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1974 Chevrolet Chevelle Laguna Type S-3 454

                        

My inclusion of the 1974 Chevrolet Chevelle Laguna Type S-3 454 as an object of Car Disgust might seem puzzling. Why would a 454-cubic-inch Chevelle-based muscle car wind up lumped into Car Disgust, especially when the 1970 Chevelle SS454 was one of the very first Car Lusts?

Well, in truth, the Laguna Type S-3 454 wasn't so much a muscle car as it was the decaying, bloated corpse of a muscle car--the dug-up remains of the glorious Chevelle SS454, reanimated Weekend at Bernie's-style, with nothing more substantial than a freshly pressed leisure suit.

While the Chevelle SS454 was one of the brightest stars of the resplendent automotive firmament of the late 1960s, the Laguna was just the opposite--an impossibly inky black hole in the considerably darker sky of the early 1970s.

In a 1970 Car & Driver comparison test, a Chevelle SS454 had battled the legendary Shelby Cobra to a draw and established itself as one of the most powerful and seductive muscle cars of its era. Only four years later, changing tastes and emissions regulations had turned the smooth, torquey engine into an unresponsive weakling, and the bold Chevelle into a tacky Laguna.

The 454 dropped from 450 to 235 horsepower (though part of that drop can be blamed on a change in the rating system). For reference, a Hyundai Sonata is available with that same 235 horsepower--in an engine less than half the size; in a car with vastly more interior space, that is much quicker, and making more than three times as many miles per gallon.

All of this resulted in this tawdry "muscle car" managing a 0-60 time of only 7.8 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 16.2 seconds--slightly slower than a modern Honda Odyssey minivan, and just a touch faster than a four-cylinder Kia Spectra. The Chevelle SS454 of four years prior would have passed 100 mph and still been accelerating hard by the time the Laguna hit 80 mph.

To cap things off, the Laguna achieved that stultifying performance while averaging 7.5 mpg in the city and 13 mpg on the freeway--just the ticket for an era of cataclysmic fuel shortages. But, at nearly $6,000 in an era in which a Datsun economy car could be had for $2,500, at least the Laguna was expensive.

The most damning comment on the Laguna actually comes from its own cousin, the Pontiac Trans-Am SD-455--yes, I'm finally tying back into this morning's foreshadowing Car Lust.

The only possible excuse for the Laguna's weakness is that the realities of the era made high performance impossible. The SD-455 eloquently answers that excuse. The SD-455 debuted in 1973 and was still available in 1974. It was just as devastatingly quick as the 1970 Chevelle and miles ahead of the laggardly Laguna. It even got slightly better fuel economy than the Laguna.

Yes, those were bad times for cars, but the Laguna was, shockingly, worse still. It hit rock bottom in a variety of ways--it was a slow muscle car, a gas guzzler during a major fuel shortage, and a huge but nevertheless cramped car.

Nevertheless, I still want one--the idea of a 454 muscle car that can only manage to wheeze along in stride with a Kia is irresistible. So, yes, I do still lust after the Laguna, just as I can't shake my affection for the Yugo GVX. This means I'm still wussing out on providing true objects of disgust--something I intend to rectify with a vengeance tomorrow.

--Chris H.

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I have to say it is nice to see someone write an article on the 73-77 A bodies, though not a very flattering one. They are an easy target to pick on and will never live up to the “legendary” no scratch that “mythical” status of the 60’s era cars. The 70’s era cars never had the freedom the 60’s era cars had from high fuel costs, higher emissions and raised safety standards. But really other than the afore mentioned emission and safety equipment the 73-77 cars are not that much different than 66-72 A-bodies. The chassis and drive train on the 73-77 A body is virtually identical in design to the earlier 66-72 A-bodies but have improved suspension geometry and larger brakes both front and rear with front discs standard, even on the base model cars. In the engine compartment these cars had similar motors as the earlier cars with small blocks from 305 – 400c.i. and the big block 454. The compression ratios were dropped in order to run on the new low octane no lead fuel. Do any of you remember trying to find a place with high-octane fuel for your old high compression motor in the 70’s or early 80’s? Basically the same hot rodding parts, tricks and tuning worked just as well on these motors as they did in the early cars except they would actually run on the low octane gas.
Looks are subjective, but you need to take into consideration that the bulk of the styling and engineering was already complete on this model before the government bumper mandate went into effect, and it is clearly obvious when you see how the federally regulated crash bumpers hang off the car, and ruin what could have been a much more attractive car. Also, those engineered shock-absorbing bumpers were the biggest contribution to that models weight increase. Front and rear combining to as much as 300lbs. Depending on options A 70-72 big block Chevelle weighs 3800-3900 lbs. and a 73-77 big block Chevelle weighs 4100- 4200lbs. Subtract the massive bumper weight and they are even similar in weight.
What about build quality? Really, lets be honest, the build quality on these cars was not that much if any worse than the 60’era cars that came before them, But I would agree that the materials used, mostly in the interior, was not as good, and carried on into the 80’s.
I have to say I thought it was silly to compare these cars to one year only or low production cars like the like a 1970 L-S6 SS Chevelle (less than 6000 made) and ultra rare SD-445 Trans-Am/Formula Firebird, as was done in the Laguna “Disgust” article. There are not many cars new or old that compare to those iconic automobiles.
It has been my experience that a comparably configured 73-77 is as fun to drive as the 66-72 cars, they just look different. Over the years I have owned several Chevelles, a 68-Malibu, 70-Malibu, 70-SS396, 71-SS396 71-SS454, 73-Malibu and two 76-Laguna’s big block and small block powered. To be honest I like the 73-77 cars just as much as I like the older ones. Good artical, I enjoyed it reading it and the comments from other readers.


Drop a 454 LSX in it :)

How can a car like this can actually pass all the screening in a company? Were american designers in Chevrolet too old or had bad taste? How much did it weight? Personal luxury cars are the most stupid concepts in car history, specially if they are giant dinosaurs!

I agree with Racer S3. The 73-77 chevelles are very nice cars that suffer unfair comparisons to the "Ultimate" "Classic" musclecars like the 1970 LS6 Chevelle.

While the very rare 1970 LS6 Chevelle ran low 13s in the quarter right out of the box, the very common standard 396 ran mid 15's... no faster than a 73-74 454 Laguna.

Getting a 454 Laguna into the 13's is as simple as a camshaft swap. Such performance can be achieved even while retaining the stock car, intake, and exhaust manifolds.

I've owed 2 1970 SS 396 Chevelles, My Father a 1971 SS 454, My brother a 1970 SS 396, and 1971 SS 350 Chevelle. They are terrific cars, but now quite overpriced.

We have also owned 5 1973-76 Lagunas. As mentioned above the fed required bumpers are quite heavy, but the car is nicely styled, and the suspension improved over the earlier cars. One really nice feature of the stock car inspired styling is the very large wheel wells which fit extremely large racing tires without any modification. The 73-76 Laguna body style dominated stock car racing during its era, much like the Monte SS dominated in the 80's.

In summation, I would much rather own and drive a 1973-74 Laguna equipted with a 454, 4spd or Turbo 400 trans, F41 suspension, strong 8.5" posi rear end, disc brakes, factory tach and gauges, and bucket seats... Than a 60's era car with a 396 or smaller engine, powerglide trans, bench seat, no gauges, drum brakes, weak 8.2" rear end, no rear sway bar, etc.

GM sold the 73-77 colonnade cars like 'hotcakes' in the day. The 72's were 'too small and dated' for average buyers, and Ford's new big '72 Torinos outsold the Chevelles.

The Luguna was not meant to be a 'muscle car' at all. It was more 'Chevy's Grand Am'. Also, the handling characteristics were a jump from the 60's cars' antique chassis.

Article is inaccurate.

1973 Laguna was a new high ned trim level above Malibu, in 2 door, 4 door, and wagon. But, for 74-75, the Laguna S-3 was just a 2 door, and the Malibu Classic took the top of the line. It was not, reapeat not marketed as a muscle car, and 2nd, it was as nice a car could be for the era.

i love the 74 laguna i owe one again my old car i found it again after a few years of looking for it it a all factory 74 laguna 454/4spd with air pwr/windows/locks tilt and even a rear defogger that still works it has a the 3.42 gears single track it has never been modified in any way still has the original block with different heads any way the old car needs some tls now but i think i will try and hang on to it she still drives greatnice site

there never was a 73 laguna they started in 74and ended in 77 the 73 was a chevele or mail bu

For 1973, the top of the line of Chevelle was the Laguna, in 2 door, 4 door, and wagon. The performance Chevelle for '73 was the Malibu SS. The Laguna S-3 model was new for 1974 and 2 door only. The swoop nose S-3 was sold for 1975-76. There was no 1977 Laguna model at all.

Go to any Chevelle source for this info or factory brochures. [in other words, I was there to see them new]

One other thing, the Laguna S-3 had a 350 as base engine with larger motors optional, so it can't be compared favorably to the 1970 SS454. In fact, the factory pic shown is a 1975 model, and it is called 'action car'. Chevrolet was not pushing it as a muscle car by then, they really gave up on it, and was selling it so the body could be used by NASCAR.

Tomm, I don't get what you're arguing with in the article. The very fact that in 1970 a Chevelle 454 was marketed as a muscle car and in 1975 it was marketed as an action car proves my point.

What had been a muscle car had turned soft and was wearing a leisure suit. You're getting hung up on what the car was I'm making a point about what the car could have been.

here,s a link to my you tube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mgAR-fw8GE tell me if you still think the laguna,s had no muscle// i need to correct my statement not #,s matching any more block got a change some where threw its owners but still a fun car to drive one a very few with 454/4spd m-21 tilt wheel pwr locks/windows rear defogger 34.2 gear swivel buckets still has the am/fm radio [not a muscle car} but sure can fool you car has always been in the Louisville KY area now back in my hands once again and iam ready to restore it as soon as my money tree starts growing again lol how many are out there ? few and far between but still proud to be a GUNA owner the 70 had made there mark in a big way no doubt now its time to bring this old girl to life again any body out there have my opld block its vin last 6 are {536070} please email me i would love to get that back again thanks tom =ky

Car and Driver, Feb. 1974: "Chevelle Laguna S-3: a whole new definition for the concept of Muscle Car."

Can anyone tell me how I can convert my 74 Laguna 454/T400 over to a 4spd? Are these parts interchangeable with the older 68-72 Chevelles?

Thanks
Dave

I own a 73 Chevelle which has been very well modified with modern aftermarket speed equipment as well as complete upgrades to suspension/gearing/transmission, blah blah blah.
The 1973-1977 Chevelle Malibu Laguna chassie/body combination won more NASCAR races than any other period.....back when NASCARs were actual vehicles you could purchase from a car manufacture......
Several big names drove the pee out of these cars and were very successful in doing so.
Blah Blah Blah...
"I'm just sayin"

You are all correct about the LS-6 1970 Chevelle SS. I drove several and recall being beaten by a Buick GS Stage 1 off the line and down the Nimitz until I chickened out. It was a muscle car..
But the styling of the 74 Laguna spoke to my esthetics, and I've had two of them. My current 454/th400 car has a forged crank, polished rods and forged pistons, a pair of merlin oval port heads and a crane roller cam, etc... my desktop dyno puts it at ~600 hp, but the lights at brotherhood dragway in Long Beach put it at 11.90 in the quarter.. 4000 pounds of fun with 3:70 posi and gear vendors o'd behind the trans. 13 mpg ain't bad on the way to the track and back. I just fell in love with the car and made it what regulations wouldn't let it be when born. Two different categories in one, as the a/c, power everything and swivel seats cover me for luxury, and the fixins covers me for any LS-6 I've found lately.

i would have to say that the 1973 chevelle laguna is one of my favorites the 74 when they decided to call it the s-3 laguna is my second with thee piveting bucket seats compared the gas saving cars we are stuck driving cause we have no choice money wise i still have have my 73 laguna if i had the money to waste i would still make it my everyday driving car like i did till 2005 when gas sky rocketed up almost seemed like over night waiting for the day i can start driving mine again everyday on a different type of fuel that the oil company's hasn't bought out yet i am also waiting for the day that all oil company's are forced to be shut down i just pray for them so they can realize that there greed leads to alot more of other sins like lieing and so on plus those lagunas made excellent race cars god bless.

The comments I'm reading defending the '73-'77 Chevelles obviously are missing the point entirely. While there is certainly nothing wrong with the '73-'77 Chevelles, (1970 is still the best looking Chevelle ever made) the idea of Laguna S-3 at the time was idiotic at best. In case you missed it in the article, here's why: With the fuel crisis and OPEC, the price of gasoline was MUCH higher than it had been before 1973. In 1974 fuel economy was king. Why in the hell would you insist on putting a 454 in a Chevelle when Chevy could no longer build a 454 that actually had even decent performance? You ultimately have a slow car that gets terrible gas mileage. If it was fast like the SD-455, at least the speed freaks would actually want it, but it wasn't... It was a slow car. And since the mileage was big block bad, casual drivers wouldn't want it either.

It's also apparent that some of you know VERY little about the 1970 Chevelle SS. First of all, ALL 1970 SS Chevelles came standard with front disc brakes and a 12 bolt rear end. NO Drum brakes or weak 8.2 rear axles. However, standard Chevelle and Malibu models DID come standard with drum brakes and 8.2" rear axles. Second, all 4 1970 SS engines (both 396's and both 454's) would outrun a 1974 Laguna S-3. The L-78, LS5 and especially the LS6 would flat out embarrass it. The standard 350 HP 396 would run with it. Keep in mind that the 235 HP 454 was the top engine option for 1974 and just like the LS6, was relatively rare, so if you want to actually compare apples to apples, there is NO comparison at all because the LS6 easily blows the doors off of the S-3.

Now, I do NOT hate '73-'77 GM A-bodies. I've owned several of them over the years. They are comfortable and drive good. They are excellent cars to go cruising in, drive daily, or to take a road trip. With just a standard 350, they had adequate power and got decent gas mileage for their day. THAT is why they sold well... The Laguna S-3 embodied literally EVERYTHING Chevrolet could have possibly done wrong with the Chevelle in 1974, which is ultimately why they should have never had made them in the first place. A 350 powered standard Chevelle was a MUCH better car.

The author is clearly and idiot.

A great deal of the described horsepower drop was attributable SOLELY to the change in ratings (from Gross to Net), which was fully implemented in the 1972 model year.

GM published both gross and net figures for the 1971 model year. The LS6 lost a full 100 HP due solely to the ratings change. And the '70 was only rated at 25 more gross HP (450 vs 425). The ACTUAL (SAE Net, or "as installed" HP of the '70 LS6 was no more than 350, and that's backed by the road test results (trap speeds) of the day.

So yes, the '74 was much slower car - about 115 HP slower than the '70 version once the difference in weight is considered.

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