Vintage Wheels #1: Cars in the 1970's

You can tell a lot about the culture of a particular decade or time period by its movies, its music, and its cars.  I've talked about a lot of aspects of the 1970's here on Retrospace, but I don't think I've said much about 70's wheels.  Well, it's high time I did.  And speaking of "high" let's start with vans...

Vans were nothing more than a enclosed mobile space in which to smoke weed and have sex.  Many of you reading this post were conceived in the back of these love machines.  Nowadays, vans are for soccer moms - they're always full of kids and are equipped with a TV and plenty of cupholders for Starbucks and juice boxes.  Back in the day, they didn't have all that fancy shmancy stuff - the only thing you'd likely find in the back would be shag carpet and a massive bong.

Muscle cars were the choice vehicle of young men in the 70's. They were literally an extension of your manhood. They had but two purposes: attracting chicks and making that blacktop your bitch. They weren't necessarily expensive, even bag boys owned them. However, the key was tricking out the engine to where it became a gas guzzling Bat out of Hell.

And speaking of gas guzzling - the 1970's were a time of great concern over fuel prices and availability.  Who wanted to wait in long lines at the pump when you could be driving an economy car with great gas mileage?  The speed limit was lowered, parking lots got "economy car" spaces right up front, and you started seeing ugly but economical cars like the Rabbit, Gremlin and Pacer on the city streets.

Sports cars had their heyday in the 1960's, but still were popular in the proceeding decade. The candy apple red Corvette is essentially a symbol of the late 70's (who can forget Mark Hamill's Corvette Summer?) If I could choose any car to own, it would have to be something like the Triumph Spitfire (shown below); nothing is better than a vintage foreign sports car.

So if the young men and women were driving vans, muscle cars and sports cars, what were the other people driving? Well, first of all, you need to know one thing: it didn't really matter.  The Baby Boomers ruled the market (and still do), so auto manufacturers could give a flying shit about the older set. Let them keep driving their old Cadillacs till the wheels come off - Detroit had its eyes on the new generation.

Of course, if you did happen to have a family, the only way to go was the station wagon.  I prefer the Brady Bunch wood paneled variety, or the Clarke Griswold "metallic pea" variety.  My uncle's wagon had a CB radio up front and we all chilled out in the back where there were comfortable sleeping bags.  Do they even make station wagons anymore? If they do, I sure don't see them.

Lastly, you might wonder where seat belts fit into all this..... they didn't. No one used them (except maybe out of curiosity to see what it was like to wear one). The only "click" heard in the 1970's automobile was your dad's Bic lighting up a smoke with the windows rolled UP. (cough!)

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  1. I learned how to drive in a '68 Charger, my brother still has it!

  2. LoLz...evolutionary process at work here on vans, tin cans and lingo. Some would argue that those were the days...

  3. I hated our station wagon -- I had to sit in that stupid back seat that faced the wrong way. My older sisters and brother "claimed" it made them carsick so they wouldn't have to.

  4. Best car my parents ever owned was their 1976 Pacer X in bright red. I loved that car! I would love to have that car back now.

  5. Ah yes, we had a green wood-paneled 1969 Pontiac station wagon. We had seat belts and used them. My mom had us believe there were switches under the seat and the car wouldn't start unless we had our seat belts on. Then we got a van in about 1978.

    My wife's family had a van and they just had a mattress in back so the kids could sleep when they took 14 hour trips to Colorado. No seat belts, just crawl in the back when you get tired. I have no idea if it was used otherwise, and I won't ask.

  6. jp,

    I loooved sitting facing the rear in my parents' station wagon. My brother and I would pretend the cars behind us were pursuing us, and shoot at them with pistols made of legos.

  7. What's the red car the woman is sitting in in the very top pic?

  8. "Scat Pack" means something completely different nowadays.

    They do make station wagons; I've seen them. They're surprisingly aesthetic, considering how butt-ugly all old ones were.

  9. My first car was a used 1971 Gremlin that I bought in 1974. Sure, it was was small but it had a 6 cylinder engine and could run rings around my friend's Pinto. In 1976 I bought a brand new Camero. I owned that car until 1988 and put over 120,000 miles (60,000 of them in the first 3 years) on it. I loved that car like I've loved no other since.

  10. I miss the bigger sedans of the 70's. Give me a '72 Chrysler Newport, Ford LTD, Dodge Monaco,etc., any day. Sure, they weren't the greatest for gas, but neither are SUV's. Those sedans were great highway cars, just the thing for a road trip.

  11. This has nothing to do with your post but did you hear Carly Simon finally revealed who the subject of 'You're so vain' is....David Geffen. What a complete let down.

  12. baskingshark, I'm 99% sure that's a Triumph GT6.

    My parents traded in a '69 Chrysler Town & Country (which back then was a wagon, not a minivan!) on a '74 Dodge van. Neither one had seat belts that we knew of.