In the late ’60s, Opel, the German brand, was one of the most popular economy car manufacturers in Europe. Since General Motors owned the company, its design department approved and even styled all of the Opel models. That meant that most Opels looked like scaled-down versions of Chevrolets or Buicks. That was exactly the case with the GT, a sporty-yet-affordable coupe Opel presented in 1968.
Opel needed a sports car to base on the Kadett, its entry-level model. So in the mid-’60s, Opel got approval from GM to introduce such a vehicle. The design was heavily influenced by the Corvette and the GM concepts from the mid-’60s. Of course, with its 1.3 and 1.9-liter four-cylinder engines, the Opel GT lacked the power and performance of the Corvette, but it had the looks with its fastback rear end.
After the debacle of the Chevrolet Corvair in the ’60s, they were reluctant to enter the compact market again. But since the segment had grown, Chevrolet didn’t have a choice. So, they revealed the new Chevrolet Vega as a 1971 model. The Vega was a compact, modernly-styled model. And it came in three basic body types, a two-door coupe, a two-door sedan, and a three-door wagon.
The front end resembled closely the design of the 1971 Camaro with a similar grille, headlights and bumper. But in 1975, Chevrolet introduced the interesting although not as successful Vega Cosworth model. It featured a high revving 2.0-liter four-cylinder twin-cam motor producing 110 HP. Although it wasn’t particularly fast or strong, the Vega Cosworth was attractive with its interesting black and gold paint and unique wheels. They produced the model in cooperation with the British engine engineering company Cosworth famous for their Formula One engines.
One of the coolest-looking, most exclusive Citroens ever produced was the gorgeous SM, debuting in 1970. This elegant coupe had some interesting features. When Citroen presented it to the public, it made the competition look and feel outdated. Through various stock market transactions, the company became the owner of Maserati. Citroen thought it would be great if they could somehow use Maserati’s powerful engines and sports car know-how to produce a luxurious coupe with signature Citroen design and style.
The aesthetics were clearly French with its self-leveling suspension and front-wheel drive. But instead of the underpowered four-cylinder engine, they added the 2.7-liter V6 Maserati engine, providing the power. Citroen marketed the SM in the USA, selling more examples than in Europe. In America, the SM competed against the Mercedes SLC or Cadillac Eldorado in the personal luxury segment. Soon, car buyers praised its ride quality, smooth engine, and style. Unfortunately, the oil crisis and economic recession killed the model. Citroen ceased production in 1974 after producing more than 12,000 examples.
Virtually unknown to U.S. car enthusiasts, the Audi 100 Coupe was an elegant, front-wheel-drive model. Audi produced it from 1969, selling it throughout 1976. Audi based it on its biggest model, adding a totally different fastback coupe body. Since they left the mechanics unchanged, the 100 Coupe didn’t have much performance. The power came from a rather anemic 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine.
However, the main thing about this car was its appearance, because the 100 Coupe looked much more upscale and expensive than it really was. With four headlights, a sporty silhouette, and chrome trim, buyers considered the Audi 100 Coupe to be an upscale proposition on the European market.
Chevrolet presented the Monza in 1975 as their newest compact model. It came with a modern design, updated equipment and a wide arrange of versions and trim levels. The Monza succeeded the Vega, selling well in the U.S., as well as abroad. However, the lack of a performance version was evident since the compact, relatively light platform could benefit from a powerful engine. But Chevrolet didn’t think a performance or muscle car version would have a big market, so they didn’t bother developing it. However, Chevy contracted an outside company, Michigan Auto Techniques, to make a muscle car Monza for 1977. They called it the Monza Mirage, and they produced only 4,000 of them. The Mirage featured a 305 V8 with just 145 HP.
The design was quite striking with a white body, front and rear spoilers, and special wheels. The paint scheme was patriotic with red, blue and white stripes all over the body. But Chevrolet realized there was still a market for sporty variants. So they decided to introduce the Monza Spyder for 1978. This left Michigan Auto Techniques without a contract for 1978, sending the Monza Mirage to the automotive history books. Today, only a handful have survived, so if you find one, try to restore it since it’s a rare, forgotten muscle car.
The 1979 model year brought several major improvements to the Mustang range. First, they presented a new model featuring a modern design, updated chassis, and wider track. Second, they introduced an interesting performance version called the Cobra.
Although not as powerful or crazy as those Cobra Jets of before, the 1979 Cobra featured a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine with 140 HP. And although this was pathetic even by the standards of the day, it was a step in the right direction. In fact, it helped the American performance market finally start to recover.
The SV-1 was the brainchild of automotive entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin. He produced just 3,000 of them in Canada from 1974 to 1975. But for a short while, they marketed the SV-1 as the best, most advanced American sports car. But as soon as the first cars started rolling down the assembly line, it was clear the SV-1 was not as good as drivers anticipated it would be.
The idea was to produce a safe and fast sports car as the name SV-1, which stood for Safety Vehicle One, suggested. Bricklin designed the car with big bumpers, warning sensors, and power Gullwing doors. Although it didn’t have any cigarette lighters, it had an integrated roll cage and lots of other things. Unfortunately, all those extras made it heavy and not agile. The power came from a 360 AMC V8 engine, which wasn’t powerful. Even though the company later turned to the 351 Ford V8, it still couldn’t deliver any real performance numbers.
The Pontiac Fiero was the most advanced American production model according to the standards of the day. The customers were hyped by the appearance of the Fiero with its cool and modern design. Thanks to the advanced technology, the initial response was more than good.
It was a bold move for Pontiac to introduce such a compact, rear-wheel-drive car with the engine behind the driver. But then they paired it up with a five-speed manual transaxle gearbox. However, one of the Fiero’s main problems was that it was too slow. With just 93 HP and a 0 to 60 mph time of over 10 seconds, it was painfully slow.