In the midst of the fuel crisis, the 1970s game show Let’s Make a Deal was handing out cars by the trailerload. Here’s a look at what was behind doors number 1, 2 and 3.
Let’s Make a Deal arrived on NBC way back in 1963, but it really hit its stride when it moved to ABC in 1968. The host was an affable Canadian named Monty Hall, who co-created the show with Stefan Hatos.
The show’s basic premise is that members of the studio audience — known as “traders” — make deals with Monty Hall, who provided an item of value and then dangled the change of an even better prize hidden from view.
The show’s climax was the “Big Deal of the Day,” where traders who won prizes had the opportunity to trade that prize away for what was behind one of the show’s three secret doors. Sometimes the prize was some lovely wood paneling and a patio furniture set, but the Big Deal of the Day was typically a lifetime supply of Taster’s Choice freeze dried coffee and a car.
In the early stages of the episode, a lot of odd 1970s-era European cars had their moment, with regular appearances by cars like the Opel 1900, the Opel Manta and the Renault 12.
There were also a surprising number of campers, including this 1973 Dodge Adventurer pickup, with a slide-in Chinook camper in the bed.
In 1973 and 1974, Japanese cars were just coming into their own, and they were a part of the giveaways on Let’s Make a Deal. Datsun seemed to be a mainstay, providing vehicles like this lovely 1974-ish 620 pickup:
The Datsun 260Z also made an appearance, pegging this episode to 1974, the only year that car was available in the United States.
A few of the odd cars awarded on the show include this AMC Gremlin, in optional Gremlin X trim, which appeared in 1971 and for $300, included body side tape stripes, a body color front fascia, slotted road wheels with D70x14 Goodyear Polyglas tires, a blackout grille insert, bucket seats, and “X” decals.
Let’s Make a Deal also gave away a Pontiac LeMans T-37, which arrived in 1970 as the lowest-priced hardtop coupe in GM’s entire lineup, until the Chevy Malibu came along and undercut it a few weeks later. The T-37 was only available between 1970 and 1972.
Then there was the Bricklin.
The Bricklin SV-1 was one of a handful of cars made by a Canadian company. Canada builds lots of cars, but they’re typically American. The Bricklin SV-1 was a gullwing sports car built in New Brunswick. Only 2,854 Bricklin SV-1s left the factory between 1974 and 1976.
The SV-1 was ostensibly designed for safety, with an integrated roll cage, a giant 5 mph bumper up front that looked distressingly like an 8-track tape, and stout side beams that helped protect occupants in a crash. Unfortunately, thanks to all the safety equipment, its AMC 360-cu.in. V-8 (and later 351-cu.in. Ford V-8) could never adequately provide a whole lot of performance.
The fiberglass body came in five “safety” colors including white, red, green, orange and a color called “Suntan,” provided your tan was the color of Silly Putty. The car also had no cigarette lighter or ashtray, because the car’s creator — Malcolm Bricklin, who was the first to import both Subaru and Yugo models to the United States — thought smoking and driving was dangerous.
Here’s the challenge for you, dear reader: Let’s Make a Deal gave out cars left and right in the 1970s. One of you must have heard of someone who brought one home. We’d love to find out if any of these Deal of the Day cars survived all these years later. If you know of one, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATE: We got an email from reader Jason Hughes who passes along this information:
“A classmate of mine in grade school had a Monte Carlo his parents won on Let’s Make A Deal in 1979. If I remember correctly they did not get the exact car that was on the show. They got what I guess you’d call a Chevy gift certificate. They ended up getting a white Monte with red top while the one on the show was green with white top. They kept the car till 1988 when they traded it for a Mercury Capri.”