The Sunbird was the typical hatchback-type GM compact of the ’70s and was almost identical to Buick Skylark or Chevrolet Monza. However, in the Pontiac version, the Sunbird had an interesting muscle model they called the Formula with an optional V8 under the hood.
Pontiac borrowed the name, “Formula,” from the Firebird lineup, which marked the model they equipped with a V8 engine. If you chose the Formula, you could get a 305 V8 engine with 165 HP and a hint of performance. Since the Sunbird was relatively light, you could call this Pontiac somewhat of a muscle car.
Chevrolet Cobalt SS
Although Chevy discontinued it, the Cobalt SS will be remembered as one of the best, most powerful American compact cars. Available as a supercharged, turbocharged or naturally aspirated model, the best SS was the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder they introduced in 2008.
The engine delivered 260 HP, which was astonishing by the standards of the day and more than any of the competitors. Also, the Cobalt SS had big tuning potential, so it is easy to get even more power from this engine.
By the late â80s and early â90s, American manufacturers had nothing on imports in terms of compact cars, But then Chrysler introduced the Neon in 1995, almost single-handedly reintroducing domestic brands to the compact class. And soon, it became a bestseller.
The Neon was a compact front wheel drive model available in a two and four-door configuration. The power was not big, but it was sufficient since its purpose was primarily to be a commuter car. Under the hood was a 1.8 or 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Also, buyers had the option of three-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission. The Dodge Neon even sold well in other countries.
Mercury Capri 1991
Over the years, Mercury sold numerous models under the Capri name. First, it was just a trim level on a regular Mercury sedan and then it was a re-badged Ford Capri from Europe. In the late â70s and early â80s, it was the Mercury version of a Fox-bodied Mustang. However, in 1991, it was a new and separate model.
Mercury wanted a compact convertible/roadster, and this little car was exactly that. They assembled the 1991 to 1994 Mercury Capri in Australia on the Mazda 323 base and sold it in the U.S. The cool looking two-seater roadster had 1.6-liter engine and front wheel drive. Despite being a decent car in all aspects, it failed to gain significant popularity, so they withdrew it from the market in 1994.
The Pacer is a car that drivers equally love and hate. However, it is legendary and widely recognizable. It was AMC’s effort to produce a compact car. But it turned out to be less compact than its competitors, and with numerous flaws. However, the design and the legend that revolves around its charm makes it one of the most quirky and iconic ’70s legends.
Emerging in the early ’70s, it was one of the symbols of America’s shifting to more compact and fuel-efficient cars. The Pacer is remembered for its crazy styling, six-cylinder engine and curved rear glass. Nobody will ever say it was a good-looking car, but everybody remembers this legendary American compact.
Today, almost all luxury brands have downsized its lineup of models, offering more affordable and compact versions of their big sedans. But, back in the early ’80s, this move was something unheard of and hard to understand. In those days, Cadillac was having an identity crisis. They sought a way to reinvent itself to fight their foreign competitors.
After long meetings with their product development managers, they decided to introduce a small Cadillac with a lower price to attract more customers. The problem was the Cadillac didn’t have a small platform. So, they turned to Chevrolet to borrow the modest Cavalier chassis, along with the small, slow four-cylinder engine.
Although Cadillac dressed the Cavalier with a unique trim, new colors and new name, the Cimarron, it wasn’t enough. The sales were poor, and Cadillac was under fire from brand loyalists for ruining their image. Still, most car fans remember the Cimarron today.
Mercury has used the name, “Comet,” in their history a few times. First, it was Mercury’s version of the compact Ford Falcon. Next, it was on an intermediate model and finally, they produced the Comet based on the compact Ford Maverick. Mercury presented the Comet in 1971, originally selling it as a two-door semi-fastback on a smaller chassis shared with the Maverick, Pinto and later, the Mustang II.
The base engine was a 100 HP 170 straight six. But demanding customers could get a 302 V8, turning the compact Comet into a ’70s muscle car. Although practically the same as the Maverick, the Comet had a bit more options, a higher price and a more upscale appearance.
Mercury Bobcat Wagon
Downsizing was the name of the game in the mid-70s, but Mercury went a step further to introduce a model they based on the ill-fated Ford Pinto. They called it the Bobcat, and presented it in 1974, selling it until 1980.
The car was practically the same as the Pinto. However, there was one interesting version Mercury named the Bobcat Wagon. It was a compact three-door station wagon with upscale features, better equipment and a woodgrain panel option. The Bobcat Wagon was a perfect little urban runabout with compact dimensions, but a lot of usable space.
So, did you find your favorite in this list of the 20 most interesting classic American compact cars ever made? With all the choices, it is hard to decide which one is the most interesting of all. Hopefully, the one you chose is easy to find and affordable, too.