1970s automotive zombies - CAFE comes again?
A recent appeals court decision, first reported in Detroit News, upholding the new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard, means a stricter set of fuel economy rules are now in place. The first time this happened, it was the 1970s and it resulted in models whose names were legendary squandering their infamy on choked down excuses for scrap metal or, worse, became re-badged foreign imports.
The 1970s were an odd time in American history. It was a time that saw the hippies emerge from counter-culture into disco dweebs and the muscular pony give way to the limp noodle. When the newly-minted Environmental Protection Agency's CAFE standards began in 1975, American automakers rushed to comply with the strict rules meant to get us off foreign oil imports and force fuel efficiency into a culture that, up to that point, had only rarely considered it.
To meet requirements, the Detroit 3 all downsized in a big way, compromising everything in the name of compliance. These are the automotive zombies created during that time.
1973 Datsun B210
We start the list with an import car that set the stage for the atrocities to come. The B210 had two things going for it: the OPEC gasoline shortage and a cheap price tag. Everything about this car was horrible. Its chief attribute was its ability to rust in even the driest of environments thanks to the paper-thin metal that made up its bodywork. Spilling coffee on the floor virtually guaranteed a hole in the pan by midday.
1975 AMC Pacer
Nearly forty years later, the name "Pacer" still means "loser" in automotive parlance. Possibly the ugliest car ever made, the Flying Fishbowl still appears to be a model for "smart" vehicles today, re-emerging in today's lame duck "efficiency" models just as it did then. Party on, Wayne.
1975 Chevrolet Corvette
Growing into a real sports car with refinement, the Corvette entered a hiccup in its 1975 emissions-regulated edition. Its engine was strangled down to 165 horsepower for its base option and its best offering (the L-82) had only 205 horsepower. Despite this, though, the '75 'Vette was still respectably powerful and exceptionally fast. The fact that it looked cool didn't hurt.
1975 Chevrolet Monza
This car was hit-and-miss with owners. The stock engine was a 78 horsepower 2.3-liter, 4-cylinder sputtering box. The original Wankel Rotary Engine to be showcased in this car was (rightfully) scrapped at the last minute.
1975 Mercury Bobcat
While the Pinto upon which the Bobcat was based had its issues, the car was at least doing exactly what it was intended to do: be cheap and sell well. The Bobcat, however, took the few good things the Pinto offered and tossed them overboard in favor of being bigger, heavier, and more expensive.