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25 Hated 1970s Cars That Are Better Than Drivers Remember

Cameron EittreimDecember 28, 2021

The ’70s were a great time for the automotive industry – and also one of the worst. As the fuel embargo caused gas prices to skyrocket, many consumers were forced to switch their tastes to lightweight and compact vehicles. Automakers also had to adjust the way cars were designed and powered. No longer were the large V8 engines of the past the way of the future. Instead, the automakers had to configure new designs and technology that would make 1970s cars compatible with the new smog regulations. Taking a look back at these cars is an example of what made the automotive industry great back then.

But some vehicles seemingly flopped in the face of harsh critics and consumers such as the Ford Pinto. These cars were designed to be the future and more energy-efficient, but that didn’t happen. Many of the new smog technology made cars less efficient and less reliable. We looked back at some 1970s vehicles that were unpopular back then but aren’t bad cars now that time passed. In fact, quite a few of these 1970s cars have become instant classics and are worth more than ever before.

Photo Credit: AMC

25: AMC Gremlin

The Gremlin was a car with an awful-looking design and not much fanfare behind it. When new, it was the product of a car company that didn’t have much money to afford research and development. As such, the car was relegated to many borrowed technologies from the AMC corporate parts bin. The performance of the Gremlin wasn’t admirable. Then again, most hatchbacks from this period weren’t exactly performance powerhouses (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Hot Rod

As with most car designs from AMC in the 1970s, the exterior appearance was radical. Even though the Gremlin was a hatchback, the model was spacious inside. Even still, consumers were concerned about the questionable reliability and build quality. AMC was a company on the fritz and the Gremlin was a prime example of this questionable period in the company’s timeline. Nowadays, the Gremlin has become a sort of collector’s item and commands a high price tag.

Chevrolet Vega GT
Photo Credit: GM

24: Chevrolet Vega

Chevrolet is one of the most iconic automotive brands in the world. But when it comes to the nameplates released over the years, the Vega is at the bottom of the list. As enthusiasts are concerned, the Vega was a flop for the brand, but in reality, the car had some unique attributes. The design of the Vega was initially ugly when you compared it to everything else on the market. But as time has gone on and the appetite for classic cars has grown, the Vega has become a sort of collector’s item (via Auto Blog).

Chevrolet Vega GT
Photo Credit: GM

It’s not uncommon to see a Vega get a larger engine swapped into it. The large selection of aftermarket parts has made the Vega fairly easy to modify. The platform on which the Vega is based has a dedicated community of enthusiasts behind it. Finding replacement parts and aftermarket upgrades isn’t hard at all. The design of the Vega was considered costly for GM in the 1970s, but now the car is a sort of collector’s item.

Photo Credit: Ford

23: Ford Pinto

The Pinto was a big gamble for Ford because it represented a completely new type of automobile. Before the fuel embargo for the 1970s, cars were large and in charge. But with high gas prices came a new type of vehicle design. The compact Pinto was designed to compete with Japanese imports coming onto the market. These cars were much more fuel-efficient and offered a better bang for the buck. Ford engineered the Pinto to be a strong contender in every segment (via Car Gurus).

Photo Credit: Ford

When it comes to controversy, Pinto was tied up in one of the biggest controversies of the 1970s. The gas tank was designed in a way that made it susceptible to explosion if the car was hit from the rear end. This caused thousands of deaths, and Ford was found liable. To this day, the Pinto is remembered for the gas tank explosions and lawsuits that followed, but the car has also become a collector’s item. It’s not uncommon to see a Pinto with a modern V8 engine swapped into it.

Photo Credit: Bring a Trailer

22: AMC Pacer

In addition to the Gremlin, there was also another AMC hatchback from this period. The Pacer was sort of a last-ditch effort for AMC to try and regain lost market share. As gas prices increased, the company needed to sell more fuel-efficient vehicles. A hatchback was the natural progression from the large vehicles of the past. The Pacer had a unique design that was far ahead of the curve in terms of competition (via Go Motors).

Photo Credit: Bring a Trailer

Hatchbacks were a new type of automotive segment and gained traction with consumers. Fuel efficiency and aerodynamics were two major selling factors behind the rise of the hatchback. AMC was an early pioneer in this segment, with the Gremlin and the Pacer following suit with an equally as polarizing design. The Pacer didn’t reach any major success for AMC, and Chrysler purchased the company later down the road.

Photo Credit: Ford

21: Ford Mustang Cobra II

The Ford Mustang is perhaps one of the most iconic automotive brands in the world. However, like most automotive brands in the 1970s, the Mustang was also hit hard by the rising fuel cost. The Mustang II is the only Mustang ever based on a compact car platform. It shared its platform with the Pinto and this caused a lot of controversy among traditional Mustang enthusiasts (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Ford

The Mustang II wasn’t a bad car, but it fell short in many key areas. That meant buyers who wanted a Mustang had to look elsewhere. The sales of the Mustang II were poor, so you don’t generally see a lot of them on the road anymore. But in recent years, the fact that the car is a Mustang has made the price start to creep up. Nowadays enthusiasts are looking to take the Mustang II and swap a modern Ford Coyote motor into it.

Photo Credit: Chrysler

20: Plymouth Sapporo

This was a rare car meant to take on Toyota. The Plymouth Sapporo was released in the 1970s to compete with the Corolla. What happened is that the car fell short in almost every area. The “silent shaft” four-cylinder engine was supposed to be a much more refined motor. But in reality with all the new smog equipment that automakers had to bolt onto the engine, the performance was badly hampered (via Hemmings).

Photo Credit: Chrysler

Then we move onto the interior of the car, which was very barebones at the time. Plymouth did what they could to make the car as comfortable as possible. But in the end, the Sapporo is just another blip in the storied history of Plymouth. Surprisingly enough, the car has gained traction in the enthusiast community in recent years.

Photo Credit: Mecum

19: Chevy Chevette

The Chevette is probably the most frowned upon Chevy model in the history of the brand. The underpowered hatchback was universally panned when it first hit the market. Consumers were confused why GM would market a stripped-down compact car like this one. The Chevette lacked any real sense of performance or refinement. Take a step back, and the car was also not the most fuel-efficient during this time (via The Truth About Cars).

Photo Credit: GM

Nevertheless, the Chevette was sold for many years as the entry-level Chevy. In recent years, the car has gained steam as a collectible. There aren’t many of these things left on the roadways, as most of them ended up rusting away or breaking down. If you can get your hands on a clean, low mileage 1970s Chevette, the car is a showpiece.

Photo Credit: Auto Evolution

18: Volvo 262C

Volvo has released plenty of unique coupes and sedans over the years. But the Volvo 262C was the first full-fledged luxury coupe from the company. With its rock-solid design and spacious interior, the automotive press lauded the 262C. However, the car didn’t do well among Volvo enthusiasts. Sales were never impressive, and the 262C has become a relic from this era if you can find one (via Hemmings).

Photo Credit: Auto Evolution

Although the design of the car was panned when it was first released, it has since become a collector’s item. The 262C looks like the modern Volvo’s that we found later in the 1990s, but at the time the car wasn’t popular. Nowadays, the 262C can be found for a great deal, and you get to drive a vintage Volvo.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

17: Mercury Bobcat

The Bobcat is the corporate clone of the Ford Pinto and was a failure when it first came out. There were already a lot of controversies that surrounded the Pinto because of the fuel tank fires caused by a faulty design. From an exterior design perspective, the Bobcat wasn’t the best-looking car on the road (via Motorcities).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The hatchback design coupled with the lackluster performance made the car a paltry alternative to the Japanese options. Likewise, the Bobcat lacked any real performance or luxury appointments. This was around the time when the Mercury brand faced increasing competition and their cars were lacking.

Stutz Bearcat
Photo Credit: Mecum

16: Stutz Blackhawk

This isn’t your run-of-the-mill ordinary car from the decade that changed automobiles. The Blackhawk was a special edition car that was unique even back then. With features like shag carpeting and a rear trunk-mounted spare tire, it’s easy to see why this car stands out from the crowd. The sales for the Stutz Blackhawk were never great, and this can partly be contributed to the fact that there was a fuel crisis at the time (via Below The Radar).

Photo Credit: Mecum

The Blackhawk was a novelty item when a new start-up released that couldn’t gain traction. The car had a polarizing design that was reminiscent of Cadillac and other luxury cars from the same time period. Nowadays, the Blackhawk is a major collector’s item and has gained a solid following. When the Blackhawk was new, consumers couldn’t appreciate the car, but the car is now more relevant than ever.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

15: Chrysler Cordoba

There were many luxury coupes that came out through the 1970s, and Chrysler released the Cordoba. The car actually hit the market to a fair amount of fanfare, but was quickly disabused once drivers figured out the shortcomings. The Cordoba was lacking in quality and reliability, and this caused an issue with buyers. Considering the car had a premium price tag and was billed as a premium vehicle, this wasn’t satisfactory (via Medium).

Chrysler Cordoba
Photo Credit: Hot Rod

Chrysler would redesign the front clip of the car and make various changes over time, but it wasn’t enough to save the Cordoba. The car was relegated to the junk heap early in life, and you’ll seldom see one on the road anymore. But the Cordoba wasn’t all bad, and nowadays this makes an excellent classic car because of the affordable price. While cars with name brand recognition like the Monte Carlo rack up high price tags, the Cordoba can be had for a little bit of nothing.

Photo Credit: Mecum

14: AMC Hornet 360

AMC was in a tough spot toward the end of the 1970s, and if the Hornet is any indication of that, then the reason is obvious. The cars had no style, and performance and reliability were lacking when you compared these vehicles to their domestic counterparts. The Hornet did have some unique features and its 360 V8 was one of the better engines to come out of AMC (via Curbside Classic).

AMC Hornet SC/360
Photo Credit: Car Domain

Nevertheless, the car never achieved the type of popularity the brand had hoped for. The stubby stature of the car put it head-on against the Chevy Nova. Consumers were far more preferential to the GM option because of the brand recognition. The AMC brand was just holding on to the Hornet wasn’t enough. Nowadays, though, the Hornet has made a resurgence, as it’s quite easy to swap out a GM V8 engine into it.

Photo Credit: Hot Rod

13: 1970 Dodge Dart Swinger

Opinions differ when it comes to the Dart. The car has a loyal following but there are those who downright despise it. Nevertheless, there were a few incarnations of the car that have come and gone. We won’t talk about the recent Dart model which cost Chrysler a billion dollars only to flop. Instead we’ll look back at the 1970 Dodge Dart Swinger. This rare model was designed to appeal to young professionals who wanted something different (via Barn Finds).

Photo Credit: Hot Rod

The vinyl roof was the most noticeable standout feature of the Dart. But the powertrain was also very powerful for the time. Of course, the rising fuel cost caused sales of the Dart to plummet almost overnight. The car had a distinct look that not many buyers were enthusiastic about. Nowadays, though, the 1970 Dart Swinger is the collector’s item and a rare Mopar collectors covet.

Photo Credit: Car Gurus

12: Chevrolet El Camino

The El Camino never caught on with consumers when it was new. It was sort of that novelty car that a few drivers drove to get noticed. With the abundance of horsepower and seemingly rare SS model, the El Camino was a captivating vehicle. GM would keep the El Camino around for decades, but the model never became a sales success. The styling and the cramped cabin made for a car that wasn’t practical (via Car Gurus).

Photo Credit: Car Gurus

Needless to say, El Camino did well in the afterlife, though. This car has become a high-level collector’s item and there are very few to go around. The El Camino is highly coveted by performance car builders and those who wanted the car as a kid. Now these people can afford to buy their dream cars and El Caminos are being snatched up left and right.

GMC Spirit
Photo Credit: Bring a Trailer

11: GMC Sprint

Even more confusing than the El Camino was the Sprint, because at that time, GMC had never sold a passenger car. In fact, the brand has never sold a passenger car other than the Sprint. The Sprint didn’t have differences from the Chevy El Camino, other than the grill design and some badging. Drivers weren’t too persuaded by the cloned car, as the El Camino still remained the sales leader (via Car Gurus).

Photo Credit: Bring a Trailer

Today, the Sprint has become a novelty item because of the GMC badging and the fact that the El Camino is rising in price. You could ordinarily find a Sprint for far less than the El Camino, but that will change soon. The rarity of the Sprint and the fact that it has GMC badging will continue to spike the price up.

Photo Credit: Motor Trend

10: Volkswagen Type 181

Also known as “The Thing,” the Volkswagen Type 181 has become more popular in recent years. The car has a distinct look unlike any of the Volkswagen models before it. The almost military styling of the car was a shock from the vehicles that had come from Volkswagen prior. The Type 181 had most of the same underpinnings as the Volkswagens that came before it except for its styling (via Hagerty).

Photo Credit: Motor Trend

At first, the thing wasn’t as rare as say a Volkswagen bus or a Beetle, but nowadays these things are becoming rarer. You’ll seldom see one out on the road, and if you do, it will cost you a penny. There are also many upgrades that you can get for these cars without having to spend a ton of money.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

9: Subaru Brat

The Subaru brand had a tough run initially out of the gate as the cars weren’t very aesthetically pleasing. But functionality is where the brand truly shined, and the Brat is evidence of this fact. The car was sort of a miniature Chevy, El Camino, and had many unique features. The Brat had a flat engine, which was one of the unique selling features that Subaru cars had (via Subaru Car Blog).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

On top of being very fuel efficient, the Brat also had an AWD design that made it versatile. The truck bed was more than spacious enough for a trip to the hardware store, and this made the Brat popular. Although the Brat wasn’t popular at first nowadays, the car has become a hot commodity. The unique design and versatility have made the Brat a car that most outdoorsy types want to acquire.

1979 Ford LTD Country Squire
Photo Credit: Ford

8: Ford Country Squire

There was a time when station wagons were the preferred form of family transportation. The styling of the Ford Country Squire is iconic because of the movie National Lampoons Christmas. The styling of the Country Squire was large and in charge, with lots of wooden paneling and white wall tires. Back then, this was what separated a station wagon from the rest of the pack, and the styling stood out (via Bring a Trailer).

Photo Credit: Mecum

Initially, these cars weren’t that popular among collectors, other than a movie reference, but that’s been changing. As more adults who grew up around these vehicles get older, they want nostalgia. The Country Squire will always be a popular station wagon, but that popularity is beginning to gain traction even more.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

7: Mercury Cougar

The Cougar has gone through many changes over its lifespan, but the 1970s were an especially confusing time. The car started sharing almost all its propositions with the Mustang, only to be redesigned later on. The mid-1970s were especially strange, as the car moved away from the traditional Mustang styling of the past. The car had a large front fascia and this was elongated by the rear (via Repair Pal).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Style-wise, the Cougar was no longer the unique car it once was, and enthusiasts started to question what was going on with the car. Ford was having a tough time placing the Cougar in its own unique spot in the market. Nowadays, the car has made a resurgence because of its Mustang underpinnings and unique styling.

Photo Credit: Motor Trend

6: Opel GT

Perhaps one of the most unsung heroes of the 1970s, the Opel GT has the nickname ‘Baby Vette’ for a reason. The styling of the car was eerily similar to the Corvette, and this only exaggerated the fact that the performance was on-par. Take one look at the Open GT, and it’s almost like you are looking at a Corvette model from the same time period. The designers were very influenced by the design of the Corvette, and this poured over into the Opel GT (via Car Gurus).

Photo Credit: Motor Trend

The styling of the car coupled with the performance made it a great car. But the price was more than people were willing to pay for it. The fuel crisis of the 1970s also changed consumer tastes when it came to sports cars. But now the novelty of the design and performance has made the Opel GT a sought-after bargain.

Photo Credit: Motor Trend

5: Ford Ranchero

As with most battles between the big three automakers, the Ranchero was the answer to the Chevy El Camino. The problem is that the car wasn’t much better than the Chevy version, and it didn’t give consumers much reason to make the switch. The Ranchero was underpowered, and it wasn’t reliable. Back then, the styling was also different than the El Camino and didn’t resonate with buyers (via Car Survey).

Photo Credit: Motor Trend

But that’s okay, because the Ranchero has made a resurgence in recent years. The car has become more popular than ever and prices are starting to rise. It’s not difficult to swap out a modern engine and have a unique muscle car that will garner a lot of stares. When it comes to unique Ford models, the Ranchero is at the top of the list.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

4: Cadillac Coupe DeVille

What’s known as one of the last massive luxury cars, the ’70s Coupe DeVille was the epiphany of luxury. The styling of the car was big and bold at a time when these things were the norm for cars. The fuel crisis of the 1970s made the car less popular, because it was a gas guzzler, and ultimately GM had to downsize (via Notorious Luxury).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

But among collectors, the Coupe DeVille has held a solid position in the market. In recent years, these cars are becoming harder to come by, and the styling as iconic as you can get. There will never be a car like this one again and that makes the Coupe DeVille even more enticing.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

3: BMW E3 3.0Si

BMW was just getting into its own in the 1970s and the E3 3.0Si was evidence of that. The styling of the car was about as noticeable as possible. But this was at a time when cars on the road were large and the E3 was anything but that. The performance is what made the 3.0Si stand out from the crowd, and to this day it still holds its own (via Car Review).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Perhaps the BMW E3 3.0Si is responsible for giving BMW the slogan of ‘The ultimate driving machine,’ because it did it well. Although you used to find these for a bargain, the value has been spiking up. As more enthusiasts seek out the M-Series cars, the E3 is a notable exceptional that offers great performance.

Photo Credit: Plymouth

2: Plymouth Arrow

For many automotive enthusiasts, the Plymouth brand is well-regarded for the performance cars of the past. But the company had a pickup truck that very few people remember. The Arrow was based on the Datsun truck of the same time period. The styling was unique, and it offered many standout features. Obviously, the design was shared with the Dodge D-50, but the Arrow had its own unique styling and badging (via Barn Finds).

Photo Credit: Plymouth

In recent years, these little trucks have become more of a collector’s item. The Plymouth brand was phased out in 2001 and it made most models collectible. Not to mention that most people don’t realize that Plymouth sold a pickup truck. You’ll seldom find one of these on the road but if you can, it’s well worth it.

1972 Citroën SM
Photo Credit: Bring a Trailer

1: Citroën SM

When it comes to unique novelties on the road, there is no car that fits that bill more than the Citroën SM. The uniquely designed car had all the makings of a top notch luxury car. The driving characteristics of the car are far more unique than you’d expect. The suspension is powered by a special type of liquid. All these features combined to make one of the most notable luxury cars on the road even today (via Hagerty).

Photo Credit: Bring a Trailer

The car was recently featured on ‘Jay Leno’s Garage,’ and it’s also part of his personal collection. The unique styling coupled with the swift driving characteristics has made the car a notable piece of automotive history. The values on these cars will continue to rise as time goes on, and it creates a unique novelty item.

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