The often maligned 1970s produced plenty of truly memorable cars, from the Pontiac Trans Am to the Porsche 911 Turbo. These aren’t those cars. These are the obscure and forgotten (but still oddly appealing) afterthoughts of the decade. Here are five worth remembering:
1. 1975-1980 Chevrolet Monza
The Monza did a good job of hiding its Chevy Vega roots, although GM insiders still persist in calling it the “Italian Vega” because it cribbed so many styling cues from Ferrari. It was actually a very good-looking rear-wheel-drive sport coupe that was available with a variety of engines, including three V8s, a 262, 305 and 350. The latter two were only for California and high-altitude markets, but the 305 with 140hp was the one to have, with the other two engines making 110 and 120 hp. While more than 700,000 Monzas were built, very few seem to have survived.
2. Opel GT
The Opel GT sported mini C3 Corvette styling courtesy of Chevy stylist Clare MacKichan. Even the instrument panels look similar. Power came from Opel’s optional 1.9-liter “high-cam” four-cylinder engine, with the smaller 1.1-liter standard but rarely seen in the U.S. Performance with the 1.9-liter was quite decent, with the car solidly outperforming cars like the MGB GT and the carbureted BMW 2002. Buick dealers were happy to have the car in the U.S., as it gave them a sportier product with which to lure young buyers into the showroom. It was the Datsun 240Z, however, that spelled the end of the Opel GT; it simply couldn’t compete in price or performance. Few people today remember the curious little mini-Corvette.
3. 1970-78 Mazda RX-2
The RX-2 was Mazda’s first attempt at selling a rotary powered car in large volumes. It was an attractive little thing that did without so many of the odd styling gimmicks employed by Japanese cars of the day. The Rotary was powerful and torque and could surprise its share of V-8 powered Detroit iron at a stop light, but at the end of the day, the rotary was as thirsty as a Detroit V-8, negating any advantage there. Still, the RX-2 is technically interesting and rare today in a climate of growing collector interest in early Japanese cars.
4. 1973-75 Pontiac Grand Am Colonnade coupe
The first car to carry the Grand Am name (which was an amalgam of Grand Prix and Trans Am) was a big, thirsty, traditional American personal luxury car with a few Euro touches in the seating department and in the real wood interior accents. It also had a soft Enduro nose that gave it a unique and sporty look compared to its more traditional A-body cousins, the Buick Century andOlds Cutlass Supreme. The ’73 model was the swan song of real horsepower with 400 and 455 engines available that both made well over 200hp. There was even a rather unpopular manual transmission option. The Oil Crisis put sales into a tail spin, but the unique sight of a Grand Am today can give still another reason to miss Pontiac.
5. 1981-83 AMC Eagle SX/4
The Eagle SX/4 was based on the AMC Spirit, which was essentially a masterfully restyled Gremlin. And while the Audi Quattro coupé generally gets all the credit for marrying all-wheel drive to a two-door car with sporting pretensions (the Jensen FF actually did it first in 1967), the little Eagle SX/4 appeared at right around the same time the Quattro was introduced in Europe. Interestingly, it was available with a five-speed manual transmission. Cynics might poke fun at the Eagle SX/4’s high ground clearance and dismiss it as a “Joe Dirt” Quattro, but the little Eagle was a particularly impressive car given the fact that AMC’s R&D budget was a fraction of what the Volkswagen/Audi group had to play with.