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Mythbusting Part 2: The death of performance in the 1970s.

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Mythbusting Part 2: The death of performance in the 1970s.

Old 06-21-2007, 06:49 AM
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Mythbusting Part 2: The death of performance in the 1970s.

Mythbusting Part 2...Brought to you by Aaron91RS:
Originally Posted by Aaron91RS View Post
Ummm muscle cars had the lowest power in history during the 70's and mopar died along with AMC and some other brands.

So the above explanation to me has about as much spin as a michael moore film.
I think I rather take my chances leaving CAFE alone and buying whatever I damn well please.
Aaron brings up perhaps an even bigger myth than the one that "Increased CAFE will kill pereformance cars": The idea that CAFE and pullution standards killed muscle cars.


First, emissions:

The very 1st pollution standards on passenger cars happened in 1968. 1971 saw evaporative canisters on new cars. 1972 saw EGRs 1st appear to deal with nitrous oxide. '75 saw most cars start using catalytic converters. That same year, congress delays HC and CO standards due to take effect that year till 1978 at the request of the US auto industry. In '77, again at the request of the US auto industry, congress delays HC standards till 1980, CO standards till 1981, and relaxes the NOx standards and delays it till 1981.

Congress enacted a new round of emissions regulations in 1990 aimed at further reducing HC and NOx starting on cars made in 1994.

Keep the years in mind as I go on.


Second, in the late 1960s, the automotive insurence lobby got together with the safety lobby in a campaign to reel in performace cars. The safety lobby pointed to the marketing of these cars to youth (Cartoon characters, modern slang, and the wild colors and lettering on various cars didn't help) although most who actually bought the top performance versions of these cars tended to be a bit older and more settled. Although, the numbers to support the safety lobby's conention that the US auto industry was actually selling high powered, 4 wheeled death to kids was all but fantasy, it was still enough for the insurence industry to start jacking up insurence on these cars in 1970. Suddenly, anything with the letters GTO or SS, regardless of actual engine size or horsepower rating, was slapped with an insurence surcharge.

Again, keep this timeframe in mind.


Third, in the 1960s, the government identified lead as a major health risk and sought to ban it from public use. This included paints as well as... gasoline. Lead was used in gasoline (starting in the 1920s)to control knocking in high compression engines. The Feds mandated phasing lead out of gasoline starting in 1973.


Fourth point, the energy crisis of the 70s. It started in 1973 (October 17th to be exact) when OPEC nations retaliated against countries that supported Israel when Egypt and Syria did a surprise gang-up on Israel and wound up with the short end of the stick (they were also mad at us for buying oil cheap from them, yet selling goods at inflated prices). I could go into vivid details of the oil crisis, but it's not necessary for this purpose. Just the timeframe, and the severity is enough.


Now, with all the dates set, going back to the sales figures of muscle and performance cars, here's what you have:

* Camaro sales dropped from 243,000 in 1969 to 124,000 in 1970. Mustang dropped from 300,000 to 191,000. Pontiac GTO production dropped from 72,287 in 1969 to just 40,000 in 1970 (it was 100,000 in 1966). 86,307 Chevelles had the Super Sport option in 1969. In 1970 it dropped to just over 60K, and just over 19K in 1971. When you go through just about any "performance car" of the same time period, it faced the same drops.

All well before new pollution standards and any fuel crisis.


As for Mopar "dying" in the 1970s, consider these items:

* Chrysler continued to offer multiple carb 440s till 1972.
* Chrysler also kept high compression engines till 1973.
* Chrysler was the last automaker to go without cats (1977).
* The 1972 400ci "B" engine was nothing more than a bored out, high performance, 383 with lower compresion (but high flow) heads.
* In 1974 (in the midst of a fuel crisis, and new tightening emissions regulations, Chrysler pulled performance parts from it's 340 shelf and put them in the 360.
* That same engine in 2 barrel form actually outaccelerated Pontiac's 1977 Trans Am T/A 6.6 while in the body of a Plymouth Volare Road Runner and Dodge Aspen R/T.
* That engine (with a 4 barrel this time) became the quickest accelerating vehicle made in the US for a couple of years... while under the hood of Dodge's 'Lil Red Express Truck.
* Dodge was the last US automaker to have dual exhausts behind a V8 and a 4 barrel (1979). Even the Aspen and Volare "Super Coupes" had them.


Finally, the "lowest horsepower in history" for the most part happened at the start of the 1980s. The top Mustang V8 had 115 horsepower. Trans Ams were down to 200. Z28s after getting up to 190 were back down to 175. Chrysler's Aspen-Volares were down to a 120 horse 318 after having a 190 horse 360 the year before.


Summary, Muscle cars in the traditional sense was dead BEFORE emissions and fuel economy killed them. The public moved away from them, insurence made them too expensive, baby boomers matrured to personal luxury cars as they grew older, meanwhile, banning lead in gasoline directly killed high compression engines.... till modern electronics and on board computers made up for it years later.

No "Michael Moore" spin.

Just facts to dispell common myths.
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Old 06-21-2007, 07:34 AM
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Way to go Adam, err, Guy. It's great when somebody can lay the facts on the table in an easy to read manner. How many parts of this are we going to see?
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Old 06-21-2007, 07:53 AM
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Originally Posted by guionM View Post
1972 saw EGRs 1st appear to deal with nitrous oxide.
Not nitrous oxide - you mean oxides of nitrogen. Similar name, different molecular structure. Nitrous oxide has two nitrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Oxides of nitrogen have one molecule of nitrogen and may have one or more oxygen molecules.
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Old 06-21-2007, 08:39 AM
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The insurance companies were a factor no doubt because cars had major HP..kind of like today.

High oil prices were a factor...kind of like today.

So lets put a 3rd nail in the coffin and increase the CAFE standards...kind of like the legislation is thinking about doing today.

The insurance companies and green fuel people have a lot of influence on congress and their influenece comes out in the form of clean air acts and other CAFE crap.

The Feds mandated phasing lead out of gasoline starting in 1973.
And today they want to go to ethonal. How many decades will it take them this time to make a 500HP pure ethonal vette that gets a good enough MPG to offset the lower BTU production vs cost.

Lets look at the 1970's version. It was enacted in 1970 but limited HC and CO emissions 90% from what they emitted in 1970 to be effective by the 1975 models

So the auto compainies knew this was coming for 5 years, they started preparing before that and performance started to come down. They didn't know what would be pushed back and what wouldn't. They just knew they better start practicing to get cars to pass those up coming requirements.
And what was the last big muscle car, the 73-74 SD455.

What did happen in 1975 is CATS. Pellet cats. Pellet cats aren't anything like todays cats, they did seriously suck power

They also limited nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions 90% from what they emitted in 1971 to go into effect by the 1976 model year.
A 455 in a 76TA made a whopping 200HP. Thats pathetic, it appears to me performance did in fact die.
Even using net vs gross rating it was still dismal

Dodge was the last US automaker to have dual exhausts behind a V8 and a 4 barrel (1979). Even the Aspen and Volare "Super Coupes" had them.
Who wants an aspen no matter what engine it has in it? An 4bbl or not it didn't make power.

Sales dropped. When you go through just about any "performance car" of the same time period, it faced the same drops.
You talk about selling numbers, like I said anything about that. I said performance died, you said it didn't. Sales number are no indication of HP numbers

Conclusion: There were more then one factor, but those same factors are brewing today. Why put one more nail in the coffin with more crappy laws?

Last edited by Aaron91RS; 06-21-2007 at 09:36 AM.
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Old 06-21-2007, 10:10 AM
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Originally Posted by Aaron91RS View Post
You talk about selling numbers, like I said anything about that. I said performance died, you said it didn't. Sales number are no indication of HP numbers
If people don't buy them, the car is dead. For example, the 4th gen fbody.

If you want to take the myopic view that you just want to make sure you can buy a 4-500hp super pony car, then yes, these laws could be bad.

I think guy's point is, gas prices and mileage standards won't necessarily kill 'performance' cars, or at least teh historical evidence doesn't bear it out. Yes the actual performance may suffer, but the historical evidence does bear out that insurance prices alone do a a far better job of killing the market for ultra high performance cars.

IOW, maybe if INSURANCE didn't kill the market for 400+hp big blocks then maybe 5 years down the road the manufacturers would have had an interest in preserving and optimizing performance. As it was, the market for big hp was all but dead anyway so why bother.
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Old 06-21-2007, 12:35 PM
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One thing I always wondered, and it has some relevence to this issue, is what was the used muscle car market like in the 70's? Did people buy the 60's muscle cars at this time or were they passed by? This could be very telling.

Last edited by SNEAKY NEIL; 06-21-2007 at 12:39 PM.
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Old 06-21-2007, 01:34 PM
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I was close on the insurance thing in the other thread. I said '72, pretty close

Insurance is the main reason you don't see a lot of the under 25 crowd driving new mustang GT's. I see quite a few with the older fox body 5.0's, but insurance is cheaper on a 25 year old car.

When I was 17 (back in '98) I had the chance to buy a nice 88 Camaro Z28. I had heard about the insurance thing and for basic liability they wanted almost $2,500/year. I had no accidents or tickets on my license. That was more than double what I was paying for my old toyota truck and C-10. So I let the great deal pass.

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Old 06-21-2007, 03:28 PM
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Great thread and post.

If you'll forgive me for being over-simplistic, I'll venture out on a limb and make it as simple as one single factor.

When the MARKET for a musclecar goes away, so will the musclecar.

That is in essence what happened in the 1970's and early 80's - there was no single dagger that did it, it was the overall summation of all the factors at play. Bottom line is, the common ponycar/musclecar was simply impractical and too expensive to own and operate under the economic conditions of that day. Some people could afford them, so they lived on - even if in limited numbers. Most people decided they could not afford the initial cost, maintenace, upkeep, operating expenses, and insurance, so they went for more cost-effective units like B210s, Vegas, Pintos, Hornets, Pacers, and the like.

The answer is really THAT simple IMO.

If people are standing around with $90k to drop on a Mustang, the car will continue to be offered by someone (Ford, Shelby, Billy-Bob or someone).
When the crowd decides that they don't want them anymore, it will cease to exist.

History DOES repeat itself, and I think we are going to see it again in the next 3-5 years. Back in 1967, the market began to FLOOD with competition to the Mustang. Camaro and Firebird showed up. Cudas were revamped. Cougar came along. Charger and Challenger were realigned. Javelin came out. Torinos were trimmed and revamped. Heck, we could list 2-dozen cars that were basically ponycars or musclecars that were all jockeying for the same basic buyer. Within 5 years of 1969, the playing field was mutilated, and we were down to a handful, and even those were neutered versions of their predecessors. The market changed, and either the cars did too or they died.

I predict the same again... soon. Don't get me wrong, I think pony cars and the muscle war will go on in some form and fashion, but this wild craze for everyone to field 2 or 3 models into this segment will die... soon.
That's what bugs me so much about the Camaro being 2 MYs away, and the DCX offerings coming in like they are, and even Ford's own Mustang refreshening... WHY have all of these offerings been SO SLOW TO MARKET?!?!
The time is here and now!

On the flip side - many of you know I am a collector/racer/beater, etc of Mustangs. Just went to a show Saturday in Burlington, NC (brought home a 2nd with a '72 coupe, 351-C unrestored sleeper - placed behind a national champion so I'm happy!). Been going to this show for 19 years, and every year I see changes. This year was the biggest change yet for me. 20 years ago, you saw mostly 20 year old cars 1964-1968 Mustangs dominated the field in 1987/88. Today, the field is 70% cars that are new to 4 years old. There was a class JUST for 2007 Shelbys at this event - I'm like "WTF?!?!" What this indicates to me is that it costs more to be in this hobby than it used to, and the push from the public is not to spend time and effort on restoring old cars, but to buy new ones and mod them to suit you asap. It's the "easy way into a showcar".

The event always brings out the specialty cars from local dealers. This year they have gone through the stratosphere.
Example... in 2003, the Mach 1 was displayed with an MSRP of $27k and a $5k dealer rape fee.
Last year, the GT/CS was on display for about $30k with a $3k rape charge, there were several Roush and Saleen cars there for $42-49k, and the GT500 was not even out yet, but was expected to MSRP at $5-48k.
THIS YEAR, Foose cars were there from $50-56k, Roush 427R was there for $54k, Parnelli Jones cars (2 of them) were there for $60,656 each, Saleens from $47-55k, Shelby GTs (2 of them) were there for @$42k, and most unbelievable was that 10 2006 Hertz cars were put up for a dealer-only auction last Thursday, and NONE OF THEM SOLD!!! They were on reserve for $40k from Hertz direct, and bidding never topped $30k.
So I've watched the price and content of these specialty cars climb at about 10% a year since 2003, and they took about a %15 jump in the last 12 months alone. This is just SICK.

After all this typing, my message is this...
We, here, like nice, fast, cool cars. They are expensive, and they are getting more so every day. The costs of buying and operating these cars is growing at a rate faster than our average salaries are, so they are becoming more difficult for us average Joes to afford. Hence, the market is shrinking, and the proposition for a manufacturer to build them in mass volumes is becoming less rewarding. This is a trend, one that is already apparent and is not brand new. It is also one that has happened before, and I suspect this one will follow very similar path to the previous one. Time will tell.

You have it in writing from me... Billy-Bob Mater Tater, in the flesh!
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Old 06-21-2007, 03:46 PM
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Lead was removed from gasoline because lead is a carcinogen.

Ethanol is being added to gasoline to decrease our dependence on foreign oil.

How can you compare the two?
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Old 06-21-2007, 03:57 PM
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Originally Posted by jg95z28 View Post
Lead was removed from gasoline because lead is a carcinogen.

Ethanol is being added to gasoline to decrease our dependence on foreign oil.

How can you compare the two?
If removed, both contribute to taking energy out of fuel, hence poorer gas mileage and reduced power.
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Old 06-21-2007, 04:35 PM
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Lead was not put into fuel to increase the energy in the fuel. It serves as a lubricant.
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Old 06-21-2007, 04:52 PM
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Lead (tetra-ethyl lead to be precise) is an octane booster and became popular in WWII due to the necessity of fuel for high performance piston aircraft. Unlike ethanol it does not contain oxygen.

Lead is not carcinogenic, but it is toxic. Other octane enhancing chemicals may be carcinogenic though. MTBE for example is carcinogenic at high doses in lab animals but not technically classified as a human carcinogen because it isn't at normal exposure levels.
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Old 06-21-2007, 04:57 PM
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Excellent points all around.

I would probably add changing consumer tastes as well*. In the 60s/70s each manufacturer sold dozens of 2-door coupe models and one SUV. Now the situation is reversed.

(* and the increasing size of people's asses)
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Old 06-21-2007, 06:20 PM
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Originally Posted by SNEAKY NEIL View Post
One thing I always wondered, and it has some relevence to this issue, is what was the used muscle car market like in the 70's? Did people buy the 60's muscle cars at this time or were they passed by? This could be very telling.
From what I've read, '60 and early '70s musclecars were a dime a dozen in the late '70s. Nobody wanted the things. I think I remember reading an article in HPP or PE about Judges going for around $800 in the late '70s.
It probably wasn't until around 1984 that people became interested in restoring old muscle cars. And of course the dream of making huge piles of cash then entered the arena.
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Old 06-21-2007, 06:36 PM
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Originally Posted by ProudPony View Post
Been going to this show for 19 years, and every year I see changes. This year was the biggest change yet for me. 20 years ago, you saw mostly 20 year old cars 1964-1968 Mustangs dominated the field in 1987/88. Today, the field is 70% cars that are new to 4 years old. There was a class JUST for 2007 Shelbys at this event - I'm like "WTF?!?!" What this indicates to me is that it costs more to be in this hobby than it used to, and the push from the public is not to spend time and effort on restoring old cars, but to buy new ones and mod them to suit you asap. It's the "easy way into a showcar".
There's a lot of truth in what you are saying, Proud. And I'm a perfect example. I have my C/E to show. If I wanted a '69 GTO that was as nice as my C/E, I'd have to spend probably around $60-70K. And that would be just a R/A III automatic. That's twice what my C/E cost. I can't afford that. Hell my house cost just a bit more than a nice GTO does.
And, of course, there is the ease of obtaining a nice new car and getting just want you want. You don't have to scour newspapers, magazines, web sites looking for the right car. You don't have to worry about a seller screwing you over (condition, authenticity, clone, etc). You don't have to travel for it. Just go down to your local dealer, pick the options & color you want, plunk down some money, and drive it home.
And if you pick the right car, it's value in 30-40 years may be equal to what the musclecars are now.
That's why a 5th gen Camaro convertible is so appealing to me. Instant classic.
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