05 January 2015

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #15

With the previous installment of Fantasy Garage we finally made it to the 1970s, an extremely challenging decade for America's auto manufacturers. There was a serious lack of foresight about conditions affecting the market, some willful blindness about the growing popularity of Japanese imports, and a disinclination to use existing vehicles from European divisions to fill stateside product needs that resulted in some seriously subpar cars being brought to market.

But to be fair, Detroit got some cars very right in the '70s. Ford's Mustang caught General Motors by surprise and it took them a couple of years to get their competitor cars to market, By the 1969 model year Ford was already moving the Mustang away from its sporty roots and toward something more like a mini-Thunderbird (and the portly 1971 Mustang was considered a design failure), so when it was time to develop the second generation F-body, GM wanted to assert itself with a more dramatic design.
1970 Chevrloet Camaro
By that measure alone, the 1970* Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird were successful. The design was definitely influenced by certain Ferrari models (particularly the swooping roofline), but given a distinctly American interpretation, and differentiated with characteristics of the two different brands: the Camaro got pairs of round tail lights on each side like the Corvette, while the Firebird got a new take on the horizontal tail lights it had worn since its introduction.

(*While referred to as 1970 models, the cars did not go on sale until late February due to some engineering issues; by today's convention, with a release at that point in the calendar year they would have simply been designated 1971s.)

The designs fared well until GM was forced to accommodate the federal government's bumper standards for the 1974 model year (I don't know how they got away with not adding them to the front for 1973, as was required on other cars), at which point they were given slanted noses and bulkier, less elegant tails, along with a significant weight gain. (It's easy to identify a '74 Camaro or Firebird because it has the chunky bumpers but not the wraparound rear window, which didn't appear until '75.) From there the front and rear designs got tweaked every couple of years, getting slightly less attractive each time, until 1981, the final year of the second generation.
1971 Pontiac Firebird Formula
So, which F-body gets a spot in my Fantasy Garage? Because of the bumpers, it has to be pre-1974. Beyond that, I have to go with a Firebird mainly because I've always liked the front and rear end designs a little better than the Camaro's. It's not going to be a Trans Am, because they're just too silly-looking. You could get all or nearly all of a Trans Am's performance in a less flamboyant package by choosing a Firebird Formula (I particularly like the twin hood scoops). And I'll specify a 1971, just because for that model year only Firebirds had little louvers on the front fenders that I like.

However, I never liked those "honeycomb" wheels, so I'll take mine with a set of good old Rally II wheels, like on the red Fiebird in this brochure image:
Images from Old Car Brochures (top); Tore Tangerud (middle and bottom).

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