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BangShift’s Question Of The Day: Which Of These Two Cars Represents The 1970s More?

BangShift’s Question Of The Day: Which Of These Two Cars Represents The 1970s More?

We’ve played the “car from the year you were born” game here. 1983 was a crap year for cars, unless you wanted a Jeep Scrambler or have a pang in your chest for a four-eye Fox-body Mustang. Power was still down, decal performance was still a thing, and with downsizing hitting the manufacturers, you couldn’t even quite look at luxo-boats the same. Think about it…the 1970s had a bizarre mix of leftover muscle, the height of the Brougham Epoch, van culture, small-car demands, and manufacturers that I’m not completely convinced weren’t phoning it in after the successes of the 1960s, all with the catalyst of government involvement increasing.

I like cars from the 1970s because they were what I grew up surrounded by. 1973 Chrysler Newport, 1975 Chevrolet Camaro, 1977 Ford Mustang II Mach 1, 1975 Oldsmobile Omega, 1978 Ford LTD II Sport…the list goes on and on, because most of those cars were in my life when I was five. Cars from the decade of disco is what I know best…the feel, the themes, the build quality, all of it. But I can say, easily, that I wasn’t there. Unlike cars of the 1990s, where I was paying attention as they came out, I simply can’t grasp the feel for what the cars were when they were new. So, for today’s Question of the Day, I want you to help me out. I picked two cars that couldn’t be more different out of an upcoming Mecum auction that I think represent the 1970s well. Which car better reflected the days?

1. 1973 Dodge Charger SE Our first contender is the moment when muscle started to leave the Dodge Charger in favor of comfort. Having been redesigned in 1971, the Charger (along with all of the Chrysler B-body cars) had gained a fuselage shape, a big hoop-style bumper up front, and funky quarter window treatments. By 1973, the Hemi and 440-6 were gone, and while the 440 was still around, it was plainly obvious that it was down on power. The SE package added to this “mature brute” look that Chrysler was trying to move to, with the padded roof, the strange triple opera window treatment for the quarter windows, and more. A big car that had to have become a royal nightmare when the fuel crisis hit, the Charger SE might have been the first inkling that things were suddenly not right in Auburn Hills. The 1970s would prove disastrous for Chrysler, nearly sending the whole company under, yet in 1973 there wasn’t the same level of fear for the well-being of Ma Mopar. Old school power, some comfort additions to ease up the disappearing horses, on a design that was coming straight from the zenith of the Supercar Era. This is how the 1970s started, but is it representative of the whole decade?

2. 1977 Ford Pinto Cruising Wagon

For years, consumers had been kicking back at Detroit’s “low, long and wide” offerings with one word that stuck like a knife in each corporation’s rib cage: “Volkswagen”. Small, economical, cheap yet durable, the Type 1 Bug was an annual pain in the ass for Detroit. One competitor was bad enough…but then came Toyota. And Mazda. And in the mind of many in Detroit who had still-vivid impressions of World War II to reference, they were seeing an invasion of imports. And the public was eating them up. Even before the gas crisis, manufacturers were at the drawing boards, looking to send VWs and Japanese offerings running for cover…except, they kind of botched things. Chevrolet’s Vega had all sorts of issues, the AMC Gremlin was a bigger car made smaller by cutting off it’s hind end, and Ford’s drama with the Pinto is well-known and documented. But the Pinto lasted through the 1980 model year, explosion risk be damned. This is a rare unit, a Cruising Wagon (note: porthole window) that was ordered from the factory in all-black, no stripes. A 2.3L four-banger provided enough power, a four-speed stirred that power around, and the original owner sprung for the upgraded interior kit. Just enough comfort in a smaller package that had a trendy kick…does this represent the 1970s more?

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10 thoughts on “BangShift’s Question Of The Day: Which Of These Two Cars Represents The 1970s More?

  1. TheCrustyAutoworker

    My car crazy teen years fell smack dab in the mid to late 70’s in a sad era of 150 horse power V8 smog motors, the gas crisis, and rising fuel prices, lowered highway speed limits, etc.

    Where I grew up in the suburbs west of Toronto,Ontario the Pinto (along with the Vega and Gremlin) would have been a much more common sight than that big Charger. And due to all those things playing out back then I ended up being around a whole lot of those small cars with V8 swaps done by young Gearheads that were trying to get some muscle car fun on the cheap.

    Now that I’ve stayed way off the subject I’ll answer with Pinto 100%, though the Cruising wagon I knew was just like this 77 model, it had a built 302 with a tunnel ram, flames over the black paint and a tubbed rear end by the time the owner was finished with it. – Crusty out

  2. jerry z

    I was a kid in NJ during the 70’s and when the gas crunch hit, small imports started popping up everywhere. My parents had a ’65 Buick Wildcat when the first gas crisis hit in 1973. The sold it and bought an Opel wagon. After head gasket failure, bought a new Scamp. More issues. In 1976 bought a Volare wagon. Many issues. Finally they gave up on American cars and bought in 1980 a Toyota Corona Wagon.

    So I would say the Pinto represented the 70’s more than the Charger.

  3. Bob J


    1971 (December) was when I ordered my 1972 Duster 340. I was originally planning to get the 318, but since I was going to order it with HD suspension, 3-speed on the floor, buckets, PS, PB (no radio) a friend pointed out that, knowing me, the car would be modified with a 4bbl etc, that I’d be better off just getting the 340 (he was correct). The early 70s weren’t too bad (Chrysler had decided not to update the ‘Cuda and Challenger bodies for the upcoming crash bumpers, and so they were slated to die). I can’t recall the name of the Chrysler engineer who rightly pointed out that Chrysler walked away from the only market segment that really grew in that decade. Given the Arab oil embargo effects, crash standards, de-tuned engines/drivelines and the insurance surcharge, on any car with a hint of performance, it pretty much killed the muscle car.

    There was some performance still available (SD 455 Pontiac (De-tuned from its original engineering plans), and in very early 1972, the 440 6bbl was briefly available (yes I actually saw a 1972 Basin Street Blue 6bbl Charger) along with some GM and Ford big blocks, performance cars were essentially done).

    Emissions controls (crude but necessary for most) absorbed the bulk of the engineering budgets.by 1975 nothing much was available.

    The custom Van was the new focus and was pretty popular, and as your image of the Pinto shows, the preferences had changed (think of the Dodge ” Street Van”). The desire for performance was as strong as ever, but very few choices in a new car.

    Summing up, people migrated (involuntarily) to more mundane vehicles. I would point out that 1979 brought some semblance of performance cars back, Fox bodied cars and Pontiac had attempted to “keep the flame alive” through the 70s via the TA mostly.

    Just my .02

    Bob J

  4. Mopar or No Car

    Both these cars represent the 1970s but not in the way the author is thinking. It was the cheapening of materials (as in plastic everywhere and not just for weight reduction) and half-baked tactics to improve fuel economy that gave us both these cars. It took way too long for auto manufacturers to realize deep down what Americans want in their cars are power and comfort. It took almost as long again before they incorporated those wishes into their offerings.

  5. Cliff Morgan

    The Pinto because it represents the American answer to Toyota, VW Bug, Datsun, etc. People were looking for MPG more than HP. I still remember being able to buy gas on “odd” or “even” days based on the license plate (in Los Angeles area). The Pinto cruiser would have been like a “mini van” in it’s day. My firsdt new car was a 1971 Pinto w/ 2000CC engine & 4-speed. I added a header & Offy intake manifold, and was able to run around 17.0 in 1/4 mile. I actually beat a Camaro with the smog engine V-8. That’s how much power GM took from the small block Chevy of the time.

  6. Larry

    Definitely the Pinto. I downgraded from a 70 Chevelle that I bought fresh out of Nam to a 72 Vega Kammback (big mistake). Big surprise – fuel mileage was no better on the highway.

  7. 69rrboy

    Charger was one of the last good things to remember about 1970s cars. ALL of the Mopars made thru 1974 were still good, attractive cars. The Pinto is what you think about when people talk about how bad everything got to be by the end of the decade.

  8. Falcon67

    The Pinto. I worked in a parts store in the 70s and after 1974 it was all different. We started stocking “foreign” parts and had people coming in buying things like “test tubes” to work around cat converters and such. Holley had their line of Economaster carbs that were a bitch to tune if you even could with the weird distributor curves, vacuum retards and EGR junk. I met my now wife in 1979 and she was driving a Pinto. I have a soft/hard place in my heart for that car. It brought us together by trying to fall apart in our parts store parking lot and then later tried to kill me. It was borrowed from her friend in New Mexico. When we got married in 1980, we had him come and get it – it left him stuck somewhere between Clovis and Fort Sumner as I recall.

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