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.