The ’70s was all about customization, from your monogrammed beach towel to the car you drove. Almost every one of these custom features has essentially been eradicated, but they were the cornerstones of automotive style and function in the Malaise Era.
For those of you born after about 1980, it is impossible to convey just how ubiquitous the Citizen Band Radio was in the 1980s. Your parents had one. Your teachers had one. Your pastor had one. And they all had goofy CB handles. It was like Twitter without Donald Trump.
CB radios were around after World War II, but they really hit their stride with truckers in the 1970s, who would rather communicate while they were driving, instead of having to pull over, dig change out of their pockets and talk while standing in a hot, smelly glass box beside the road.
Unlike ham radio, which required a license, CB radio just required the cash to buy a box to slide under the dash. By the early 1970s, truck drivers were using CB radios to provide other truckers with important updates about accidents and road conditions, speed traps and that pretty lady driving the Datsun 280Z.
Then two things happened: C.W. McCall’s song “Convoy” eradicated the Top 40 charts in 1975. Then Smokey and the Bandit arrived in 1977. Today, both of those things would’ve been niche entertainments, but at the time, their popularity swept the nation with nearly Beatles-like totality.
Suddenly CB culture was everywhere. CB lingo was being reprinted by everyone from national magazines to pest control companies:
Auto manufacturers started offering CB radios as factory options on everything from Trans Ams to Buick station wagons:
Then, just as quickly, the whole thing disappeared. By the mid-1980s, the craze had cooled to a dull roar. CB is still used by truck drivers, but the general public is vastly more reliant on the smartphone.
Like parachute pants, it’s a little hard to figure out just how or why window louvers became a thing.
Generally speaking, the genesis of the window louvers started with the 1967 Ford Mustang GT — like the one Steve McQueen drove in Bullitt — featured quarter window louvers, for absolutely no purpose other than aesthetics.
In 1969 the Fastback gave way to the SportsRoof, which made the rear glass even more horizontal. It looked great, but it had the effect of cooking rear seat passengers and cargo if they were out in the sun. Enough people must’ve been roasted back there that by 1970, Ford was showing “Sport Slats” in the brochure for the Mustang.
From there, everybody jumped on the bandwagon.
By the late 1970s, you could get louvers tons of sporty cars with fastback rooflines, including the nifty Toyota Celica:
Then — PFFFFFTT — gone. By the time the 3rd Generation Camaro and Firebird left the planet, so did the fastback bodystyle. Louvers went with them.
T-Tops felt like a thing that would NEVER go out of style. Like macrame owls and the velour jumpsuit, they did, almost as quickly as they arrived.
The most Seventies-est car ever — the C3 Corvette — was the first US production car to feature T-Tops, and their popularity skyrocketed when they arrived in 1968. At the time, the general consensus was that NHTSA was going to ban convertibles, and the T-Top seemed like a sensible alternative that allowed open-top driving, but provided better roof strength in case of a rollover.
The Corvette’s t-tops had all the hallmarks of those that would arrive later: latches inside to secure the hard panels to the A- and B-pillars, brackets that allowed the panels to hinge upward to be removed, a center t-bar between the front seats. The only difference was that the earliest T-Tops were painted fiberglass, while later versions were made of glass.
T-Tops showed up on EVERYTHING throughout the 1970s including sport coupes like the Ford Mustang (in both the Pinto-based Mustang II and the early Fox-body cars), midsize cars like the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, full-size boats like the Buick Electra, and even weird car/pickup hybrids like the Subaru BRAT.
Then as quickly as they arrived, they were gone. For the largest part, T-Tops disappeared in 1985, when auto manufacturers started building convertibles again. They stuck around on the GM G-body cars like the Monte Carlo and Oldsmobile Cutlass until those disappeared in 1987. The last holdout was the 4th Gen Camaro and Firebird, which offered T-Tops alongside convertibles until they vanished in 2002.
Tape graphics still exist on a few new cars here and there but they’re nowhere near as prominent as they were in the 1970s and early 1980s.
The most memorable, of course, was the Pontiac Trans Am, which featured a massive screaming chicken splashed across the hood:
But there were tape graphics on EVERYTHING in that era. Check out the Chevy Chevette Sandpiper:
Sometimes the ENTIRE CAR was taken up with graphics from 3M:
Even executive luxury-style cars in the ’70s had them, like this ’71 Plymouth Fury GT:
By the 1990s, the tape kit had all but disappeared from the landscape. They’re still available on some cars, but almost exclusively on vehicles that are throwbacks to the 1970s, like the Dodge Challenger and RAM Power Wagon.
8-Track cassette players absolutely dominated car audio in the 1970s. For the entire decade, aftermarket companies made their entire reputations on 8-Track players.
The first manufacturer to offer one as an option was Ford in 1965, in the Mustang. By 1970, just about every manufacturer was either selling them as a factory option, or an accessory that the dealer could install. Why? Because they made a ton of money on them, even more than manufacturers would make on built-in GPS units later on.
For example, in 1973, the UM2 Stereo Cassette System offered in the 1973 Chevelle listed at $363. The entire CAR only cost $2,860. If you adjust for inflation, the 8-Track option in the ’73 Chevelle would cost $2,126.
Man, you had to LOVE Helen Reddy to dump that kind of cash.
For all that money, you got an unreliable piece of junk that sounded horrible, made a loud CLUNK while switching between tracks (sometimes mid-song) and had a ravenous appetite for all of your favorite music.
Capstans wore out seemingly in days, requiring everyone in America to carry a supply of matchbooks to stuff under the tape. Fortunately for music — and unfortunately for our general health — we still smoked at all times.
Side exhaust wasn’t exclusively a 1970s thing. They’d been a custom feature on hot rods since the 1950s. But suddenly in the late 1960s and early 1970s, sidepipes were a thing.
About the only factory sidepipes came on the Chevrolet Corvette. Starting in 1965, you could order a Corvette right from the factory with side exhaust. It lasted through 1967, and appeared again on 1968 and 1969 Corvettes. By 1970, side exhaust was gone, mostly because state noise regulations were making it harder for these cars to pass inspection.
That didn’t stop the aftermarket from snapping into action, though. Exhaust specialists bought full page ads in dozens of magazines to sell sidepipes in the ’70s. Companies like Doug Thorley Headers offered “Show Tubes” for everything from Corvettes to custom vans.
Sidepipes essentially don’t exist any longer, at least from major auto manufacturers. The last sidepipes available were on the Dodge Viper, which bowed out in 2016.