7 Weirdo Cars That Could Have Only Come From The 1970s

Updated May 20, 2018

The 1970s were not a golden age for automobiles. More cars missed the mark than hit it. Here are 7 of the worst offenders from this period in auto history.

The days were over when carmakers could churn out cars that were just slight updates from the previous model year and rake in large profits as a result. There were now safety standards that needed to be met, the requirement to convert all engines from running on leaded to unleaded fuel, and the reductions demanded of tailpipe emissions ate into their profits  at a voracious rate. Not having money to invest in new models, or not having enough money to launch new models properly throughout the 1970s was a consistent. The net result are cars we see today as failures or jokes on which companies were actually pinning their futures.



1977 – 1978 Ford Pinto Cruising Wagon

The 70s were the peak of the van customization trend. But big, full-sized vans had a voracious appetite for gasoline. Ford planners thought they could reach the van market with a factory-customized frugal Ford Pinto wagon. The conversion was based on the panel van version of the wagon (no side windows, until the bubble window was installed), with groovy graphics and “styled” wheels. The rear cargo area was covered in the same carpet as the wagon – you had to add your own shag carpeting, water bed, and disco ball.


1974 – 1976 Bricklin SV-1

In what should have been a cautionary tale to John DeLorean’s DMC, Malcolm Bricklin, the man who brought Subaru to the US, wanted to build his own sports car. He needed a cheap place to built it, and the plant ended up in New Brunswick, Canada (DMC would set-up in Northern Ireland), used parts off existing AMC cars (DMC used Renault), had problematic gullwing doors, production and quality issues, and the general inability to produce enough cars to achieve profitability. In an ironic twist, the Canadian government sold a commemorative coin and stamp of the Bricklin, which was more successful than the car itself.



1970 – 1972 Honda Z600 Coupe

Honda had brought to America two other version of its 600 series cars, the tiny but entertaining S600 sports cars (now highly collectible) and the Mini Cooper-ish N600 sub-compact car. As there were no Honda Automobile dealers until the launch of the Civic for the 1973 model year, the 600 cars were sold by Honda Motorcycle dealers. Not surprising, really, considering that the cars were powered by a 36 hp 600cc twin engine.  What set the Z600 Coupe apart from its siblings was its styling, looking all the world like a brightly-colored basketball shoe. The oversized rubber strip around the rear window didn’t help its appearance, and it may well have been Honda’s first experience that Americans didn’t share the same sense of whimsy about their cars as did their Japanese counterparts.


1974 – 1978 Datsun F-10

Datsun enthusiasts and dealers alike were scratching their heads of the appearance of the 1974 F-10. After all, Datsun had brought the 1600/2000 convertible sports car, the 240Z GT car, the 510 sports sedan to the US, and all were great-looking, easy to sell cars. Now comes Nissan’s first FWD model for the US market. On paper, the car was fine. 1400cc A14 engine, front wheel drive, manual and semi-automatic transmission, four-wheel independent suspension. But the exterior looked like the vision of the car of the future from a bad sci fi movie. Nissan had a few more stumbles before it got its act together (like the first 200SX) before once again becoming the manufacturer of some of the most well-designed cars in their categories.


1975 – 1979 Chrysler Cordoba

The fuel crisis of the early ’70s hits and Chrysler has to find a way to push cars based on its B-Body platform, which had been around since 1962. The strategy selected was to pursue the most upscale buyers and load the cars with every imaginable feature. While the car was small versus what Chrysler had been producing, it was no small car, particularly one that was targeted at a driver and a single passenger. Chrysler landed on the name Cordoba, both a city in Spain and a coin in Argentina. The entire styling, inside and out, was of a very Spanish baroque style, giving one the impression they’re sitting in a dark booth in a Spanish restaurant. All they needed were bull fighting posters on roll-down shades. What drove this car from irony to out-and-out comedy was the hiring of Mexican actor Ricardo Montalban (Fantasy Island). Any mention of “rich Corinthian leather” is certain to draw a chuckle for anyone around while the Cordoba ads were shown on TV.


1978 Ford Mustang II King Cobra

So you’re a Ford executive and no one is taking seriously that the Pinto-based compact car you’re selling is really a Mustang. You shoe-horn in a 302 V8, which between the de-rating from SAE Gross to SAE Net and power losses related to emissions controls and the use of unleaded gas produces a pathetic 133 hp.  OK, better yet, take that same car, add zero upgrades, not even better shocks, and sticker the crap out of the car and call it (gasp!) a King Cobra. Calling it a Cobra was like selling a customer Filet Mignon but giving them ground chuck. Only because of the strength of the Cobra’s history and the fact that no one paid attention to the Mustang II probably helped minimize the damage.


1975 – 1980 AMC Pacer

When carmakers are in dire straits they often go for the “Hail Mary” play and hope for the best. AMC looked at its competition, and saw both GM and Ford struggling with their compact cars, but the Japanese manufacturers were doing very well. What AMC found was that Americans like small cars, liked the reliability of Japanese cars, but found the cars too small. (By the way, that’s due to laws in Japan to determine the maximum width of a car. Early imports to the US were still built to that rule, but now there are different models for Japan and the US). AMC decided to build the Pacer, a big small car for Americans. Short in length but wide in width. And power it with a Wankel engine. The two possible rotary engine suppliers dropped out and AMC installed its venerable six. In the end, the styling was just a little too far out and AMC didn’t have the market power to convince buyers to even come into their (limited) dealerships to test drive the cars.





Chris Riley
About Chris Riley

I have been wrecking cars for as long as I've been driving them but I keep coming back for more. Two wheels or four, I'm all in. gives me a chance to give something back to the automobile community.

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