Cars in the 1970s

1971 Hemi Cuda

Car manufacturers were dealt some serious challenges in the 1970s. Federal regulations were starting to take over style and power design meeting rooms and many of the cars style took a major hit.

While some were making great iconic new designs (see the 1973 Lamborghini Countach or the BMW 5 Series), many others were pumping out cars like the Pacer and the Pinto. Most of these compact cars were disposable, dangerous, unreliable — but had much better gas mileage.

Muscle cars in the early 1970s, like the Challenger, Cuda and Corvette were unbelievably great. But sports cars were overtaken in the mainstream by the compact car because automakers were having an impossible time keeping the power and getting rid of the smog.

By 1972, compact cars had won the sales race. The GM Vega, Ford Pinto, and AMC Gremlin battled the imports – most notably Volkswagen, Toyota, and Datsun.

In 1974, BMW introduced the first 3 series. One of my favorite cars ever, the old school Jaguar XJS was also released that year. Hatchbacks were extremely popular as well.

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Cars in 1972

1973 AMC Gremlin

New car sales in the United States set an all-time record of 10,820,000 in 1972. The
previous high was set in 1971.

On a percentage basis, the import manufacturers lost ground for the first time in several years.

In 1973, compact cars won the sales race. The GM Vega, Ford Pinto, and AMC Gremlin battled the imports – most notably Volkswagen, Toyota, and Datsun.

Chrysler continued to import its Dodge Colt for sale in that segment of the market, but Plymouth Cricket sales faltered.

VW was still king of the import sales market. Toyota was the runner-up with

Richard C. Gerstenberg, GM board chairman, said the average GM worker is paid $5.09 an hour.

Working under numerous federal guidelines, the auto industry continued its trend away from major annual styling changes. Money went into auto safety and antipollution devices.

1973 Oldsmobile Omega

1973 Oldsmobile Omega: The only new model in ’73

Only one brand-new car — the compact Oldsmobile Omega — was introduced in the 1973 line-up of 277 models.

Detroit automakers settled for face-lifting jobs on the 1973s. A bit of metal here or there and some extra paint. But they labored long and hard to meet federal requirements on such items as a 5-mile-an-hour bumper system, material flammability, and the reduction of oxides of nitrogen exhaust pollutants.

The federal government required that 1973 cars be equipped with bumpers that can withstand a 5-mile-an-hour front impact without damage to safety-related items on the car.

Customer Satisfaction was the target of a major AMC move in introducing its 1973 cars. AMC had drawn attention when its 1972 models included an unconditional guarantee on all parts except tires for 12 months or 12,000 miles with no Cost to the buyer.

Carmakers had boasted of pollution controls instead of power in 1972. Buyers complained the changes made winter starting more difficult and cut down acceleration. On 1973s, manufacturers tried some minor devices that, they said, improved the performance of those equipped with anti-pollution systems.

But Detroit ran into objections from the EPA.

Car companies continued to experiment with alternative engines. Chrysler, which spent millions of dollars in the mid-1950s trying to develop an inexpensive, workable gas-turbine engine, won a federal contract in November 1972 to develop a sixth generation of its turbine engine. It was considered a possible replacement for the piston engine.

The German-developed Wankel rotary engine drew particular attention in August when GM said that limited production of a Wankel-powered Vega was possible in two years. A Wankel-powered Japanese import, the Mazda, was already on sale.

Cars in 1974

1975 BMW 3 Series

In 1974, the Middle East oil embargo, drastically higher fuel costs and much higher price tags for new cars destroyed consumer confidence and enthusiasm. As new car sales slumped, layoffs and plant closings increased.

U.S. auto production in 1974 decreased 24% from 1973.

Volkswagen was the leading import, but was hit hard by the slumping sales as well.

One of the industry’s issues was trying to determine the customer’s buying taste. Many automakers thought that the demand for compact and subcompact cars would skyrocket because of the fuel shortage and high cost of gasoline. But, after a strong first six months for the small cars, standard and luxury models sold better than expected after summer.

Car prices jumped substantially in the 1975 models. However, the price picture was difficult to clarify because automakers shuffled standard and optional equipment on their cars.

GM complained that if 1976 standards requiring stronger brakes and 1977 standards that call for airbags were approved, the price of cars would increase even more.

BMW introduced the 3 series. One of my favorite cars ever, the old school Jaguar XJS was also released that year.

Hatchbacks were increasing in popularity and Buick responded by coming out with the Buick Skyhawk — a quintessential mid-seventies car.

Sports Cars in the 1970s

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Luxury Cars in the 1970s

Family Cars in the 1970s

Compact Cars in the 1970s

Electric Cars, Trucks and Other Cars in the 1970s

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Last modified: Jan 15, 2016 | Written by Paul Phipps