The 1970s may have ended as a major disappointment with fuel efficiency, crash standards, and insurance rates all taking their toll. But the decade started strong and gave us many cars to dream about along the way. Two of the most popular poster cars ever were born in the ‘70s. And aerodynamics hadn’t completely taken over yet, so cars still looked different from each other.
You may think of the ‘70s as a lost decade for motoring, but nothing could be further from the truth as these 10 cars prove. Each takes it to the max in some way and not a single one is square.
10 De Tomaso Pantera
The Pantera may not be top of mind as a world car but in a way, it was. Alejandro DeTomaso was an Argentinian living in Modena, Italy. The car was designed at Ghia by American-born Tom Tjaarda. The motor was a Ford 351 V8. And the car was sold at Lincoln-Mercury dealerships.
The Pantera was the successor to the Mangusta, a beautiful but flawed car that proved difficult to drive. But the Pantera was a hit, combining outrageous looks, rear-mid-engine handling, and a bullet-proof American drivetrain. More than 7,000 were made over the 20-year run and they’re still coveted today. The coolest of the cool are the early “Pre-L” versions, which had the more delicate-looking chrome bumpers, rather than the new 5-mph rubber bumpers mandated by law. Can you dig it?
9 Lancia Stratos HF
The Stratos just oozes cool. The original concept was designed by Bertone as an attempt to get Lancia’s business, so they went all out on a design so radical, it fit under the gate at Lancia when Bertone drove over to show it off.
The Stratos HF was Gandini’s production-ready take on the Stratos Zero concept, and the first car specifically designed to be a rally car – it was only allowed to race once the required 400 homologation models had been sold. And it was a huge success, winning the 1974, 1975 and 1976 championships titles. Probably the only reason it didn’t keep winning was that the rules changed and the car was no longer eligible to race. That’s a bummer, man.
8 BMW M1
As you might guess from the name, the M1 was the first car from BMW’s Motorsport division. But it wasn’t developed 100% in-house. Initially, the car was to be a joint venture between BMW and Lamborghini. But there were issues – as there so frequently are – and BMW had to bring the project home after just a few prototypes were completed.
But those early development issues didn’t stop the Giugiaro-designed street-legal race car from being made. Or the start of the M1 Procar Series that pitted the five fastest F1 drivers against other top racers, aspiring up-and-comers and talented privateers in identical M1s. From its looks to the performance to its place in history, the M1 was – and is – a total gas.
7 Iso Rivolta Grifo Series II
The Iso Grifo just couldn’t help but be great. Designed by Giugiaro, engineered by Bizzarrini (former head of sports car development at Ferrari) and powered by simple, yet powerful Corvette engines, the Grifo was an instant classic. But in 1970, when it received a new front-end with hidden headlights and the Chevy 454 engine, it ascended to one of the coolest cars of any decade.
Sure, the “penthouse” hood scoop is polarizing, but greatness doesn’t follow convention. That unabashed, in-your-face appendage is part of what makes this one of the best cars of the ‘70s. If you’re lucky enough to have one of the 78 Series II Grifos in your garage, that is far-out, baby.
6 BMW 3.0CSL Batmobile
BMW was doing something right in the 1970s, as two of their cars make the list. The 3.0 CSL is the lightweight racing version of one of the most beautiful cars ever made - the E9. It used aluminum for the hood, trunk, and doors – and thinner gauge steel for the body – to shave weight.
The Batmobile, the wildest of the lot, added a front air dam, short roof spoiler and 3-piece wing on the trunk – as well as strakes rising from the front fenders – to guide air around the body, improve aerodynamic stability and provide downforce. The 167 Batmobile versions were also the first from BMW to wear the tricolor Motorsport livery that we all know so well now. It was groovy then, and it’s groovy now.
5 Aston Martin V8 Vantage
You can’t talk about cool cars of the ‘70s and not bring up the Aston Martin V8 Vantage. Aside from an epic name, it has an undeniable presence, a killer soundtrack, and mind-bending performance. Even today a 0-60 time of 5.2 seconds is quick. And a top speed of 170mph still lies beyond what most cars can achieve. But in the 1970s, stats like these were unheard-of from a 4-seater.
The Vantage used revised camshafts, valves, carburetors and airbox to generate 40% more power than the original V8, which called for a few aerodynamic tweaks to help it make use of the extra motivation. A new front air dam, blanked-off radiator, and trunk spoiler kept the car under control – and also gave it an even more aggressive look than before. Compared to what everyone else was making by 1978, the V8 Vantage was outta sight.
4 Porsche 930 - The Widowmaker
You don’t want to drive a 930 in the rain. Or on old tires. Or when you’re not paying attention. That’s because the first Porsche Turbo is a handful. And then some. In the early days of turbocharging, the power came with lots... of... lag... followed by lots-of-boost-all-in-a-rush. That alone would make the car hard to tame, but it was compounded by the engine hanging way out back and acting as a pendulum.
If the boost came on at the wrong time, and you weren’t ready for it, the rear of the car would snap out and send you off-road, into a spin, into the nearest car, or some combination of the three. That’s where the nickname came from. But, don’t get the wrong idea. The challenge of driving the 930 is part of what makes it so over-the-top cool. Anyone can drive a Pinto. Only drivers who know what they’re doing can get the most out of a 930. That’s part of what makes it such a primo car.
3 Ferrari 365 GT4/BB
All Ferraris are cool, even the uncool ones. But the Ferrari 365 GT4/BB is at the top of the stack for the 1970s. It’s the first mid-engine road Ferrari. It’s a 12-cylinder mid-engine Ferrari. And it’s the first boxer-12 engine in a streetable Ferrari. So it’s got a lot of firsts going for it.
It also has a stunning wedge design based on the Pininfarina P6 concept car. And it obviously inspired later Ferrari designs such as the wildly popular 308/328. 360 hp pushed it to just shy of 175 mph, so the 365 GT4/BB was everything you could ask of a sports car in the ‘70s. Yep, it was slammin’, that’s for sure.
2 Lamborghini Countach
Quick. Name the #1 car poster found on bedroom walls in the 1970s. Oh, did the title of this section give it away? With the Miura, Lamborghini became known for building the wildest sports cars. But the Countach, with its extreme wedge styling, ground-scraping stance, scissor doors, and zero rear visibility, amped that reputation tenfold.
It was an instant hit with car lovers young and old around the world, even though most would never even see one, much less get a ride or the chance to drive it. But that didn’t matter. The Countach was the “It” car from the moment it debuted. It was solid, man.
1 Citroën SM
Bet you didn’t see this coming at #1. The French build interesting cars. Now, interesting can be good or bad, and in the case of the French, sometimes both at the same time. But the Citroën SM is the good kind of interesting. Very good.
Imagine a car with a Maserati engine, a hydraulic suspension so good that Rolls Royce licensed it, an opulent leather interior, and one of the slipperiest shapes on the road to date.
That’s the Citroën SM. Everywhere you look you’ll find something unusual. Unexpected. French. Even an odd single-spoke steering wheel that made it easier to watch the gauges. This car was tight. Tubular. One of the 70s-est cars on the road. The SM was, as they said back then, cool.