Ah, the 1970’s. Sure, it’s fun to look back with rose colored glasses and fondly remember what little good came from that decade. Plenty of great music, some classic films, and enough pop culture references to keep us entertained until the 2070’s. But let’s not forget about the bad stuff, folks. For every “2112” by Rush, there was an “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” by Rupert Holmes to keep it company. For every “Star Wars” there was a “Blacula” standing behind it.
But forget about the feathered hair and disco suits for a second. What really suffered in the 1970’s was design. Especially industrial design. From bland and depressing architecture to avocado colored appliances, the 70’s were a train wreck for the eyes. Nothing illustrates this point more than the state of the American automobile.
Cars in this country started out pretty cool. Picture the Chevy Bellaire from the 50's, those old timey Fords and Dusenburgs from the 20’s and 30’s, and all those classic muscle cars given birth in the 60’s. I can’t speak for the quality or reliability of those early American rides, but a lot of them sure look pretty durn sweet.
Smash cut to the 70’s. Somehow we managed to transform mean looking muscle cars into bland sedans the size of cruise ships. And things didn’t get any better in the 80’s or even early 90’s. Let’s not forget about that.
Plenty of new cars were born and then died in the 70’s and 80’s. The real crime was keeping the name of a classic and allowing the bad taste of the designer in a leisure suit to tarnish its reputation forever.
Let’s take a look at a few of Detroit’s finest that started out as cool cars and ended up as laughing stocks.
1. Oldsmobile Cutlass 1961-1999
When I was a kid growing up in the 80's, Oldmobiles, Cadillacs, and Buicks were considered "old people cars." Hell, the word OLD is in the name, for Pete's sake.
Little did I know at the time, Olds started out as pretty cool cars. Take the first generation Cutlass for example.
I'm not sure if the teens of the time would think the early 60's Cutlass was "square" or "keen" but I think it's pretty cool. The third generation from 1968 to 1972 is when GM decided to put a little muscle in Cutlass and the designs reflected it. After all, you can't drop in a 455 and make it look like grocery getter.
Alas, 1973 is when it all went horribly wrong when the fourth generation hit from 1973 to 1977.
Seriously, how can this be the same car? It's like they had a contest to see who could come up with the most dramatic horrible design change in just one model year. But don't worry. It got even worse as the decade marched on.
The worst part about the nose dive from bad ass muscle to hideous sedan that creepy uncle Roger drove? It never bounced back. When the Cutlass name was finally retired after 40 years, they dropped this piece of crap on us and snuck out the back door.
2. Ford Thunderbird 1955-2005
The Thunderbird started it's run in the mid-fifties as a very classy looking coupe to compete with Chevy's hot new Corvette. It was sporty without being over the top and I'm sure it turned a few heads on it's way to the drive-in or sock hop.
In 1958, the T-Bird grew in size considerably when the suits upstairs decided to add back seats to widen the market. Regardless, it still looked good as the 50's grew to a close. Especially when you parked it on the deck of a pool for some reason.
1961 is when the Thunderbird design took a turn for the slightly strange when it got a bullet-like jacket. Still, nothing to get too concerned about. A little dated when you look at it today but I'd still drive one.
They squared things off again in 1964 and in my humble opinion, improved the design a bit.
That's when the hippies showed up and I start to get concerned. At the end of the 60's and into the early 70's the T-Bird was definitely getting bloated and looking strange. Still, the large gaping grill and swooping lines on the front quarter panel is sort of interesting looking. I guess.
And that's when things go horribly wrong again. In 1973 again. The Thunderbird was beaten so severely with the ugly stick I'm sure it made children cry and induced vomiting on more than one occasion.
Hard to believe people actually went into dealership and bought these things of their own free will. Ford kept pushing the Thunderbird into the 80's and 90's with more bad design before the T-Bird was finally retired in 2005. Ironically, the last generation was inspired by the first generation from the 50's but it just wasn't the same.
3. Dodge Charger 1966-Present
Wait a minute, what's the Charger doing on this list? It's always been cool, right? Oh, no. In between the time it was painted orange, racing through the dirt roads of Hazzard county, and the HEMI powered muscular sedans still being sold today, there was a little thing called The Seventies. And even the mighty Charger took a beating.
The Charger hit the streets in 1966 with a somewhat subdued yet original design thanks to the huge grill up front and matching headlight covers.
The second generation came out in 1968 for just two short years. Enough time to become an instant classic still regarded today as one of the iconic muscle cars in America.
Enter 1970. Nervous? The Charger got a tweak, but it's not as bad as you might imagine. A step in the wrong direction? Sure, but from 1970 to 1974 it teetered on the edge of cool and was still passable.
Aaaaaand here comes 1975. I could describe in detail just how back the Charger plunged into homeliness, but as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Dodge tried again in the 1980's by releasing the Charger as a subcompact hatchback. With a 2.2 liter four-banger. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Is it any wonder GM, Ford, and Chrysler took such a beating in the 70's and lost market share to Japan? Mind you, this is just three examples of cars that brought shame to this great country. There dozens of others from the big three that were just as ugly as the ones I listed above. What's your favorite? Share in the comments below.