01 June 2015

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #19

It's been a while since we visited the Fantasy Garage. I was stalling a bit because I wasn't sure which car from my list of potentials I wanted to feature next, but just this morning I figured out how I want to tackle this next one.

The 1973 model year was a big one for General Motors. Besides federally-mandated 5-mph front bumpers appearing across all the company's lines, the company's midsize "A-body" cars were all new, with dramatically different, more formal "colonnade" styling (frameless door glass on all models, thicker roof pillars, no more pillarless hardtops), and a special two-door personal-luxury model for each division (Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Pontiac Grand Prix, Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme/Salon, Buick Regal) with a roofline that differed from the other two-door offerings.

These models were borrowed some of the cachet of big luxury cars like the Cadillac Eldorado and Lincoln Mark IV and brought it to a more practical (relative) size at a price accessible to hundreds of thousands of potential customers who would never be able to afford a Cadillac or Lincoln, or who would never want such a large car. It worked brilliantly, and the cars were hugely popular; Ford and Chrysler rushed to bring their own such models to market.

These cars made a big impression on me when they were new. I was nine when they were introduced in the fall of 1972, and to my young mind they felt more significant than either the subcompact Chevy Vega, which had been introduced two years earlier, or the redesigned full-size GM cars that had arrived at around the same time as the Vega. The intermediates were in fact supposed to be launched as 1972 models, but due to strikes the company decided to hold over the existing design and delay the new designs' introduction by one model year.

The colonnade design lasted for five model years and millions were sold during that period. Not everyone feels warmly toward these cars, though. They were still big, heavy, inefficient, and had mediocre interior space considering their size. But I happen to think they were one of the things GM got mostly right in the '70s. They were cars quintessentially of and for the period. Now, it would be impossible for me to choose just one vehicle to represent four brands and five model years, so I'm going to devote several installments of this feature to mid-'70s A-body cars... starting tomorrow.

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