2013 marks the 50th anniversary of icons like the Corvette Sting Ray and the Porsche 911. If Corvettes and Porsches aren't your thing, it's also the 50th of the Aston Martin DB5 and the 60th of the last great Packard, the Caribbean. Lost in the hoopla, however has been any mention of the fact that it's also the 40th anniversary of the Ford Mustang II, the de facto standard bearer for the automotive dark age that came to be known as "The Malaise Era."
Pollution regulations, safety standards and a fuel crisis that saw pump prices skyrocket created the perfect mediocrity storm that forced Americans – and most of the rest of the world – into cars that were as bland and gutless as the Carter administration. The start of the malaise era is roughly marked by the Arab oil embargo of 1973 and the resulting great muscle car extinction, and it lasted until the introduction of the 200 hp + Buick Regal Grand National and the Ford Mustang GT 5.0 in 1985. Here are some of the malaziest from the era.
1974 Ford Mustang II (above)
The Pinto-based Mustang II nearly killed the Mustang franchise. Its sole claim to fame being a bit of product placement on the original Charlie's Angels series. Plain chick Sabrina drove the notchback Ghia model, smoking hot Kelly (played by Farrah Fawcett) naturally got the Cobra. But the joke was on her – its smogged-choked V8 put out about 140 horsepower. In a rare moment of understatement, Road & Track simply called it "neither fast, nor particularly good-handling."
Rob Sass is the Publisher of Hagerty Classic Cars magazine. He is a regular contributor to the automotive section of the New York Times and is the author of "Ran When Parked, Advice and Adventures from the Affordable Underbelly of Car Collecting."
Related GalleryHappy 40th Anniversary to the Malaise Era
1977 Ferrari 308 GTB
Even Ferraris weren't immune to the emasculation that was the norm in the Malaise Era. The '77 308 may have looked great, but drive one today, and you'll live in fear of meeting a Nissan Versa at the next stop light. Naught to sixty time for the '77 308 was an excruciatingly slow 9.4 seconds.
1977 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28
The Z/28 was the performance version of the Camaro and, less than ten years prior, it had been tearing up road courses in the SCCA Trans Am race series where other drivers lived in fear of driver Mark Donohue. The Malaise Era version of the car that used to sport in the vicinity of 300 hp? Just 185 hp and a 0-60 time of around eight seconds. That's fully-laden VW Routan performance today.
1978 Ford Fairmont
About the only good that can be said about the Fairmont/Zephyr twins is the fact that the platform ("Fox" in Fordese) became the basis for the Mustang that would lead us back down the path of righteousness in 1985. Otherwise, the Fairmont and the Zephyr were abysmally put together, looked like the box they came in, were barely able to break 16 seconds in the 0-60 sprint and 100 mph was out of the question. All for an unimpressive 22 mpg in return.
1978 Peugeot 504 Diesel
The fact that the American public would entertain a car that took almost 23 seconds to complete the quarter mile and topped out at 86 mph illustrates just how bad things got in the Malaise Era. Although uncharacteristically for a Malaise Era car (and a French one to boot), it was reasonably well screwed together, but the fact that they seemed unkillable simply added insult to injury. 250,000 miles in a 504 diesel must have seemed like a life sentence.