American aspirationals: In the 1970s, Detroit made middle-class luxury personal


Leisure suits. Platform shoes. Farrah Fawcett’s hair. Disco. The transition to the 1970s left America immersed in a weirdly commercialized dilution of the prior decade’s trends and styles. In the automotive world, the extinction of the first wave of muscle cars made room for a new species of midsize model to emerge from Detroit and ooze into the suburbs: personal luxury coupes. Hurst shifters, shaker hood scoops, and wild graphics were out. “Coach windows,” landau vinyl roofs, velour interiors, and European-sounding name plates fulfilled the new automotive yearnings of the middle class. The extra-long hoods, prominent grilles, and formal rooflines that spoke of affluence on the Cadillac Eldorado and Lincoln Continental Mk III were migrating to cars that blue-collar America could afford.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2017/10/06/70s-personal-luxury-coupes


Great story about these mid size so called personal luxury cars in the 1970’s. For the most part nearly all of the American made cars started to suck during this time frame of the 1970’s. It seemed from my perspective at the time it came in full bore in 1971. I personally thought these cars were quite ugly compared to my first car a 1964 Malibu SS convertible which I bought the summer before my senior year in high school. And then second semester freshman year in college I traded it for a 3 year old 1967 Malibu SS396. At least I kept that cool gas guzzler for over 6 years until I got a 1969 Camaro Convertible. And I must admit nothing that came out of Detroit in the 70’s was anything I wanted to drive. The '70’s cars were just flat out ugly and poorly made. However in the mid 1980’s I was offered a tidy sum for the '69 Camaro which needed some work, Out of desperation when I needed another ride, I bought '84 Camaro which was a real dud. It eventually started to fall apart from the outside to the inside by 1991. I pretty much swore off American made cars for a long time. After that Camaro disintegrated I bought a very low milage 1985 SWB Mitsubishi Montero 4x4 which I still have to this day. Yes I ave spent some money maintaining it since at first I used it to commute to work off road. Since then the world of cars has completely changed, Yes most quality new cars regardless of where they are made are quite efficient and very practical, I am still only impressed by the 1960’s muscle and some really cool SWB 4x4’s which are now just collectible.


I fell in love with the cockpit in the 1969 Grand Prix as it reminded me of the Studebaker Golden Hawk dash.


We had a 1970 GP SJ with the 455. One of the best cars we’ve owned. Power and poise. I think 1970 was the pinnacle for Detroit muscle. The Buick GS, AMC AMX and Machine, all makes and all models matured through the late 60’s and collectively knocked it out of the park.


Too bad the article did not recognize Buick. The Buick Rivieras from 1963 - 1973 were very much a ‘luxury’ car and quite popular.


I agree chucknixon67. I still have my 71 Buick Riviera Boattail. The funnest car I ever owned. Still turns heads after all these years.


This article is about “middle class luxury” so you would not find the Riviera, Toronado or Eldorado here, as all 3 were on the larger upscale E body platforms.
Ironically though, the 1971 Riviera was proposed to be built on the Monte/GP platform, but it was nixed in favor of the Toro/Eldo setup. The rest is history!

I agree with Chuck, what a car the 71’ Riv is…but from a sales perspective, it flopped big time.


My favorite of these types of cars from this time is the Dodge Magnum built in 1978 and 1979. These are awesome driving cars and the 1978’s could still be had with big block power! The 1977 Dodge Charger is another built on the same platform as the Magnum.


In March of 1969 I took delivery of a dark green black vinyl top Gran Prix. I traded in my 1966 Chateau Slate (Silver) Impala SS 427 4 speed which I ordered new in the fall of 65. The Impala was a great car and I was very pleased with it until one day I saw the 69 GP for the first time. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. so I decided to buy one. I was ready to accept most any color but it had to have a 428 with limited slip rear end and the ralleye wheels . I located one in Oregon City, Oregon at McKee Pontiac. After negotiating with the salesman Gary I received $2031.95 for my 66 Impala SS and an additional down payment of $12.00 cash. I purchased the Gran Prix for $4843.95 including License and Title fees. I made payment of 134.84 a month for the next 24 months. I enjoyed ownership and people went wild when they saw it for the first. I was fortunate that in 1969 Pontiac offered a 5 year 50,000 mile warranty. I had to have the torque converter replaced, windshield wiper motor replaced, along with some other minor in comparison problems.


On June 3, 1973, I talked my Dad into buying a new Pontiac because I wanted his current '67 Firebird 400. He was thinking of a new Pontiac Ventura. The same car as the Chevy Nova. We went to look at the new cars at Mike Salta Pontiac in Thousand Oaks California. I really wanted him to buy the new-for-'73, Grand Am. I said let’s just test a new Grand Am just for fun. As we drove the new Grand Am, we realized Pontiac’s description of the car was 100% right on. “The Luxury of a Grand Prix, The Power of a G.T.O., and the handling of a Trans Am”. In fact, there was more luxury in a Grand Am than in a Grand Prix. Grand Ams came Standard with reclining front bucket seats with adjustable lumbar supports. Grand Ams also came standard with chrome exhaust extensions, Like the Trans Ams, on 400 4bbl dual exhaust cars. We drove home in a Brand New Triple Black Grand Am with all the goodies on it. This New Grand Am was absolutely one of the very best cars we have ever owned. 150,000 miles in 12 years, just normal service and never having to use the warranty. We sold it to a friend who drove it for more years to come as his extra car.


No mention of the 70’s LTD Brougham!!