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Super Stock Magazine was a performance oriented Muscle Car magazine. When they said the 1972 Olds 442 W-30 was "an animal" - and you'd better believe it.

There were still high performance muscle cars in the first few years of the 70s - and for most, the kick in the pants was still there.
1971-1975--Muscle cars didn't die -- they just faded away -

by Wild About Cars Staff - reprint with permission only.

Some of us remember; others of us depend on stories and tales from the old folks. Surprisingly, few of us collect the facts and report on it. Here at Wild About Cars, our job is to tell the truth – based upon what we and the Auto History Preservation Society collect in the real back-in-the-day records. Our recollections, though helpful, are many times colored by our own emotions or circumstances.

Most tell the tale as if after 1970 the performance door slammed shut, but that was not the case. It started to slowly swing on the emissions and insurance breeze, until gas prices and factory indifference slammed it shut with a loud BANG.

First, let’s admit, most of us in the performance hobby back in the early '70s were rolling along singing a song. There were plenty of cheap performance cars out there. People were track and street racing, and the only thing they noticed and knew was that the factories were winding down selling performance cars.

It wasn’t that you couldn’t buy a true new high performance car in the first few years of the decade of the '70s – it was that those of us who were there didn’t care that much. We knew the newer cars weren’t running up HP on the increasing performance scale of the '60s, but so what? Maybe we didn’t look forward to the next announcement from our favorite brand – or how they were going to kick ass - but heck our current muscle car was still knocking them dead at the drive in or local car hop, so . . .

And most significant to this discussion is that performance just didn’t fall off the cliff like lots of people like to say nowadays, it slowly faded. Remember that most muscle cars were basically lighter bodies with the biggest passenger car engines that could be crammed between the fenders. Few were Hemis, LS6s, Boss 429s – those cars were the purview of only a few –  look at the production numbers for them.  Your average hot shoe was driving 442s, Buick Grand Sports, Fairlane/Torino GTs, Dodge Super Bee 440s, Rebel Machines, etc. These cars made their way on torque, not raw HP. So dropping the compression a few points didn’t really hurt performance by any appreciable amount.

Before you start shouting and screaming, let’s take a look. A good example is a comparison between a 1970 Olds 442 W-30 – considered a street terror in 1970 by all the magazines - and a 1972 Low-comp W-30. Fact is, when equipped with a 3.42 rear and on street tires, they ran nearly identical times – 14.30 @ 100 for the ’70 and 14.36 @ 100 for the ’72!

Now granted, with a bit of street tuning and some other aftermarket goodies, the '70 could easily dip into the 13s, and maybe the ’72 would be working a bit harder to do that. But when you went into the showroom and test drove a ’71-'72, you would not have noticed the difference. And even when tweaked for the street or strip, that difference would be less as well. As an example, the national record holder in L/SA for many years was a ’71 442 W-30 convertible – not a ’70.

So, the point here is that performance didn’t really fall off the cliff, it slowly declined. What really happened was that less and less performance cars – as judged by the '60s - were offered by your manufacturers. Combine that with the heavy insurance premiums and that the factories were looking at a declining market for these cars.

But it just wasn’t a declining group of purchasers, it was the lack of desire on the part of the factories to consider that there was a market, period. And in what had to be some of the biggest product planning mistakes in the US auto industry, all the factories made a fatal mistake, for whatever reason, they all went to heavier cars.

We’re not talking about the added weight of safety equipment – we’re talking about making bigger, heavier mid and small sized cars. None of them anticipated $1.50 per gallon gas, and what 13 mpg on a family sedan would do to their sales. A 1974 Olds Custom Cruiser wagon was lucky to get 8 MPG!

Looking at weight, for example, a 1972 442 was listed at 3,500 lbs, a 1973 3,840! Three hundred pounds in one year was absurd.  No matter what engine resided under that ‘73s hood, performance was going to suffer.

By 1975, that same car had ballooned to over 4000 lbs. When you start attaching anemic engines, strangled more and more by bad emission controls, and stupid 2.56:1 rear gears to inflate mileage claims, you have deader than a doornail performance. But it took a few years to be apparent. By 1976, a 455 equipped 442 could, at best manage a 17 sec. quarter mile. Given that, no one was buying that car to kick some butt on the street.

And what may be the most critical issue – something everyone forgets – the baby boomers weren’t kids anymore, they had wives, families, house payments, etc. They wouldn’t have been buying performance cars anyway. If they were performance nuts like 90% of the WAC staff, they stuck their muscle car in the garage and didn’t drive it much. If they were younger kids, they couldn’t afford a new car anyway, so they were driving early '70s 340 Dusters, Mustang 351s, and Camaro 350s – all of which could get under the insurance surcharges.

And the factories? They were fast asleep. GM’s President told their entire five divisions to specifically focus on emissions and gas mileage. The same message was being handed out at Chrysler and Ford. The marketing people held out for a while. The famous 442, for example, even when it  moved into the new G-Body in 1978, albeit with a 305 Chevy for motive power, was still there for any performance nut to give a whirl. But when the pedal was pressed to the metal, 17.3 @ 79 MPH was all she wrote.

By 1980, even Olds had given up. With the last gasp their 1979 Hurst/Olds was at least powered by a warmed over Olds 350. The big sleep was on. Performance was a dirty word in Detroit.

Except, deep in the bowels of all of the big three, engineers were scheming, “What if we used these neat computer controls to. . .?”  The big sleep only lasted for several years.  By 1983, the factories were waking up, perhaps reluctantly,  and in a few years . . . oh boy, were you gonna see some performance!

Few people owned these out and out high performance cars. Price, availability, and streetability limited them to a select few.

You were more than likely to see someone driving a hotted up Ford Torino than a Hemi Road Runner Back in the Day.

By as soon as 1973, tamer camshafts, lower compression and WEIGHT started a quick decline in street performance - not to mention that "super-car" prices were moving upward.

Speaking of fading away, by 1976, the famous 442 was now only a trim option and could even be had with a I-6! Not the cheesey tires.