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Exhaust Note #30: It’s the 1970s All Over Again! Or Is It?

  • September 29, 2008
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Is there no end to the bad news this year? Mortgage crisis. Sky-high fuel prices. Financial institutions dropping like flies. A steadily warming planet. And of course, rapidly declining auto sales. The last time things were this bad, disco was in, aesthetics and design were taking a huge leap backwards, and we were all driving ugly, emasculated, smog-controlled cars that were a sad echo of the fast and passionately styled cars of just a few short years past. Yes people, I’m talking about the 1970s, an era that, one of our favorite fellow automotive blogs, refers to as the Malaise Era.


Is this what we’re doomed to?

With the state of things these days and the accompanying pessimism, it sure feels like the 1970s. Maybe our fashion isn’t as bad, but then again in the next couple of decades we might look back in horror at what we thought was cool in the first decade of the 21st century. I even have a theory that the sad state of affairs is driving everything retro today as people yearn for happier times. This is true for a whole lot of things from movies (notice how many flicks these days are remakes of old movies, as if no one was creative enough to come up with new storylines?) to fashion (big aviator glasses and mustaches are back) to design (Verner Panton’s super seventies living spaces seem so new again).
Actually, when it comes to the state of automotive progress, maybe things aren’t so bad. In fact, we might be on the cusp of the next big thing. Back in the 1970s, a combination of high fuel prices and new emissions regulations resulted in cars with awful drivability, poor reliability, and no power. Today, we’ve already got hybrids that demand no sacrifice in performance and proven clock-like reliability. We’ve got extended range electric vehicles (that have gasoline engines that allow them the flexibility to be used as normal cars if necessary) coming from GM and Chrysler within the next couple of years. And several manufacturers have operational test fleets of vehicles powered by alternate forms of energy. And right now, we have large mainstream family cars like the Toyota Camry that will do over 30 miles per gallon on the highway while providing better acceleration than just about any “muscle car” from the 1970s.


The Chevrolet Volt’s E-Flex technology. Hopefully this means we won’t have to drive 21st century Pintos!

None of these are likely the long term answer to our energy and transportation problems, but at least many of them are practical and viable shorter term solutions that don’t ask the user to make unreasonable sacrifices. That certainly wasn’t the case in the 1970s.
So maybe we don’t have to be so pessimistic, at least not when it comes to the automobile. Things will probably be a lot better this time around for those of us that love cars. I’m thinking that at least from an automotive sense, we’re better equipped this time to not only ensure that the automotive state of the art won’t go backwards, but in fact truly move forward towards a better and brighter future.
Good stuff, then. Now about the return of 1970s fashion…I’m still not so sure about that one.

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