QOTD: eBay Edition – Malaise Era Coupes

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I went into this post hoping to do what would be my first eBay find, but the extensive choices I came across made it posed a challenge.  Did I want to go with a Broughamy crowd pleaser, or did I want to go with a Perrymobile?  Well, the Omni GLH-S and Mazda RX2 which I found fall into the latter category and will be posted some other time, so for now, enjoy this host of six plush mid-seventies to early-eighties coupes.


We’ll begin alphabetically with this 1977 AMC Hornet two-door sedan.  No, it’s not very Broughamy at all, but it still couldn’t escape the vinyl top.  I don’t think this will rank very high as a CCer’s favorite, but I know there are a number of you who will prefer this example of Kenosha’s last new car platform.  Located in Orange County, CA with about 63,000 miles, the Buy It Now price is listed at $4,500.

Even compared to the X-body Skylark, this Hornet, equipped with a straight-six and TorqueFlite, had a functional appeal the others are lacking, except perhaps for the Toyota.  And as a Hornet, not an Eagle or Concord, it also has an obscurity which the Japanese car comes close to achieving but still misses.

With a split bench and A/C, it’s not too basic, and the three-spoke wheel is especially nice to look at, as are the side vents, the glove box latch and original radio.  With that forward slanting dash and all that red vinyl, the whole experience may be a bit confining.


I do find the silver paint to be a great match for the interior color, though, and the whole car to be quite attractive in its simplicity.  If the Hornet is too plain for you, however, there is this Buick Electra:


Listed in Derry, New Hampshire, the town which inspired Derry, Maine in Stephen King’s masterpiece, It, the sellers of this gigantic machine found it difficult to fit the entire car’s length in the frame of a single picture (or maybe they just didn’t try very hard).  It’s got about 19,000 miles on it and from the looks of that third-taillamp, some of those were accrued during the latter half of the ’80s.  Or perhaps the odometer rolled over once before, but I’m inclined to believe it wouldn’t have held up as well if that were the case.


Another clue to the car’s low mileage is the good condition of its seats.  It’s not often I see actual leather in these cars, so this may be a particularly well-optioned example.  I’d prefer a four-door hardtop, but such a car would actually have a degree of functionality which would negate the sheer excess of this machine.  And who wants that?


There’s not a ton on this wraparound dash to suggest a high equipment level, but it’s a very nice design for the era.  The climate controls to the left of the wheel emphasize the personal nature of the car, even though they were present on all body styles.  In the days before dual climate controls, this kept the issue out of the passenger’s sight and mind.


If there’s any truth to reports that this generation of GM’s fullsizers’ interior materials were cheapened, this shot of the driver’s door panel is good confirmation.  We can cut the car some slack if those 19,000 miles were driven over the course of many years, exposing the vinyl to regular wear and tear after ten or fifteen years of weathering.  It’s a reminder that pristine old cars become fragile, making their use as a daily driver somewhat disrespectful.  Still, if big block Buick power is what you want, then this car delivers well enough in 1972 tune, and if it’s too large a package for you, there’s always this Chicagoland 1973 Regal:


This baby blue baby behemoth on Rallye wheels is a more fun choice, but at about $20,000 with 6,000 miles on it, should definitely not be used as a daily.  It’d be perfect in a movie, on the other hand, as long as it were treated well.


I’ve never been a Colonnade fan, but a car like this could convince me.  The styling looks the most sane in this early Buick interpretation, without the bizarre sculpting at the bottoms of the doors or too much ornamentation of other sorts.  And I’ve always loved those wheels.  I can’t imagine how this car went over the year after it was sold, right as the fuel crisis struck.  That could account for its fabulous condition, assuming it was mothballed and saved for later, by which time it had fallen out of fashion.


My impression is that this car may very well stay in the US once its sold, as American interpretations of sportiness aren’t as sought after overseas as the sort of excess displayed by the Electra.  And, since this car isn’t especially iconic, it may be more desired by domestic fan boys.  It’s not a GS trim car, so the combination of the top motor and more basic trim might reflect the sensibilities of pre-fuel crisis buyers who had every reason to say “yes” to big engines, with the proliferation emissions controls and cheap fuel.  A test of the big block Regal in GS trim saw the quarter mile reached in 15.3 seconds, so by the standards of midsized cars in the early-mid ’70s, this was fast.


It was also pretty well equipped, with A/C and a full range of power assists.  I wouldn’t say that the vinyl bench seat is at all ideal, but having two friends (or lovers) right next to you while doing a burnout should make anybody with a pulse smile.

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You can also see what made these cars so popular and what made them seem like a sporty alternative.  There’s moderate Brougham influence here, but its at least backed up by a wide variety of options features.  Midsize coupes were where the action was, and looking at this car, you can see what fed GM’s delusions in thinking it’d be wise to launch the GM10 coupes before the sedans (in a very changed market).


But if this enormous midsize doesn’t appeal to you, there’s yet another Buick in the running:


Compared to the Regal, this tinsel-y 1976 Skylark Coupe is very Brougham-y.  My parents owned a blue, stripper Disco Nova and my father always regretted choosing the 4.1 six.  I’d continue to think these X-bodies were crap if my early lurkings on Curbside Classic hadn’t disabused me of that notion.  There’s a Camaro underneath all that gingerbread, and potential for good handling, hinted at by those Rallye wheels.


This car, as we see here, uses a rather choked looking odd-fire 3.8 V6.  It managed 110 horsepower when new, which, all things considered could be worse, but this car is still slow.  GM was fortunate enough to have a solution, though:


a Landau top!  At least in this car’s case, it complements a good level of equipment, with A/C, cloth upholstery and power assists.


Certainly a big improvement over dad’s Nova, and in reasonably restrained colors.  For $4,000, and with 53,000 miles, this Los Angeles car wouldn’t be terrible to use as a daily.


It would be fun to swap in a 3.8 Turbo from a GNX or Firebird, which as a fuel-injected engine, would require somewhat extensive modification, but certainly wouldn’t be impossible.  I’m no F-platform expert, but a good amount of Camaro/Firebird chassis bits probably also would fit, making the potential for big fun very real for a motivated owner.


If you’re tired of the Buicks, this 1981 Dodge Mirada is a great, somewhat appealing sample of Chrysler’s late ’70s dark years.  Located in Buffalo, NY, priced at $3,850, and with 91,000 miles, this car has lasted well, considering how long cars of that era lasted in Western New York’s inhospitable climate.   There’s nowhere worse in the US when it comes to destroying a car’s body.


These cars never sold well and thirty-three years later, remain unpopular.  The last of pre-Iacocca Chrysler’s nice cars have a certain charm to them, and there are fewer buyers to compete with.  The 318 in this car was refined and used until 2003, and my encounters with it the Grand Cherokee have been very positive.  As with the Skylark, updating it to be powerhouse it later turned into would require a fair degree of work, but nothing impossible.  Another option, depending on where one lives, would be to de-smog and aggressively tune it.


This one has proper buckets and a full console.  While its generally modern ergonomics and unpopularity make it a more viable daily driver, it’s also less novel than the earlier cars, which means that, despite its rarity, whoever buys this might drive it into the ground.  This really is one for the Mopar fans.


This Mirada has many shades of the K-car, and like the others–except for the Hornet–is generously spec’d.


For the time, this was modern looking, but buyers stayed away nonetheless, which puts the very basic approach to car building exhibited by the K and L-bodies into perspective.  The sort of people who wanted a plush, somewhat sporty coupe were much better served by Japanese imports like this 1980 Toyota Celica Supra:


Whoever had the sense to keep this car preserved was wise.  It wasn’t considered to have much historical significance until recently.  With 55,000 miles on it, this rust-free California car currently resides in upstate New York like the Dodge, though at $7,000 it’s quite a bit more expensive.


Even though it’s the only car of these six with a liftback design, as a plush coupe with a big (compared to other imports) engine, it addresses a similar buyer demographic as some of the others.  With fuel injection and an overhead cam, this 2.6 liter six was able to meet the (admittedly lowered) demand for performance using about half the displacement, and with such a clean, organized appearance under the hood, its greater sophistication is fully on display.


That positive impression extends to the interior, which is well ahead of the other cars listed here in terms of finish.  But don’t let the engine and interior fool you: this car was designed in the American idiom and even styled–for the most part–in California.  It was soft and slow, with only 110 horsepower, like the personal luxury coupes it was sometimes pitted against, and any illusions of performance were dispelled the moment your put your hands around that thin-rimmed steering wheel.  Those four spokes serve a purpose, giving your index finger more places from which to use the overboosted steering.


But hey–gadgets and high quality are rewarding enough in their own right, as is mechanical refinement and convenience.  No reason to miss rallye wheels with such nicely machined eight spokers as these.  Back in the day, you’d certainly make a very good first impression in this car, and looking at it, I can picture a nice first or second date which would begin with a cruise through the suburbs on a warm night on the way to a David Cronenberg or Jon Carpenter feature at the local cinema.


And after so many fine evenings out, moving in with each other could be facilitated by this wonderful three-door design.

So what do you guys think?  Would the pick of this bunch be the simple, honest Hornet?  The bloated, gluttonous Electra?  Perhaps the suave Celica Supra?  I personally can’t decide, but I’m leaning toward the Regal.  I can’t deny the allure of the big-block V8 and what we’re told is a capable platform.  Stay tuned for more eBay finds.

Related Reading:

1979 Toyota Celica Supra, 1970 AMC Hornet, 1977 Chevy Nova, 1973 Regal GS455, 1976 Buick Electra, 1980 Dodge Mirada