1970-1981 F-Bodies: A Lust Story
You know, I spent a lot of time pondering what kind of "hook" I wanted to bring to this post. Do I liken my affection for these cars to teenage "first love"? An overarching ode to the otherwise generally derided 1970s automobile design? Nothing really seemed to fit, it all seemed either strained or maybe, well, a little skeevy.
So to heck with it: this is a pure vanity post. I'm going to post pictures of cars that I think are some of the most beautiful ever created. Yes, I actually typed that. Yeah, yeah, everyone likes to rip on 1970s cars as being over-styled and under-powered or whatever, and I can't help but agree with a lot of the criticisms. But I'd like you, gentle readers, to step back for a bit and have a good look at the second generation of GM's F-body pony cars, the Camaro and Firebird. I think their looks, and to a fair extent their performance, actually reflect positively on that much-maligned decade in automotive history.
Now, as I mentioned above, this all might be related to that whole "first love" business, since I was in my teen years when these were being produced. So, yeah, at least for me there's something of a nostalgic air about them. But ever since I've started reading and writing here at Car Lust I've actually grown more fond of them: for the era they represent and the features of their design that, in my opinion, makes them as fresh today as they were back in the era of bell bottoms and avocado appliances. I really think they hit on a nearly ideal set of proportions and lines that manage to capture that time but also transcend it (to get a little bit metaphysical). I know I won't convince everybody, but I hope that at least a few of you out there will start to look at these wonderful examples of true pony car designs with a little more respect.
To set the proper mood, it might help to have the theme from Love Story in the background as you read this. I mean, just look at that thing!
Also, to put this post in some context, like some others, I don't particularly care for the previous generation of Camaro/Firebird (I don't really care for the later Gen-1 Mustangs either, for what it's worth). I don't really hate them, but the styling just never thrilled me. They always struck me as somewhat thrown together. "Quick, get something out the door! Make it look kind of like a Mustang but not really." The next generation, by contrast, is its own animal. It retains the long-hood/short-deck of the traditional pony car but, to my eye, is far better proportioned, more balanced, and seems to reflect a more specific overall design than earlier (or later) models. As a wise automotive sage once wrote:
The second generation's styling just seems to have been well thought out with clean lines, good proportions all around, and manages to seem elegant, powerful, and sporty all at the same time. They look good from any angle.
It brings in a bit of elegance to balance out the muscularity, creating an ideal blend of what a pony car ought to be.
And now, on to the car porn!
Let's start at the beginning, 1970:
Much like the Vega, we see that the styling might be considered more "European" and much less brawny than the earlier generation. Taught, low, clean, but perhaps more sinewy rather than muscular. Like it ought to be carving up twisty backroads at a gallop rather than grunting through a quarter mile. I don't care too much for the projecting open grill, but the basic proportions are there that's easing it ever so gently out of the muscle car era.
Here's a 1970 Trans Am from the side (source) that looks like it's moving even when it's standing still:
I prefer the split-grille of the Pontiac; it just seems a bit more. . .civilized than the open-mouthed Camaro (source):
The major stylistic changes for 1972 were a result of stricter collision standards for 1973 -- specifically the bumpers -- although one might be hard-pressed to really notice the difference (from Wiki):
The biggest change came for the 1974 model year when horsepower had noticebly dropped and the true muscle car really became a thing of the past. The F-bodies slimmed down and lost some of the brawn they'd inherited from earlier interations -- think more Bruce Jenner and less Arnold Schwarzenegger:
That's a 1974 Firebird Esprit of Rockford Files fame.It's now a bit less swoopy, less rounded, and the nose isn't quite so prominent, which is a direct result of the new bumper requirements. The change is most noticeable on the Camaro (from Wiki):
I prefer this iteration as the nose looks more in proportion to the rest of the car. I also like the recessing of the headlights which brings the styling a bit more up to date without looking too 'futuristic'.
Things didn't change all that much for the Camaro until the next generation, primarily in the bumpers and the amount of trim involved. Here's a 1978 (from Wiki):
I think this generation really benefits from the rear spoiler. One of my criticisms of this generation is the back end which, without the spoiler, seems to end too quickly, with a whimper instead of a flair; the lack of one makes it seem too front-heavy.
One of my all-time favorites was the Berlinetta, a luxury-oriented Camaro, introduced in 1979 (source):
I've always meant to do a separate post on the Berlinetta, but there's really not much out there on it to warrant its own post and, to be honest, wasn't all that different from the others anyway, mostly a trim package, albeit with a softer suspension, probably geared more towards the feminine market. But I like it.
The Z28 became much too gaudy, IMO, especially in the all-orange getup (from Wiki):
Over on the Firebird side, perhaps the most noticeable feature of the post-'73 era was the addition of the "beak" grille spearator and square quad-headlights (source):
I love the taillight slats and lack of ornamention on both ends of this one, and the spoiler really makes the rear end again. Everything just seems to fit with the whole package, even the heavy duty bumpers.
And, of course, this started the whole Trans Am Screaming Chicken models:
Now, in that post, Hafner describes this as "gauche, and deeply imbued with the cheesiness characteristic of the 1970s" which I will. . . .well, not really argue against too strenuously, although I still think it's much less gauche than others I could mention (*cough* bright orange Z28 *cough*). Take away the chicken on the hood and I think it's quite a handsome car, not to mention, as Hafner notes, being an all-around solid performer. I think if I had one car to own for the rest of my life, this might be it. A little gaudy, yes, but I think the overall package is just gorgeous.
Plus, it could be worse. . . .(source):
As much as I liked the 1977-78's I didn't really care for what they did to the front end in '79 (source):
At first blush it doesn't look too bad, but it eventually started to grate on me, what with that whole mish-mash of different angles and openings sticks out like a sore thumb, IMO. And it only got worse:
That one is also from Wikipedia and by that time (1981) the front fascia just totally dominated the look of the car, much to its detriment. I guess those black things are supposed to look like super-duper reverse-the-positron-flow air intakes or something. At any rate. . . .ugh.
Well, there you have it: my homage to the G2 F-Body Camaro and Firebird. For the most part, I don't ever get tired of looking at them. Yeah, maybe they weren't the fastest cars ever made, or the most maneuverable, but I think they represent a unity of design that was absent from most cars of that period and many others as well.
UPDATE: Slightly edited.