In 1971, dark clouds were on the horizon for muscle car enthusiasts. Tightening government regulations, high insurance rates, and environmental standards attacked the segment. Manufacturers understood they had to act fast to save the market. So the first thing they did was introduce economy versions of their popular muscle cars. They gave their cars smaller engines but interesting designs to maintain appearance and popularity. One of those models is the 1971 Chevelle “Heavy Chevy.”
It was an interesting one-year-only muscle car positioned below the Chevelle SS lineup. The Heavy Chevy came with a 200 HP 307 CID V8 engine, and you could also opt for a 245 HP 350 CID V8 engine. The most powerful version was the 300 HP 402 CID V8. If you wanted a top-of-the-line 454 big-block V8, you had to go the SS route. Although the Heavy Chevy was a popular model and they built over 6,500 of them in one year, it’s quite rare today.
Back in the late ’70s, the American performance car segment was a shadow of its former glory. Tight ecological and safety standards killed those high compression engines and ruined performance. Although there were a few surviving models, “performance” was just a word people used in magazine ads. But in 1977, everything changed when Pontiac introduced the Can-Am. The Can-Am was a one-year-only model and the last real muscle car. It had big-block power packed into its unique body style. Under the hood scoop sourced from the Firebird Trans Am, a big 455 engine was delivering 200 HP. That was more than any other muscle car on the market at the moment.
The Can-Am package consisted of special rear window louvers, rear spoilers, and optional extras. Pontiac introduced the Can-Am in early 1977 and the market responded well. Pontiac received between 5,000 and 10,000 reservations but only sold 1,377 of them. The problem was that the outside contractor that assembled the Can-Am suffered equipment failure. They had to wait three months for the new equipment, but Pontiac couldn’t wait, so they canceled all orders. This killed the Can-Am, and they didn’t offer this model again until 1978.
They conceived the Mercury Cougar as a luxury pony car, building it on a stretched Mustang platform. This meant all the engines they installed in the Mustang could easily fit into the Cougar as well.
In 1969, Ford introduced the Boss 302, and Mercury got its own version too. They called it the Cougar Boss 302. Strangely, Ford didn’t widely advertise this highly-capable pony car, so it remained obscure. Mercury produced just 169 of them, and it’s a mystery how many have survived to this day.
The biggest news for 1969 was the introduction of the Barracuda 440 V8. It was a monster pony car with the biggest engine ever installed under the hood of a car in that segment. The Barracuda 440 produced 375 HP and a massive 480 lb-ft of torque. This made it fast but also hard to launch due to loads of wheel spin.
Due to the engine’s tight fit, there wasn’t enough space for a power steering pump. That meant Barracuda 440 owners had to use their muscles to turn this compact but overly powerful car. Plymouth only made a handful of these models, which makes them very rare today.