22 Dangerous and Hated Cars of the 70s: A Cautionary Retrospective

Patrick Oziegbe
Updated On:

In the 1970s, you might have witnessed the allure of classic cars with their iconic designs and the roar of American engines. Yet, despite their charm, many of these automobiles harbored hidden dangers, from questionable safety features to reliability issues that made them risky choices for drivers.

As you reminisce about these vehicles, it’s important to recognize the potential hazards they posed during a transformative era for the automobile industry.

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Context of the 1970s Automobile Industry

Automobile 70s
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You’ll find the ’70s a transformative era for American cars, marked by distinctive design philosophies and advancing technology, despite the challenges.

Historical Overview

During the 1970s, the automobile industry experienced a dramatic shift. The decade began with robust sales but soon faced pressures from rising fuel prices and safety demands from the public, pushing manufacturers to seek more efficient vehicles.

Technological Advances and Design Philosophy

American cars of the ’70s often boasted larger glass areas and heavier designs. However, car designs evolved with technology, eventually promoting smaller, more fuel-efficient models. The infamous fuel tank risks led to significant safety overhauls in the industry.

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Chevrolet Corvair (1960-1969)

Chevrolet Corvair
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The Chevrolet Corvair attracted attention in the ’60s, notably for its handling characteristics. Ralph Nader criticized its safety in his book, Unsafe at Any Speed, contributing to its controversy. Despite a redesigned suspension, the Corvair’s reputation had been impacted.

Pre-1965: Handling concerns

Post-1965: Improved but stigmatized

Enthusiasts still cherish your Corvair for its unique air-cooled engine and historical significance.

AMC Gremlin (1970-1978)

AMC Gremlin
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You might recall the AMC Gremlin as a distinctive car from the ’70s era. Introduced on April 1, 1970, it stood out with its unique design, often sparking varied opinions. Despite ambitions to offer something different, the Gremlin faced criticism for its lack of a hatchback or trunk lid, a decision aimed at maintaining body stiffness.

Yet, in a time when build quality was a concern, the Gremlin’s unconventional approach grabbed attention in a market dominated by larger automakers. This car has since nestled into a unique place in automotive history, regarded with a mix of nostalgia and notoriety.

Ford Pinto (1971-1980)

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Your safety on the road is pivotal, but the Ford Pinto, produced between 1971 and 1980, had its risks:

  • Construction: Rushed into production.
  • Safety Concerns: Vulnerable to rear-end collisions.
  • Recall: Mandated by the NHTSA in 1978.

Exercise caution if you ever get behind the wheel of this classic—you deserve a safe ride.

Chevrolet Vega (1971-1977)

Chevrolet Vega
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Manufactured by Chevrolet from 1970 to 1977, the Chevrolet Vega was marketed as an innovative and technologically advanced American subcompact car. Despite its strong initial sales and winning a small car comparison in 1971, it garnered a reputation for reliability issues over time.

The Vega, available in several body styles like the hatchback and wagon, featured a lightweight aluminum engine. However, it’s notorious for problems such as engine failure and corrosion, which overshadowed its potential and led to its inclusion on lists of automobiles known for negative reception.

Fiat 850 (1964-1973)

Fiat 850
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You’d notice the Fiat 850 was an evolution of the Fiat 600 with its rear-mounted engine design. Your experience might vary, as it wasn’t touted as the sportiest despite being a two-seater sports car.

It’s wise to remember these small cars offered simplicity rather than high performance, and the Fiat 850 Spider, a variant renowned for its uniqueness, was part of this lineup.

Keep in mind, though, with nearly 2.3 million produced, finding one in excellent condition today could be quite challenging.

Renault R5 (Le Car) (1972-1986)

Renault R5
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Your Renault R5, affectionately known as Le Car in the US, was the epitome of ’70s compact design. Its modest beginnings with longitudinal engine mountings and torsion bar suspension from the era’s Renault 4 made it unique.

Whether you opted for the 782 cc or 956 cc engine models, this car was all about practicality fused with a touch of French flair.

Remember the 5-door hatchback that promised efficiency and a certain je ne sais quoi? That was your Le Car. Despite its charm, it’s worth noting its performance in safety which was reflective of the times, and by today’s standards, might raise an eyebrow. Still, Le Car remains an iconic nod to automotive history.

Chevrolet Chevette (1975-1987)

Chevrolet Chevette
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The Chevrolet Chevette debuted in 1973 in Brazil and by 1975, you could find it in North American showrooms. As a subcompact, it promised economy during a fuel-sensitive era. Despite achieving good sales, it was known for its lack of power and bare-bones interior.

You may also recognize the Chevette as one of the most dangerous cars of the ’70s due to its poor safety features by today’s standards. Your appreciation for classic cars might include the Chevette, but it’s wise to be aware of its historical drawbacks.

Dodge Dart Swinger (1969-1976)

Dodge Dart Swinger
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During the ’70s, you might’ve seen the Dodge Dart Swinger on the road, recognized for its style and performance. Notably, the Swinger 340 appealed to those desiring a spry V-8 in a compact frame. However, safety features were minimal compared to modern standards.

Ford Mustang II (1974-1978)

Ford Mustang II
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You might have heard the Ford Mustang II doesn’t get much love, but it was crucial in the ’70s. Smaller than predecessors, designed during the oil crisis for efficiency, this ride became Motor Trend’s 1974 Car of the Year despite mixed feelings from enthusiasts.

Pontiac Astre (1975-1977)

Pontiac Astre
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During the ’70s, you may have come across the Pontiac Astre, available from 1975 to 1977. You’d notice it shared its design with the well-known Chevrolet Vega, introduced to cater to the American market’s need for smaller, fuel-efficient cars during the oil crisis.

With production limited, it achieved a certain rarity, especially the notchback coupes, which featured a closed trunk rather than a hatchback.

Produced during an era when safety regulations were less stringent, your concern might lie in its safety features, which, by today’s standards, are considered minimal.

Triumph TR7 (1974-1981)

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Your Triumph TR7, produced from 1974 to 1981, was a bold British sports car. It’s noted for its distinctive wedge shape and often critiqued reliability. Despite its controversial reputation, it holds a unique place in automotive history.

  • Years: 1974-1981
  • Notable: Wedge shape
  • Issues: Reliability concerns

Volkswagen Beetle (pre-1975)

Vw Beetle
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You might adore the classic look of the Volkswagen Beetle, but your safety’s a concern with models before 1975. They lacked basic features by today’s standards, such as:

  • Proper seatbelts
  • Effective crumple zones
  • Reliable anti-lock brakes

These shortcomings put you at higher risk in collisions. If you’re keen on Beetles, consider later models or upgraded safety features to ensure a safer ride.

Chevrolet Citation (1980-1985)

Chevrolet Citation
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The Chevrolet Citation was introduced as innovation in efficiency in automotive design during the 80’s. Heralded for its front-wheel drive, this compact car replaced the Chevrolet Nova.

Despite initial high sales, your Citation’s reputation was tarnished by reports of mechanical and safety problems, leading to its withdrawal from the market.

Ford Bronco II (1984-1990)

Ford Bronco II
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During the 1980s, you might recall the Ford Bronco II was notable for its safety concerns, particularly related to its rollover risk. Your interest in classic SUVs may lead you to discover that between 1986 and 1990, the Bronco II exhibited a higher rollover-related death rate compared to other vehicles of the time. Despite this, the Bronco II remains a topic of conversation among classic car enthusiasts.

AMC Pacer (1975-1980)

AMC Pacer
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You might find the 1975 AMC Pacer distinct with its wide, rounded body. Despite its ambition as a compact car, your comfort in this unique vehicle may vary. Produced by the American Motors Corporation, the Pacer was a response to the oil crisis, emphasizing smaller, fuel-efficient designs.

Remember, if you’re into classic cars with a story, the AMC Pacer might just spark your curiosity!

Reliant Robin/Rialto (1973–2002)

Reliant Robin/Rialto
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The Reliant Robin became infamous for its distinctive three-wheeled design. Despite being a symbol of British automotive engineering, it’s often remembered for stability issues. Interestingly, the Reliant Rialto was an evolution intended to rectify earlier flaws.

Chevrolet Monza (1975-1980)

Chevrolet Monza
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In the ’70s, you might recall the Chevrolet Monza’s impactful design. It was launched with rectangular headlights and boasted a resilient polyurethane nose.

Despite its sporty appearance, its safety features lagged behind. Keep in mind, side window louvers were not just for show; they were part of a functional ventilation system.

Datsun 240Z (1970-1973)

Datsun 240Z
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In the ’70s, you might have admired the Datsun 240Z for its sleek design and affordability. Despite its appeal, this model had its safety drawbacks.

  • Braking System: Early models lacked adequate braking
  • Handling: Potential for oversteer in sharp turns

Be mindful of these aspects if you’re eyeing a classic 240Z.

Chevrolet Monte Carlo (1970-1988)

Chevrolet Monte Carlo
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Your journey with the Chevrolet Monte Carlo starts in the ’70s, where it first cruised the streets with style. Despite its charm, this era’s Monte Carlo had its perils:

  • 1970 Model: Equipped with an Automatic Level Control suspension, your ride aimed to be smooth, yet this feature posed longevity issues.
  • Performance vs Safety: Your Monte Carlo, blending luxury and performance, sometimes compromised on safety enhancements common in today’s cars.

Ford Granada (1975-1982)

Ford Granada
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During the 1970s, the Ford Granada was marketed as an affordable luxury car, but it faced criticism over its handling and build quality. Critics noted issues like numb steering and poor fuel economy. Despite its aim to mimic European styling, the Granada’s performance was underwhelming, often recalled for its subpar road handling, especially on rough terrain.

Safety concerns also arose, as it lacked the advanced safety features we expect today. To read about its comparisons and historical context, visit Automotive History/Vintage Review and for more on its North American history.

Pontiac Fiero (1984-1988)

Pontiac Fiero
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The Pontiac Fiero was a mid-engined sports car you might remember. During its production from 1984 to 1988, you’d have seen it boasting a sleek design.

  • Years: 1984-1988
  • Engine Placement: Mid-engined
  • Sales: High

Initially, your Fiero might be celebrated for its affordability and fuel efficiency, but it faced issues. Concerns over reliability did mar its reputation, despite being a hit in the showrooms.

Morris Marina (1972–80)

Morris Marina
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Your interest in the Morris Marina might stem from its infamous reputation in the ’70s automotive industry. Produced from 1972 to 1980, this family car, while aiming to fulfill the needs of the average driver, faced challenges.

It’s been critiqued over time for its handling, with some citing lackluster design affecting its overall performance. Despite this, it holds a place in British car history.


©Photo Credit: MiramarSpeedCircuit

Reflecting on the 1970s automobiles, it’s key to acknowledge their legacy in car culture. While classic cars from that era come with character, your safety should take precedence. Remember, their charm doesn’t guarantee safety standards we take for granted today.


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