Showing posts with label 1970s American Sports Cars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1970s American Sports Cars. Show all posts

Buick Gran Sport

Buick Gran Sport 1970s American classic muscle car

The Buick Gran Sport had Pontiac to thank. The latter's GTO was the first muscle car. As such, it saw a big-block V8 fitted in a medium-sized chassis. The result was hard-punching power - at a competitive price. Not surprisingly, then, the GTO sold well. Again, not surprisingly, Pontiac's rivals picked up on the fact. The muscle car era was born.

One of those rivals was Buick. In '65, they took their 'Skylark' car - and mated it with their 401ci 'nailhead' V8. As a consequence, the Skylark's output soared to 325bhp. While the Skylark 'Gran Sport' never played in the same sales league as the GTO, it nonetheless did good business for Buick. In '66, they followed it up with a more powerful Gran Sport. It now kicked out a cool 340bhp. Sales, though, were down on its first year. Attractive as it was, a brand-new Buick did not come cheap! So - in '67 - the 'GS' 400 was launched. A 3-speed auto transmission appeared. As an alternative, Buick offered the budget GS 340. Sales started to climb again.

The Gran Sport's finest hour came in the form of the GS 455. Released in 1970 - complete with a 355ci engine - oomph was nominally upped to 360bhp. However, Buick were almost certainly underestimating it. Road testers swore it felt more like 400bhp. At any rate, it was in 'Stage One Special Package' tune. That comprised a hotter cam, larger valves, and a modified carb. With all that hooked up, the Gran Sport was good for 130mph. Exotic 'GSX' styling options went toe to toe with the performance stats. Spoilers, stripes and supersize tyres made the GS 455 look as well as it went. Sadly, all good things come to an end. As soon as '71, the Gran Sport's best days were behind it. Low-lead gas led to less power. Insurance hikes kicked in, too. One way or another, the muscle car game was up. Like its power-mad siblings from other marques, the GS simply faded away. Times change - and the world moves on. But - like everything else - progress comes at a price. In automotive terms, that meant cars like the Buick Gran Sport. For - despite all their foibles - driving has never been quite the same since!

Pontiac Firebird

Pontiac Firebird 1970s American classic sports car

The Pontiac Firebird flew onto the American car scene in February, '67. Released at the same time as GM's Chevrolet Camaro, they were two peas from the same 'pony car' pod. The most iconic early 'Bird was the '69 Trans Am. The 'Trans-American' was a road race - organised by The Sports Car Club of America. The Pontiac Trans Am was a star turn. Complete with rear spoiler, beefed-up chassis and Ram Air power delivery, it was a muscle car par excellence. Blue and white livery set it off to a tee. Its split-grille nose became the stuff of legend. Indeed, the Firebird would be a flagship for the Pontiac brand for years to come.

The Firebird entered its second phase in 1970. Restyled for the new decade, it was in the Seventies that the car came into its own. In '78 alone, Pontiac sold more than 93,000 Trans Ams. Customers could choose one of three models - standard, luxury Esprit or Formula. For sure, the Firebird was spreading its wings. In fact, it was lucky to have fledged at all. GM considered pulling the plug on the Firebird in '72. They were not convinced that performance cars were the way to go. Thankfully, the Firebird was given the benefit of the doubt. As things turned out, GM would be well-rewarded for their faith in the Firebird.

A third generation of Firebirds arrived in the Eighties. Its charismatic, but time-worn nose had had plastic surgery. It was now more finely-chiselled - and sported cowled headlamps. '87's GTA version featured a 350 cu in V8 engine. Top-of-the-range as it was, the GTA was good for 125mph. It hit 60 in just 5.4s. Design-wise, though, the Firebird was starting to look its age - especially parked next to hot foreign competition. As a result, sales suffered. So, Nineties Firebirds were given a stylistic face-lift. No ravages of time, though, could detract from the glamour of the early years. One of the all-time great American automobiles, the Pontiac Firebird blazed a phoenix-like trail. Whatever automotive fashion dished out, it somehow always rose from the ashes!

Chevrolet Camaro

Chevrolet Camaro 1970s American classic sports car

The Chevrolet Camaro was born out of necessity. Sales of the Ford Mustang were going through the roof. GM needed a fix for that - and fast! Rolling to the rescue came the Camaro. Key to its success was its 'Coke bottle' styling - by Bill Mitchell. The Z28, especially - with its duck-tail rear spoiler - rivalled the Mustang for glamour. GM was back on track. 220,000 Camaros were shifted - in the first year alone. Buyers had a choice of V6 or V8 engine - as well as a variety of tuning options. The most uncompromising package was the SS (Super Sport). Less extreme - and more popular - was the RS (Rallye Sport). These are now the most collectible Camaros.

The Seventies ushered in an all-new Camaro. It featured monocoque construction. The new model's looks may not have been as exotic as the original - but it still stacked up as a cohesive design. Crucially, it was slimmer than the new Mustangs. Sales of '70s Camaros peaked at close to 2,000,000. GM were happy bunnies again. Though down on power compared to the '60s versions, it was clear that Stateside motorists had taken the Camaro to their hearts. When a car starts to symbolise 'the American dream', things are definitely on the up!

They say competition improves the breed. The Camaro was a case in point. Had it not had the Mustang as a rival, it is unlikely the Camaro would have soared to the heights it did. In the end, it became a car which was difficult to fault. With a top-spec speed of 125mph, performance was sorted. Design-wise, it was out of the top drawer. In short, it got just about everything right. The Mustang, not so much. It rather lost its automotive mojo, over time. While the pony car developed a paunch, the Camaro kept a solid six-pack. Ultimately, of course, both were great American automobiles. Stone-cold classics of their muscle car kind. Some say the Chevrolet Camaro got it on points. If so, it was because it had more styling stamina in its tank, as the years went by.