Curbside Nostalgia: 1972 – The Greatest New Car Year Of My Life

(first posted 10/3/2017)     As a kid, whenever someone got a new car it was a real event.  Of course, a new car is always an event, but for a car-crazy kid it was AN EVENT!  I have known for years that 1973 set a record for new car sales in the US that stood for many years, so it was no surprise that 1973 models were well-represented on our streets and highways for a long time.  But in my life I can think of very few people (maybe two or three?) who bought 1973 cars because there were so many who had bought one the year before.  If you will indulge me, you will see what I mean.

First off, 1972 was a new car for each of my divorced parents, one of the few times I recall that happening.  The first was in the late fall of 1971 when my father picked up the first ’72 Lincoln Continental Mark IV I had ever seen.  I still remember my first ride on the evening he came to pick my sister and me up for his weekend with us.  He had just picked it up on the way over, so it was hard to get newer than that.  I called shotgun as I opened what had to be the heaviest car door I had ever experienced.  After sliding into that dark brown leather seat I was positioned to look out over that long, perfectly painted hood as a few snowflakes hit and slid off.  And the new car smell is always better with leather, which was not seen then but in the most expensive cars.  This photo, by the way, is an almost identical car, right down to the colors and the front bumper guard.  As far as possible, each picture hereafter will show as close as I can find in trim level and color to the car of my life in 1972.

My mother tended to hold off until late in the model year and so her new car was one of the last before the ’73 models came out.  Our 1964 Cutlass hardop had been a fabulously reliable car.  However, at 8 years and 60,000 miles it was getting old – at least by the standards of the day.  And by 1972 she was more than ready for an air conditioned car.  Mom was not much of a gambler so there was never a serious alternative to a ’72 Cutlass.  It was late enough in the year that she could not find her preferred color combo of Baroque Gold with a black vinyl top and interior.  And my suggestion that she settle for one of the two convertibles on the lot (a blue one with white top and interior and the Indy Pace Car replica) was completely ignored.

She was holding out for buckets and a console like our ’64 had and the salesman at Collins Oldsmobile in Fort Wayne finally located a light green (Pinehurst Green) car with green vinyl roof and interior.  And a 4 bbl 350 Rocket V8.  The catch – it had power windows.  Mom hesitated but agreed because pickings were so slim, so the deal was done. Boy did I feel like a rich kid in a Cutlass Supreme with both air conditioning and power windows (even if I despised that color at the time).

My three best friends also got new cars in their families.  My first best friend came from a Studebaker family.  From the time we met as kindergartners, the two cars in his family’s driveway were a white 1960 Lark VIII 2 door sedan and a red 1964 Avanti with the supercharged R-2 engine and the 4-speed.  Not two weeks after Mom brought the new Olds home Tim rode his bike down the street and told me I had to come to his house.  I had no idea they were contemplating a new car, but in place of the old Lark was a 1972 AMC Javelin AMX painted the brightest red I had ever seen.  Although it did not have power windows, it had about everything else including the gold stripes that faded to black on the hood that covered the 360 V8, cool wheels with white letter tires, buckets and air.  Only later did I find out just how rare that car was in AMX trim – one of 3,220.

Did you ever have a short-term best friend?  I did during my 6th grade year in 1971-72.  Jason’s father was an attorney who was younger than most of the other dads.  So it seemed fitting that he brought home an orange ’72 Corvette with black interior and a 4 speed.  Jason and I worked it out so that my Dad would drive us over to his house one Friday evening so that each of us got a ride in the other Dad’s cool new car.  The dads each got a turn behind the wheel of the other car as well, if I remember correctly.

Photo/rendering source: Robin’7t4


In September of 1972 I moved on from my old elementary school to a junior high school and met a bunch of new kids, one of whom was Dan, who would become my new best friend.  His father loved buying cars and had owned more than I could count.  1972 was the year that he bought a Chrysler Newport Royal 2 door hardtop.  Two-door Chryslers were not that common, and I have never seen a twin to this car – solid black paint (with no vinyl roof to mess up the flow of the “fuselage styling”) with black cloth interior.  The car had a vaguely menacing look to it, especially after Dan’s father swapped a set of slotted aluminum wheels and white letter T/A radials onto it.  I knew that something was wrong with me when I was way more impressed by the big black Chrysler than by an orange Corvette.  But I didn’t care.  I eventually got to drive this one and loved it.  Dan’s dad kept it until trading it on a 77 Newport 4 door hardtop.  The first thing the dealer did was glue a white vinyl top on the car, completely ruining it.

Dan’s Aunt Connie was a frequent visitor at his house and also sported a new car in 1972, a bright gold Ford Galaxie 500 two door hardtop.  Although she did not pop for the fancy wheels that the pictured car has, because that would simply not have been fitting for the principal of an elementary school.  I recall that ’72 Galaxie as an attractive car with its dark brown vinyl top and interior.

My 6th grade teacher Mr. Domrow was another who traded a ’64 Oldsmobile for a ’72, only in his case it was a pair of 88s.  His new Delta 88 was the exact color combo as our Cutlass Supreme, though his was a four door.  I cannot recall if it was a hardtop or a sedan.  As I think about it, a cousin of my Mom’s got an identical Delta 88 sedan, same Pinehurst Green, same green interior.  Can you see why I might have gotten sick of Pinehurst Green Oldsmobiles?

That miserable color was everywhere that year.  Including on the Chevelle Malibu hardtop that some family friends drove over in to show off on the way home from the dealer.  I remember thinking (but not saying) that the car was not as nice as our Cutlass and that it was a huge comedown from the white ’66 Buick Electra that they had traded in.  And no, they did not pop for the rally wheels (like 97% of actual buyers of new Chevrolets back then).

A good friend of the family who owned a paint and drywall business bought a ’72 Chevy pickup in the very top trim level (with the woodgrain in the side moldings), and which came complete with air conditioning.  I still remember it as the nicest pickup truck I had ever seen up to that time – and the first one I had ever seen with air conditioning.  I had no way of knowing where pickup trucks were headed in our world, but that one should have told me.

Getting a little farther from my orbit was my sister’s best friend Sally.  Sally’s mother had been driving a gold ’66 Plymouth Satellite convertible that I was in love with.  Her husband was a Mopar man and replaced it with a red ’72 Satellite Sebring Plus hardtop with black bucket seats and a console for the floor-shifted Torqueflite.  A friend of our family later bought it for his son around 1980 or so when it was getting a little crusty around the edges.  As with so many of these, I never liked it quite as well as the car it replaced.  Oh well, time moves on and we have to move on with it, right?

As I think about it, I remember that Sally’s dad may have bought his gold ’72 Plymouth station wagon at the same time.  His had the normal wheel covers and was painted with logos of the brands that he sold in his heating and air conditioning business.

In our neighborhood the three houses across the street fell in line with a smurf-blue ’72 Pinto runabout, a metallic blue ’72 Ford LTD 4 door and a brown ’72 Pontiac Catalina sedan.  Nearly half of the ’72 big Fords I remember were painted that medium metallic blue.  They must have rusted faster than the others (no small feat) because this was the only shot I could find of one in that shade.

The aunt of the kid next door visited often with her ’72 Pontiac Luxury LeMans (in the same shade of dark gold that my mother tried to find on a Cutlass).  Yes, the Luxury LeMans pictured is the wrong color.  Do you know how hard it is to find a picture of a ’72 Luxury LeMans 4 door (with fender skirts) online?  Sometimes we have to take what we can get.

There were a few others among the parents of some school friends: a brown ’72 Mercury Marquis wagon, a gold ’72 Pontiac Safari wagon (both of which were sans wood paneling) and a second orange ’72 Corvette, this one with tan interior.  Those were really not close enough to me to have much impact, although I did get at least one ride in each.  Certainly not everyone in my circle of family and friends bought a new car that year, far from it.  But an awful lot of them did, more than any year I can recall, before or since, and by a whole lot.  So for 12-13 year old car-obsessed me, 1972 may have been the best year of my young life.

How about you.  Is there a year that stands out above all others as one of the great new car years of your life?