Car Show Classics: Fun at the Local Cruise–Two ’70s Muscle Cars and an Awkward Interloper

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This website is partially to blame for my recent 1970s fixation; therefore, I’ve become no stranger to attending a local cruise and photographing some cars that others might ignore.  Of course, I still have the safety of my 1950s and 1960s cars to return to, but who doesn’t care to walk in someone else’s shoes every once in a while?  Last week, I did just that, photographing a car that’s generally accepted, one that is maligned, and one that is practically shunned.

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Exhibit A is this 1971 Plymouth Road Runner, 383-propelled (if one is to believe the hood callouts).  The 1968-70 B-Bodies are so thoroughly adored by the muscle car crowd that this Hemi Orange ’71 might seem to be a bit of a runner-up; however, it’s easy to love its fuselage-inspired quarter panels and loop bumper, facets of its design that spoke muscle even when the engine rooms did not.

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This example, however, practiced no such subterfuge, as evidenced by the butch “pistol-grip” shifter and high-back bucket seats.  Big-block Mopars have such a distinctive exhaust note, and this Road Runner is so loud and charismatic, that one would almost need a psychological examination not to envy it just a little.

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I’m not adroit enough at identifying the differences in B and RB blocks to know if this is an original 383 or not, and it hardly matters, as it’s a reasonable enough facsimile regardless.  Only the Mopar Performance valve covers lend it an air of showmanship not sprinkled on the car by Mother Mopar.  The only surprise is that air conditioning compressor perched atop the engine; even in 1971, a four-speed ‘Runner with air must have been an uncommon find.

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Next on the list is a car with a tarnished reputation, the 1973 Pontiac GTO.  Perhaps only the ’74 and the (actually very good) ’04-’06 GTOs spark such criticism.  Photographing this example, I wondered if the ’74 may be more of a GTO in spirit than this Colonnade, considering that the Nova-based version did pack an upgraded engine into an existing, trimmer body, whereas the ’73 was basically a 400-powered LeMans with some GTO callouts, a NACA hood, and improved suspension.  Oh wait, wasn’t that the original GTO?  Oh well.  Both arguments hold water, as do neither, as both ’73 and ’74 models arguably pale next to earlier iterations.

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Which model is better than the other, however, is one of those senseless debates that nobody can, or will, win.  As for me, I was just happy to find such a stock-appearing ’73 at all.  While I can imagine why GTO purists would scoff at this car for not being “GTO enough,” I find the ’73 to be fairly clean and unadorned.  Of course, this example wears the requisite ’70s brown hue, almost certainly one of seven offered that year.

1973 Pontiac Grand Am-01

I imagine that a hardtop version of the GTO would be pretty slick with some judicious rhinoplasty, and Pontiac did oblige to some extent with the ’73 Grand Am, although I’m not totally sold on the idea that the Grand Am’s nose was a significant improvement (the bumper sure was).

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The early 1970s were a driver-centric time, even if the cars weren’t always as engaging to drive as their forebears. In the fashion of the time, this GTO’s controls angled toward the driver, leaving passengers with little to look at but a cornucopia of brown plastics and fabrics.  The gauges are typically Pontiac, attractive and complete, and the shifter is almost Cuda/Challengeresque.  The steering wheel is also neat.  Compared to the Grand Am, however, it appears that the GTO got the short end of the stick, with less instrumentation and a subtle downmarket feel.

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Finally, we have the outlier of the group, an AMC Matador Barcelona.  I’m not sure where to start on this car (a ’76, I believe).  The Matador Coupe and its idiosyncrasies of purpose and styling have been covered here before, but this one effects some period modifications that (improve/detract) from it.  Front bumper replacement.  Ghost stripes on the hood.  Side pipes (!?!).  Bigs and littles with mags.  Rear spoiler!  I’ll leave the overall effect to you, but I am loath to leave it out because of its generally questionable glory.

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So there you have it–two muscle cars in the midst of some real personality crises and one jacked-up Spanish bullfighter. While the crowds may not ogle and appreciate them as they would a Chevelle, Camaro, or Mustang, rest assured that one intrepid Curbside Classic wannabe auto journalist has them covered.