With the era’s racing films and road movies, James Bond and Bullitt, the 1960s gave us the genesis of the modern action film, but the decade that followed defined and refined it. Stunts and stunt driving were more impressive than ever, and there was a boom in road movies and car chases. The 1970s is remembered as one of the best and most innovative decades in film, and cool cars were essential to this cinematic evolution.
Road films like Bonnie and Clyde and Easy Rider had been watershed moments in film history, and so the late ’60s through the early ’70s became a particularly prolific period for the genre: they reconfigured the western, trading in horses for cars. The American psyche had been fundamentally altered by a tumultuous period, from assassinations to the Vietnam War, and films reflected this change, abandoning the peace and love era for the new decade’s darkness, disillusionment, and fascination with antiheroes. And so the car-centered movies of the early ’70s would be defined by rebellion and wanderlust and loners on the road in search of new frontiers in dusty muscle cars.
Advances in technology also helped shape and pave the way for great films with equally great cars. Films like Grand Prix and Bullitt changed how vehicular action was shot, bringing about the advent of camera cars and the ability to put real people in real cars on a real road, meaning rear projection was slowly becoming a thing of the past.
These circumstances would come to a head 50 years ago in 1971. It was the perfect storm of road odysseys, gripping car chases, and spectacle, a year that gave us some of the best star cars of all time. Splashed on screen was an embarrassment of riches from James Bond’s 1970 Ford Mustang Mach 1 to Kowalski’s 1970 Dodge Challenger.
Digging into my Hershey memory bank led me to the discovery of another series of photos my father took of the AACA Eastern Fall Meet in October 1971.
Veteran Hershey-goers will quickly point out that the car show was still held within its original location inside what is now Hersheypark Stadium, which not only hosts summer concerts today, but remains the home of the town’s high school football team.
It’s also where the vintage race cars are now paraded in front of their class judges, and where the entertaining high-wheeler race is held during Meet Week (weather pending).A closer look at the pictures, however, reveals that some of the subjects captured on Kodak were not only rare examples, but also vehicles for sale on the east side of the stadium’s exterior.
Regardless of whether these images were cars on display or up for grabs, I couldn’t help but wonder where each of them ended up in the ensuing years. Enjoy this entertaining albeit brief look back in time.
The Chevrolet Vega represented a number of firsts when it burst onto the scene for the 1971 model year. It pioneered a number of product development processes at GM, it made use of new production methods and technologies, and it even introduced a novel means of rail shipment. It’s also widely seen as Chevrolet’s first major blunder from beginning to end, yet the main culprit that everybody points to as the cause of its failures certainly wasn’t the Vega’s only issue and may not have been its primary problem.
Earlier this week, reader Leif Ortegren asked us what exactly caused the Vega to get such a bad rap when new.
I wonder why the Vega motor was so unreliable. If memory serves, it had an aluminum block with coated cylinder walls. This was pretty new technology when introduced, but other cars (Porsche for one) used it successfully for years.
And in response, we heard a couple of the most oft-quoted causes for Vega engine failures: lack of a coolant recovery tank in the earliest models, and insufficient coating of the cylinder walls. Neither are wrong, but at the same time, neither answer fully encapsulates what went wrong with the L-13/L-11 overhead-camshaft 140-cu.in. four-cylinder engine. (For the purposes of this article, we’re not going to discuss the rust or other issues that contributed to the Vega’s reputation, just the engine.)
To begin with, while we’ve written in the past that engineer Jim Musser, who oversaw the Vega development program, also oversaw the development of the engine, that’s not entirely correct. Rather, the engine grew out of work General Motors had done on sleeveless aluminum engines going back to the Fifties and GM engineer Eudell Jacobsen had been working on an overhead-camshaft four-cylinder version since at least 1966, two years before GM Chairman James Roche announced that Chevrolet would have an answer to the import tide by 1970.
When the 1971 Buick Riviera hit the market, the American public wasn’t quite ready for it. The Riviera had debuted in 1963 with a finely tailored look that was both upscale and sporty and it evolved into a handsome, sleek coupe for 1966. By 1970, however, it had been festooned with chrome trim and had lost some of its edge. Buyers noticed. A radical transformation was in order.