The mid-1970s were called the Dark Ages in automotive history for a reason.

Massive bumpers and choked-off engines were mandated by bureaucrats and seconded by the insurance industry, consequently Detroit struggled with its image–so they upped their game on the special edition trim packages.


The 1972 Mustang Sprint is a great example. Smog laws killed the horsepower on these flying wedge pony cars, so Ford had a better idea.

1972 Ford Mustang advertisement. (04/16/09)

They wanted to unofficially celebrate the 1972 Olympics without giving the Olympics a specific shout-out, so they added a very patriotic trim package to mark the occasion–it was also available on the Maverick and Pinto if you weren’t a Mustang guy. This was early in the special edition graphics game, so the treatment is a little more subtle than what would come later but the USA graphic sure tells you what country you’re in. 

GM was not to be outdone in the 70s special edition world, so they built the 1975 Pontiac Le Mans Canada Cup GT Coupe.

This Poncho was built to celebrate the Canadian “Crazy Canuck” ski team. The team had become famous thanks to their fearless style on the ski slopes, so the Pontiac Canada Cup Le Mans was born. This Pontiac looks like a Canadian flag on four wheels–they didn’t sell many of them, but they sure stand out at a car show in 2021. 

They built another cool special edition 1975 Pontiac in the United States and it came in the form of the  Grand Am–a patriotic mid-70s beast of burden.

This car came with prominent red, white, and blue trim, so there’s no question this was a patriotic package. They built these Grand Ams for a few years, but the pinstriping really emphasized the unique lines of the hood and the interior is red, white, and blue cool. That’s how you sold cars in the Me Decade.

The 1975 Dodge Dart Hang 10 was aimed directly at the 20-something 1970s-era demographic.

The Beach Boys made a comeback in the 1970s and maybe that was a factor, because this Hang 10 Dart had youthful appeal written all over it. The Hang 10 Dart came with engine options ranging from the Slant-Six leaning tower of power to the 360 V-8. The orange shag carpet, surfing graphics, interior trim and sunroof shouted mid-70s cool.

The last special edition is the 1976 Olympic Edition Malibu. These were clean-looking cars, but Chevy decided to up the game and promote the ’76 Olympics which were being held in the city of Montreal.

They didn’t build many Olympic Edition Malibus in 1976 (just over 1000) — maybe buyers were reluctant to buy a rolling advertisement for a sporting event, but in 2021 these red and white beauties are show-stoppers. This trim package turned the Malibu into a rock star.        

No matter what car guys thought of the Dark Ages 1970s, Detroit was committed to offering cars that weren’t quite as fast–but looked cool getting there.            

Jerry Sutherland

By: Jerry Sutherland

Jerry Sutherland is a veteran automotive writer with a primary focus on the collector car hobby. His work has been published in many outlets and publications, including the National Post, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Regina Leader-Post,  Vancouver Sun and The Truth About Cars. He is also a regular contributor to Auto Roundup Publications.

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