The 1960s was possibly the greatest time for cars, and the 1980s saw the Ferrari F40, so that was great obviously – but the era in between is sort of coughed over.
I can see why. The Seventies saw a lot of strikes in British factories at least, and there was a fuel crisis, and American legislators suddenly woke up from whatever they’d taken in the 1960s, and began introducing many laws about ride height and fuel efficiency and safety. I mean, when you consider that everything that a car company did had to be fitted with a detuned engine and huge rubber bumpers, you can see why they just wouldn’t bother.
And then there was the fact that most people were wearing moustaches and shoulder-length hair. The most miserable day of my life involved wearing a fake moustache for a dress-up. I couldn’t eat, much less attempt to build something worthwhile.
Which makes it all the more remarkable that some worthwhile things were actually built in the Seventies. For one thing it was really the era of the British sports car – Triumph, Jensen, TVR, MG all made great things during the 70s – and despite the fact that they were built in socialist Britain, and rusted and leaked, they were rather epic.
So many terrific British sports cars were made during this time, however, that we’ve had to exclude them from our ultimate list of the top ten most memorably great cars to have emerged out of the cigarette haze of the brown era.
1) ROLLS-ROYCE CAMARGUE (1975)
Like many things, Rolls-Royce was in trouble during the 1970s. They therefore thought it would be a great idea to break from their traditional British roots and get the Italians to design the next Rolls-Royce.
Pininfarina sketched the sharp, angular Camargue, with a unique tilted grille and curved window glass. Neither of these things had ever been done to a Rolls before, and many were unimpressed.
But never mind. It simply is one of the most unique and best-looking Rolls-Royces ever.
2) JAGUAR XJ-S (1975)_
When Jaguar replaced the E-Type with this, people screamed in the streets. They figured they were out there already for Vietnam, so they may as well add this cultural evil to it.
With hindsight though, we can see that the XJ-S was one of the greatest Jaguars. I would go so far as to argue it’s the best car of the ‘70s. It was powerful, it had typical walnut and black leather inside, and above all, the one that people just didn’t get at the time – it was sleek and beautiful.
I really, really want one.
3) RANGE ROVER CLASSIC (1970)_
Nowadays, the Range Rover is the chosen car of rich inner-city mums who read Vogue and go to incredible heights to outdo each other in their kids' birthday parties.
Back in the day, though, Land Rover wanted to get at the Lords who still went shooting and foxing on their grouse moors while the rising environmentalist crowd was distracted. So they envisaged a rugged vehicle that could be hosed out, yet would be more comfortable than an ordinary Land Rover.
The Ranger Rover that resulted was a superb cross-country vehicle, and it soon became very popular – including with those who weren’t landed gentry. Range Rovers got more and more luxurious and suddenly there was no longer talk about hosing them out.
It earns its place in this list because it was the first to take luxury into the utility space, and in doing so, took utility into the luxury space. And so it started something that is now totally out of control.
4) BMW 3.0CSL (1971)_
Very little needs to be said. In fact, just this. The 3.0CSL won six European Touring Car Championships during the ‘70s, and it remains the only true car to have the nickname “The Batmobile”. That's a nickname that many car companies would slaughter to have on one of their products.
Admittedly, all of the 3.0CSL’s Batmobilish racing kit, such as the spoiler, was illegal in Germany. Legislators in the 1970s were quite set against the car - and Germany was one of the worst. Jaguar almost couldn’t sell the XJ-S there because of its rear design.
So BMW just put the racing kit in the boots of the cars for sale in Germany. If the buyer then took it out and screwed it back on, and drove it on German roads, it would be on his head wouldn’t it?
The modern-day equivalent would be for Ford to cover up its Drift mode button with a sticker. I might pass that on, actually.
5) CITROEN SM (1970)_
This might seem like a bit of a wildcard. When you think of France and the 1970s, nothing remarkable springs to mind, except some long-haired men driving round Paris in the back of a dented 2CV filming angry students.
But the Citroen SM was remarkable. There’s no other word for it.
It had the technological genius of Citroen’s legendary self-levelling pneumonia suspension thing, which apparently creates a beautiful ride, as well as other innovative features like rain-sensing wipers, self-righting steering, and lights that swivelled as you steered round corners. These are things you’ll find in car brochures today. Yet this was the 1970s. We hadn’t even sent a man to the moon yet.
Or maybe we had. Just. Anyway, it was staggeringly futuristic.
As was the design. It was aerodynamic to a deeply scientific degree, so that it hugged the road, rather than started to take off, as it got faster. But that still says nothing about how heart-rendingly beautiful it looks. It actually makes me cry to look at it. Even if it was rubbish at everything else, like you’d half expect a French car to be – and it isn’t – you could forgive it for just looking like it does.
It also had a Maserati engine, which gave it very good performance. Unfortunately, the SM was too complex for backwater France, and it didn’t do well. Which proves the world just isn’t fair.
We can try, though. That’s why it’s here.
6) ASTON MARTIN VANTAGE V8 (1977)_
This muscly British V8 was really a rebellion against the 1970s. The fact that what many hold to be Britain’s first supercar, came out in the most un-supercar of eras says something. As does the fact that it didn’t have rubber bumpers, and was powered by an angry 5.3L V8, which took the Vantage up to 274km/h.
Though the rebellion stopped in America. The American Aston Martin Vantages were detuned, with a crushed muscular bulge, and were therefore a shadow of the real glorious thing.
Who’d have thought that one day, the Americans would be afraid of a nice V8?
7) LEYLAND P76 (1973)_
Yes, this is a joke. Haha.
7) AMC PACER (1975)_
This isn’t – and please, bear with me. The AMC Pacer is hounded for being one of the worst cars ever conceived, but to tell you the truth, I can’t really see why.
Admittedly, it was very wide, for a bus, much less a ‘compact car’, and despite the fact it was meant to be a solution to the fuel crisis, it had to be fitted with a straight-six engine at the last minute and so it almost caused the fuel crisis to be a catastrophe.
But so? While every other hatchback of the era was boxy and boring, AMC actually had imagination. I think it’s one of the best-looking hatchbacks ever. And it was nicknamed “Jellybean”, which is adorable. A Toyota Corolla would never be called “Jellybean”.
So what if it wasn’t all that reliable? What exactly was reliable in the 1970s?
There simply must be lot of bias against AMC. Because while only the Pacer and the Gremlin are actually taunted, the wild Rebel and Matador Coupe which were really good performers, are just ignored. I’m not a conspiracy theorist so I won’t say that Ford planted the bias in our hearts, but I will say that it is a bit inexplicable.
Put it this way. If Alfa Romeo had made the Pacer we would love it.
8) ALFA ROMEO MONTREAL (1970)_
Speaking of Alfa Romeo, one of their greatest cars came out in the 1970s. Many of their great cars came out in the ‘70s, like the Junior Zagato, but the Montreal is the best, simply because it looks so absolutely terrific.
I was at Auto Italia last year, and I saw one a way off, and I thought to save it for last. When I came back it had left, and I cried.
The vents behind the driver’s doors did nothing to feed the very nice V8, despite that being what you’d expect, but they did scoop air into the cabin so they weren’t useless. I think the slats over the headlights are indeed useless, but they look brilliant. For many years I only knew it as “The Alfa with Slats Over its Headlights”.
The name Montreal happened because Alfa unveiled the junior supercar at an exhibition in Montreal, and since they hadn’t come up with a name to mark it by yet, the enthusiastic crowds did it for them. Alfa stuck with it, as you would.
Unfortunately, the enthusiasm at the launch didn’t really amount to anything. Sales didn’t match production, and the only reason it lasted 7 years was because Alfa had to wait for all the unsold Montreals to be cleared off the floors.
Today, though, we think it’s brilliant and rightly so. And if you were around in the seventies, by the way, tell me this – exactly what were you thinking?
9) LAMBORGHINI COUNTACH (1974)_
The Countach is, in many respects, a terrible car. The engine often overheated and the wedge-shaped design wasn’t very aerodynamic at all, and then there’s the fact that some people say it doesn’t drive all that crash hot.
This doesn’t matter - remotely. From the moment it came out, to right now, the Countach is regarded as one of the most wonderful cars ever. And having got up close with one recently, and nearly dying of awe, I’m just not going to argue.
10) VOLKSWAGEN GOLF GTI (1976)_
When VW’s young and exuberant engineers went to their bosses, and told them they’d like to soup up the Golf and sell it as a performance car, the bosses told them to go away. Schnell.
So they tried again the week after, and this time the bosses reluctantly agreed. But they stipulated that in case this sporty Golf project was a failure – which it would be, trust us – only 5,000 were ever to be made and the car was not to mention sport anywhere. Nor was it to have sporty bits.
The result was a sleeper – a car that looked discreet, but when unleashed could beat up the conventional sports cars of the time. News travelled fast, and the Golf GTI became such a sensation that the bosses quickly made it 5,000 a month.
Peugeot and others soon came out with their own, and thus one of the greatest car categories – the hot hatch – was born. It's the best single thing that this interesting decade ever did - other than adding the suffix “gate”, denoting a scandal, to our lexicons.
A FEW OTHERS WORTH A MENTION_
BMW M1 – For being a BMW supercar.
DeTomaso Pantera – for looking good, going fast, and making Elvis angry.
Ford Escort RS160 – For being a cheap but stunning rally champion.
Ford Falcon GT-HO - For being the pinnacle of Aussie muscle.
Honda Civic – For being brilliantly engineered and packaged and pioneering technology that found a way through tough new emissions legislation.
Lotus Esprit – For being driven by James Bond.
Mazda RX-7 – For putting a rotary engine to good use for the first time.
Porsche 911 Targa – For being the best 911 variant ever. Ah-ah, no arguments.
Triumph Stag – For looking good and wanting to be good, and failing.
VOTE FOR THE BEST CAR FROM THE '70S BELOW_
PHOTO CREDIT: Netcarshow.com, drive.com.au (Leyland P76); AMC Pacer and Rolls-Royce Camargue from manufacturer images of the time.