6 of the best cars from the swinging ’70s—according to Hagerty readers

The 1970s were a rough time for automakers. Increasing emissions and safety standards meant the old way of producing cars had to change, and that meant some of the flash and panache of the fabled “glory days” 1960s cars faded. There were bright spots, though—specifically, six of them, according to Hagerty readers.

Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

1978 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am WS6
Mecum
1978 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am WS6

The elected leader of the muscle car hangover crowd, the Trans Am kept the aggressive styling until it couldn’t back up the domed hood and fender flares any more. As the calendars flipped into 1970, the second-generation Firebird rolled onto dealer lots with options like the tire-melting Ram Air IV, a 370-horsepower V-8 that ensured the Trans Am would stay at the top of the muscle car heap. As the decade marched on, however, even the T/A lost some power and a bit of its classic styling—but it still stood as a high mark for those in the hunt for horsepower.

Chevrolet Camaro

1970 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 3/4 front
Mecum
1970 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

We have to admit that we were surprised to see the Camaro included in the over-120 responses. With all the love that first-generation Camaros receive, the second-gen cars have large shoes to fill. The updated cars seem to have fans—though the values have been on the brakes for some time. The preference among most second-gen buyers is towards the earlier split-bumper cars, but we think just about any of them are great and full of potential.

Lincoln Continental Mark III

1969 Lincoln Continental Mark III coupe
Mecum
1969 Lincoln Continental Mark III coupe

While a carryover from the 1960s, we’ll allow this Lincoln to make this list thanks to the multiple votes from the thread last week. The Mark III drove out from the roaring ’60s and brought personal luxury into the whisper-quiet ’70s, bringing the entire segment up a notch in the process. Only sold in two-door coupes, this Continental shared its platform with the Ford Thunderbird and packed a 390-cubic-inch V-8. The styling is bold enough to say this Continental can park anywhere it wants—except the compact-only spots. 

Datsun 240Z

1976 Datsun 280Z front 3/4 driving
Diego Perri
1976 Datsun 280Z

The sports coupe 240Z was a star in Japanese automakers’ attempts to be taken seriously in the U.S., as they strove to break the econobox image established by the frugal cars imported prior to 1970. The 240Z packed a burbling inline-six under the stylish, long hood, and the four-wheel-independent suspension ensured its handling chops match the engine note.

Pontiac Grand Am

1973 Pontiac Grand Am at a show
Ron Berglund

If you want to talk about polarizing styling, the first-generation Pontiac Grand Am will likely come up in the conversation. The Hagerty readers who responded fell on the positive side, as several praised Pontiac’s Chevelle competitor. The Grand Am sat on the same A-body chassis as many of the other muscle cars that carried from the muscle car era into the swinging ’70s. Pontiac went upscale though, as the brand attempted to thwart the influx of Mercedes and BMW models by producing a luxury muscle car. By the end of Pontiac though, the Grand Am had more than lost its way.

Pontiac Grand Prix

1969 Pontiac Grand Prix
On Traverse City’s mean streets (Yoav Gilad)

The mid-sized Grand Prix was born from Pontiac’s efforts to steal buyers not only from the Cadillac Eldorado full-size but also from the Thunderbird. On order from John DeLorean the Grand Prix got a facelift in 1969 that carried it through 1977. The personal luxury car got a variety of engines; and, in true American style, all were big V-8s. The gas crisis and emissions restrictions did the Grand Prix no favors, but the nameplate weathered both storms and marched on for many more years.