Five Favorites from a Six-Year-Old's Perspective

1970 Plymouth Cuda
Photo by Randy Stern

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The turn of the 1970s was a time of transition. It was clear that Richard Nixon wasn't going anywhere. His administration oversaw the first landing on the moon by human beings, but the escalating war in Vietnam dogged his leadership. In 1968, many thought Nixon was the peace candidate for President. He would end up sending more USA troops into Southeast Asia.

We witnessed the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. We also saw The Beatles break up into four pieces. Michael Jackson was a child singing and dancing alongside his brothers with father Joe offstage. Meanwhile, Donny Osmond and his brothers competed directly with the Jackson Five.

We were a year out of Stonewall, race relations were on the upswing, yet further movements were gaining traction and our college campuses were full of strife hoping that Vietnam would not only end, but our nation would be happy as one.

Still, we saw three airliners explode in the Jordanian desert, four students shot at Kent State and Ronald Reagan re-elected as Governor of California.

It was a wonderful time to be six years old.

This was confirmed by the first vibrant memory of the automobile. Not that I can recall my dad's 1965 Plymouth Satellite as a toddler or being hospitalized for pneumonia at UCLA Medical Center in 1967. The year 1970 was the first year I began to visualize the life I am living today.

Sure, I said when I grew up I wanted to be a broadcaster. They named me mayor of a school project in second grade. Yet, deep down inside I wanted to be that guy in Motor Trend who used to ride his bike to Petersen's offices in Los Angeles – and wrote some of the most important articles of my childhood.

The name escapes me, I'm afraid…

As we're stumbling down memory lane, this Five Favorites features the vehicles of 1970 that stood out in my mind – today. That's 42 years in the making…frighteningly enough!

Let the memory banks open and the aneurism commence!

DODGE CHALLENGER/PLYMOUTH BARRACUDA: Listing both together is perhaps the smartest things as I loved both equally. No, seriously! Though dad had the Barracuda, the Challenger was about the same. Or, was it vice versa? The Challenger/Barracuda was positioned perfectly for the likes of the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro/Pontiac Firebird and AMC Javelin/AMX. The design came from Chrysler's fuselage styling language. The body was short enough to ring circles around the competition, yet roomy enough for a small family – like the Sterns. Under the hood, you had your pick of engine, including some of the most memorable V8s ever built by Chrysler. You probably heard their names as they were paraded at any auction house to the tune of six figures. Yet, for every Six-Pack, HEMI and AAR, there is one just the one we had – a basic four-barrel V8 with a TorqueFlite automatic and just enough comfort for everyone. Chrysler created an iconic piece of Americana that still induces memories from years gone by. This is why it belongs on the top of my list amongst favorite automobiles of all time.

CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: General Motors' redesigned their A-Body mid-sizes for 1968 with some of the most compelling lines for its class. Two years later, GM sharpened up their designs further for some of the best muscle cars ever created. There's no question that the Chevrolet Chevelle SS and Buick Skylark GS embodied the spirit of 1970. However, another kind of mid-sized automobile began to creep into the consciousness of the American motoring public. The personal luxury coupe was traditionally an off-shoot of the full-sized car, but had a more focused driving environment for the non-family person. GM had an idea – why not create a personal luxury coupe from its A-Body chassis? The Pontiac Grand Prix began to downsize a bit, but it was still in flux between the Tempest and the Catalina/Bonneville. Chevrolet was the recipient of perhaps the best product to be built off the A-Body that was not a muscle car – the Monte Carlo. No one expected the Monte at all. Chevy folks were content with its current lineup and were never seen as luxury car buyers. The price was right for the new Monte, just a tad higher than a Malibu. It also sported some of the highlights from its Chevelle cousins in terms of performance options – including the Big Block 454 cubic-inch V8. For the critics who said that the personal luxury coupe was simply a fad – we had the Monte in various iterations all the way until the 2000s. How about that for a gamble off of the A-Body?

MERCURY MONTEGO/CYCLONE: The new decade prompted the arrival of a new mid-size lineup for Ford and Mercury. Taking a cue from GM, Ford sharpened up their mid-sized duo into a leaner, meaner car across the board. The design became part of a language that was shared by Fords built around the world – fastback coupes with that signature rear window cut-out and an integrated bumper/fascia design that meant business. The Falcon/Fairlane/Torino for 1970 yielded the bulk of the sales between the two divisions. However, they ended up playing catch-up to the GM A-Bodies. Still, there were some intriguing and rather alluring models that stood out at the Lincoln-Mercury dealer. The Montego sported a pronounced snout that arches back and almost around to the fender edge up front. The grille concaves into the recess of the openings to form an actual bumper away from the squared snout. In some cases, the dual headlights were hidden by a door matching the grille texture. On the Cyclone, a circle in the middle of the square branches off four bars going north, south, east and west. The Cyclone added a driving light to the grille's mix. Compared to a Falcon/Fairlane/Torino, the Montego was an elegant interpretation of a mid-sized sedan – aimed squarely at the Buick Skylark. The Cyclone continued from the 1960s as Mercury's answer to the muscle car boom, yet it had company – the Skylark GS. No amount of Ford power underneath the Mercury's hood could ever match the resonance the Buick had overall. Still, the Montego gave Mercury something to catch my attention…until the end of its run in 1976.

DATSUN 240Z: America had the Ford Mustang. The UK had the Jaguar E-Type. Italy had just brought out the Ferrari 365GT+4 Daytona. All great front engine/rear drive long hood masterpieces. Nissan was ready for the laughter and derision when they brought out the Fairlady Z for the first time. When it arrived in America as the Datsun 240Z – no one was laughing. It was known that Datsun could create such a sports coupe as they know how to make engines that challenge Europe's finest. It was a matter of forging a 2.4litre six-cylinder, overhead camshaft and carbureted mill underneath their long hood with only two seats behind the firewall. The result was one of the best sports cars of the decade. The 240Z was light, so you felt the throttle command the 240 to simply go. The seats were supportive for the time as it only did one thing: Hold you in for the ride. The Z also did another thing that an American pony car wasn't able to do gracefully: Ride a canyon road with ease and maximum grip. Twenty-five years ago, I had the privilege of driving a Z. It was an experience to behold. It was well-sorted and beyond belief. I still attest to this summation today.

CHEVROLET CAMARO/PONTIAC FIREBIRD: No discussion on 1970 would be complete without the most dramatic automobile introduced that year – GM's second generation F-Body. For many American car lovers, once they set their eyes on the Challenger and Barracuda, the Camaro and Firebird simply raised the visual ante. There was a C3 Corvette influence on the shape of both sports coupes. Curves that lowered the entire profile a notch creating a visual treat. Everything was not designed for 1970 – rather for 1972. Inside, the instrument panel wrapped around you and the shifter was right where your hand needed to be. Vision may not be the greatest, but that would be resolved a few years down the line with a wraparound rear window. Under the hood was every GM engine and transmission built on the line – reserved at least one for the Corvette. The Firebird's Endura nose was pronounced and integrated into the new shape perfectly. Camaro owners had a choice of two front end treatments – regular or Rallye Sport. The Rallye Sport was the most impressive – a screaming eagle of a grille without any bumper blocking its beak. It drove better than any of its rivals – until the Datsun 240Z showed up. Who knew this generation would last eleven years through Federal regulations and challenges from abroad?

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