We take a look at ten of the most iconic classic cars to come from the 1970s
As decades go, the 1960s really did end on a technological high note thanks to Neil Armstrong taking his first step on the moon. The 1970s on the other hand brought everyone back to earth with industry-wide motor industry strikes and an oil crisis putting a damper on the motor industry - especially hurting the market for high-performance and gas-guzzling luxury cars.
Despite the economic turmoil, most of the world’s top manufacturers made it through the rough period in one piece, and continued to develop ever faster and more powerful sports cars. While the large capacity V12 and V8 was still the engine of choice for most, the push for increased efficiency saw smaller capacity fuel injected and turbocharged engines making tentative appearances as well.
Our list covers the wide range of performance classics that typified the era, from old school V8 bruisers to the smaller capacity, lighter cars that embraced the new age. Think we’ve missed something out? Let us know in the comments!
While it may have been introduced in the last few months of the ‘60s, the Datsun 240Z really is a 1970s icon, so it just squeezes into our list. While it was designed to look like a European exotic, the Zed has a Japanese character all of its own. The attention to detail under the skin made it a very capable car too, and quite unlike the majority of its rivals, the 240Z relied on an efficient small-capacity inline-six, well resolved chassis and a low curb weight to produce the goods. Subsequent models gradually increased in weight and complexity making these first cars the purest and most sought after of all the Z cars.
Read the Datsun 240Z buying guide and browse the classifieds here
De Tomaso Pantera
The unlikely combination of an American designer and Italian manufacturer resulted in one of the most characterful sports cars of the 1970s: De Tomaso’s Pantera. Under the exotic Italian body lurks another surprise, a big American Ford V8, allowing the Pantera to be sold in the US through Ford dealerships. The Pantera was a interesting prospect in its day, as a big rumbling V8 and highly-specced interior was not the usual recipe for a European sports car. Production spanned for an amazing 20 years, with the Pantera going through many changes. Just like the Countach, the latter cars gained getting massive wings and flared arches. Just over 7200 were produced in total.
Read the Pantera buying guide, and browse the cars for sale here
Built soon after Citroen’s takeover, the Maserati Bora benefitted from the French company’s hydraulic knowhow with a number of unique technological innovations. While the 170mph top speed was impressive, a relatively heavy weight conspired against it in the acceleration stakes. It did make for an excellent grand tourer however, and its elegant lines have aged exceptionally well. The long production run yielded only 530 examples and well maintained ones today are fetching higher prices every year.
Read the Maserati Bora buying guide, and browse the cars for sale here
Perhaps the ultimate wedge shaped rally car, the Lancia Stratos used a detuned Dino V6 (Can’t have a Lancia beating a Ferrari you see...) in between its very short wheelbase to devastating effect. The Stratos took three WRC championship titles in a row from 1974 to ‘76, remaining competitive in privateer hands until the early ‘80s. Highly prized today and with fewer than 500 road cars built, you may need to look to some of the very convincing replicas that are out there if you want one in your garage.
Read the Lancia Stratos buying guide, and browse the cars for sale here
Designed by Marcello Gandini, the Countach LP400 was released in 1974, with its futuristic Origami creases and scissor doors it cared little for practicality and focused solely on style. Following on from the curvy, almost feminine shape of the Miura it was a showstopper in a totally different sort of way. Over 40 years on and it still looks the part. Later cars became festooned with wings and scoops, and while they may have lost the original’s purity, they still embody the spirit of what a supercar is all about. You’ll learn to live with the cramped cockpit and heavy controls when you listen to that sonorous V12, and take in its lines at the many filling stations you’ll be visiting...
Read the Lamborghini Countach buying guide, and browse the cars for sale here
By the 1970s the 911 had already made a name for itself as an accomplished sports car, but with the introduction of the turbocharged 930, Porsche gave it supercar-rivalling performance as well. Massive straight line pace when on boost gave the 930 the firepower to compete with much larger-engined competitors. However the spiky power delivery did not mix well with the tail happy early cars and a skilled touch is required to avoid ending up parked backwards in someone’s garden! The later intercooled 3.3-litre cars with five-speed gearboxes are highly prized - especially the rare slant nose variants, which came with a factory fitted 330bhp performance kit.
Read the Porsche 930 buying guide, and browse the cars for sale here
One of Pininfarina’s most stunning designs, the 308 arrived in 1975 sporting a powerful 2.9-litre V8 producing 252bhp, and class leading performance. Available in both hard top GTB and Targa roofed GTS versions, the 308 became Ferrari’s best-selling car to date. The very first fibreglass-bodied cars tend to command the highest prices, but even the previously unloved early fuel injected cars have recently shot up in value. Thanks to the 308’s success the 328 replacement was more evolution than revolution. Get a GTS in the traditional red/cream combination and relive those Magnum P.I. memories.
Read the Ferrari 308 buying guide, and browse the cars for sale here
The Lotus Esprit was another ‘70s wedge, this time designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro. Making a memorable appearance in James Bond’s ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’, the Esprit displayed its superb road holding to great effect. Lotus’s ‘adding lightness’ philosophy meant that even the early pre-turbo cars punched well above their weight. It used advanced manufacturing techniques and the Lotus design philosophy was to be copied by many in the years to come. With many design changes, the Esprit stayed in production for 28 years culminating in the 3.5-litre Esprit V8.
Read the Lotus Esprit buying guide, and browse the cars for sale here
Aston Martin V8 Vantage
The Aston Martin V8 was quite a departure for the marque from its earlier range of DB grand tourers. While the first V8’s made an appearance in the late 60’s, it was the Vantage V8 of 1977 that truly upset the supercar hierarchy. A top speed of over 170mph and 0-60 times quicker than a contemporary V12 Ferrari tend to do that. Most were specced with auto ‘boxes, which suited the torquey power delivery well. Production finally ended in 1989 for this charismatic and capable bruiser in a Saville Row suit with the final versions producing up to 450bhp.
Read the aston Martin V8 buying guide, and browse the cars for sale here
The combination of Italian design and German engineering can only lead to good things. BMW’s M1 was the company’s first and only supercar to date, proving that top performance does not have to come at the expense of reliability or usability. The dawn of the efficient supercar had arrived. The 273bhp 3.5-litre inline six gave the M1 162mph performance, and even went on to form the basis for the first M5. Just over 450 cars were built, 20 of these were modified for the BMW Procar Championships and could produce up to 470bhp in race trim.
Read the BMW M1 buying guide, and browse the cars for sale here
Words: John Tallodi