Films, fashion, music: the 70s were a mixed bag indeed. The same is true for cars of that decade. We look at the best and worst motors.
Wasn’t the 1970s a fascinating decade of contrasts?
In music you had disco fever at one extreme and punk at the other, while the world of fashion embraced everything from woolly jumpers and flares to tracksuits. It was a similar story with cars. Alongside the hideous, woefully built disasters that appeared during this period were some of the most iconic vehicles of all time.
Best: Ford Granada
What’s not to love about the Ford Granada? Making its debut back in the early 1970s as a replacement for the Zephyr, it quickly attracted a loyal following – as evidenced by the number of dedicated owners’ clubs today. While it could never be classed as a beautiful car, it had a rugged handsomeness that made it more Jason Statham than Orlando Bloom. This tough look made it the perfect choice for smash hit TV series The Sweeney. The relatively smooth styling of the Mark I, which was available in saloon, estate and fastback versions, gave way to the squarer Mark II in the late 1970s.
Best: Vauxhall Chevette
A simply fantastic little car. Having made its appearance in 1975, the Chevette was made for the next nine years and is widely credited for helping to transform Vauxhall’s dubious reputation for producing rust-prone machines. It was versatile – a point illustrated in the catchy TV ad which claimed the little supermini was “whatever you want it to be” – and stylish enough to appeal to a wide variety of potential owners.
Best: VW Golf Mk1
Can it really be 40 years since this iconic machine made its debut? Originally designed as a replacement for the Beetle, it still looks just as stylish today as it did four decades ago – and you certainly can’t say that about many cars from this period. The GTI version that arrived later in the decade is widely credited with being the original hot hatch. Over the following decade it would battle for supremacy with hot hatches from rivals such as Ford and Peugeot.
Worst: Austin Allegro
Despite having achieved cult status in some quarters, the Allegro was a strange beast that suffered from poor build quality. It also looked slightly odd, especially when compared to the sleek, sexier hatchback look promoted by Volkswagen in the same period. On the positive side, this small family car sold well and boasted some quirky design features, such as the rather peculiar rectangular steering wheel with rounded sides that appeared on early models. In a lot of ways the Allegro, which was made during the 1970s and early 1980s, bore the brunt of general dissatisfaction towards British Leyland, which suffered industrial-relations problems throughout the era.
Worst: Reliant Robin
Now before owners of these quirky machines start bombarding me with hate mail, let me first say that this three-wheel machine is a design classic. If this piece was highlighting iconic vehicles of the last century it would be high up on the list. However, the so-called plastic pig did have some issues. For example, weight limits meant the early versions couldn’t reverse, the doors would crack if caught by the wind, and there were even reports of steering wheels detaching from the chassis.
Worst: Ford Pinto
This was a cracking looking machine that was hugely popular. However, it was also one of Ford’s most controversial cars and the subject of much fevered discussion over the years. It had sleek good looks and laid claim to being one of the best-selling cars of the 1970s. However, the Ford Pinto will forever be linked to safety concerns and legal actions surrounding the design of its fuel tank, following reports of it bursting into flames if involved in rear-end collisions.