For July’s issue, we compiled a list of the most important cars ever built, and worked forward from 1955, when we were founded as Sports Car Illustrated, and the modern auto industry came of age. These are Car and Driver‘s GOATS – the Greatest of All Time. Today: The Seventies.
1970 Range Rover
Shortly after its European debut in 1970, British Leyland’s Range Rover became a museum piece—the first vehicle to be displayed at the Louvre in Paris. It was featured there as an “exemplary work of industrial design,” which would prove to be a prophetic accolade considering its lasting influence. Rover had set out to match the success of the Jeep Wagoneer and Ford Bronco with a luxury bent. In doing so, the company cast the mold for a vehicle as good in the wild as it was running errands. The Range Rover was powered by a Buick-designed V-8 planned for powerboats and first used in compact sedans in 1961. It was as comfortable in the types of places where you slept on the ground as it was on the meandering highways that led you there. Capable, too. The Rover would go on to complete the 18,000-mile British Trans-Americas Expedition in 1971–72, win the inaugural Paris-Dakar Rally in 1979, and accomplish innumerable grocery runs of varying difficulty. The Range Rover didn’t officially arrive in the U.S. until 1987, by which time it was underpowered and overpriced. Its age threatened to undermine the foothold that gray-market examples had established here in the ’70s. And yet, today’s Cayennes, X3s, and GLEs all owe something to the original Range Rover. Without it, those utes might not be as luxurious as they are. —Austin Irwin
1975 Ferrari 308 GTB
The two-seat 1975 308 GTB coupe was the first Ferrari road car with fewer than 12 cylinders that the company felt comfortable badging as a Ferrari. Along with the targa-top GTS that came in ’77, the carbureted 308 would stay in production until 1980, with 6116 built; a fuel-injected model took its place and lived until ’85.
The 308 was so successful that Ferrari reinvented itself in this car’s image. The 2.9-liter V-8 came from the Dino 308 GT4 and made a stout 240 horsepower yet was also tractable and forgiving enough to be used every day. Factor in the car’s roomy interior and this was the most usable Ferrari to date.
Maybe best of all, the 308 was stunningly beautiful. Pininfarina drew a perfect, instantly glamorous wedge shape and didn’t add a single bad line. Forty-five years later, it looks barely aged.
Ferrari was a boutique shop selling big, expensive GT cars when the 308 joined the line. This model established the V-8-powered mid-engine sports car as the pure Ferrari, contemporary and cool. In the March 1977 issue, C/D presciently described the 308 as “modernity from Modena.” —John Pearley Huffman
1976 Honda Accord
In 1976, amidst the doldrums of the decade of disco, there emerged a brilliantly sensible automobile: the Honda Accord. Set against an economy-car swamp infested with dismal rear-wheel-drive Chevy Vegas and Ford Pintos, the first Accord was beautifully engineered to balance practicality, value, and refinement better than anything before. While it was compact—about the size of today’s Fit—the original Accord was an industry blueprint for a small front-drive car that could excel on all fronts, which ultimately made it the sales powerhouse that would kick-start Honda’s mainstream standing in the U.S.
The ’76 Accord’s 1.6-liter inline-four was good for a measly 68 horsepower, but it sipped fuel and had to move only about a ton of two-door hatchback (the Accord sedan wouldn’t arrive until the 1979 model year). Honda’s clever CVCC combustion setup, pioneered on the Civic, helped the engine burn cleanly enough to pass an emissions test without a catalytic converter.
The Accord’s interior was comfortable, spacious, and thoughtfully organized. It also packed a lot of standard equipment for a $4000 car. Through the years, the Accord proved to be doggedly reliable as fuel-efficient transportation, yet it also could engage a spirited driver with its positive controls, nimble handling, and strong brakes.
“In one mad stroke, Honda has invented an automobile that appeals not only to the vast middle ground of car buyers, but to both extremes of the spectrum as well, the rationalists and the sports.” Those words from our May 1977 review ring true today. That the Accord has racked up more 10Best trophies than any other vehicle—34 since we started handing them out in 1983—speaks to the significance of the original’s founding virtues. —Mike Sutton
1978 Porsche 928
Against the dark backdrop of 1978, the Porsche 928 was a supernova. Replete with the best components and engineering available—a fuel-injected and aluminum-block SOHC 4.5-liter V-8 making 219 horses, a rear-mounted five-speed transaxle, a semi-trailing-arm rear suspension designed to mitigate lift-throttle oversteer, 50-series Pirelli P7 performance tires, adjustable pedals, an instrument binnacle that moves with the steering wheel, Recaro seats, HVAC vents in the door panels, height-adjustable headlights, and an air-conditioned glovebox—the 928 could not have been less like the 911 if it were designed to drive on the moon.
The 928 ran to 60 in 6.4 seconds and could hit 144 mph in the days when a Corvette maxed out at 134. When automakers of indifferently built cars counted on buyers to be taken in by fake wood and opera lights instead of real substance, the 928’s incredible fit and finish gleamed in a way commensurate with its $26,150 price ($106,000 in 2020). The 928 might not have replaced the 911 as intended, but as is typical of Porsche, the company kept developing and evolving it, squeezing every bit of juice from it. When it burned out as the 345-hp 928 GTS in 1995, it was arguably the only relevant automotive artifact left from the ’70s. —Tony Quiroga
Previously: The Sixties
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