The pony car era was filled with iconic muscle cars, but they weren’t alone on the car lot. Here’s some unsung classics of the 60s and 70s.
Ah, the 60s. The Beatles came to America, hippie culture was in full swing, the first NFL Super Bowl took place, and we landed on the moon. Then into the 70s, disco was the new happenin’ thing, the first personal computers were sold, Muhammed Ali Rumbled in the Jungle, and the first Star Wars hit theaters. America went through a lot of changes in these decades, as did the automotive industry in this time.
With the emergence of the Ford Mustang came the competitive age of the pony car. Some of the most well-known vehicles of automotive history came from these two decades – consider the iconic Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, AMC Javelin, and Pontiac Firebird just to name a few. However, today’s article isn’t about these popular and highly sought-after muscle cars. No, instead we’ll focus on some of the everyday vehicles from the same time period that never achieved the same notoriety. These are some of the less recognized vehicles of the 60s and 70s we think you should know.
The automotive industry of the 1960s was leaning heavily towards larger, less efficient, and more expensive vehicles. AMC saw this trend and took a different approach with their popular Rambler. The AMC Rambler was an affordable compact car offering that came as a sedan, station wagon, coupe, or convertible. The naming between different years and body styles gets convoluted (i.e. Rambler American, Rambler Classic, Rambler Six & Eight), but the Rambler namesake is continuous throughout. If it wasn’t for the Rambler and its success among frugal customers, AMC may have ceased to exist… earlier than it did.
When people think 60s and 70s Fords, the Mustang always comes to mind. However, if it were not for the Ford Falcon, the Mustang would have never come to fruition. The Falcon was Ford’s foray into the compact car market of the early 1960s. Much like the Rambler, the Falcon came in many different body styles including a ute named the Falcon Ranchero. Ford’s Falcon made record sales with over a million sold just in its first two years on the market. However, the Falcon’s unified frame design was the basis of a 1964 fastback coupe we all recognize today as the Mustang. Following the Mustang’s release, the Falcon’s sales plummeted, forcing the model out of production by 1970.
You know what sounds cooler than a mustang? A cougar, at least that’s what Ford’s Lincoln–Mercury division thought. The Mercury Cougar was a direct cousin to the Ford Mustang with slight alterations to the front grille design, more luxurious options, and came exclusively with a V8 engine. Upon its release, the Mercury Cougar made up 40% of Lincoln-Mercury’s sales. As the Cougar carried on, the vehicle would gradually distance itself from the Mustang’s design and growing into a longer muscle car with an available 429 CID 7.0L Super Cobra Jet engine. Eventually the Cougar leaned into the personal luxury vehicle design popularly known as a “land yacht”, but this just meant there were more preferential options to choose from.
When one thinks of rear-engine cars, Porsche comes to mind. However, Chevrolet made their own rear-engine car in the 60s called the Corvair. The Corvair is the only American designed passenger car with this engine placement, which makes for a good conversation piece. There was a coupe/convertible option called the Corvair Monza, but in general it wasn’t as sporty as a Porsche. It was mainly created as a compact model to compete with the likes of the Falcon and Rambler. The Chevrolet Corvair only ever came with a flat-six engine, making it one of only two American made cars to ever do so. You can still find affordable Corvairs in multiple body styles similar to the Ford Falcon, but the obscure van and truck models will cost a bit more.
The Buick Skylark started the era as a compact car luxury trim level, and then ventured into the muscle car scene in 1964 as its own model. The Skylark featured the same chassis and similar body parts to the Chevrolet Chevelle, but with its own Buick luxury twist on the model. Also like the Chevelle, with its SS variant, the Buick Skylark received a performance package called the Gran Sport. This package came with a 401 CID 6.6L V8, heavy duty radiator, dual exhaust, and the special Gran Sport badging. Going into the second generation, the Gran Sport diverged into its own line while the Skylark continued on as a luxury offering. The A-body Skylark would leave the market in 1972, only to return as a compact car once again in subsequent years.
The 88 model was a staple for Oldsmobile for a majority of the company’s existence. For the 60s and 70s, Oldsmobile presented the Delta 88, a B-body platform that was available as a coupe, convertible, sedan, or station wagon. This car went from an affordable family car to a top of the line luxury coupe found in the Royale trim. The Delta 88’s largest engine offering was the 455 CID 7.5L Rocket V8 engine, which is now highly sought after by enthusiasts, more so even than the car itself. Much like the Skylark, the Buick Delta 88 ventured into a land yacht territory and then scaled down into a compact car (which is probably the 88 model you likely associate with Oldsmobile today).
Everyone knows the Ford Bronco and Chevrolet K5 Blazer as some of the most iconic SUVs ever made, but not too many remember the GMC Jimmy. While it was pretty much a rebadged Blazer, the Jimmy came with a different grille design, had quad headlights for a few years, and was touted as being “built with better care and quality” than Chevrolet models. Although, the last one is more of a salesman gimmick rather than fact. Basically, the GMC Jimmy came down to design preference when looking at the front end. Nowadays, a Jimmy is harder to find than a Blazer, but you could always retrofit the GMC styled grille to a Blazer and end at the same result, I guess.
Everyone knows the reliable Honda Civics of the 80s and 90s that are still cruising around today, but hardly anyone recognizes the first-generation Honda Civic. The Civic arrived on the American car scene just in time for the 1973 Oil Crisis. Car buyers were looking for more fuel-efficient vehicles at this time and the Civic filled that need, creating a substantial foothold for Honda in the United States. The Honda Civic carried an E-series I4 engine that later featured a CVCC (Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion) allowing the car to utilize any form of gasoline without damaging its components. These first-generation Honda Civics are a large part of Honda’s history and great collectors’ piece. However, just as a “buyer beware”, they were notorious for rusting, a lot…
Another breakout from a Japanese manufacturer was Toyota and their Celica. The Celica was Toyota’s sporty attempt to contend with the likes of Mustangs and Camaros. While the Celica looked similar to that of an American muscle car in design, under the hood the largest engine available you could find was the 2.2L 20R I4 engine. Like the Civic, the Celica’s sales were helped by the changing car trends created by the 1973 Oil Crisis. It found a niche of American consumers who still wanted that muscle car look with the fuel-efficiency that Toyota’s I4 engines produced. Today, it is becoming increasingly harder to come by a first-generation Toyota Celica, so be on the lookout.
Yes, you read that right. The Volkswagen Type 181/182 was marketed as the Thing in the United States. It was originally intended as a German military vehicle and, much like Jeep, Volkswagen seized the opportunity to sell the design to civilians. It made its way to the United States in the 70s where it would have been called the “Safari” like it was in Mexico, but Pontiac was already utilizing that name. The Thing had a flat-4 rear-engine, all four doors were interchangeable, had a windshield that folded flat, had a convertible roof, removable passenger windows, wood slatted flooring, and looked about as aerodynamic as a thrown brick. This Volkswagen really held true to its American name, because a “thing” was the only way to truly describe it.