unique. The start of the decade screamed in with 400+ horsepower muscle cars being the norm and exited with sub 100-hp econoboxes taking over.

So, did any good cars come from the 1970s? Well, yeah, quite a few; they are just a little different and unique, while some vehicles are still remembered to this day for all the wrong reasons. In fact, that may sum up the decade as a whole, which were turbulent times of hit-and-miss experimentation.

The automotive industry was at the pinnacle of this experimentation in the 1970s as several models came and went, or evolved to keep up with the times. As can be expected, some these vehicles are permanently etched in our collective psyche (for better or worse) when we think of the 1970s.  Below are the 11 models I like to think best define the seventies, in North America, at least.

Feature: Icons of the 1970s motoring memories classic cars
AMC Pacer. Click image to enlarge

AMC Pacer

The original, unloved AMC Pacer looked like nothing on the road that came before it. In fact, it looks like nothing on the road since, for that matter, and is referred to by some as a fishbowl on wheels. The car has since become somewhat of a cult icon, partially due to its cameo in the Wayne’s World movie. Party on, Garth!

Feature: Icons of the 1970s motoring memories classic cars
BMW 2002. Click image to enlarge

BMW 2002

The BMW 2002 is an icon to Bimmer fans the world over. The predecessor to the best selling 3 Series, the 2002 was the first move by BMW towards establishing itself as a premier maker of sport sedans.  All the amazing M3s from the 1980s to today can trace their roots back to the thrilling 2002tii and 2002 Turbo.

Feature: Icons of the 1970s motoring memories classic cars
Bricklin SV-1. Click image to enlarge

Bricklin SV-1

The Bricklin SV-1 is the one and only all-Canadian, ‘mass-produced’ automobile. I use the term ‘mass produced’ loosely since only 2,854 vehicles were ever produced over a three-year period. Ahead of its time in many way ways, the Bricklin was a case of the wrong car at the wrong time. There is still a heated debate to this day whether or not the Delorean ‘borrowed’ elements from this car’s design.

Feature: Icons of the 1970s motoring memories classic cars
Nissan 350Z and Datsun 240Z. Click image to enlarge

Datsun Z Cars

The original Datsun Z car, the 240Z, was released in 1969 and enjoyed sales success all through the 1970s through subsequent models like the 260Z and 280Z.  Although the Z cars have continued to enjoy success right up to present day, it was in the 1970s when the Z shook up the automotive landscape by bringing European-type, sports-car performance at an affordable price.

Feature: Icons of the 1970s motoring memories classic cars
Dodge Challenger. Click image to enlarge

Dodge Challenger

Late to the Party, Dodge rolled out its own Pony car in 1970 and dubbed it the Challenger. Designed to ‘challenge’ the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and Pontiac Firebird for sales, what the Challenger lacked in name creativity it made up for in performance. Optional engines for this car included the 440 ci V8 as well as the awesome 426 ci Hemi.  It was also such a good-looking car that Dodge basically replicated, as far as shape goes, with the reborn Challenger in 2008.

Feature: Icons of the 1970s motoring memories classic cars
Ford Mustang II. Click image to enlarge

Ford Mustang II

Many Mustang enthusiasts try to forget the years of 1974 through 1978. Initially with just four- or six-cylinder models available, the newly created Mustang II disappointed many enthusiasts. When a V8 did arrive in 1975, it was limited to just 140 hp, as was the norm at the time because of the gas crisis. This car reflected the old adage “All show and no go.”  True Stang-lovers, though, still do defend this vehicle as appropriate for the times.

Feature: Icons of the 1970s motoring memories classic cars
Ford Gran Torino. Click image to enlarge

Ford Gran Torino

Popularized by the 1975 television show “Starsky and Hutch”, the Ford Gran Torino was one of the baddest police cars in the world. Although it seemed able to perform better on television then it did in real life, people still flocked to Ford dealerships and many of these big coupes were sold during its lifespan.

Feature: Icons of the 1970s motoring memories classic cars
Ford Pinto. Click image to enlarge

Ford Pinto

The poor Ford Pinto. It has been 40 years since the first Pintos rolled off of the assembly lines (and subsequently caught fire) and the rear-end explosions jokes still haven’t stopped. Ruined by the lawsuits and bad press associated with these fires, the Pinto never stood a chance—even after it was fixed and no longer became an instant ‘car-b-cue’.

Feature: Icons of the 1970s motoring memories classic cars
Plymouth Road Runner Superbird. Click image to enlarge

Plymouth Road Runner Superbird

Essentially a corporate twin to the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona, the Plymouth Road Runner Superbird was sold for one year and one year only—1970. The car was designed exclusively for the NASCAR circuit and featured excessive power, excessive aerodynamics, and (for its time) an excessive price tag. This car is a favourite among collectors and draws huge numbers when rolling across the auction block.

Feature: Icons of the 1970s motoring memories classic cars
Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. Click image to enlarge

Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

Pontiac really has two iconic Firebirds from the 1970s.  First there was the last of the big-block Birds, the 1974 SD-455 that many consider to be the last of the true muscle cars.  The other was a car made famous by Hollywood, the 1977 Trans Am, which will forever be remembered as the Smokey and the Bandit car.  Adorned with the trademark black and gold paint scheme, the car could even be had with in excess of 200 hp, which was quite a feat for 1977.

Feature: Icons of the 1970s motoring memories classic cars
Volkswagen Golf GTI. Click image to enlarge

Volkswagen Golf GTI

The original ‘hot hatch’, the first generation Volkswagen Golf GTI featured a lightweight body with a high revving powerful motor. Proving that both a four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive could still be a recipe for a sporty car. The GTI surprised a lot of people in the 1970s with its handling performance, especially those in Camaros and Mustangs.




About Mike

Mike Schlee is the Social Editor at Autos.ca and autoTRADER.ca. He began his professional automotive writing career in 2011 and has always had a passion for all things automotive, working in the industry since 2000.