The 1970s decade for automobiles was one of the most interesting and radical in terms of change than any other decade before it. Fuel efficiency and lower emissions became new buzzwords for 1970s cars however automotive styling was emphasized more than ever before. There were many memorable cars with either beautiful or ugly styling that were produced during the 1970s. Here’s the list of the top 5 that were ugly yet fun cars.
1973-1975 Pontiac Grand Am (4-door)
When Pontiac released the all-new Grand Am for the 1973 model year, Pontiac had officially created its first version of the the European touring car. It was considerably bigger in size than most European touring cars but it had the handling and road manners close to these European touring cars when compared to most American cars at the time. The 2-door model of the 1973-1975 Grand Am was super sporty and attractive with a semi-fast back roofline, louvers on the rear side windows, and a sleek endura front-end. It was what the Pontiac GTO should have been during that time since it had better styling than the 1973 GTO and 1974 GTO.
The problem was Pontiac also offered a 4-door sedan version of the Grand Am which changed the Grand Am’s appearance to the point where it lost its good looks. The 4-door Grand Am’s more formal roofline did not really blend as well with the Grand Am’s sleek exterior body lines or the very sporty front and rear design like the 2-door Grand Am’s roofline did. American car buyers were not yet ready for an 4-door American car with European touring car attributes, by the 1980s this would change. Though the 4-door Grand Am appeared ugly to many buyers back in the day it was very fun car to drive and it could be equipped with either a Pontiac 400 or 455 cubic-inch V8. It was a great handling car for its era and for anyone wanting a one-of-a-kind 1970s era 4-door performance car with good handling, the 4-door 1973-1975 Pontiac Grand Am is your car.
1974-1976 Bricklin SV-1
Bricklin was a small Canadian automaker with only one mission in mind – to build an ultra safe 2-seat sports car. SV-1 was short for “Safety Vehicle 1”. The Bricklin SV-1 had ultra modern styling with flat body panels with sharp edges which would foreshadow the sports car styling of the 1980s. Unfortunately its super large ugly front bumper which provided excellent crash safety ruined its modern looks and gave the car such a long frontal area, it made the rest of the car look disproportional. Not to mention the massive rear bumper was the size of railroad tie. Even the SV-1’s futuristic gull-wing doors could not make up for the ridiculous front and rear bumpers. Bricklin would not last long as a company before it permanently closed its doors, this is why the SV-1 only had 3 years of production with its last year being produced by another company.
Had Bricklin not used the jumbo-sized bumpers, the SV-1 would have been a great looking sports car. As an example the 1984-1989 Nissan 300ZX had much smaller bumpers and was a great looking extremely popular sports car that curiously had the same exterior styling of the SV1 from the front tires all the way back to the rear taillights. The SV-1 which had fiberglass body panels was a fun car to drive since it was a front-engine rear-wheel drive sports car that was standard with a V8 – depending on model year it was either an AMC 360 cubic-inch V8 or a Ford 351 cubic-inch small-block Windsor V8.
1968-1978 Lamborghini Espada
The Lamborghini Muira and Countach were bold and beautifully styled sports cars that made Lamborghini a legitimate competitor to Ferrari. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for Lamborghini’s 2+2 sports coupe, the 1968-1978 Espada which had wild exterior styling that gave it strange proportions that made it appear ugly in comparison to other expensive Italian cars. Its long hood, long front overhang, and a fastback roofline that was so horizontal it made the car look like a sport wagon.
Ironically when the Espada debuted, around the same time Lamborghini also debuted the Islero which was also a 2+2 sports coupe. The Islero had modern pop-up headlights versus the Espada’s more conventional exposed round headlights. The Islero had beautiful exterior styling in comparison to the Espada. However what the Espada lacked in good looks it more than made up for with its fantastic steering, handling, and a legendary engine under the hood. The Espada’s 3.9 liter V12 engine was a powerhouse back in the 1970s producing 325 to 350 horsepower depending on model year. During the 1970s when most cars were loosing horsepower the Espada had plenty of horsepower to reach a top speed of 155 mph. Back in the 1970s it didn’t get any better than that for a 2+2 sports coupe.
1970-1978 AMC Gremlin
Anyone alive during the 1970s will remember seeing the 2-door AMC Gremlin on America’s streets. It was a sub-compact car which was reliable inexpensive transportation but it was ugly. Its stubby rear hatchback design was the main cause of its bad looks. However the Gremlin was very inexpensive which was just what frugal car buyers wanted back in the 1970s. It was the perfect economical car for the times yet it didn’t have a four-cylinder engine option until late in its production life.
The Gremlin had big some advantages compared to other sub-compacts of the 1970s because it was rear-wheel drive and could be equipped with either a 232 cubic-inch inline 6-cylinder engine or 258 cubic-inch inline 6-cylinder engine. These engines provided fantastic low-end torque and zippy acceleration. But it got even better, from 1972-1976 the Gremlin could be ordered with AMC’s 304 cubic-inch V8. Even though it was a low-compression V8 with a 2-barrel carburetor, the Gremlin’s light-weight ensured quick acceleration for a sub-compact car. Add to that both 6-cylinder engines and the V8 were available with a manual transmission with a floor mounted shifter. It was all these factors that made the Gremlin a lot of fun to drive.
1973-1974 Volkswagen Thing
The most ugly new vehicle on the road in America back in the 1970s was the Volkswagen Thing. The name says it all, it was so ugly that Volkswagen couldn’t give it a proper name for the U.S. market. Back in Germany, it was officially the Volkswagen Type 181 which was marketed and sold as the Thing in the U.S. Market, it was marketed in other countries with different names. The reason for its ugly duckling looks was the Type 181 was originally designed as an utilitarian vehicle for use by the West German Army. This also meant it was an extremely durable vehicle that was built to last.
The Volkswagen Thing was a four-seat, four-door vehicle with a rear-engine and rear-wheel drive layout. It was only available in the U.S. with Volkswagen’s air-cooled 1.6 liter flat 4-cylinder engine and a 4-speed manual transmission. However the reason why the Thing has such a high fun factor was it was a convertible with easily removable half doors, a retractable soft-top, and a fold-down windshield. With the soft-top retracted and the doors removed the Thing provided the same open air experience which the current Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco provide. In fact the Volkswagen Thing is so fun to drive it’s more popular today than back in the 1970s.
Click on the link below, to watch the video of this article via Old Car Memories’ YouTube channel:
Written contents in this article – © 2023 Pete Dunton (Old Car Memories) – All Rights Reserved