(first posted 3/28/2015) The title of this post is a bit misleading, in the interest of alliteration. I’m examining that period of automotive styling that transitioned us from the zenith of the sixties into the full-blown “malaise era” of the seventies. But not all my examples are muscle cars, strictly speaking. Some representatives from the personal luxury class earned a spot on the list. In fact, some of the muscle cars morphed into bloated broughams as auto companies chased market trends. The more I thought about it, the more of these transition designs kept popping into my head.
To make the transition list, the candidate car needed to meet the following criteria.
- Have an attractive, direct ancestor from the sixties
- Have a monstrous, direct descendent in the seventies
- Be larger, heavier, and have more convoluted styling than the ancestor cars
- But not be definitively ugly like the malaise cars that followed
This nascent design trend manifested itself in styling excesses that weren’t universally perceived as ugly at the time. But the transition designs usually resulted in less utility and pure beauty compared to the ancestral generation. Outward visibility often suffered at the capricious hand of the designer as they crafted a longer, lower, and wider shape. With those parameters established, here’s my list.
1971-1974 Dodge Charger
I believe this to be the most clear cut example of a transition era car. Its ancestor was the classic, brilliantly styled 1968 – 1970 Dodge Charger.
From the wicked looking concealed headlights at the front, to the sculpted fenders that flowed back to meet the flying buttress c-pillar finally ending in a subtle integrated rear spoiler, there wasn’t a false line on this one. The integrated chrome bumpers were devoid of excess (and any hope of impact protection). So what. They looked sweet, and I’m partial to the front loop bumper found on the 1970 model. Dubbed a “double-diamond coke bottle”, this aggressive yet elegant shape was penned by Richard Sias and Harvey J. Winn. Pretty heady stuff for what was a work-a-day Coronet under the skin.
Then in 1971, the new Charger was introduced with even swoopier styling from MOPAR’s fuselage school of design.
The ’71 – ’74 third-generation Charger managed to look and feel larger than its predecessor. But it was actually a few inches shorter in wheelbase and overall length, (arguing against my premise, but bear with me). It was notably a couple inches wider, and had even worse rear visibility, owing to a c-pillar that thoughtfully created a blind spot big enough to hide a semi. But by 1973, this just became a canvas for the triple opera windows inset in a canopy vinyl roof, which looks particularly natty here in white. You could see where things were headed. Still, it was regarded as a very good looking design at the time, as evidenced by this archived Car And Driver article.
But by 1975, malaise had set in. The Charger had morphed into a Cordoba clone, replete with a stand up hood ornament, neoclassic styling, and slatted opera windows.
In a way, it was worse than the Cordoba, because Dodge disingenuously slapped the once proud Charger name on the side. At least the Cordoba was honest in its mission to get you to the disco without wrinkling your polyester leisure suit. But what were we to make of a Charger with fake wire wheel covers and whitewalls? At best you got 245 HP from a 400 V8, which wasn’t that bad for 1975, but you were hauling around another 10″ of overall length and an additional 400 lbs compared to a comparably equipped ’74.
1970 – 1971 Ford Thunderbird
Ford was floundering with this generation of T-Bird. Of course one would have to look all the way back to the original ’55-’57 models for the peak of Thunderbird design. But they also hit a styling home run with the beautiful bullet-nosed models in ’61-’63, which are more of a true ancestor to the ’70-’71 style.
Alas, there’s no accounting for taste in the personal luxury market, as the better looking the bird, the slower the sales. The 1964-1966 Flair Birds brought a fussier, squared up look, and a boost in units moved. So Ford’s better idea was to go bigger in ’67, and try to catch some Continental cache by adding a four-door model with suicide doors.
But for this exercise, I’m singling out the ’70-’71 “Bunkie Birds” as the transitional generation.
If you’re an aficionado of old American cars, you may be familiar with Ford president Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen who came from Pontiac and brought that prominent proboscis with him. Perhaps his reasoning was if you were going to call it a Thunderbird, it should have a bird-like beak. That beak was a prime example of functionality losing out to form. Check out this vintage Popular Mechanics Owner’s Report, where several people reported it nearly impossible to judge just where that aircraft carrier length hood ended, resulting in numerous, expensive parking mishaps. And that swoopy sports-back model with its extremely shallow rear window made backing up just as difficult. At least these birds could fly with a 360 HP Thunderjet 429.
The logical progression was to create an even larger bird for ’72, making it one of the earliest examples of a malaise mobile.
Naturally, a personal luxury barge should lead the way down the path of excess. With the Lincoln Mark IV as a chassis donor, it was a whale of a bird. These overblown and softly sprung rolling bordellos wallowed down the interstate on a 120″ wheelbase spanning 216″ end to end. This overall length would grow to just over 225″ by the time the giant chrome park benches masquerading as bumpers were bolted on for the ’74-’76 models. As for styling details, it still had a giant hood and short trunk combined with a shallow greenhouse and rather steeply raked windshield. You were so well-insulated from the outside world, you couldn’t even see it. The trapezoidal opera window didn’t show up until ’73, perhaps to help brighten up the cave-like interior.
1971-1973 Buick Riviera
Now to examine Buick’s transitional car, the third-generation Riviera. Its ancestors were the classic, first generation ’63-’65 and second generation ’66-’69 models.
The first generation was particularly elegant, with that Ferrari-meets-Rolls-Royce-knife-edge-fenders look. You could argue ’66-’70 was also a transitional generation, but the ’66-’67 cars were just too nice to damn with such a label. Things were already starting to slide by ’68, with the uglier front end and proliferation of vinyl roofs. The less said about the one year ’70 re-skin, the better.
But the third generation boat tail Riviera is a quintessential transitional car.
Not without redeeming value, the styling was distinctive but controversial. Every old car buff knows the story of how Bill Mitchell intended the design to be used with the smaller, intermediate A-body platform, like a contemporary Skylark. But somewhere along the development journey it was determined that the Riviera would need to share the gargantuan B-body, shell also used by the new LeSabre/Centurion. Of course the first thing you notice is the giant glass backlight, which looked like a ’64 Corvette Stingray jumped onto the back of that LeSabre. Then the dramatic, exaggerated “sweepspear” carries your eye forward to the de rigueur gigantic hood. After all the excitement out back, the only thing the rather nondescript front end had going for it was a pronounced forward rake, which did nothing for aerodynamics. But then again, pundits always complain that when designers are slave to the wind tunnel, all cars end up looking the same. You can’t say that about the boat tail Riviera.
After all that effort, the transition Riviera didn’t sell as well as its predecessor. The high end personal luxury car market was looking for more conservative, traditional trappings.
Every dentist from New Rochelle to New Haven was buying Mark IVs and Eldorados. Thus, the 1974-1976 Riviera was a bland rehash of styling cues in a vain effort to pander to the questionable tastes of the personal luxury car buyer. The expected formal “Colonnade” roofline was swathed in vinyl. Opera windows, stand up hood ornaments, and a vertical grill all made an appearance. It was a forgettable ensemble, and the market punished Buick by not buying that one either. Odd how one of the early progenitors of the personal luxury car ended up missing out on the fat city days of the 70s. The Riviera wouldn’t make a comeback until the ’79 front wheel drive model.
1971-1974 AMC Javelin
The first generation Javelin of 1968-1970 jumped late into the muscle car market with a clean, deft style penned by Dick Teague.
Arguably better looking than the contemporary Mustang, it was all the more impressive when you consider AMC’s limited budget for new models. But the interesting story behind the Javelin was not its sales, which never came close to the Mustang, Camaro, or Challenger. It was the halo car effect which helped drive younger people into the AMC showrooms, presumably selling thousands more Hornets and Gremlins. There’s a fascinating and thorough design analysis at Hemmings of not only the first Javelin, but of all the related concept car models like the AMX III Sport Wagon. It’s a must read.
For 1971, they whipped up something longer, lower, and wider.
As befitting a transition design, the ’71 Javelin wasn’t ugly, but it was bigger, heavier and more extravagant. And more polarizing, along the lines of the boat tail Riviera. It was a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. Less glass, more ass, might be another way to sum up the swoops, bulges, and steeply raked fastback that ended in a giant spoiler on the AMX version. Gone was the airy, almost delicate look of the first generation design. But soon enough, gone was any pretense of muscle for AMC, as the Javelin wasn’t replaced with a new Javelin, but AMC’s answer to the Monte Carlo.
Yes, even the ever-independent American Motors Company was forced to abandon its muscle car aspirations and field an entry in the personal luxury market just like the Big Three. Hence the 1974 – 1978 Matador Coupe.
What’s interesting about this malaise mobile is the way it shunned the personal luxury formula for success by eschewing stand up grills and formal roof lines. There was not an opera light to be found on the Coupe, and Car and Driver magazine even named it the “Best Styled Car of 1974”. Not sure if this says more about the other offerings in ’74 or the Matador itself, but nonetheless it was an honest exercise in aerodynamics that wore its fastback with pride. However, no model was immune to the malaise of giant 5-MPH bumpers, which looked particularly ill-fitting on the radical body tuckunder inherent in the Coupe’s design. And befitting a malaise mobile, it was larger and heavier than the Javelin.
If you enjoyed this analysis of transition cars, be sure to look out for Part 2. I plan to put the 1970-1971 Ford Torino/Mercury Montego, 1971-1973 Ford Mustang/Mercury Cougar, 1971-1974 Plymouth Satellite, and 1971-1975 Jaguar XKE Series 3 through the same design lens. Now that you know the context and criteria, what other models do think might make the transition list?
Automotive History: Muscle Cars To Malaise Era-Part 2
Nice job documenting the sad transmutation of muscle cars into malaise-mobiles. At least we can have a laugh at it in hindsight!
Great article. As the series progresses, how about “Toyota, Kaizen Cars to Recall Cars, the transition years 2004-2010”.
Yes, I’ve been thinking about other transition eras. The most obvious one is the era I defined here, but your Toyota example is something that’s occurred to me as well. I think as time passes, these eras become more clear in our collective hindsight.
I see the Mustang II isn’t as a possibility for part 2. As could be expected, the original, genre-defining Mustang “reversed” the rules when it came to the malaise era.
BTW, if it weren’t for the Matador’s really bad interior, it might be my favorite 70s personal luxury coupe…I prefer it’s adventurous exterior to ALL it’s competition.
Although the Mustang II was notably un-Malaise in size, one could still argue the 71-73 Mustang fits the bill as a transitional car, since it does meet the other criteria: it had an attractive predecessor, was much larger and heavier, and sort of a caricature of the original. Ford just didn’t go through with it.
Yes, precisely. Malaise came in all sizes. If a Mustang Ghia notchback with a vinyl roof, an opera window, and an 88 hp 4 cyl engine isn’t a malaise mobile, then I don’t what is!
If I had the money I’d drive that very Mustang just to irk my gearhead friends…but with a 300 Six under the hood. I don’t know if that’s possible, but a guy can dream.
Actually, I want to do the ’71-’73 Mustang. I’ll have to “break my rules” because the ’74-’78 was radically downsized but it’s still such a quintessential “Malaise Mobile” in all other aspects.
The Cougar twin of those years is the perfect transition mobile. I’m thinking about combining both analysis, but then showing how the cat got fat while the horse returned to it’s roots size-wise but was hung with the haze of malaise.
The bloated 71 – 73 Mustang Grande was definitely a Broughamification of a once proud musclecar.
The thing with the Cougar though is it was always fat compared to the Mustang, by 69 it’s proportions were already practically midsized. Of all the other ponycar twins (Firebird, Challenger) it was the only one that really achieved a legitimate identity as a smaller Luxury car, which was still very much full sized only territory in 1967. In a way it is what set the stage for the smaller Grand Prix in 1969 and it’s eventual entry into that segment for 74 (half assed badge engineered as it is) actually seemed pretty natural, more so than if it had followed the Mustang II way down in my opinion.
The original ’67-’68 Cougar was gorgeous, by any standard. Certainly bigger than the Mustang, but elegant and crisply tailored. I like the ’69-’70 models, (used to own a ’70 back in the 80s when it was just a used car) but the bloat was beginning for sure.
Nice!! Looking forward to the roasting of the Torino and Cougar. The Mustang should be included as the early harbinger of muscle to malaise because each succeeding generation became heavier and longer and plusher. ’64 1/2 notchback to ’73 Mustang Grande anyone?
Hah! It is a roast of sorts, hmm…
The Riv and T-Bird blur the definition of ‘muscle-car’ but as long as that’s the case, I’d include the LTD – epic in its late-60s iterations, it came to define the very essence of ‘Brougham’.
Yes, I used the “Muscle to Malaise” title for alliterative convenience. But you’re right about the LTD. The transition years are ’69-’72, even though it was the same platform through 1978.
That’s about right. The 69s were fantastic but by 73 they were running on fumes and a complete joke by 75.
I do think the 3rd generation Riveria (the gold with black top ’71? in the picture), is a beautiful car. Nice write up on the transition to Malaise.
I would put the 77-79 Thunderbirds and its cheaper looking clone LTD II as the transition of these cars, especially with that hideous side window treatment on both cars.
Wasn’t that Generation of Matador coupe the basis for Scaramanga’s car-plane in ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’?
Yes, and it was one of the silliest product placement efforts ever. Brings up another list I’d like to do: Top Ten Favorite Movie Cars.
That is possibly the only time I recall AMC products figuring prominently in a major motion picture/television series. A Javelin (or was it Hornet?) was used for the corkscrew canal jump.
Are you saying it’s unlikely that the bad guy would happen to be trying to make a get away in his customized AMC… in Hong Kong, with James Bond finding a suitable persuit vehicle at an AMC dealership… in Hong Kong, with the help of Hong Kong Police, also driving AMCs?
Such a pessimist! That’s like suggesting GM puts product placement in the transformers movies!
It does require a certain suspension of disbelief.
Actually, it was in Thailand, not Hong Kong.
Those were bleak years for car guys. Conventional wisdom had it that the good years were behind us, and we were doomed to live with these bloated underpowered exercises in bad taste. It wasn’t until the late 80s that performance finally caught up with what we had in the late 60s.
Absolutely accurate comment. Dark times for the North American auto industry.
The 3rd gen 71-74 Charger continues to intrigue me. It was not only forced to do both sport and luxury coupe duty, it was also assigned the role of strippo coupe, since there was no longer a Coronet 2 door.
I have written before about the one owned by a friend’s dad: a red 74 with slant 6, 3 speed, rubber floors, no radio and taxi-quality silver vinyl inserts in the black vinyl bench seats. Mercifully, I think this kind of Charger disappeared for 75.
I’m glad they were around! The Dirty Dart’s engine came from a ’74 Charger with a 3-speed! Thank goodness the owner of the car thought that was ridiculous and upgraded to a 440. 🙂
I wish somebody would restore one, just to stick it in line with all those muscle Chargers at the local car show.
I wish I had it, but they sold it maybe 1983 or 84. I still remember being a passenger in it one sunny spring day at college. Some guys in a similar year charger with cool wheels and glass packs gave us the thumbs up as we passed each other on the road. I laughed – they must have figured that our red Charger with the dog dish hubcaps was packing the same kind of heat. If only they knew. 🙂
There was a certain epic-to-lame transition in the Satellite as well. Check out Peter Yates’ film ‘The Friends of Eddie Coyle’ – there’s a scene where they wreck a 1971 Satellite Roadrunner 383, it will bring tears to your eyes.
By the mid-70s though it became just another Broughamified smog-wagon.
Good film,long time since I saw it,I’d like to check it out again.
I love that movie! Have to put it on my top ten movie cars list.
If I recall correctly, the police detective played by Richard Jordan drove an epic 69 or 70 Camaro convertible (RS or SS). It was a great movie for cars.
In the premise of this thread, the Camaro was about the only nameplate of that era that didn’t sink completely into embarrassment. Even the smog-era F-Cars were respectable rides.
At least one year around there (77?) there were two totally different Chargers, one based on the Cordoba, and the base model that was a renamed two door midsize Coronet? Monaco? Can’t remember where the name swapping was at that point that Dodge was doing. But it was the body that was the regular two door midsize the year before.
Yep- Some ’76 Chargers shared a body with the Fury Coupe. A one year experiment that didn’t seem to work out.
My first car was one of the very last ’74 Roadrunners built. I ordered it in May of ’74, and somehow the order was totally messed up and it came as a Satellite Sebring, in that awful frosty green with a white half vinyl top. The 400 engine (How they managed to ruin the great 383 is beyond me, was not really better than the 360 4 Barrel I ordered. A weird checkered interior with the shifter on the column made the mess complete. I refused it, and the order was put in again, a day before the cutoff on ’74 orders. Around Thanksgiving, my car arrived, a clone of this one, and on the truck was an identically colored and equipped ’75. My car was obviously a “use any parts you can to get it out the door” car. It came with the soon to break 8+1/4″ rear, that normally only came with Slant-6 cars, it also had the wrong fuel pump, and the wrong size front wheel bearings that came close to causing a disaster. Once those things were fixed(Rear was replaced just after the warranty expired with a 3.55 8+3/4″) and the carb linkage was adjusted, it had very few issues in the 3+ years I had it.
It survives today with a monster stroked 440 in it, with a leather interior and a Gear Vendors overdrive to make the now 4.10 geared Dana 60 in it highway friendly.
I’ve often thought so many American car makers got it right first time and subsequent models were never as good looking.Proved here though Dodge got the Charger right second time.
I was horrified by the 71 Mustangs,Javelins & Mopar B bodies at the time though I’ve softened a bit more towards them now.One of the worst ever restyles was the 67 Thunderbird,while the Bunkie Birds were no oil paintings it would have been difficult to make a worse looker than a 67.
The 68 Torino & Cyclone are 2 of my favourite American cars,especially the fastbacks and another example of right first time and later models never looked as good
I remember around ’73-’74, Motor Trend doing a photo spread featuring all the cars springing opera windows. With the Charger getting notable mention. I was a child, but I thought the treatment looked pretty cool at the time.
Must do the one, the first, The Goat. the GTO, and the Grand Prix… which morphed by the era of the colonnade into true Brougham mobiles. The GTO tried to keep the flame, but market trends abandoned it to whither as a tarted up Ventura (Nova) while the GP left any pretenstion of its original luxury with attitude ideal from 1963 through 67 (When it was marketed as the GTOS bigger brother) through its reinvention in 69, by 73, the colonnade years began and it now shared so much with its cousins from Chevy, Buick, and Olds., that it lost it’s individuality by 1977. Then came the downsizing…
I was thinking too, that the GTO should be here, except that it really fades away in the early 70’s, first becoming a package for 72-73, then moving to a smaller car for 74 and then gone. The 442 lasted longer though…
The 442 became more and more a tape stripe option, like the Road Runner did til it ended up on a Volare. I remember ads from 77 where they were telling how you could get the Collonade Cutlass version with a 231 V6 and a five speed!!!. I guess then you could go get into drag races with kids on ten speeds and have a fighting chance
My thoughts on the GTO (or Tempest/LeMans): Seems like it never really had a genuine “transition” generation. The ’64-’65, ’66-’67, ’68-’69, and ’70-’72 were all brilliantly styled cars. Then in ’73, it was hello bloatsville, do not stop go, do not collect $200.
The Grand Prix is interesting, that was on my list at one point. I would pick the ’63-’64 or ’65-’66 as the peak body designs. But the ’67 is debatable, the ’68 was a fat turkey, and then that leaves the lighter, smaller ’69-’72 as the transition generation into the malaise era ’73-’77 Colonnades. Doesn’t quite fit my criteria.
Realize all of the huge turds in the early ’70s were designed during the late, go go ’60s. Late ’60s, the mindset was there are no boundaries; we can and will do anything and everything we want. By ’74, that kind of thinking was gone, and now it was living with lowered expectations; so we got the first of the downsized cars…
Nice article and something that’s fun to think about. The Riviera is the perfect example.
I would have used the 67-69 T-bird for the example of an attractive 60s design that got screwed up in the 70s. Those Birds were a great example of Brougham done right. So were the 69-70 Grand Prixs. Brougham didn’t always mean malaise nor did malaise always mean Brougham.
It’s hard to believe what happened to that Charger!
Interesting, calibrick, I think you are one of the few champions of the ’67-’69 Tbird. It was the same platform through ’71, even though it was substantially restyled. I felt like the ’70-’71 was the design that really started to extrude all those extravagant shapes and began the morph to malaise.
I do like the 67-69 gen and had it on my Top 3 list during Thunderbird Week. I was surprised but there were a few other folks who liked those years too.
I was trying to think of an American car that got a redesign in the 70s and didn’t go downhill and can only think of two, the Grand Prix and the Camaro/Firebird.
Well, for Camaro / Firebird, here’s how I’d break it down:
Peak = ’67-’69
Transition = ’70-’72
Malaise = ’74-’81
The 2nd gen ’70 was also a gorgeous design, I almost feel badly giving it transition status. But it’s more about what happened by ’74, at least for the Camaro. I could argue that the Pontiac tried harder to escape the malaise, with some of the best solutions to the 5-mph bumper challenge and they had an honest to god high performance V8 even through the worst of the smog years. But the Camaro had horrible bumpers like everyone else by ’74. And consider the wings, flares, scoops and decals that started showing up in the late 70s on both models.
I think that catagorization applies to the Camaro pretty accurately, but the Firebird defied malaise. If anything the 77-78 nose and rear end treatment were actually more attractive than the 70-73. Big IMO of course, but no doubt they were handled well, those bumpers don’t even have a hint of appearing crashworthy like the battering rams on the 74-76 Camaro. Plus it kept 400+ CI in the fold longer than every other pony car did by nearly a decade(most went small block only by 1972), it was detuned sure but it was still there at least.
If I were to catagorize the Firebird it would be
Peak = ’67-’74
Transition = ’75-’79
Malaise = ’80-’81
This is indeed a very interesting time in the history of automobiles and you’ve captured it quite nicely.
Thanks Brendan. The concept has been knocking about in my head like a bad connecting rod. I just had to write it down.
The Matador Coupe was not built as AMC’s personal luxury entry. It had designer editions later on that cluttered the styling but it was never meant to compete with Cordoba, Monte Carlo or any others. It was meant to target the intermediate market: Torino, Malibu, Century,Cutlass and Mopar’s intermediates.
Matadors could be Broughamized all you wanted but the personal luxury market wasn’t it’s intended target.
As well, you won’t find any car rags at the time suggesting it was aimed at the personal luxury market though it could be optioned that way as Motor Trend did in a four or five car comparison.
Regarding the target market segment for the Coupe, I beg to differ. It is referred to on Wikipedia as “AMC’s personal luxury car.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AMC_Matador. Or here, on the Monte’s wiki page, the Coupe is called out as a competitor. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chevrolet_Monte_Carlo
If it were really competing with the Torino, Malibu, and MOPAR intermediates, it would have needed to include 4-door sedans and wagons. That was the Matador sedan and wagon’s job. The Coupe was designed specifically as their entrant in the personal luxury space. Dick Teague was probably aware that he’s never “out Monte Carlo the Monte Carlo” so he did what AMC always tried to do. Differentiate and carve out their own niche market. They actually sold decently in the first year, but once the novelty wore off, the sales trailed off.
I think AMC was essentially trying to do what Chrysler had done with its intermediates: split the two- and four-door versions and try to make the two-door do double duty as quasi-sporty cars and quasi personal luxury coupes to go after the Monte Carlo and Grand Prix. Dodge had done the same thing with the Charger; even with the first 1971 iteration, there was already a luxury-oriented S/E version.
The dilemma in both cases was that doing that alienated the sort of customer who just wanted a basic, functional, unpretentious two-door sedan (in Chrysler’s case, I think those people ended up buying Darts and Valiants instead) while not giving the coupe the sort of uniqueness that was essential to the Monte Carlo’s appeal.
I think one of the Monte Carlo’s major selling points (aside from its styling, which people at the time obviously liked) was that while it was Chevelle-based, it was not a Chevelle. The second-gen Monte Carlo often outsold the Chevelle, but I’m not sure it would have had the Chevelle not been available concurrently.
What AMC did not figure out until it was too late was that if there was anyone it should have been copying in the 70s, it was NOT Chrysler. 🙂
As far as the malaise-era Charger goes, I’m thinking that with the performance technology of today, it could be turned into a high-performance G-Machine that can go around corners. In particular, what if a malaise-era Charger had an Art Morrison or Roadster Shop chassis and a supercharged 3G Hemi?
Can they do something about those park bench bumpers?
I don’t get the hatred people have towards the ’70 Buick Riviera, I thought they were nice cars and the exposed headlights never bothered me, I’ll gladly take the 1970 Riviera over the 1974-76 Riviera’s (my least favorite era of the Riviera’s), I didn’t mind the 1971-73 Mustang fastbacks but never liked the coupe’s of that era.
I thought the Thunderbird went from a sporty personal luxury car in 1971 to a bloated luxury car in 1972, I wonder how much slower the 1972 T-Bird was in performance compared to the 1971 T-Bird.
Sure, I’d gladly take a ’70 anything over whatever they were pawing in the mid 70s. If the ’70 Riviera didn’t have the ’64-’69 models to compare to, it probably would have been seen in a different light. The wheel spats were a deadly sin. I don’t understand why they bothered to do a one year design change for ’70, anyway, with a total redesign in the works for ’71. Perhaps they felt the need to answer the wildly successful Mark III with something, anything different?
I too have a soft spot for the ’71-’73 fastbacks Stangs. They are cartoonish, and I’d never take one over a ’64-’70, but they have an undeniable curb presence.
“I thought the Thunderbird went from a sporty personal luxury car in 1971 to a bloated luxury car in 1972, I wonder how much slower the 1972 T-Bird was in performance compared to the 1971 T-Bird.”
There was a significant drop in performance in 1972, mainly due to the big drop in compression in the 429. However, it wasn’t as bad as the numbers suggest since the 1971’s were rated in gross horsepower, while 1972’s were in net horsepower.
I don’t have the 1971 data, but I do for a 1970 T-bird which should be essentially the same as a 1971.
1970 T-Bird (MT)
0-60: 10.7 secs
1/4 mile: 16.9 secs @84 mph
1972 T-Bird (RT Magazine)
0-60: 11.2 secs
1/4 mile: 17.4 MPH @ 81.2 mph
FWIW, most of the mid 1970’s T-birds seemed to have mid 17 second 1/4 times, so performance stayed about the same. The 428 and early 429 T-birds were some of the best performing 1960’s and 1970’s T-birds. The 1972 T-birds performance wasn’t far off a mid 1960’s 390 car, slower off the line, but faster through the 1/4 mile.
1965 T-bird (Car Life)
0-60: 10.3 secs
1/4 mile: 17.5 secs @ 79 mph
I don’t think that the 70 Riviera is particularly worse than the 68 or 69. The 63 through 65 Riviera’s should have gotten another two years, but both the Riviera and Toronado were required to share the E-body with the 67 Eldorado. i think all three of these cars were designed around the need for the Eldorado to be of a certain size. Basically the 66 Riviera needed to grow and we get the 66 Riviera. I don’t think it is as good as the first generation in style, but the 66-67 models were OK. Then I think that the styling slides downhill for 68, 69 and 70. The 71 is certainly different, and while I did own one (yellow with brown vinyl top), the styling is a little off, but nothing like the Pontiac Aztec.
I ding the ’70 for the wheel spats. They messed with something that didn’t need messing with, except that back in the 60s having the same body design for five years in the personal luxury segment could lead to fewer sales. Change for the sake of change, and in this case not for the better. On the other hand, the ’71 didn’t outsell the prior generation, which was a bigger problem because they were stuck with the boat tail for the next 2 years.
I owned a ’72 Riviera for about 6 months. It is still one of my favorite cars that I have owned. I loved the instant twist from the 455-4 under the hood, I didn’t love the abysmal fuel economy. Once at a stoplight it was thrumming away through it’s glass packs and the guy next to me rolled his window down and asked “what kind of car is that!?” I told him and he replied, ” it looks wild, I like it!” I bought that car, fixed a couple things on it and flipped it for a decent profit. Shoulda kept it though.
Maybe these Rivs will start to see some appreciation on the classic car market, but I can’t recall one rolling across the Mecum stage. I think they will always be just too oddball and pointlessly gigantic. They did make a nice fit for my transition list because of the major restyle for ’74 which went brougham in a big way. I guess they tried to fit opera windows to the ’71 design and gave up.
I actually generally prefer the monsterous early 70s transition designs in a lot of cases, the Charger (and Satellite) being my favorite. In it’s case I think it should be acknowledged that the 68 and 69 are really the true classic design for those three years, the 70 with the loop bumper has always been regarded as inferior, and it’s sales show(the all new Challenger was much more of a looker that year), and the 66 and 67 were never particularly gorgeous either so I think it should be said the 68/69s were really lightning in a bottle. The 71s couldn’t really live up to those cars no matter how they looked, so when shedding them as a benchmark the design isn’t so bad, definitely not monsterous(as the 71 Javelens and 71 Mustangs were), if anything they were kind of anonymous compared to GMs A bodies of the time.
What I like about the transition era cars though was that sense of them being a final blowout. Those cars were all dinosaurs, and in those first (often only) years of their final design they still were at their absolute performance peak, and pulling all punches on the styling really completed the wildness of the era, and the later sad followups on the same bodies made those early ones all the more special. Best looking or not I find those cars the most interesting for that. I look forward to part 2, I’m sure I’ll be commenting on the Mustang and Cougar 🙂
I liked the loop bumper on the ’70 Charger. I doubt that factored much in the drop in sales, it’s more likely that the new Challenger was the hot ticket for ’70. And the muscle market was fashion conscious.
I’ve already started on Part 2! Someone commented it was a ‘roast’ of the transition designs. Imagine if the ’68 Charger could talk, about its bloated, portly younger brothers, the ’74 and ’75. Kinda like a Comedy Central thing..
I think opinions have softened quite a bit on the 70 in the last decade or so but I do remember a time when the 70 was somewhat sneered at as one of those “they should have left it alone” facelifts. I don’t think they’re ugly either, but I think the appeal between it and the 71s is a little blurred compared to the 69 and 71.
I think the Challenger would have done much worse had the Charger not been restyled the way it was, the 71 sales of it plummeted and the very similar Barracuda cousin was a flop from the start.
How about the Olds Toronado? It started out looking sleek in ’66 and turned out ridiculously bloated and stodgy, similar to the other well-cited examples.
Yes, I think that needs to be in the list. I’d play it one of two ways.
’66-’67 = peak Toronado
’68-’70 = transition Toronado (giant new chrome /bumper grill assembly & vinyl roofs)
’71-’78 = malaise Toronado
’66-’70 = peak
’71-’72 = transition (arguing that the first 2 years of the giant Toro weren’t that bad with the smaller bumpers)
’73-’78 = malaise
Have to noodle on that one a bit.
I think scenario 1 nails it. By 1970 pretty much all of the distinguishing traits of the 66 and 67 were gone or thoroughly covered up.
Yeah, I was thinking that there wasn’t enough of a difference. We’re just talking about a face and butt lift for ’68, but overall it breaks out better this way. The ’66-’67s were just so perfect, and there was absolutely nothing else like them. There’s another trend, as malaise set in, individuality moved out. By the end, the Toro was just another lumbering, overblown whale wallowing its way from one gas station to the next.
Yeah the only reason I include them is they(mostly the front) were so substantially different from the original it came off as a concentrated effort to change the look of the car as much as possible without tooling up for all new sheet metal. The 70 though was a huge change though, especially for a one year wonder. That year specifically is the main reason I would call 68-70 transitional. 71s were just as forgettable as the 77s for the most part
The Toronado really mirrors the Riviara in the 66-70 years, 66 and 67 = gorgeous, 68-69 = botched, and 1970 = WTF happened to you! lol The odd thing too is both the Riv and Toro got almost identical front ends in 1968, with that narrow split grille look, which looked equally odd on both.
Agreed that scenario 1 looks the part. Besides the great styling, the whole FWD concept was fascinating to me. A real step forward and very much out of the box for GM, IMHO.
It occurs to me that the Continental Mark may also fit your criteria here. The 69-71 Mark III was lithe and trim. The 72 Mark IV was pretty bulgy, but the thin bumpers kept it from going out of control. The 74-75 was just, uh, unfortunate.
I considered the Mark III, but disqualified it for being the root cause of the malaise era. Witness the long hood, neoclassic grill, fake spare tire and vinyl roof. If you think about it, every personal luxury barge that followed was a copy of the first Mark. Also, it started out gigantic and weighed over 5000 lbs. Incredibly, the early Mark IVs were a little lighter.
These things are fun to discuss because I don’t see the long hood and neoclassic grille as being the root cause of malaise. For me it was the bloat that did so many 70s cars in. A ’73 LTD didn’t have a formal grille or particularly long hood for its length but was a true malaise mobile and ugly at the time.
These cars were much less space and fuel efficient and had worse performance. What odd timing, excessive weight right when emissions were taking hold. The ’76 Seville was born during peak malaise years, had a long hood, classic grille and formal roof but was a knockout to look at and pretty darn good to drive. Because it wasn’t too big and heavy.
If anything the long hood and neoclassic styling of the Grand Prix prevented it from falling off the cliff in terms of appeal. The long hood of the ’70 Camaro gave it the legs to go on until the 80s relatively unchanged.
I would say the Lincoln Mark is ineligible not because the ’69 Mark III was bad (it was awesome!) but because the ’72 Mark IV was pretty good.
Right, but the ’75 Seville was actually a pioneering car that led us out of the Malaise Era. GM wanted to see how the buying public would react to a radically downsized model, in nervous anticipation of the smaller ’77 B and C bodies in the works. And proportionally, I don’t think the Seville’s hood was all that long, especially compared to the personal luxury boats. It was a European flavored American sedan.
I will agree with you that around ’77 was the beginning of the recovery, I remember making that point in the malaise thread from about a month ago. 77-89 were some pretty great years in the industry.
I think the Seville was more in response to the Mercedes than testing the waters for the ’77 GM full-size line. If the Seville bombed due to its size it would have been too late as the ’77s were in the can. I think GM knew less size/weight was the answer and just went for it knowing the Seville would set up the duck for the downsized B/C lines.
I mean what’s the difference between a ’76 Sedan de Ville and the ’77 except for bloat? ’77 was the best selling year in Cadillac’s history.
I’d probably put the 72 first, the MkV second, the rest of the MkIVs third and the MkIII fourth. Although the MkV falls out of the year scope of Greg’s thesis, its one of the very few US cars that appeared to stay completely true to its origins during the era of downsizing and emblandenising.
Well, that’s interesting Don. I think it may be a different construct. The best of the malaise machines, which were ignominiously downsized in the 80s and ultimately stopped selling.
Yep, it is a different type of beast. Look at the MkVI and subsequent efforts. Brand diffusion leading towards complete irrelevance, a bit like the Apple watch. Hehehe. Nice article, btw.
Thanks, I’m mulling Part 2, based on everyone’s comments.
I’ve always felt the 70-71 Tbirds get a bad rap. They are very dramatic cars long, low and wide. And what better car to wear a beak than a Thunderbird? They also perfectly illustrate the change from sporty Sixties to the baroque Seventies. On one hand you had the base sportback roof which with the mod hopsack cloth interior option is the essence of the swinging Sixties. On the other hand was the Landau model with the formal roof blanked out rear quarter windows and very plush interior. The other thing is these cars actually handled very nicely. The generation which followed was a bloated pig by comparison.
Yeah, I agree on the Bunkie birds. I think the problem was it had a face only a mother could love. The overall shape was very dramatic, in fastback form. And you’re right about the ride/handling, according to contemporary road tests. Even the build quality was decent for the time, as they had since ’67 to work out the bugs in the platform.
Thunderbirds were always uneven from generation to generation. I sense there was a lot of design by committee. It’s like they would argue for months about the next generation design and the only consensus that could be reached was ‘make it bigger, that made the last generation sell more.’
I think the sportsback versions are quite attractive, and I don’t really think the front end is actually any worse than the 67-69 “jet intake” front ends(which I can’t possibly think of a more out of place prominent styling detail to match to a car with landau bars). I always had a hard time accepting any of the Thunderbirds without a convertible option though.
Its a shame the Matador came out when it did .
I’m trying to imagine it with some nicely integrated bumpers
The 68 Charger bumpers are just gorgeous.
It looks like they committed to the design before they knew about the 5 MPH bumper requirement.
Interesting analysis and very well written. Thanks! Though it was actually kind of sad to see so many examples of decline, from Charger, TBird, Riv etc all lumped together. I got my license in 1972 and my first car in ’75 so lived those years, though never considered buying any of those. I do take exception to the description of the final Javelin. It is indeed ugly. Those front fenders unfortunately were re-incarnated by Hyundai for the early Santa Fe and Tiburon.
For me the malaise era begins in the early 70’s, about the time that emissions standards kick in. For GM the era continues into the 80’s because of the Cadillac 8-6-4 engine, the Cimarron, the 4100, the FWD deVille/Fleetwoods. Allante and Reatta. Then we get to the 90’s and the Northstar engine, problems with coolant system failures, the Catera. After the turn of the century, not to mention the turn of the millennium things seem to improve some, but there is the Lucerne and Lacrosse names that make little sense, along with Cadillacs silly alfabet soup for names. I think GM is finally pulling out of the malaise, but time will tell.
Sign me up for a boat tail Riv or Matador coupe anytime!
+1 on the Riv.I didn’t like the Matador at the time but like a lot of cars from the period I’ve softened a bit towards it.Compared to what Ford and Mopar were making in 1974 the Matador doesn’t look so bad.I don’t like the half vinyl roof it’s like an automotive version of Joe Dirt’s haircut.
As a previous owner of a ’76 Cordoba I will defend to my dying days the ’75-’77 Charger. Hey, they were originally aimed at the Riviera and T-Bird. The Charger somehow morphed into a perfect musclecar, playing hell with the Coronet that was to play that role. Kinda like if the ’70 Monte CarloSS had somehow outran the SS Chevelle.
BTW, I kinda sorta like the ’71-’74 Charger better than its predecessors. It looked like speed. Being a child in the ’70’s, all I could think of was Richard Petty’s string of success and think this what a race car looks like.
There’s no question the Cordoba wore its personal luxury cloak more gracefully than the Charger. It is a prime example of how marketing and image can make such a massive difference in sales. There was no mechanical differentiation and very little styling differentiation between the two. The price difference was only $160, which probably looked like a bargain to the image conscious personal luxury car buyer willing to pony up extra for the Chyrsler name. All the potential Charger buyers were sulking over the loss of the 440 Six-Pack, not to mention the revered but ultra rare Hemi. Presumably they went shopping at their local Pontiac dealers for the one muscle car that didn’t give up in the face of the “smog boys” as Bud Lindemann would have put it.
For visual reference, here’s a lineup of all the cars referenced in the post. I thought it useful to see them all at a glance.
The 1975 Dodge 400 was rated at 235 hp at its maximum rating not 245 hp. These were very impressive numbers for 1975.
I’d also argue that for the Torino/Montego argument the transition years were 1970-1973. Although the 1972 were a new generation, I still think the 1972-73’s were in transition. Although the 1972’s grew, the 2-door versions were basically the same length and the base models were actually shorter than the 1971’s. If you compare similar models, the weights between a 1971 and 1972 were not far off either. In these years you could still get a fastback sporty model, the excellent handling competition suspension was available, as was the Rallye equipment group (or the Cyclone for the 1972 Montego), and very good performance from the 351 CJ and 4-speed transmission. I’d argue these cars were pretty on par with the 1971-74 Chargers and like the Chargers it was a little bit of performance but starting to get luxury oriented.
1974 saw significant changes. The cars had a restyle front and rear and it was a step backwards from the fresh 1972 styling, heavy battering ram 5-mph bumpers, opera windows became an option, fender skirts were offered, the competition suspension option was removed, only formal roof-lines were offered, and the cars grew significantly in weight and length since 1972. 1974 was all about luxury and basically no performance was left, which is why it was really the beginning of the malaise era for the Torino/Montego.
Re: horsepower, I got my numbers from allpar.com
“Those seeking better mileage could trade down to a 318 V8 with 150 hp; but with the 360, the Charger SE was sprightly, yet far more economical than with the 400 cubic inch, 245 horsepower four-barrel V8 (a $73 option).”
I still feel like the Montego / Torino went full on malaise by ’72, fastbacks notwithstanding. They were more bloated looking, and in my eyes not nearly as attractive as the ’70-’71 models. Especially in the case of the Tornino. In both generations, Mercury played the part of the homely stepsister, as often seems to be the case.
My Torino/Montego breakout is:
’68-’69 = peak
’70-’71 = transition
’72-’76 = malaise
With a footnote that the ’77-’79 LTD II/Thunderbird/Cougar extended (quite literally, with their giant hoods) the malaise era 3 years longer than they should have as GM introduced its modern, sanely sized intermediate cars in ’78.
I have several reputable sources that list the 1975 400 as 235 hp. Even allpar has it listed a 235 hp for under it’s police engines section.
While you offer compelling arguments on why the other cars are transition years, the only argument you offer for the 1972 Torino/Montego is that you don’t like the “bloated styling”. That’s completely subjective and a matter of opinion that not all share. Whereas I offered factual reasons of why these years represent a transition. Your article was well written, but and your other assessments are fairly on par, but I believe you are off base on this one.
I guess you’ll just have to wait for Part 2, where I will provide a detailed explanation of why I feel 1972 marked full-on malaise for the Torino and Montego.
As for the ’75 Charger, what’s 10 hp either way when you’re lugging around 400 lb. more than than the ’74?
I look forward to reading. I am very well versed on the 1968-76 Fairlane/Torino, so in the end I believe we’ll probably have to agree to disagree.
Greg – What a great write up! As someone “who came of auto age” in this period, looking back it was indeed very dark, but going through it less so. It was a fascinating time to be sure! All my late-70’s college buddies pined away for pretty much anything GM with the occasional Cordoba or Mustang II. Personally I had a Hornet hatchback, which I thoroughly loved stylistically.
I agree with you that the ’72 Torino kicked off a dark period for the Torino…especially looking at a ’73 sedan compared to the new Olds Cutlass, with fresh, clean styling and open views.
I’m not much of a GM guy, but I would have taken a 71-72-73 Camaro or Firebird any day of the week over the same-year Bloat-stang. I’m one of the few that worship at the Mustang II altar, if only because by ’73 the Mustang was a shadow of it’s former self and a radical change was due. While imperfect by far, the II knocked the public’s socks off and sold very well. It wasn’t until the Fox Mustang of ’79, a superior vehicle in nearly every way, did folks start the II hate.
Thanks Dave M. I think I could craft a whole series of these transition eras, and not just around styling. I feel that automobiles are influential reference points that define our past, present, and future.
I, for one, wish you could still buy a rolling bordello.
You’d think there’d be a market for at least one new car like that. How much longer can we expect to find creampuff ’75 Lincoln Mark IVs on the market?
I’ve felt for a while that that’s the direction Lincoln should be heading, especially since so many former L-M dealers have shut down leading to many Ford-Lincoln dealerships. Anyone wanting understated luxury can’t get much more understatement than a Titanium-trim Ford.
Yeah, a well-powered one. Kinda tired of seeing sport sedans.
I recall Motor Trend doing a photo of all the vehicles springing opera windows about ’73-‘ 74. With notable mention of the Battery. at that moment, I thought the treatment looked pretty cool.
The mention of the trapezoidal opera window on the ’73 Thunderbird made me think “that’s not a trapezoid, that’s a parallelogram!”. I thought trapezoids always had opposite-angled sides like the figure below. But nope, I was wrong as parallelograms must have two pairs of parallel lines, which the T-bird opera window doesn’t quite have. Specifically, I just learned, this shape is called an “obtuse trapezoid”. Or at least it is in the U.S. and Canada; the rest of the world calls these things “trapeziums”. But does the rest of the world matter when we’re talking about opera windows? They did sneak onto a few Japanese cars, but I can’t think of anything from Europe or anywhere else that had them.
Fascinating look at the time when the free ride came to a close.
For my eye, the Bunkie Beak was the most bothersome appendage, and the Matador coupe the “secret success” (to borrow from Nathan Rabin).
A great article Greg, I’m looking forward to the next installment. The ’63-65 Rivs were some of the best looking cars ever-along with the ’61-63 Bullet Birds; it’s sad to see how they ended up in the ’70s. The Longer, Lower, Wider-and Heavier syndrome. The ’71 Rivera always reminded me of a Corvette that had been restyled by Salvador Dali. In the case of the ’68-’70 AMC Javelin, it was one of Teague’s best styling efforts, very nicely understated. The ’71 looked to me like the restyling job was subcontracted to George Barris, Not as terrible as the ’71 Rivera but definitely way overdone. In the case of the Matador, I always felt it was a case of bad timing-had it arrived in ’71 or ’72 I think it would have been accepted but by 1974 the public was enamored with the Mercedes look along with Malaise Era padded vinyl roof and opera windows. The poor Matador looked totally out of place.
I think if the Matador had a formal roofline it could have been a lot more successful. GM split the intermediate coupe market with the “sporty fastback” Chevelles and “formal PLC” Monte Carlos and rather than read the market direction AMC decided to combine the two and win neither buyer.
GM did actually do the same thing as AMC but with better results. The fast-rooflined colonade coupes like the Malibu were offered with an opera window as well as with a larger triangular window (later Laguna coupes had a third variant, a louvered opera window as on the Charger), though it worked better than AMC’s attempt at putting opera windows on the Matador. Only Buick and Olds used a more formal roofline on the Regal and higher-end Cutlasses, while the Century and lower-end Cutlasses got the sloped roofline. Two roofline choices on what was otherwise the same car. Chevy and Pontiac didn’t use the formal roofline on the Chevelle and LeMans, as they had the A-special coupes (Monte Carlo, Grand Prix) that Olds and Buick didn’t until 1978.
Ha! I wrote this like 5 years ago, never wrote another CC, sadly. Wish I had more time. I noticed my bitly links in the article shot to the top. I’ve drifted away from cars, the past few years…
The Charger badge has been on such a wide range of cars that it wouldn’t surprise me to see it on a Dodge electric car someday. The name is just so suitable for an electric.
Considering that there’s now an EV variant of the Mustang, it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising.
As long as it isn’t a crossover
EV version could be the BatteryCharger
Great article. I’m Australia we went through a similar if slightly different transition through the early 70’s. Holden’s 1974 models had more formal styling front and rear, and were fitted with power sapping smog controls. Ford’s Falcon and the Chrysler Valiant gained some malaise era features especially the luxury models, but not quite as severe as the Holden redesign. While there was anti pollution devices fitted to these cars we never had the 5mph bumper regulations which I think is another point to consider in the transition from ‘muscle to malaise’.
That beak on the T-Bird was hideous. Looks like a cartoon woodpecker. The T-Birds from 67-82 was one long trip wondering in the desert looking for its identity. They had some success during that era but nothing I wanted.
Speaking of the 1971 Charger, I spotted this vintage test-drive from Car & Track.
headlight washer/wipers too! I never knew that!
Look at that body lean! Braking like a full 4000 lb car, feeling its full body weight. 8-10 MPG!
These were not made to be grocery getters, that’s for sure.
Here’s the 318 test that was mentioned
I remember that the Muscle car era ended quickly, leaving Detroit with a plethora of sporty large cars with immense front overhangs, giant engines, and laughable space utilization. They were shaped like large missiles with gaping front grilles, wraparound bumpers and high rear ends.
But the market was gone.
Instead, everyone wanted a personal luxury car with baroque styling. Continentals, Grand Prix, Monte Carlo, and Granada. It was an abrupt marketing change. Detroit was left with oversized cars with small interiors that hadn’t begun to pay off their investments. What to do?
Ford got lucky. The Torino had a coupe design. They covered the roof in padded vinyl, hung heavy bumpers, threw on a stand-up grille and pimped it out as a Cougar, a Thunderbird, a Montego, a Torino, an Elite and got away with it. It had the muscle car lines, but with formal front and rear ends. They sold millions.
GM had money. They covered all the bases. They already had the Monte Carlo and Grand Prix. They had the dough to replicate that success. They moth-balled the Camaro and cheapened it out and it lingered in limbo for a few years.
Chrysler didn’t get so lucky. Their cars didn’t have a notched roof or a formal look. Their cars ended up having squared off formal front ends, but still had fastback rooflines with “halo” vinyl roofs that suggested neither formal, or sporty. It wasn’t until the Cordoba that Chrysler caught up to the market.
AMC blew it. They had to dough to create a personal luxury car. Instead, they created the swoopy Matador coupe. That design couldn’t become a luxury coupe. Even as a Barcelona, or a Cassini, the swoopy Matador coupe was a car out of style during this era. Sad too. AMC could have save itself a bundle by restyling their old Matador and earned a bundle with a legit personal luxury car. Worse to come was their Pacer.
The Muscle car era ended suddenly and Detroit was not ready for the shift to the Formal look. Many things occurred to cause this. Biggest was the gas crisis. Technology only provided economy to lighter cars than Detroit was building. Markets demanded economy when Detroit hadn’t prepared for that dramatic shift. The US buyers wanted their luxury comforts provided by large cars, so they shifted to buying smaller cars with luxury comforts. Muscle cars were left on the dealer lots and Detroit had lots of these large missile shaped barges fresh from redesign without buyers. Converting them to the new Formal look meant spending more on a redesign with mixed results, as shown by Chrysler.
Detroit lost millions. The city itself started a 50 year decline, ending up looking like a burned out European city after WWII. The entire Midwest economy was blown apart, as a significant part of its economy was based on transportation. It became the Rustbelt. The West Coast shifted to favoring Japanese cars. The East coast shifted to favoring German cars. The 1970s was the end of an easy auto era for US manufacturers.
> Ford got lucky. The Torino had a coupe design.
Like GM with the Cutlass and Century/Regal, Ford had two rooflines available for the Torino coupe of this generation (72-76), the other being a fastback. Unlike GM, Ford discontinued the Torino after two years.
discontinued the Torino fastback, that should say
It was the automotive industry stylists sliding into their own Mannerist Crisis…just as other artists and designers have throughout the centuries.
Mannerism was intentional, this wasn’t. What sold in 1972, suddenly didn’t sell 48 months later. Twenty years of building large cars ended and manufacturing wasn’t in place for the demand for smaller cars. Money had already been spent on the larger vehicles which needed to be recouped in a market that didn’t accept them. Legacy brands were at risk and ended up being slapped on smaller vehicles without forethought beyond saving the brand name.
The styling and design language of 1972 resulted in bloated overwrought Baroque styling for the rest of the 1970 decade. What else do you call a 1972 Lincoln Mark IV? It was a Versailles powdered wig three feet high, dyed lavender and braided with gold ribbons.
I can see Mannerist effects, but I don’t believe it was the intention. More like desperation.
That’s why I said it was a ‘Crisis’.
I can’t help but thinking of Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd in “Diamond Are Forever” when I see a ’70 or ’71 Thunderbird. They put Bond in the trunk and dumped him in the desert outside Las Vegas.