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14 Fastest Cars of the ’70s You Probably Never Heard of

Vukasin HerbezOctober 3, 2017

Most people consider the 1960’s to be the landmark decade in all aspects. The 60’s were important, not only in the automotive world but in global politics, art, culture and fashion. For the car industry, the 60’s were a turning point, introducing trends which have lasted up to this day. In fact, many car classes from that decade still popular today. Nothing in the car world would ever be the same after that time.

The decade that followed was also an interesting and important one. The 70’s car world started with a big promise of brave new designs and high-powered engines. It seemed like things were only going to get better, with cars becoming faster and designs becoming sleeker. Soon, a reality check hit the automotive industry, which changed the rules of the game forever.

During the 70’s there was an economic recession, bringing fuel shortages and tough emission and safety standards. This wounded the car industry, especially American manufacturers. Almost overnight, the mighty muscle cars lost their power and became obsolete. Big, elegant sedans gained ugly safety bumpers and low compression engines. The market started offering small, modest economy cars and people forgot about performance as a concept.

After a promising start, the 70’s threatened to transform cars into being boring and slow. In most cases they were, but some cars still delivered enough driving thrills and performance to show drivers not all had been lost. Here is a list of the quickest cars manufacturers produced from 1970 to 1979 that demonstrate the 70’s indeed had a performance portfolio.

In fact, there were cars that could strain a driver’s neck with their acceleration times. Some of these cars are red-blooded muscle cars and some are European exotics. However, they all have two things in common: 0 to 60 mph times of approximately six seconds and they emerged during the 70’s. Keep reading to go way back and see which cars were hot in that groovy decade.

  1. 1971 Plymouth GTX 440

Plymouth based this model on the same platform as the Coronet or the Roadrunner, but it was much more luxurious and had 375 HP as standard. They wanted the GTX to compete with luxury cars of the period, so they installed almost all possible creature comforts. They also included a special trim on the outside to distinguish the GTX from the rest of their model lineup.

The GTX was a gentleman’s hot rod with all the options. It had an updated interior and exterior details, but only one optional engine choice – the mighty 426 Hemi. The 440 Magnum was a standard engine, but if you wanted the ultimate Plymouth muscle luxury, you had to go for the Hemi. Because it was significantly more expensive than the rest of the Mopar muscle car lineup, the GTX wasn’t popular, so it is rare today.

When the early 70’s came and all those muscle cars started to lose power and torque figures, Plymouth discontinued the GTX. The stopped production in 1971, keeping it from being a disgrace to its fire-breathing predecessors. The 1971 model went out with a bang. When equipped with standard 440 V8 engine, it could do 0 to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, which was a respectable figure for the time.

  1. 1972 Pontiac Trans Am 455

When traditional muscle cars were losing ground due to tightening regulations, pony cars, such as the Pontiac Trans Am, were gaining respect on the streets. This was due mostly to its looks and performance. In 1972, engines still had some power left, so Pontiac tried the best it could in this situation. The 1972 Trans am with a 455 big block and 300 HP was their hottest offering. It had an acceleration time of 0 to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds.

Those F-Body cars included a competent handling package and brakes, transforming them into proper sports cars. Who knows how capable muscle cars could be if it weren’t for the fuel shortages and emissions regulations of the 70’s.

  1. 1973 Porsche 911 Carrera 2.7 RS

Introduced in the mid-60’s, the Porsche 911 had somewhat of a tough time establishing itself on the market. Tricky handling, a high price and much less power than the Corvette kept the early 911 sales figures relatively low. However, Porsche didn’t give up. Each year, the company has presented an upgraded version with even more power and better handling.

They introduced the 911 Carrera 2.7 RS in 1972 as a street-legal racing car. It included an upgraded engine, a lightweight body and a rear spoiler. This car was a pure racer with license plate holders, too. It also featured a 2.7-liter flat six engine people could tune up to 300 HP. Thanks to its light body and quick ratio manual gearbox, the 1972 Carrera 2.7 RS could get to 60 mph in respectable six seconds flat.

  1. 1970 Plymouth AAR Cuda

1970 marked heavy battles between car manufacturers in the Trans-Am championship. At one point, almost all pony cars were included in a racing program. Mustangs, Camaros, Firebirds, Challengers and Barracudas were chasing each other on tracks all over America. To homologate the Barracuda for the Trans Am, Plymouth released a model called the All American Racer, or AAR. It featured several modifications, blacked out hood and 340 V8 engine with 290 HP.

Car experts say that the car was capable of close to 350 HP, but it was rated less for insurance reasons. However, the AAR ‘Cuda proved to be quite agile on the street although it wasn’t as successful on the racing tracks. It could accelerate to 60 mph in just 5.9 seconds with just a four-speed manual transmission.

  1. 1977 Lamborghini Countach LP 400 S

Although the Countach is the definitive 80’s supercar icon on everybody’s bedroom wall posters, it was born in the 70’s. They introduced it in 1974 and constantly upgraded it. The Countach helped Lamborghini survive the hardship of the recession by establishing itself as the supercar of the decade.

In 1977, Lamborghini introduced the LP 400 S version. It had a modernized body kit with an updated 4.0-liter V12 engine with 390 HP. The mid-engine layout provided balance for the vehicle. With almost 400 HP going to its rear wheels, the Countach LP 400 S was quite fast. The 0 to 60 mph acceleration time took 5.9 seconds, making it the top supercar of the period.

  1. 1973 De Tomaso Pantera

Back in the 60’s and early 70’s, small manufacturers of exclusive sports cars loved to put big, powerful American V8 engines into bespoke bodies to create fast, good-looking models. Over the years, they built numerous cars this way, but one of the most interesting and long-surviving was the De Tomaso. Back in the late 60’s, De Tomaso secured a deal with the Ford Motor Company to provide their engines. In return, Lincoln-Mercury dealers in the U.S. could sell the De Tomaso Pantera in their showrooms.

This car was half Italian and half American, which proved to be a great combination. Italian designers gave it good looks and charm. The American V8 engine provided it with pure power and 330 HP. The De Tomaso Pantera was able to launch itself from 0 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds, making it one of the quickest cars from that period. Even the King of Rock and Roll himself, Elvis Presley, owned one.

  1. 1970 Oldsmobile 442 W30

The 442 was one of the most legendary muscle cars, and not just because of its presence. It had big power, style and performance, but also had a strange name. In fact, there are lots of theories about its name. However, the 442 stands for the 400 V8 engine, four-speed manual transmission and dual exhaust of two pipes.

They build the 442 using the GTO mold, putting their biggest engine in their lightest intermediate body. In this case, it was an Oldsmobile Cutlass shell. They always equipped the 442 well, making it a better handling car than most of its competitors. In 1970, General Motors lifted their corporate ban on putting engines bigger than 400 CID in intermediate bodies. This meant all GM`s muscle cars, including the 442, got the big block motor with more power.

In 1970, the 442 got the mighty 455 V8 with 370 HP and 500 lb-ft of torque. Since the 442 was more luxurious than other muscle cars it was also somewhat heavier, which made it a little slower. Even so, it was still an extremely capable machine with a 0 to 60 mph time of just 5.7 seconds.

  1. 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T 440

Plymouth had the Barracuda, the first pony car model they introduced two weeks before the Ford Mustang. However, its stablemate, Dodge didn’t enter the segment until 1970. Some muscle car historians say Dodge was late for the party. But, the Challenger was so good, it left its mark and reserved a place in history.

Mopar’s E-Body models, the Barracuda and Challenger were brand new for 1970. They featured new designs, better construction and wider and longer bodies. There was no significant mechanical difference between the Barracuda and the Challenger. Aside from the design, these two cars had some interchangeable bodywork parts, as well.

They gave the Challenger the full firepower of Mopar’s engines. Car buyers could get a powerful 383 V8, as well as a big 440 and the famous 426 Hemi. The best performers were the 440 and the Hemi. Depending on the specifications, they had differential ratio and gearboxes, Challengers equipped with those engines could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in the 5.5 to 5.7 second range, which was considered quite quick for 1970.

  1. 1973 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona

Some classic car enthusiasts say the Daytona was the best of all classic Ferrari Gran Touring cars. The Pininfarina company designed the body with a twin cam V12 engine that produced 350 HP and 318 lb-ft of torque. The car had the perfect weight distribution thanks to a gearbox on the rear axle. This combo helped with road handling and balance.

Ferrari never intended to make the Daytona a drag or street racer. In fact, this car had high top speeds, but it was more suited to jumping continents than burning rubber at a stoplight. However, with acceleration times of 5.6 seconds from 0 to 60 mph, the Daytona wasn’t slow. Indeed, it was easily one of the fastest cars of the 70’s.

  1. 1971 Plymouth Barracuda 426 Hemi

The Plymouth Barracuda was the first pony car, which they introduced two weeks before the Ford Mustang. But despite its cool design and features, it was always in the shadows of the Mustang and Camaro. However, in 1970, a totally redesigned model arrived with the Dodge Challenger which Plymouth built using the same platform and engines. As with Dodge, the most powerful versions were the 440 Magnum with a 395 HP and a Hhemi 426, delivering 425 HP.

Most experts agree the Hemi engine produced a lot of advertised power. However, the real output was closer to 500 HP than to the declared 425 HP. But this engine option was quite expensive, costing about a third of the price of the car itself. That is why only a small number Hemiemi-equipped Barracudas left the factory in 1970 and 1971. Most of its buyers were serious street racers who wanted one of the fastest muscle cars Plymouth ever built.

The Hemi 426 in the Plymouth Barracuda could sprint from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.4 seconds. Interestingly, magazine testers back in the day said people could its performance with just a few simple modifications to the intake, ignition and carburetor jets. So, those tuned Barracudas could go even faster.

  1. 1971 Chevrolet Corvette ZR2

The Corvette was the only American sports car. It was true performance king ever since Chevrolet first released it in 1953. Over the years, Chevrolet produced some fast models that could beat anything coming from Europe. During the heyday of the muscle car era, Corvettes got big block power in the form of the mighty 396 and 427 V8 engines that ruled drag strips and boulevards all over the U.S.

As with all American cars, the early 70’s marked the last years of those powerful Corvettes before the dark ages of car performance commenced. The last hurrah was the ZR2 model with a big block 454 V8 and 425 HP. In that version, the Corvette was a true world-class sports car. It had fantastic acceleration with 0 to 60 mph taking only 5.3 seconds.

It also hit high top speeds. Due to relative lightness of the body, Corvette handled well and was successful on the race tracks, too.

  1. 1977 Porsche 911 Turbo

Looking for ways to make a little bit outdated 911 more relevant and faster, Porsche started experimenting with turbo technology. In the mid-70’s, Porsche was one of the first companies in the world to introduce a production model with that feature. Soon, the Porsche 911 Turbo established itself as one of the fastest cars around with a 3.3-liter flat six engine delivering 296 HP. Of course, since this was one of the first turbocharged cars, it was full of problems which Porsche later addressed in its newer versions.

The 911’s turbo lag was enormous. When you pressed the throttle, nothing happened for a few seconds before all 300 horses hit you in the face. The handling was sketchy since the majority of the weight was on the rear wheels. In sharp turns at high speeds, the car could easily skid over the front wheels because there was nothing to hold the front end on the pavement.

All in all, this was a dangerous car to drive, but it was also exciting. In fact, the performance and sounds coming from the back attracted many buyers. Those who were brave enough to drive the Porsche 911 Turbo flat out could top 160 mph. In addition, they could get from 0 to 60 mph in as little as 5.2 seconds, which was a big deal in 1977.

  1. 1970 Chevrolet El Camino 454 SS

When Ford introduced the Ranchero in 1957, Chevrolet didn’t have anything similar. Since Chevy and Ford are two of the car industry’s biggest arch-rivals, the Bowtie company introduced the El Camino two years later, in 1959. Like the Ranchero, the El Camino was half car – half truck. They built it on an Impala chassis and it shared most of its design, interior components, and engines. Arguably better looking than the Ranchero, the El Camino didn`t have the same market success and eventually they downsized it to a mid-size platform.

At the end of the 60’s and muscle car madness, the El Camino got the proper firepower and one special trim level, called the SS. Chevy introduced the El Camino SS in 1967. It included a 396 V8 engine with 325 HP. That was plenty of power for a midsize compact truck, so it provided a serious level of performance.

However, the first rule of the muscle car culture is that bigger is always better. So, for 1970, the El Camino SS got its ultimate update with a brutal 454 V8 engine. The mighty 454 V8 LS6 was a 7.4-liter Chevrolet big block engine with an official rating of 450 HP. The engine delivered around 500 HP in real life. It was a fire-breathing beast and one of the best engines of the muscle car era.

The El Camino SS engine provided significant performance figures close to the best regular muscle cars of the day. The 0 to 60 mph time took just 5.0 seconds. The biggest problem was the lightweight rear end. This meant that hard launches off the line produced much wheel spinning and smoke. The El Camino SS 454 was one of the first vehicles people recognized as a collector models, so they became quite sought after and desirable. Today, finding a true El Camino SS 454 is hard and they are expensive, as well.

  1. 1970 Monteverdi Hai 450 SS

Monteverdi was a Swiss manufacturer of high-end coupes and limousines. It became popular thanks to its elegant creations featuring Italian styling, German quality and American engines. All models featured Chrysler engines which provided the raw power those European manufacturers of the period lacked.

After a line of beautiful Gran Turismo coupes, Peter Monteverdi, owner of the company decided to enter the supercar market. He wanted to produce a car with a rear-mounted Chrysler engine, low-profile body and high performance. The new model, called the Hai 450 SS was introduced in 1970. It featured a completely new chassis, body and had the famous Hemi 426 V8 engine in the back.

Monteverdi wanted the most powerful engine Mopar had to offer and in 1970, that was the mighty hemi engine. The car was called “Hai” which is a German word for shark. The 0 to 60 mph time took only 4.5 seconds, making it the quickest car of the era.

Despite delivering 450 HP and a superb performance, they presented the Hai 450 SS just as the automotive industry was sliding into recession, so buyers were hard to find. Eventually, one model sold at a high price and later, they produced two more. The decision to retire this model was also forced by Peter Monteverdi`s concern for customers. This car was so fast and aggressive, it became dangerous.

The 70’s were transformative for the U.S., and the cars of that era reflect that. Thanks to innovations of that decade, today’s cars are faster, safer and more efficient.

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