Monday, June 27, 2011

Weird Cars of the 70s

Hello. Today we're exploring the weird world of 1970s cars. Why? Because--they were so entertaining. Well into the mid-80s, these cars were still surviving on California's temperate-climate roads. But now they're only viewable in the windmills of our minds--unless a neighbor happens to have one of these in the driveway (usually not driven much). Then it's a flashback to a strange, inventive time, where experimental, affordable vehicles were treated as viable transportation.

The AMC Pacer was wide. How wide? This wide:

This supposedly made it more stable, comfortable and cool. Unfortunately no one thought it was cool, except for my Aunt Maris, who had the wagon with the wood insets. It made a wide impression when she came to visit.

We would call this her "flying saucer" car. Because it looked almost as wide as long. This bummed her out, but we actually liked her Pacer. It is cool to try something new, even if it's extra wide. AutoMoments has an intriguing and thorough history of the Pacer here.

AMC again. This time it's the Gremlin. The Gremlin was infamous for looking like a piece of garbage on wheels. But it had a distinct little gremlin mascot logo, and as kids--we liked that. The car your kids want is probably not the car you should get. But they were cheap--real cheap. Don't see these much anymore (because they have all since disintegrated). They were once a fixture on California roads for many years, especially in lime green for some reason.

The Ford Pinto makes this TWO shitty cars in one commercial.

The Volkswagen Thing. You could change it up: take the top off, the doors and windows off, fold the windshield down. It seemed like more of Matchbox toy than an actual road-worthy vehicle. Still popular in Mexico and among collectors in Europe and the U.S.

For reasons known only to him, my dad once bought a turquoise Volkswagen Dasher station wagon. Although marketed as an affordable "family car," the back seat had metal springs that my brother and I could feel poking into our backs through the vinyl seats--like sitting against an old junkyard mattress. It had a permanent rattle too, resembling the sound of an open case of beer with the cans rolling around at all times.

My dad eventually gifted this car to me when I moved to San Francisco and having dealt with the corrupt Muni bus system at all hours of the day and night for two years straight, even the Dasher was an improvement. That permanent rattle was my entry into the wonderful world of car ownership. Eventually it couldn't pass a smog test, so I couldn't legally register it. I sold it to my friend Bill, who told me he had always wanted to buy a car for $100 even. That Dasher made his consumer dream come true.

This will give you an idea of the best-forgotten legacy of the VW Dasher. Tagline: "Volkswagen Does It Again." Yes, they certainly have.

Here's a manual wagon with the AM/FM stereo option in the much sought-after "crusty-egg yolk" color scheme. Apparently someone forgot it was in their garage because it only has 22,000 miles on it.

I'm going to get an angry comment for this, but the 70s-era Chevy El Camino car-truck is still completely weird-looking to me. Why make a truck with the body of a car? Just admit you're driving a truck, confused car-consumer. There's a solid-brown one of these in a driveway near my kid's school and every morning when I pass by, I think: that's one weird utility-vehicle concept. Anyway, I kind of like these too because the resemble a child's model-car experiment gone awry--except they're REAL.

Update: Took the kid to see "Cars 2" today. Imagine our surprise to find a lime-green Pacer, a tangerine Gremlin and a much-maligned Hugo all have prominent roles in the Pixar sequel. John Lassiter remembers the 70s well.

1 comment:

Carson Wininger said...

The Gremlin is touted to be one of the worst car designs of all time. But since it was the 70's, any vehicle manning up to be the most advanced yet affordable would get customers. It delivered for sometime, until its eventual successors which are way better.