This will make you reconsider that phrase “they don’t make them like they used to.”

A four-cylinder 2017 Malibu is faster than the 1970 Chevelle SS 396
My dad had a 1955 Chevy BelAir like this with the first “small block” V8 and three on the tree.

By the age of five, I could identify the make of cars by the sounds of the engine as they climbed the hill outside our home. My paper route took me past a GM dealership, and included a couple of homes where the owners parked the latest “hot” muscle or sports car. I worked part time, pumping gas at a Chrysler-Plymouth-BMC dealership.

 

Cars have been a major part of my life ever since.

 

I look back fondly on those years, remembering the cars, roads, races and experiences at the wheel. It was the heyday of the muscle car, with 426 Hemis, 427 Fords, 454 Chevies, 455 Olds, 390 AMCs etc. Then came the seventies and the emasculation of the V8 engine.

 

Looking back I realize they don’t make them like they used to. Thank goodness!

 

Sure those babies would haul in a straight line. Even with “posi-traction” they would boil the Goodyears well into second gear.

 

But they didn’t stop worth a hoot, baulked when asked to tackle turns with any semblance of speed and burned gas like there was no tomorrow. They were also death traps in a severe crash and let’s not even talk about exhaust emissions!

Emission regulations strangled the V8 engine. This full-size 1975 Impala had only 165-horsepower.

Those last two factors spelled the end of the muscle car. Regulators, concerned about the death toll on public roads introduced legislation forcing vehicle manufacturers to provide seat belts, crush zones and further protection for occupants. Public health became a concern. Gasoline containing lead was discovered to contribute to cancer and for this reason and growing concern about exhaust emissions in general, manufacturers were forced to develop systems that cleaned up the nasty stuff coming out the tailpipes.

 

I have been driving and reviewing cars since the mid-seventies, at least one every week and in many cases dozens, at manufacturer proving grounds, race tracks and events on public roads in all Canadian provinces and territories. I have driven in all but one state (Iowa is on my bucket list), South Korea, Japan and most European countries – east and west.

This 1979 Corvette had 195-horsepower! The least powerful 2017 Vette has 455 horses in the corral.

I can speak from experience that they don’t make them like they used to.

 

Just for fun, let’s look at some numbers. I have used Chevrolet as an example in many cases because it dominated the sales charts in those early days making it is easier to find data from that period, from my own and other records. Chevrolet was so dominant that at one point, the U.S. government threatened to break up General Motors into two companies – Chevrolet in one, and Pontiac, Buick, Oldsmobile and Cadillac in another. GM had more than 50% of the entire market and even if broken up, Chevrolet would have been the largest player.

You could use a calendar to measure acceleration times with the 70-horsepower Chevrolet Chevette
  • 1970 was the peak of the muscle car era. A 1970 Chevelle SS with a 350-horsepower, Turbo Jet 396 (6.5 litres) accelerated from rest to 60 miles per hour in 6.4 seconds and covered the quarter mile in 15 seconds flat. It got about 10-12 mpg on the highway.
  • The 2017 Chevrolet Malibu has a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, less than one-third that size. It puts out 250 horsepower pushing the new Malibu to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds. It gets 33 mpg on the highway
  • A 1975 Impala with a 5.7-litre V8 went from 0-60 in 14 seconds and took a whopping 19.4 seconds to reach the end of the quarter mile. The current Impala, with a four cylinder engine less than half that size (2.5-litres) accomplished those feats in 8.7 and 16.9 seconds.
  • That 1975 Impala averaged 19.5 litres per 100 km in the city. The new one 10.6.
  • A 1980 Chevette had a 1.6-litre. 70-horsepower four under the hood. It accelerated from rest to 60 miles per hour in 13.8 seconds and the quarter mile in 19.4 seconds. The 2017 equivalent small Chevy, the Sonic, has a smaller (1.4-litre) engine that puts out almost twice the power (138-hp). It does 0-60 in 8.4 seconds and the quarter mile in 15.9.
  • The 1980 Chevette had a combined fuel economy average of 11.1 litres/100 – km The Sonic ? 6.1 litres
  • In 1979 the 5.7 litre V8 in the Corvette had 195 horsepower and averaged 17.7 litres/100 km in the city and 13.5 on the highway. The current base Corvette has a 6.2-litre version of the “small block” producing 455 horsepower and averaged 13.8/8.1

 

Nope, they don’t make them like they used to.

About Richard 101 Articles
At the age of five I was already obsessed with all things automotive being able to identify the make and model of car by just the sound of its engine going down the street in front of our house in the small town on the south shore of Nova Scotia. Although I have been covering and writing about the automotive scene for more than 40 years and the light still grows brightly.

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