The Truth About Cars » 1977 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 22 Apr 2014 14:37:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » 1977 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Junkyard Find: 1977 Datsun 810 Station Wagon http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/junkyard-find-1977-datsun-810-station-wagon/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/junkyard-find-1977-datsun-810-station-wagon/#comments Wed, 18 Dec 2013 14:00:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=682914 18 - 1977 Datsun 810 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Datsun 810 wagon was a fairly common sight on the streets of Northern California during the Middle and Late Malaise Eras, sort of the semi-sporty wagon choice for families who wanted a family hauler with a bit of 280Z in its genes. The Datsun 810 became the Datsun Maxima by the early 1980s and the Nissan Maxima by 1984, and all of the rear-drive members of this family have become rare finds these days. We’ve seen this ’82 Maxima and this ’78 810 wagon so far in this series; those two cars and today’s 810 were all shot during trips to California wrecking yards. I don’t know if they even existed outside of a 50-mile radius from San Francisco.
06 - 1977 Datsun 810 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWhile the 810 sedans got the independent rear suspension of the Datsun Z, the wagons had a good old suitable-for-heavy-loads solid axle out back.
12 - 1977 Datsun 810 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe 280Z in 1977 had a 2.8 liter L6 engine, while the 810 kept the 2.4 liter displacement of the earlier 240Z.
09 - 1977 Datsun 810 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis one probably did some surfboard-hauling duty in its later years.
02 - 1977 Datsun 810 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe interior is worn out, but you can see that it must have been a nice place in 1977.
05 - 1977 Datsun 810 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI thought about pulling this mechanical-digital clock for car-clock collection, but 95% of these things are broken and I didn’t have 12V source to test this one.
08 - 1977 Datsun 810 Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinFaux woodgrain on the tailgate, just like a Country Squire!

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Junkyard Find: 1977 Plymouth Volaré Premier Station Wagon http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/junkyard-find-1977-plymouth-volare-premier-station-wagon/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/junkyard-find-1977-plymouth-volare-premier-station-wagon/#comments Mon, 19 Aug 2013 13:00:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=499810 09 - 1977 Plymouth Volare Wagon Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe successor to the incredibly successful Dodge Dart/Plymouth Valiant was the Dodge Aspen/Plymouth Volaré. These simple rear-wheel-drive cars sold fairly well, but for every Aspen or Volaré I see in high-turnover wrecking yards today, I find ten Darts and Valiants. Part of that reason is a short production run, part is (arguably) lower build quality, but I’m guessing the main reason is that Americans just didn’t love the F-body Chryslers the way they did the A-body. When a Valiant got sick (which wasn’t often), it got fixed; when a Volaré came down with some expensive problem, it got crushed. Now these things are almost nonexistent, but here’s a very rare Volaré Premier wagon I spotted in a California yard a few months back.
12 - 1977 Plymouth Volare Wagon Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinStrange to think that there was once a time in which station wagons outnumbered SUVs and minivans for family-hauling use, and even stranger to recall that small station wagons were once fairly good sellers.
10 - 1977 Plymouth Volare Wagon Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinSlant Six power, not much to go wrong here. Still, this car with the Slant Six was quite sluggish. If only Chrysler had installed the Hemi-6 in this car, Things Would Have Been Different.

So sensible!

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Junkyard Find: 1977 Ford LTD Country Squire http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/junkyard-find-1977-ford-ltd-country-squire/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/junkyard-find-1977-ford-ltd-country-squire/#comments Thu, 30 May 2013 13:00:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=489981 02 - 1977 Ford Country Squire Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWe saw a 1976 Country Squire Junkyard Find yesterday, after going seven months since seeing this ’75 Country Squire, but this Denver yard has given us back-to-back (actually, tailgate-to-tailgate) Malaise Era Country Squires. Today’s find is in far better shape than yesterday’s (which is both cool and saddening), so let’s check it out!
11 - 1977 Ford Country Squire Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin1977 was the second-to-last year of the extra-huge LTD Country Squire, and the factory shipping weight of this machine was a mighty 4,674 pounds. That’s 554 pounds more than the 2013 ZL1 Camaro, so you know we’re talking about a pretty hefty car here.
10 - 1977 Ford Country Squire Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe 400M V8 in this car didn’t make a lot of power by 21st-century standards (if I look up the horsepower number for the ’77 400, we’ll all get depressed), but the torque was sufficient to haul a family of nine in comfort. Note the high-altitude spec on this sticker.
20 - 1977 Ford Country Squire Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinLooks like this car was sold in Denver, and— 36 years later— it will die in Denver.
06 - 1977 Ford Country Squire Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIt’s in pretty decent shape overall; no rust, most of the upholstery looks pretty good.
17 - 1977 Ford Country Squire Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinManual windows, Ford Aeronutronic AM radio, and hideaway headlights. Not exactly luxurious by current standards, but these cars were very comfy on long road trips. Anyway, Blondie sounds best on AM.
13 - 1977 Ford Country Squire Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWith scrap cars going for $240/ton, this car was worth more as parts and steel than as a street-driven vehicle. How many remain?

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Junkyard Find: 1977 Plymouth Volaré http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/junkyard-find-1977-plymouth-volare/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/junkyard-find-1977-plymouth-volare/#comments Tue, 05 Feb 2013 14:00:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=476282 The Volaré and its Dodge sibling, the Aspen, were perfectly competent cars for their time, (anectodally) more reliable than the Chevy Nova and Ford Maverick (and, later, the Fairmont) competition and, if you looked at them from the right angle, better looking. Still, they were never quite as beloved as the Dart/Valiant A-bodies that they replaced, and they have not aged well. In fact, most of them got crushed during the 1990s, so it’s not often that I see examples like this one in self-service wrecking yards.
Of course, the Volaré and its Detroit rivals were taking a beating during the gloom of the Malaise Era, with ever-rising fuel prices and the swelling market share of the Japanese automakers. Not long after this car was built, Chrysler had to seek out loan guarantees from the federal government.

We all know about Ricardo Montalban’s ads for the Cordoba, but we mustn’t forget that Sergio Franchi‘s ads for the Volaré were nearly as suave. This car had a “special” suspension!
This sporty coupe came with bucket seats, tape stripes, and two-tone paint.
And, for practicality’s sake, the extraordinarily reliable Slant Six.

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Junkyard Find: 1977 Pontiac Grand Prix http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/junkyard-find-1977-pontiac-grand-prix/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/junkyard-find-1977-pontiac-grand-prix/#comments Thu, 18 Oct 2012 13:00:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=464077 When shopping for personal luxury coupes in the late 1970s, you might have bought the 1977 Mercury Cougar (seen in yesterday’s Junkyard Find), or maybe a Chrysler Cordoba, or perhaps even an AMC Matador Barcelona. If you wanted to go with a General Motors product for your long-hooded, big-on-the-outside/small-on-the-inside coupe, Pontiac had just the car: the Grand Prix!
The Cougar had Cheryl Tiegs as pitchwoman and the Matador Barcelona had crypto-Spanish provenance, but the Grand Prix had these classy emblems on the quarter windows.
Not to be outdone by the Cordoba’s small round taillight medallions, the Grand Prix boasted big hexagonal octagonal medallions.
301 cubic inches under the hood. How many horsepower? We’ll just say that this engine made fewer horses than the base 1.6 liter four-cylinder engine in the 2013 Kia Rio and leave the rest to your imagination.
A full set of these Pontiac rally wheels can fetch dozens of dollars these days, thanks to the enormous quantities manufactured. I like these wheels so much that I used them on my 1965 Impala sedan.
The Cougar’s suspension was “Ride-Engineered,” but Pontiacs had Radial Tuned suspensions.
Once again, much as we like to make fun of these cars, I must admit that they were actually pretty good daily drivers. Thirsty as hell, of course, but what big Detroit car wasn’t back then?

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Junkyard Find: 1977 Mercury Cougar http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/junkyard-find-1977-mercury-cougar/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/junkyard-find-1977-mercury-cougar/#comments Wed, 17 Oct 2012 13:00:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=463944 We make fun of the personal luxury coupe now, just as we make fun of leisure suits, WIN buttons, and Freakies cereal. Still, the rest of the world (except perhaps Australia) never experienced the glory of the huge, inefficient, vaguely sporty coupe with floaty ride and deep-tufted velour interior, and this is their loss.
You’re not going to see this no-apologies shade of green on any car interior made after about 1983, and that’s everybody’s loss.
You don’t want to know the horsepower output of this 351M engine . It will just make all of us feel vaguely depressed (hint: it’s less— a lot less— than the base four-cylinder in the 2013 Camry). The good news is that it churned out sufficient torque to get this 3,800-pound brute moving pretty well.
Ride-Engineered!
This car or the Cordoba?


Chrysler had Ricardo Montalban. Mercury had Cheryl Tiegs.

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Junkyard Find: 1977 Ford Granada Ghia http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/junkyard-find-1977-ford-granada-ghia/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/junkyard-find-1977-ford-granada-ghia/#comments Fri, 14 Sep 2012 13:00:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=460120 I took my first driver’s-license test in a 1979 Ford Granada, and so I always notice Granadas (and Monarchs) when I see them on the street (very rarely) and in the junkyard (slightly more frequently).
The Granada Ghia was the version with the top trim level, using the name of Ford-purchased Carrozzeria Ghia. Since you could also buy a Fiesta Ghia, there was a certain amount of 70s-style designer-label brand-cheapening involved.
This car has the 302-cubic-inch V8 instead of the standard, miserably low-powered 250 L6. The V8 Granadas weren’t quick, but they managed to avoid being dangerously slow.
Riding as a passenger in my parents’ Granada, I would get a little bit freaked out by the Faces of Tormented Souls In Hell™ pattern on the faux woodgrain interior panels.
Like every Granada that shows up in a junkyard, this one had its front brake components yanked immediately. That’s because the Granada is a member of the same chassis family that produced the 1964-73 Mustang, which means that Granada brakes can be used as a bolt-on disc upgrade for old Mustangs.
I collect old car clocks, but I’ve learned that exactly zero percent of these mechanical digital Ford clocks of the 1980s are in working condition.

You don’t see many cultural references to the Granada, but here’s about the only reference I can find in popular culture.

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Junkyard Find: 1977 and 1978 Ford Mustangs http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/junkyard-find-1977-and-1978-ford-mustangs/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/junkyard-find-1977-and-1978-ford-mustangs/#comments Wed, 15 Aug 2012 13:00:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=456736 The Mustang II stands as the poster child of the Malaise Era; based on a miserable economy car yet bearing the name of a beloved icon from a more optimistic period. You don’t see many Mustang IIs these days, for obvious reasons, but a few are being kept alive by enthusiasts. Here’s a pair of well-stripped examples that appear to have come from the reject bin of a Mustang II collector.
The ’78 has King Cobra decals on the doors. Could it be one of the very rare 1978-only King Cobra Mustang IIs?
Well, maybe, but there’s no King Cobra decal on the hood, and the underside of the hood has this emissions sticker for the never-installed-in-the-King-Cobra 2.8 liter Cologne V6. Maybe it’s a King Cobra with a hood swap, or an ordinary V6 Mustang with a door swap, or a random collection of Mustang II parts with King Cobra decals slapped on.
Whatever it is, we must admire the 70s-ness of the T-tops. Sure, all T-tops leaked like crazy, but that’s like saying that Quaaludes had unpleasant side effects.
Then there’s the ’77, which has a sort of Harlequin Mustang II effect with its multicolored body components.
If the chrome Moroso air cleaner don’t fit, cut a hole! Then, when you put your hot-rod 351W engine in some other Pinto family member, apply duct tape over the hole to keep the rain off the 2300.

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Junkyard Find: 1977 Fiat 124 Sport Spider http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/junkyard-find-1977-fiat-124-sport-spider/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/junkyard-find-1977-fiat-124-sport-spider/#comments Wed, 29 Feb 2012 14:00:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=432165 After yesterday’s yesterday’s ’71 Fiat Junkyard Find, we should check out the slower, uglier version of the 124 Sport Spider that resulted from Fiat’s attempts to meet American safety and emission standards. Fiat did a better job than British Leyland in this department (e.g., black-bumper MGB, Malaise Spitfire), but that’s clearing an extremely low bar.
As I mentioned yesterday, there appears to be an unlimited supply of forgotten 124 Spider projects in the garages and back yards of America, which results in a steady trickle of these cars showing up in junkyards. Every year since the early 1980s, the number of junked 124 Spiders remains pretty much constant. Of course, you don’t see them on the street these days, but you really didn’t see many 25 years ago, either.
If there are any Denver-area restorers who haven’t abandoned their 124 Spider projects, this intact spare-tire hardware will be a nice find.
Even though these cars were really fairly terrible, I must admit they are a lot of fun to drive. Fiat was very good at making slow cars feel fast.

01 - 1977 Fiat Spider Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Malaise Master' Greden 02 - 1977 Fiat Spider Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Malaise Master' Greden 03 - 1977 Fiat Spider Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Malaise Master' Greden 04 - 1977 Fiat Spider Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Malaise Master' Greden 05 - 1977 Fiat Spider Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Malaise Master' Greden 06 - 1977 Fiat Spider Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Malaise Master' Greden 07 - 1977 Fiat Spider Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Malaise Master' Greden 08 - 1977 Fiat Spider Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Malaise Master' Greden 09 - 1977 Fiat Spider Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Malaise Master' Greden 10 - 1977 Fiat Spider Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Malaise Master' Greden 11 - 1977 Fiat Spider Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Malaise Master' Greden 12 - 1977 Fiat Spider Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Malaise Master' Greden 13 - 1977 Fiat Spider Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Malaise Master' Greden 14 - 1977 Fiat Spider Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Malaise Master' Greden 15 - 1977 Fiat Spider Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Malaise Master' Greden 16 - 1977 Fiat Spider Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Malaise Master' Greden 17 - 1977 Fiat Spider Down on the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Malaise Master' Greden Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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And the Real Winner Is… http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/and-the-real-winner-is-25/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/and-the-real-winner-is-25/#comments Mon, 19 Dec 2011 02:59:53 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=422759 The Index of Effluency, LeMons racing’s top prize, gets handed to the team that accomplishes a lap total far beyond what any sane person would have imagined possible for such a terrible, terrible car. Sometimes that means getting 10th overall in a Toyota Tercel EZ, and other times it means taking 36th out of 57 entries in a 1977 Ford Mustang II. Macaroni Racing, in their Cologne V6-powered “big Pinto,” managed the latter achievement at the Heaps In The Heart of Texas 24 Hours of LeMons today.
158 laps on the 2.5-mile-long Eagles Canyon Raceway track is 395 miles. Imagine taking your grandmother’s basket-case Mustang II and beating the crap out of it at full throttle for the entirety of a 395-mile road trip on twisty, hilly roads (say, San Francisco to Los Angeles on the Coast Highway), while getting passed every few seconds by buzzing, angry swarms of BMW E30s, Mazda Miatas, and Ford Taurus SHOs. Would you expect your Mustang II to be in one piece at the end?
No, you wouldn’t. This brings Ford’s Index of Effluency trophy count for the now-completed 2011 LeMons season to four; behind Chrysler (with 4¼ IOE wins) and GM (with seven wins). Congratulations, Macaroni Racing!

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And the Real Winner Is… http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/and-the-real-winner-is-21/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/and-the-real-winner-is-21/#comments Mon, 03 Oct 2011 08:53:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=413315 Working in the 24 Hours of LeMons Penalty Box, the constant refrain of “Four wheels off” over the radio from the corner workers reporting miscreant drivers gets a little tedious. Hearing “Six wheels off,” however, really livens things up for us. That’s just one of the many benefits of having the Team Apex Vinyl Texas six-wheeled Toyota Hilux in a race.
This truck has been competing in Houston LeMons races for a couple of years now, but it never ran sufficient laps to qualify for the Index of Effluency (LeMons racing’s top prize) until this weekend. The problem lies in the engine; the Toyota R engine may be utterly bulletproof on the street or in a Third World combat zone, but 20Rs and 22Rs have one of the most miserable failure rates we’ve ever seen in LeMons (though the R is better than any other engine at running after a loose connecting rod has punched a huge hole in the engine block). In fact, only the Mitsubishi Astron and small-block Chevy can rival the Toyota R for LeMons futility, and we probably don’t need to discuss the handling peculiarities of a 34-year-old pickup with an extra axle. This time, though, the truck worked just fine; the Apex Vinyl ’77 Hilux did suffer a rocker-arm failure and lost an hour or two, but otherwise stayed on the track. When it was all over, the six-wheeler rolled to a 24th-place (out of 59) finish. Congratuations, Team Apex Vinyl Texas!

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Junkyard Find: 1977 Volkswagen Dasher http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/junkyard-find-1977-volkswagen-dasher/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/junkyard-find-1977-volkswagen-dasher/#comments Thu, 29 Sep 2011 13:00:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=412892 When Volkswagen finally decided to try this newfangled water-cooled engine idea, their first effort was the Audi 80-derived Passat. In North America, this car was badged as a Dasher, and it didn’t exactly break any sales records. Prior to finding this example in a Denver junkyard earlier in the week, I hadn’t seen a Dasher for at least a decade.
The ’77 Dasher two-door hatch listed for $4,510, which was about $450 more than the Datsun 710 hardtop, $850 more than a six-cylinder Chevy Nova hatchback, and $700 more than a Plymouth Volare six-cylinder sedan. With front-wheel-drive and generally more modern design, the Dasher was somewhat more sophisticated than much of the competition, but on the expensive side for car shoppers accustomed to paying under three grand for a Beetle.
DPD air conditioning! That must have presented a challenge for the Dasher’s 78-horsepower engine. I’m going to see if my friend with a ’76 Audi Fox has any use for parts off this thing.

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Junkyard Find: 1977 Chevrolet Chevette http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/junkyard-find-1977-chevrolet-chevette/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/junkyard-find-1977-chevrolet-chevette/#comments Mon, 04 Jul 2011 13:00:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=401495
The ’79 Monza wagon we saw last week was a choice specimen of Malaise Era misery, to be sure, but how did the Vega Monza compare to the Chevette?

Let’s say it’s 1977, you’re a Chevrolet shopper, and you want something that doesn’t gulp the fuel like a Caprice or Chevelle. The Chevette Scooter listed for a staggeringly cheap $2,999, while the cheapest possible Vega sold for $3,249. The Chevette had a 57 (!) horsepower engine, while the four-cylinder Vega/Monza packed a somewhat mightier 84 horses under the hood.

The Vega handled better, the Chevette got better fuel economy, and both looked most appropriate in 70s brown paint.

I’m just shocked that an early Chevette stayed on the street long enough to see the second decade of the 21st century before getting crushed.

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Junkyard Find: 1977 GMC Rally STX Van http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/05/junkyard-find-1977-gmc-rally-stx-van/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/05/junkyard-find-1977-gmc-rally-stx-van/#comments Tue, 31 May 2011 13:00:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=396759
Custom vans got big enough by 1977 that Detroit got into the business of making crypto-custom passenger vans right at the factory. While plaid upholstery with sporty STX logos doesn’t quite measure up to a mural of Zeus hurling lightning bolts at an Aztec warrior on the Mars Base (with matching four-foot airbrushed bong in a special bracket next to the driver’s seat), The General still moved a fair number of STXs during the Middle Malaise Era.

My parents had a close cousin of this van when I was a kid, and I spent many hours squabbling with my sisters in GM passenger-van bench seats just like these. I wonder how they’d look in my ’66 Dodge.

Loaded! Heavy-duty shocks and springs, 350 engine, “Buckskin” cloth interior, 3.40 gears, and an AM pushbutton radio. The one-ton Rally STX (the trim level above both the VanDura and Rally vans) retailed at $5,871, versus $4,496 for the one-ton VanDura. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about 22 grand for the STX. The current GMC Savana starts at $28K, which means Malaise van buyers got out of the showroom with more of their rapidly depreciating dollars still in their wallets.

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Ahmadinejad’s Peugeot 504 Not As Cool As Jerry Brown’s Plymouth Satellite, But Still Cool http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/ahmadinejads-peugeot-504-not-as-cool-as-ho-chi-minhs-404-but-still-cool/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/ahmadinejads-peugeot-504-not-as-cool-as-ho-chi-minhs-404-but-still-cool/#comments Sat, 27 Nov 2010 23:00:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=374584
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has but one redeeming quality, and that’s his taste in daily drivers… and now he’s selling it! Yeah, he’d probably prefer to load the thing up with drums full of a VX/BZ cocktail and crash it into a Tel Aviv nursery school… but, still, the story makes me want to rant about downscale “Man of the People” vehicle choices and the love/hate relationship I once had with my own 504.

Jerry Brown, having gone from Governor of California to Mayor of Oakland to California Attorney General and now back to Governor (where his first act once sworn in will no doubt involve the Suede Denim Secret Police— and, by the way, a friend who worked for Jerry at the Oakland City Hall tells me that the Guv hates the Dead Kennedys song to the point of “frothing at the mouth” over it), helped establish his image as an ascetic oddball by eschewing predecessor Governor Reagan’s limo and driving a ’74 Plymouth Satellite. In fact, he didn’t even go for the cop-grade Satellite with the 440, instead opting for the more proletarian 318. Did he savagely fenestrate Linda Ronstadt in the Plymouth’s base-trim-level vinyl back seat? Were her Malaise-Era-pop-star gasps muffled by a Wiffle Ball duct-taped over her mouth? Who can say?

All right, now “California Über Alles” is stuck in my head, so let’s crank it up as we continue:

What do Jerry Brown and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have in common? Yes, both are crazy and both chose “Man of the People” cars that turned out to be seriously cool. Was this just random? Did they know? Jerry could have selected, say, a ’74 Maverick sedan, and Ahmadinejad could have gone with a new-ish Iran Khodro Samand (the Iran Khodro Paykan, aka “Iranian Hillman Hunter,” is up there with the 504 in terms of coolness). We could muddy the waters further by bringing Ho Chi Minh’s Peugeot 404 into the discussion, but then we’d have to debate the relative merits of the 504 versus the 404… and we’ll get to that topic later on.

The only French car I’ve ever owned was, of course, a 1977 Peugeot 504. Perhaps it rolled off the assembly line just after Ahmadinejad’s. San Francisco, 1990: The California economy is in shambles— though the early-90s recession seems like good times compared to the current meltdown— and recent college graduates cannot find employment. But hold on now— some friends work at an anti-nuclear-weapons canvassing group, sending carloads of underpaid lefty activists to go knock on doors and beg for cash… and this organization takes tax-deductible donations of unwanted cars! Better still, their headquarters is an old school in a sketchy Mission District neighborhood, and the school’s former playground now serves as a parking lot for dead or nearly-dead donated cars. Dozens of them! Every day, several of the “crew cars” must be coaxed into life, at which point four or six or nine ever-optimistic canvassers climb aboard for their journey to the doorbells of San Mateo or El Cerrito (though often the journey is really to a journey to a patch of highway shoulder, where yet another ’73 Olds Delta 88 or ’81 Datsun 310 expires in a cloud of head-gasket steam). I am hired to use junkyard parts and/or duct tape to persuade a larger fraction of the No More Hiroshimas Motor Pool to run, and the first thing I do is claim the coolest of the bunch for my personal parts-running use: an Ahmadinejad-grade white ’77 Peugeot 504, complete with gas engine, sunroof, automatic, turn-signal stalk on the right side of the steering column, and factory 8-track player with a single tape in the glovebox. That tape, naturally, is a full-on Jerry Brown-grade album:
You see how these things work? In 1976, Jerry’s cruising his Satellite, Ahmadinejad is just picking up his 504 at the Tehran Peugeot dealership, and the owner of my future 504 is buying Ronstadt’s latest hit album. Sadly, by the time the 504 became my junkyard runner— from Soho down to Brighton (OK, fine, Richmond down to San Jose), I must have hit them all— the only mechanical device in the car that worked every day was the 8-track player and its single tape. The fuel filter kept clogging with old, bad gas. The transmission leaked a quart per 50 miles driven. The charging system seldom, if ever, kept up with the car’s demand for fresh electrons. Few, if any, dash controls or instruments functioned. 20 years ago, you could still find a fair number of 504s in California junkyards, which meant I put more work into picking over Pugs than into yanking parts to keep The Country Squire of Peace or the Omni of Test Bans going. However, the interior was in great shape and the car was about the smoothest, most comfortable motor vehicle I’d ever driven. Most important, I felt seriously cool driving it; this self-image was not reinforced by anyone I knew (the 504 in the early 1990s not being regarded as an interesting car by anyone outside of the dozen or so American cognoscenti who knew it as the “Dodge Dart of Africa”). Finally, the transmission crapped out for good, the always-threadbare purse of Neutrons-’Я’-Not-Us, Inc. didn’t have sufficient dimes to hand Pick-N-Pull the 50 pocket-lint-coated bucks for a replacement, and the only French car I’ve ever owned clanked back into its parking space among the other dead crew cars. Since that time, though, I’ve meant to get myself another 504, preferably a gasoline version with 5-speed. Someday!

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