ConsumerGuide Automotive : Classic Car ads of '74

Absolutely. At the time, the Japanese cars were considered throw-away tin can quality. They may have gotten much better fuel economy, but the Japanese manufacturers hadn't figured out yet how to make a reliable automatic transmission, or air conditioning. And the body rust was even worse on Japanese cars than the domestic cars. The dealership staff would talk between ourselves, that these cars just weren't build to last much more than 65k - 75k miles.

Based upon today's Asian car offerings, It is hard to even think that their quality used to be so poor.
The American cars of the mid 70's were NOT durable either.
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My dad’s friend saved up and ordered a new ‘79 Camaro… silver with a maroon interior 350/4 speed. Upon delivery, he noticed it had a black cigarette lighter door, as opposed to the maroon it should have been. A few hundred miles later, he noticed it was down on oil, but he couldn’t add any because neither valve cover had an oil fill hole/cap. Someone assembled the engine with two of the same side valve covers. To add more insult to injury, the silver paint flaked off within a couple years.
A while back I worked with a guy that worked on the Camaro assembly line in Norwood (Cincinnati) up until when the plant closed, he said as soon as everyone found out the plant was going to be shut down there was definitely a lot of sabotage going on. Mismatched parts, nuts and bolts intentionally not tightened, leaving wiring harnesses unplugged, whatever. He also said the amount of alcohol and drug use was off the charts. He had a lot of interesting stories.
In my experience, not all 70’s cars were lousy. In the 80’s and 90’s I must have had a thing for 1977 GM cars. Had a Caprice, a Pontiac Parisienne, and a Cadillac Fleetwood at different times, for several years each. They were all good cars, reliable and comfy. Hard on gas compared to today’s cars, but gas was cheap then.
My wife and I both inherited Caprices from our parents during high school, and my friend had a Parisienne. Those were definitely well built cars. Very few problems with any of them, and we didnt exactly treat them nicely. Both Caprices were definitely gas guzzlers, but the Parisienne wasnt too bad for some reason.
Vega. That’s a major fail from GM. The oil burner of the decade in my opinion. At least they weren’t an interference engine when they shucked the timing belt. They were rusting around the back glass and rear hatch before they were out of warranty. That fuel mileage listed in the article is laughable. No way.
The Chevrolet dealership that I wrenched for had a Cosworth Vega with a blown engine. The customer sued Chevrolet after he was told that there wasn’t a replacement engine coming. They settled with him and that Cosworth Vega was crushed so the Chevy rep said.
I think the VEGA wagon was 1st car I drove . Automatic . Was around 16 .
I was looking for a new car in late 1980 and looked at everything out there. Imagine sitting in a brand new Z/28 Camaro and noticing that the console was crooked. Or looking at brand new cars where the fender, doors, hood for example, the gap between them was off. I finally got down to Audi, BMW, Saab and Volvo. Well as you can see I ended up buying a Volvo. American cars from the seventies and up to the mid-eighties were absolute junk. The American companies keep wondering how the Japanese car companies took over the U.S. automobile market?
Just like Tesla?
1974 was probably the height of American inferior over weight garbage.....and "small cars" that were a joke.
Thats why Dodge brought over the Dodge Colt from Japan in 1973....Bought a new one in 1973 Dodge Colt GT...It was a good car with front disc brakes...A hemi head engine and no power steering.. No A/C...mid 20s to the lower 302 for MPG...
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I learned to drive with a 1978 Honda Civic. Manual (of course), 4 on the floor. It was a tinny buzz-box, perhaps more reliable than an American car of the era but that ain't sayin' much. Going down the freeway in top gear the engine was screaming like it was near redline. Despite good maintenance, at 90k miles it started falling apart with serious engine issues: camshaft, electrical, etc.
We had an '83, and it was no better. It was a cheap car, and that's because it was built that way. No creature comforts of any kind. No armrests, etc. It was fatiguing to drive. It wouldn't start in extremely cold or wet weather, and required engine work (valve guides and seals probably) twice before 80K miles.
I had an ‘86 Civic 1500, and it was hard to start and drive in cold, wet weather…no matter how much you adjusted the choke, it would not idle or run w/o stalling.
Replaced plugs, cap and rotor, wires, used waterproofing spray…nothing worked. Was told that’s the way Honda’s were.
1974 was the low point for drivability and efficiency. Even my Dad said he'd never buy a'74 anything after getting a new Mustang II 4 cyl and whose first tank netted only 10 mpg.

Cars got starved for fuel and cut out on hard left or right turns, experienced stalling, back firing, poor idle, hard starting, missing on acceleration.

CR documented this extensively in their tests. Popular Mechanics owner stats confirmed it as well.
Thanks for posting the ads, very cool.

My first car was a 1974 Dodge Dart. the same blue color as the 1974 Plymouth Scamp in the ad posted.
I inherited it when I was about 17 and it was already 17 years old. My family got it with 80K on the clock. I got it when it had about 120K on the 318 (5.2L). What an experience. It was a stupid "My first car" attachment.

Terrible MPG, about 13.7MPG no matter what I did. I realized after some years of driving it the carb needed to be rebuild and a rebuild carb resulted in about 15+MPG, I think that was its potential. The slant six engine did better but not much. The combo I had was the 318 engine / 3 speed transmission which was actually fairly bulletproof. Everything else wasn't. I went through several alternators, a water pump.. one alt would go out, would get another one from a junk yard for $10 and install it myself in a few minutes. A long list of things I DIY being a poor college student.
It was the quintessential uncool car.

It had points.. not much power, 145HP. For the first year, I had to manually set the choke - (close when start the car, open when warmed up), the coil was broken. AC never worked so I did 4/80 AC on hot days. Door locks were broken and I ended up not ever locking it. Classic Chrysler rust around rear fenders and a hole formed in the trunk, after every rain, I would get a 2" puddle in the spare tire area. I carried tools with me and a spare gas can because the tank was so small and MPG was poor. Tiny space in the trunk. Bench seat, weird seat belts that you had to pull just right. Paint flaking off.

That was in the late 80's/early 90's and I really wanted a newer car, like 1987Chrysler New Yorker 5th Avenue with the same 318/3 speed, so it had the same guts in a better package (leather seats, no bench, etc.) except that it had one of these electronic feedback carbs with emissions stuff connected to it. Or Dodge Diplomat. Or Chrysler Cordova with the 360 as the paradigm of luxury. I don't think 1974 was the worst of the worst, 1976 Plymouth Volaire rusted so bad you could hear it rust at night.

For some reason I wanted a Plymouth station wagon and test drove a few old ones from the 70s, some GM cars with big blocks. Now that's an experience. Overall quality seemed abysmal and much emissions stuff under the hood, pounds of it. Reducing power, complicating repairs.

I never did wear out the 318/3 speed tranny in the Dart but it's everything else around it that was malfunctioning. Front end was weak.. Tiny gas tank relative to the thirsty V8, I ran out of gas more than once and carried a plastic 5 gallon jug in the trunk with the gas smell getting inside.. you get used to it. I miss those days in a strange way. When I was young, broke and drove a Dodge Dart with the entire tool set inside as something broke in it every 2-3 weeks it seemed.

You can look at it this way, the fact these 70's Chrysler ran for 20+ years and there were plenty on the roads in the 90's was a testament to their well engineered parts, at the same time, much was overlooked (rust-prone bodies). I recall in late 90's I wanted to upgrade to a newer Chrysler/Dodge and these cars were even more questionable, in retrospect - harder to work on, systematic tranny failures. 20 years later none are on the roads.
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My first new car was a 1979 Arrow GT 2.6. It had four wheel discs, a SOHC four with balance shafts and a five speed manual. 0-60 in a "blistering" 10 seconds(fast for its time). I was interested in the 1982 Z28, but in reality it wasn't much quicker than my Arrow. Two years later I bought a 1973 Bavaria and the rest is history...
Regret selling my 74 Grand Prix Model J, for a land yacht it was fast and smooth. ☹️
My first new car was a 1979 Arrow GT 2.6. It had four wheel discs, a SOHC four with balance shafts and a five speed manual. 0-60 in a "blistering" 10 seconds(fast for its time). I was interested in the 1982 Z28, but in reality it wasn't much quicker than my Arrow. Two years later I bought a 1973 Bavaria and the rest is history...
Oh Man...I love the Arow as a kid and completely forgot about them somehow. It was an easier to live with Alfetta GTV!