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."



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.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 143 Comments
      Gospeedgo
      • 1 Year Ago
      Though I should be embarrassed for nothing this - I'm not. But I'm rather disappointed in the shoddy reporting on this - especially - since it's really freaking easy to google. Sabrina drove a PINTO - not a mustang - it was orange, Kelly - (who was not played by Farrah) - who was played by Jaclyn Smith - drove a tan mustang notch back. It blew up in one episode and they got it replaced "with the same make and model" - I remember it being oddly phrased in the episode - and this is a memory from the early 80's. Jill - who was played by Farrah - drove the Cobra. Then Chris (Jill's little sister who replaced her when she quit the show) - drove the Cobra -- and they drove those same cars until the show went to Hawaii in the final season and they switched to GM cars -- Chris - got a 81 Camaro convertible. Which was pretty rare - and if I remember it was gold. Too much detail - but still dude - do your job.
        A P
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Gospeedgo
        ROFLMAO....if this total loser of a writer cant even get Charlies Angels right how can we trust him on cars of that era?
          Chris Barbieri
          • 1 Year Ago
          @A P
          It's common knowledge that cars of that era were crap. One doesn't have to dig deep to come to that conclusion.
        reattadudes
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Gospeedgo
        gosh, and I thought it was only us gay gays who knew all of the Angels' car trivia.
      thyservant
      • 1 Year Ago
      I think you're a little harsh on the Mustang II. The pig-sized '71-'73 couldn't keep growing, and 'pony cars' were passe' by that time. Ford struck gold (over a million served) with the downsized II, right as OPEC determined our future direction. And it saved the Mustang franchise to reboot in '79 and remain in continuous production. A little respect. Sure the Cobra II seems a joke now, but the Malaise era was a strange time indeed. The Cutlass was the best selling car in '76....of course, the '76 Accord unknowingly hit the reset button, and that's all she wrote....
      WindsWilling
      • 1 Year Ago
      Yo Autoblog, how can you choose the Z/28, but not the "Bandit" T/A to discuss during that era, with it's massive engine, poor output, but killer looks? Who cares about the Z/28 then, you commies.
      DanDotDan
      • 1 Year Ago
      IMO, the Mustang II's claim to fame is its front suspension, which survives even today in numerous hot rods. So it wasn't a complete loss.
      Roger
      • 1 Year Ago
      Many folks forget that the Mustang II was a big hit selling 385,693 units in 1974 and a total of 1,107,418 units over its life span through 1978. Today many makes would be very happy to see these numbers. Is the II worse than the Juke, Cube, or Aztec? I think not!!
      Philip Stevens
      • 1 Year Ago
      1974 Ford Mustang II - Motor Trend Car of the Year Road and Track got it right . . .
      adam 9c1
      • 1 Year Ago
      My first car was a '83 Fairmont Futura (2 door fast coupe) straight 6. Little did I know about cars it only drove for a week. The head was warped and coolant and fuel were mixing in the oil. I'd love to get one of those again. Same light blue color and no rag top and bench seat. :-) But I'd go with a more modern FI V8 and 5speed please.
        cdwrx
        • 1 Year Ago
        @adam 9c1
        My first car was a '78 Fairmont Futura Ghia w/ 302 V8 and incredibly restrictive 2bbl Autolite carbs. Thing didn't have that bad of lines, but was hideous pale yellow/brown two-tone inside and out. But I'll have you naysayers know Bob Glidden won the '78 Pro Stock championship in one. It was a lot more Pro than it was Stock.
      dohc73
      • 1 Year Ago
      I look back at that era fondly. I remember spending a few afternoons in my aunt's hunter-green Pinto with saddle-tan interior her driving around, me in the hatch area, seats folded down, not a seat-belt in site. It warms my heart to know I could have been a potential statistic of an infamous design flaw.
        King of Eldorado
        • 1 Year Ago
        @dohc73
        Had you encountered that particular design flaw, it would also have warmed your lungs, spleen, kidneys, etc.
      robert
      • 1 Year Ago
      I don't care what anybody says , the dogs of the 70's and 80's will rise again ! And when you see one all restored, you WILL smile, and say things like " my dad had one of those" or " I drove that to my prom". I still have a pic of a Peugeot 505 sti that hung in my work locker and if I saw a good example of one I'd snap it up in a minute. I took my first new car to the drags, a '76 Mazda 808 coupe, and it did the quarter in 22 seconds flat! Who cares, I still loved it!
        Chris Barbieri
        • 1 Year Ago
        @robert
        I could be wrong, but I doubt we will see too many more cars from the 70s and 80s become collectibles. Some the "dogs" as you refer may have niche followings, but I don't see it going much beyond that. Part of the problem is that not many of those cars exist anymore, so finding parts has to be a bit of a pain. I will say, however, that it is kind of cool to see one of those old "undesirables", like a Vega, or AMC Spirit still on the road, and hope that whoever has it doesn't decide to scrap it now.
          dovegraybird
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Chris Barbieri
          I am gonna have to disagree with you about 70s cars being collectable. The lack of performance was sad, but they did have style, even if it seems a bit gawdy now. By the early eighties everything looked like a box on wheels, which quicky gave way to the jellybean look that we were stuck with front wheel drive for the better part of 2 decades. Back then even "non car people" could spot an Eldorado or a Thunderbird easily. Plus you did have alot of choices back then. I remember my parents going back and forth over which of the 8 shades of brown ( The "in" color at the time) the new Delta 88 would be. I clearly remember the vinyl roof color argument as well. Don't get me wrong, I am NOT suggesting it was a great look., but it did make your car different. Leaving work every night I often wonder how many silver Honda Civics one parking structure needs. Most of these cars sold in numbers that the big three would kill for today, so parts are not the issue. They were easy to work on. The only thing that doesnt make them collectable is the decade itself. Collecting cars, for the most part, isnt about what was cool or fast, but nostalgia. Most people care to forget the 70s.
          Chris
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Chris Barbieri
          Imagine my sheer joy at seeing a new 1979 Spirit Sedan (gremlin) waiting for me to drive to high school in the drive way!!! 4 cylinder , auto with air, it was a rockett...lol...actually it wasn\'t a bad car. just so slow it was painful for a teenager.
          Chris Barbieri
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Chris Barbieri
          dovegraybird, They may have sold a lot of cars in that era, but the real question is how many thought they were worth restoring since then? If I had to take a guess about 30 years from now, I'd say there's probably going to be more 2000s Mustangs and Camaros on the road than Camrys and Fusions from the same era. I often find myself wondering if there'd be as much nostalgia about cars from the 60s if the ones from the 70s and early 80s weren't bogged down by so many new government regulations, rising fuel prices and insurance premiums.
        Dixon Ticonderoga
        • 1 Year Ago
        @robert
        My mom had a 505, it looked awesome, but we were, literally, on a first name basis with a local tow truck driver. I\'d love to own one, but I\'d want to replace every inch of wire and every mechanical bit.
      EJD1984
      • 1 Year Ago
      I 100% disagree with your assessment of the Ford Fairmount. My grandmother had a 1979 Futura with the 302 V8, upgraded suspension, along with the Rally cluster. And it was one GREAT (under appreciated/sleeper) performance cars. Where do you think the much praised 1983 Aero Thunderbird came from - it was just a re-skinned Futura.
      gtv4rudy
      • 1 Year Ago
      I was (lucky) enough to own one of these sht boxes. A Mustang II , V8 with a stick. I bought it new and dreaded it after I bought it. I hated it . 2 years later traded it in for a new '80 Honda Civic... (What a relief)
      SPcamert
      • 1 Year Ago
      Where are the K-Cars? Pretty sure my parents had 3 of them and they probably only had about 80 hp and as a 6-year-old I once pulled the Plymouth nameplate off the car without any effort at all.
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