14 April 2009

New Malaise Era?

For most, the late 1960s and very early 1970s represent a high-water mark for the driver's car. Even 40 years later, we still enjoy the purity of experience that comes with performance cars of that era. Car makers were mastering the art of building and selling cars that accelerated, steered and stopped exceptionally well; even if it was a rare car that could do all three.

In the "malaise era" that began in about 1973, cars got heavier and primitive emissions equipment strangled engine power. Manufacturers had to rethink their formulas for acceleration, steering and stopping. Today, cars built before 1973 are generally more prized than their often more pedestrian offspring.

Matt Stone, Executive Editor of Motor Trend suggests that we may be at the end of a similar period, "In 1973, we had a supposed fuel crisis; we had the Clean Air Act expanding. Automotive enthusiasm fell out of public favor for a while. Did people stop loving cars? No, and they aren't going to. But at that point in time the general public's perception of what a car was supposed to do changed."

In the early 1980s, thanks to cars like the Mazda RX-7 and the 5.0 Mustang, we saw the beginning of an industry wide renaissance that has continued through the present day. Carmakers today are increasingly able to build safe, reliable and engaging cars.

Jamie Kitman is the New York Bureau Chief of Automobile Magazine and US Editor of Top Gear. He says that today's great performance cars could be tomorrow's sought-after collectibles. "Whenever a car is tremendously successful or desirable in its time, it stands a good chance of being collectible in the future." This has been the case in the past, but as Kitman put it, the automotive industry is in "uncharted waters, forgive the biblical imagery, but this is cataclysmic."

In the midst of a global recession and increasing pressure for environmental responsibility the public's expectation for what a car should be is changing. Are we now seeing the last great driver's cars before we transition into a new era of utilitarianism? If so, will today's crop of driver's cars be tomorrow's blue chip collectibles?

1 Reader Comment

  • 1
    GYM NC July 11, 2013 at 21:41
    Being a dyed-in-the-wool history buff, I love old cars and what they represent. I really love the sheer simplicity of older cars, those pre 1980. Cars of this time are easy to work on and repair. You can learn valuable things from older cars that most today take for granted. Each old car is a representation of that era's technology, engineering and design. Cars from the 1930s have Art Deco styling, all the dials and gauges have Art Deco text and styling, even the hubcaps have Art Deco scripts. Cars of the late 50s-early 60s have those crazy Rocket ship fins due to it being the jet age and the strong interest in space travel at the time. They even had space-oriented names like Galaxie, Meteor, Comet, Jetstar, Satellite etc. Cars from different eras reflect the style of that era, just like the clothes do from other eras. The Malaise era was a very environmentally-conscious era. People were in rebellion against cars that had large-polluting engines. Even the colors cars were available in, were more nature-inspired. Browns and golds and many different shades of green... Saving gas and energy was cool, not going fast... We had a glut of muscle cars all over the place on used car lots that anyone could get if they desired, but this era wanted quiet, fuel-efficient economical cars that did not pollute.

Join the Discussion