The auto industry of the 1970s was wracked by changes brought on by tightening U.S. government regulations and sudden spikes in fuel prices.
1970 Chevelle SS LS6
62. The mid-size Chevelle and its fancier Malibu twin debuted for 1964 and were the perfect hosts for Chevy's Super Sport treatment as well as its family of V-8 engines. Like the frantic muscle-car craze itself, the Chevelle peaked in the 1970 model year, thanks to an available 450-gross-hp, 454-cubic-inch V-8 that went by the option code LS6. That horsepower figure, like many of the day, was surely underestimated, but it was nonetheless the highest advertised factory number of the era. The 454 was new for 1970, and the LS6's Holley carburetor, high-rise aluminum intake manifold, solid-lifter camshaft, and other fortifications made it much hotter than the basic 360-hp LS5 454. Chevy built fewer than 200 Chevelle convertibles with the LS6 engine, and only a fraction of those had a four-speed manual transmission. Lucky for us, that's what we drove for this birthday celebration.
The big 454 idles surprisingly quietly, and the thin-rimmed steering wheel feels almost dainty. This car is by no means a softie, however. Bury the long-travel gas pedal, and the Chevelle leaps forward, its nose pointed upward. The overboosted power steering only gently influences the Chevelle's direction, and the superlong throws of the Muncie shifter force your elbow to bang into the seatback, but that doesn't diminish the thrill. We shift and floor it again and again, just to be amused by 500 lb-ft of torque and marvel at the movement of the vacuum-operated flipper door that bridges the stripes on the cowl-induction hood. It's easy to be awed by the LS6, one of the most muscular muscle cars ever and Chevrolet's pinnacle of an awesome era. -- Rusty Blackwell
The LUV pickup
63. This mini pickup was notable not for its strange name (an acronym for Light Utility Vehicle) but because the 1972 model was the first Chevrolet sold in the United States that was built by a foreign manufacturer: Isuzu, in Japan.
"Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet!"
64. Americans first began hearing this catchy jingle in the fall of 1974, when it was used to usher in the '75 models. It soon became ubiquitous on radio and TV.
65. The Monte Carlo
Although it debuted with a fairly crisp and clean form at the dawn of the '70s, the Monte Carlo really hit its stride with a garish, overwrought '73 redesign that featured opera windows, an available half vinyl top, and prominent side scallops. Thus adorned, the Monte Carlo was perfectly in tune with the era's questionable tastes. Sales zoomed to more than 400,000 in 1977 as Me Decade buyers snapped up this attainably priced "personal luxury" car. Designer Dave Holls said he considers the Monte Carlo "the most successful car ever made at General Motors. We never made more money on a car than [on] that one."
66. In 1968, GM chairman James Roche proclaimed that in two years his company would "build a small, economical, durable, safe, comfortable, and well-styled car." Incredibly, he was referring to the Vega. The Vega was nothing if not ambitious. It was powered by an all-new aluminum-block four-cylinder engine, and it was built at a new factory in Lordstown, Ohio, that featured the first major use of robots. GM had trouble both with its automated workers (which sometimes painted each other rather than the cars) and the human kind (who filed a blizzard of work grievances and went on strike in March 1972). The Vega earned a reputation for poor quality (the aluminum engine was prone to overheating and the bodies rusted voraciously), which was publicized by a spate of recalls (two of the most noteworthy were for gasoline spilling out of carburetors and for rear wheels falling off). A handsome restyling job for 1974 and the replacement of the aluminum-block engine with the more conventional and more durable Iron Duke four-cylinder couldn't save the Vega, which was killed after 1977.
67. Toy XI
Toy XI, as Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins dubbed his 1974 Vega, was the most influential Pro Stock car ever built -- the first with a tube frame, MacPherson struts, and a dry sump.
C3 Corvette racers
68. Jerry Thompson and Tony DeLorenzo, the son of a GM VP, scored twenty-two consecutive victories in SCCA and FIA competition -- often finishing 1-2 -- in C3 Corvettes powered by L88 big-blocks. Later, John Greenwood became the C3 standard-bearer, and a Corvette emblazoned with stars-and-stripes graphics clocked a record 215 mph at Le Mans.
69. After the Vega debacle, Chevrolet went a more conservative route for its next small car, the Chevette. In order to bring the car quickly to market, GM adapted its Opel Kadett/Vauxhall Chevette, thus creating its first world car (versions were also sold in Brazil, Argentina, Australia, and Japan). U.S. buyers had a choice of an iron-block 1.4-liter making 52 hp or a 60-hp 1.6-liter. The $2899 Chevette Scooter had no rear seats, but more expensive models had four seats. Chevy general manager Robert Lund predicted 275,000 sales in the car's debut year of 1976, but the final tally wasn't even close. By the end of the decade, however, aided by a four-door version and -- more important -- another spike in gas prices, the Chevette was among the best-selling cars in America.
70. Dave McLellan
Dave McLellan succeeded Zora Arkus-Duntov as the Corvette's chief engineer in 1975 -- a difficult time for the sports car. Its performance had weakened, and many within GM questioned whether it should continue. McLellan was able to put the Corvette on the road to recovery, developing the C4 (1984), reintroducing the convertible (1986), and bringing out the ZR-1 for 1990 before retiring two years later, when he handed the reins to Dave Hill.
71. The '77 full-size Chevy was exactly right for the times, and it was a best seller right out of the box. Compared with its porcine predecessor, the downsized Caprice/Impala shed about 650 pounds and nearly a foot in length. A 350-cubic-inch V-8 was the top engine, but the best money a buyer could spend was $36 for the F-41 suspension option. As to the new design aesthetic, GM design director Chuck Jordan said, "The longer, wider, and lower automobile philosophy of the 1950s and 1960s is gone for good."
Pickups pull in front
72. In 1974, the Chevrolet C/K pickup nosed ahead of the full-size Chevy to become the brand's best-selling model. Today, the Silverado pickup is well out in front (as is the case with crosstown rival Ford).
Highest sales volume ever
73. Chevy annual sales peaked at 4,550,632 in 1978. Four-million-plus years, though, have not been uncommon, occurring in '73, '77-'79, and '05-'08.
74. Low and slow
The lowrider movement had been in existence in the Latino community since the 1940s, but it began to percolate into the wider popular consciousness in the 1970s. Although all kinds of cars were turned into lowriders, the early-'60s Chevy Impala became an indisputable favorite. Later versions of the big Chevy each got their own lowrider nickname: "Donk" (the big '70s models), "Box" (the '77-'90 version), and "Bubble" (the '91-'96 Caprice).