That ‘70s Show was a sitcom about a group of teens nearing on maturity in the 1970s. That era meant a lot of hanging out in basements, listening to rock, and indulging in other hazy activities. The thing is, the show wasn't just gut-busting entertainment, it was a learning experience, even if the final season was lousy and there were continuity mistakes big enough to drive a Vista Cruiser through... sideways.
But it gave us a funny glimpse of life in mid-to-late 1970s North America. It also gave us a glimpse of some cars from the past. Some of these cars were probably so mundane that if it wasn't for the show, they would've faded into obscurity without anyone even noticing. But now, because of the show, they've actually managed to claim a tiny bit of history for themselves.
Other cars that were featured on the series were there because they had already proven themselves; cars like the Trans-Am, Corvette, El Camino, and Charger R/T were considered great back then and nothing has really ever changed their reputation. We never need another reason to see cars like these because their greatness is reason enough.
In this list, we've found some little-known facts about the cars that have been on That '70s Show, some of them are facts about the specific vehicle that was on the show, while others will be brand or model specific. Check it out and see if you'll learn something new.
As Red and Kitty are reminiscing about their first Halloween together, we learn that Kitty used to drive a 1955 Chevy Bel Air Sport Coupe, a car that is considered a huge turning point for the manufacturer. The 1955 Chevy Bel Air was the first successful Chevrolet with an optional V8 engine. In 1955, Chevrolet decided to fit its new car with an overhead-valve V8 engine design, which was similar to the 1949 Oldsmobile "Rocket 88" V8 engine, an earlier GM success. The new, 265-cubic-inch, overhead-valve V8 was designed to be smaller, lighter, and more powerful than previous V8s in the auto industry and would come to be known as the "Chevy small block".
This was the car that picked up Leo when he was still a young man and war veteran. The car was full of jazz musicians and there was 'suspicious' smoke pouring from the cabin as the car came to a stop next to Leo, who from that point on would be a hippie. The Special De Luxe Sport Sedan actually sold in pretty amazing numbers. At the conclusion of the model year, Chevrolet counted 138,811 customers for the Special Deluxe Sport Sedan; good enough for third behind the two-door Special Deluxe Town Sedan and Master Deluxe Town Sedan. We're guessing most of the customers weren't jazz musicians.
The Econoline is in the episode where the boys think the FBI is after them due to Kelso accidentally threatening the president over the phone. For 1975, the Econoline was given a complete redesign. Based on an all-new chassis, Ford became the first US manufacturer to adapt body-on-frame construction for a full-size van. During the 1970s, the Econoline became popular as a basis for van conversions. Using the sparsely-equipped Econoline cargo van as a basis, a luxurious interior was often fitted, along with extensive customization of the exterior.
The Rambler American can be seen in the background when Red brings Kitty to a car show. It was manufactured by AMC between 1958 to 1969 and was the second incarnation of the Rambler Compact, made by AMC forerunner Nash and Hudson Motors, sold in 1954 and 1955. The compact Rambler American was most often the lowest-priced car built in the U.S. It was popular for its economy in ownership and actually won numerous Mobilgas Economy Run championships. In 1966, a V8 engine was added to the lineup, making the Rambler American an affordable performance model.
Kitty's sister Paula, who used to be the black sheep of the family, returned as a self-made sales rep success for 'Kathy May Cosmetics' and driving a pink 1977 Ford Thunderbird. The 1977 Thunderbird was actually a brand new model, and the squarer, sharper styling proved to be popular, as this generation became the best selling in the history of the Ford Thunderbird. Perhaps this was helped by the $2,700 price drop from the 1976 model, though Ford also repackaged the Thunderbird from a full-size car to a large intermediate car.
There has been mention of Lincoln Continentals several times on the show and in a couple of episodes, we actually get to see them, as well. The owner is, of course, Jackie—or rather her dad—because they're rich, you know. While only being sold for three years, the Mark V is the best-selling generation of the series, with 228,262 examples produced. At 230 inches long, the Mark V is the largest two-door coupe ever sold by Ford Motor Company, while the 233-inch-long two-door and four-door Lincoln Continental sedans are the only longer vehicles ever marketed by Ford.
We all know the intro to the show: everyone is in the Vista Cruiser, singing along to the theme song and switching places in the car. We bet the producers never thought the viewers would actually pay any attention to the cars driving past. They were wrong.
Amongst others, there's a 1997-02 Ford Excursion and a 1990s Land Rover. Sure, it doesn't ruin the show, but once you've seen them, they become impossible to unsee.
The intro isn't the only anachronism on the show, though, there are plenty of them.
While there certainly were VW rabbits around in the 1970s, the one used on the show wasn't from that era. The trim and the wheels indicate that it's a later model, at least a 1981 model, judging by the dashboard. Perhaps they figured that it was really dark, so no one would ever notice? But they were wrong. We noticed! And that's not the only thing we noticed, we also noticed how they've removed the windshield to avoid glare from the studio lighting, a trick they also used several times with the Vista Cruiser.
The 1970 Datsun 240Z can be spotted in several episodes as a background car. This little sports car was the first model of Nissan Z-Cars—well, technically, Datsun Z-cars since that's what they were sold as in the United States. In Japan, they were named the Nissan Fairlady Z. The 240Z was a spectacular car that could easily compete with some of the best cars from the domestic and foreign markets. It offered great performance, beautiful and sporty design, and all at the low price of $3,500. No wonder it was a huge success.
After giving away his El Camino to Hyde, Leo went and got himself a 1974 BMW 2002. It was quite a change but we've got to admit that the guy does have taste and style, even if he probably doesn't even know it, himself. We're certainly happy the producers went a different route from the usual, hippie-culture VW Bus. There's no reason a hippie shouldn't have a car that's enjoyable and the BMW 2002 is actually one of the most fun cars to drive from that entire era. In fact, it's a lot more fun to drive than most modern cars.
With a baby on the way, Kelso needed some wheels, so it was only logical that he would get a 1975 MG Midget MkIV: he figured it was baby friendly because it was tiny, just like a baby. At least he got it really cheap at a police auction. The little MG's appearance actually complements the 70s Detroit automotive landscape rather well, as it represents the foreign sporty cars with a throwback flair...and it was only the beginning of what was yet to come.
There was a brief moment where Kelso was a cop cadet and he had his supervisor’s squad car at his disposal, a 1975 Plymouth Fury. The Plymouth Fury and Dodge Monaco are embedded into the minds of many as the vehicles of law enforcement in a time before the Panther platform dynasty came to be. The 1975 Plymouth Fury was supposedly a new car in 1975 but that isn't really true. It is one of those new-but-not-so-new cars due to some trickery. The Fury name hadn't been on an intermediate chassis previously but Chrysler's intermediate B-body chassis dated back to 1961. So it was a bit cheeky to say it was new model when it was just downsized.
Kelso's second car was a Volkswagen “DeLuxe Station Wagon” Type 2/T1 bus that he won at a local fair. The VW met its demise when it rolled down a mountain, thanks to Eric.
Luckily, the car wasn't damaged in real life, which is a good thing seeing as these old buses are worth a fortune these days. This particular one was actually sold on a Barrett-Jackson auction in Florida and it went for an eye-watering $121,000. The previous time it was sold at an auction, back in 2005, it fetched $28,050. That's a pretty decent return on investment right there!
The first vehicle Kelso owned was a 1965 Dodge A-100 van and he had some big plans for it. Then, when Bob came over to take a look at Kelso's pride and joy, he talked about how he had a Ford delivery van and its role in starting a family. He then recommends that Kelso sell the van. Those eagle-eyed wheel addicts out there would easily spot the directional rims fitted on the van—and if you were unaware, we're sorry to inform you that they weren't correct for the period.
Midge drives a Cadillac Eldorado, and although we don't really get to see much of it, her car did manage to confuse a lot of car fans for a while. However, we did manage to come up with some info on it. The car clearly had a GM scissor-top convertible roof and the last Cadillac Eldorado Convertible of that era was 1976. Now, the front of the car doesn't match up with that, but it turns out that changing the nose is actually a popular modification. We can now tell you the mystery has been solved: it's a 1976 Eldorado with a 1978 nose.
Cadillacs and Pinciottis seem to go together well. We've already covered that Midge drives a Cadillac Eldorado, and in another episode, Donna drove a Cadillac Seville. The Seville sought to counter Cadillac's heavy slant towards the 50+ age group and was an attempt to rejuvenate the brand's image and win over young import buyers. Foreign luxury cars had become quite luxurious and even more expensive than the much larger Cadillacs and it became obvious that the traditional Detroit automotive paradigm of "bigger equals better" was faltering. The Seville was the smallest yet most expensive model in the lineup, turning Cadillac's traditional marketing and pricing strategy upside down.
Remember Red’s 1958 Chevrolet Corvette? Bob was gonna buy it but Red got to it first and then proceeded to rub it in his face. Let's be honest, who wouldn't? Kitty was even jealous of it. There were a number of plots revolving around the car during its brief stay, with an entire episode dedicated to Eric trying to outsmart Red to let him borrow the car so he could make an impression on a date. The 1958 model year and the years that followed all had the exposed four-headlamp treatment and prominent grills, but a faux-louvered hood and chrome trunk spears were unique to 1958.
Donna: “I love the Trans Am.” Casey: “Everybody does…” Truer words have never been spoken. It's just an irrefutable fact that second-gen Pontiac Firebird was one of the hottest cars of the 1970s. Donna Pinciotti has mentioned her liking for them on a number of occasions and Kelso's brother, Casey Kelso, owns and cherishes his much more than any woman he’s ever been with. From 1977 to 1981, the Firebird used four square headlamps, while the Camaro continued using the two round headlights that had been shared by both second-generation designs.
Every once in a while, a muscle car would make it on to the show, and the most prominent one has to be Hyde’s 1967 Chevrolet El Camino. The El Camino used to belong to the lovable hippie Leo Chingwake and whilst Michael Kelso had an eye on it, Leo felt it would be wrong to sell it to him, so instead he gave it away to Hyde. Fez would later crash the El Camino when learning to drive—probably because it had a manual transmission—and Hyde made him work at the Fotohut in a state of undress in order to pay off the damage.
AMC cars have a prominent role as automotive backdrops in the show for two reasons: first, it’s the 1970s, so there were AMC everywhere. Second, the show takes place in Wisconsin, with the closest big town being Kenosha, where AMCs were built. In fact, one might wonder why they didn't use more AMCs on the show. At the very least, we got to see Fez driving one and experiencing the "woman scorned" treatment when his car got covered in graffiti. We also saw Bob driving an AMC Pacer, which totally made sense, seeing as he and his wife Midge got into every fad of the decade.
Eric’s parents bought themselves a new car, a 1976 Toyota Corolla. Imagine the heated discussions that Red and Kitty had over buying a car from Japan, gas crisis or not—which was the reason they bought it. While the Corolla isn't as prominently used as the Vista Cruiser, it still gets its share of use for comedic character interaction throughout the show. Road & Track was critical of the Corolla, calling it "large and heavy" and "expensive" compared to the Honda Civic and Datsun B210. They also criticized the "relatively crude rear suspension," lack of interior space, and poor fuel economy when compared to the VW Rabbit.
The Vista Cruiser was used as a prop on the show, as well as being part of the plot several times, making it more of a character on the show rather than just a car. Of all the cars featured on the show, this humble Aztec Gold 1969 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon is by far the most famous one. Not too bad, considering almost no one had a clue what a Vista Cruiser was before the show aired. After the show ended, Wilmer Valderrama, the guy who played Fez, bought the Vista Cruiser for a bargain $500.
Most motorcycles featured on the show were part of some daydream scenario but the Candy Topaz Orange Honda CB 125 S1 was more of a dream come true scenario. This is probably best illustrated by Red's comment when he brought home the Honda CB: “Oh, come on, Kitty. You know the last thing I bought for myself? A hose.” You'd think Red would have chosen a bike from Milwaukee's finest, but seeing as he also did get a Corolla, maybe he actually had a thing for the solid build quality of machines from Japan?
Pam Macy was a recurring character who is often the object of Kelso and Hyde's affections. She's frequently mentioned throughout the show with reference to her physical attractiveness and promiscuity. And we're sure the fact that she drove a 1969 Dodge Charger R/T didn't make her any less attractive. The car used in the show was a 318, automatic "White Hat Special". The real owner of the car also owned the car used in Blade, which was sold to the studio for use in a sequel, as well as the 1968 Charger used in the annoying AT&T commercials featuring Carrot Top.
The Beetle is one of the most important cars in history. In fact, we could probably write a list here every week for a year and still not mention all the facts about it. First produced in 1938, production actually continued right up to 2003 for an amazing 65 years. The last original Beetle to be sold in the US changed hands in 1979, and although production continued in Mexico until 2003, imports were prohibited due to emissions regulations. The car on the show has been used as a prop in several episodes, and the vertical headlights make it a 1967 1500 Sedan, as this was the only engine available when US models received vertical headlights.
Sources: Fandom, IMCDB, IMDb, and Daily Mail.