"Muscle Cars of the Seventies"
In 1970 the American auto industry was riding high, with production of more
than 6.5 million passenger cars, more than double that of its nearest rival,
Japan. Luxury cars such as the Cadillac Eldorado had the world's largest
engine at 500 cubic inches and Chrysler's Hemi 426 was the world's most
powerful at 425bhp. When John Q. Public bought a Ford, Chevrolet, or Pontiac
(or almost any other make), he knew he was buying an American-designed and
American-built car and giving employment to American workers.
Ralph Nader was the industry's bad dream through the sixties. His book,
Unsafe At Any Speed, was an unwarranted, ill-researched attack on the
Corvair, claiming anyone buying a Corvair was signing his death certificate,
due to the car's alleged tendency to flip over onto its roof. Nader's book
had repercussions for the industry as a whole, however. The high annual
carnage on America's highways forced Congress to pass safety legislation
taking effect from 1967. Another bill called for strict exhaust emission
controls to cut down the amount of lead and carbons polluting the air. To
meet these strict requirements effectively meant the end of the all-powerful
But it wasn't dead yet and still had a few years to go. By 1967, the muscle
car had become a powerful sales force, reaching its peak in 1969 and 1970.
Federal regulations, politicians and the 1973 oil embargo would put an end to
the muscle cars as the seventies wore on, but for the time being the
manufacturers happily obliged the American driver's taste for brute power and
excitement in their driving experience. Here are a few of the more memorable
muscle cars turned out by Detroit before internal and external factors
eventually killed the goose that laid the golden egg...
1968 PONTIAC GTO COUPE - Often cited as the first of the muscle cars, the GTO
was a good example of the old formula of large engine in mid-sized bodyshell.
The GTO began life in 1964 as a sub-model of the Tempest, but by 1968 it was
a line of its own, and one of the most exciting of all Pontiacs. Four engine
options were offered, from 265 to 366bhp, the more powerful having four-jet
carburetion and 10.71:1 compression ratios. Coupes were by far the most
popular, with 77,704 delevered, compared with 9,980 convertibles.
1969 PONTIAC FIREBIRD TRANS AM COUPE - The Firebird was Pontiac Division's
version of the Camaro, and used the same sheet metal, with its own
distinctive front end. Engines were not shared with the Camaro, being Pontiac
units from a 165bhp V8. The Trans Am version was introduced in March 1969 and
featured a 345bhp engine, heavy-duty three-speed manual gearbox, aerofoil on
the rear deck, and full-length body stripes on the hood, top, and rear deck.
A rare car, as only 607 Trans Ams were made in 1969, it was priced at $3,556,
while a regular Firebird coupe could be had for $2,831.
1970 FORD MUSTANG BOSS 302 COUPE - Named for its engine displacement, the
Boss 302 was a high-performance Mustang launched in mid-1969 as a road-going
version of the Trans Am-racing Mustangs. Output was rated at 290bhp, but
350bhp was a more realistic figure. Made only in coupe form, the 302's had
special striping, a front "chin" spoiler, and distinctive rear window
louvers. Standard equipment included heavy-duty springs, four-speed manual
transmission, and power-assisted front disk brakes; 1,934 Boss 302's were
made in 1969 and 6,318 in 1970.
1970 OLDSMOBILE 4-4-2 COUPE - The 4-4-2 originated in 1964 as a performance
package on Olds' F-85 compact car. The numbers indicate four-on-the-floor
transmission, four-barrel carb, and twin exhausts. Also included in the
package, earlier offered on police cars, were heavy-duty springs and shock
absorbers, a special air cleaner, and special fender emblems. By 1970, a 455
cubic-inch 365bhp engine was used, but from 1971 onward emission control laws
enforced a decline in power.
1970 DODGE CHALLENGER R/T COUPE - The Challenger was Dodge's answer to the
Mustang and the Camaro, and was a smaller companion to the Charger muscle
car. A new model for 1970, it was offered as a hardtop or convertible, with
two regular engine options, a 145bhp slant-6 and a 230bhp V8. There were six
other options up to the formidable 425bhp 426 HEMI. R/T represents
Road/Track, and was applied to the higher-performance Challengers with 383 or
larger V8 engines. 1970 Challenger output was 83,032 cars, of which 60
percent had the standard V8 and 26 percent optional V8's; 14.4 percent were
1970 DODGE CHARGER RT/SE HEMI COUPE - Chrysler Corporation's HEMI engines of
the 1960's were the second generation of this design, and were always limited
editions. The RT/SE (ROAD & TRACK, Special Edition) Coupe is very rare, only
four having been made in 1970. The 426 street HEMI power unit cost an
additional $618 over the $3,711 price of the Charger with 400 engine. The SE
package included special exterior and interior trim, and was not concerned
with performance. Probably the most famous Charger R/T was "The General Lee,"
the four-wheeled star of the "Dukes of Hazzard" TV series. The whole stock
car racing scene grew up in the country districts of the southeastern United
States, typified by Hazzard County.
1970 BUICK GS STAGE I - The GS (Gran Sport) dated from the 1965 season, and
was a sub-series of the Skylark with the 340 cubic-inch V8 engine enlarged to
400 cubic inches. It was a muscle car, especially in the Stage I model, which
had a 455 cubic-inch engine with a speed package giving 360bhp. The package
included a high-performance camshaft and special four-barrel carburator, also
Hurst floor-shift four-speed transmission. Most GS Stage I's were coupes, but
some convertibles were also made for the 1970 season.
1970 PLYMOUTH HEMI SUPERBIRD COUPE - With its large looping rear deck
stabilizer, this exotic bird was one of most striking street-going cars ever
made. A full-blown race car for $3,600 straight from the factory, the
Superbird was marketed to meet NASCAR requirements that cars similar to those
that raced should be available on general sale. The minimum number had to
correspond to half the nationwide total of 3,840 Plymouth dealers, which
amounted to 1,920. These were all built between October 1969 and January
1970. The rear window was modified with convex glass, and the rear stabilizer
was an awesome 24 inches above the rear deck. The standard engine was the
four-barrel carb 440, with options of the six-barrel 440 and the 425 HEMI.
1974 PLYMOUTH ROAD RUNNER 440 COUPE - 1974 saw the end of both the
high-performance Plymouth lines, Barracuda and Satellite, the Road Runner
being a member of the Satellite family. The standard engine in the Road
Runner was a 318 cubic-inch V8 giving only 170bhp, although the 440 was an
option. Even this developed only 275bhp, compared with 390bhp four years
earlier. The Road Runner was identified by the stripes, power bulge on the
hood, and cartoon bird emblem on the vertical part of the stripe, just behind
the windows. It was priced at $3,545, and 11,555 were made in the 1974
- excerpted from The American Automobile - A Centenary by Nick Georgano
(New York: Smithmark, 1992), and "Classic American Cars" by Nicky Wright
(New York: Crescent, 1992).
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