What is the Smog-Era?
The ‘meat & potatoes’ of the Smog-Era are vehicles made between 1973 and 1983. Also known as the Malaise-Era, this timeframe was undoubtedly the low point of automotive performance. Some of the best and some of the most controversial styling was offered during this time. We can’t forget about the vinyl seats and fake woodie wagons. Not to be overlooked are the hideous graphics, oversize luxury car grilles, and plush velour, but even that stuff is retro-cool now. It is our belief that vehicles from 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983 will remain affordable for quite some time, and are waiting for an influx of power.
In the early 70s, the perfect storm came together that would change vehicles forever. Laws regarding front bumper strength, rear bumper strength, and rollover protection were enacted for the early 70s. The insurance industry, its attorneys, and its lobbyists were clamping down on high powered vehicles through inflated premiums and new laws. The environmentalist movement of the late 60s and early 70s brought awareness to the need for cleaner air. The oil embargoes of the 70s required the the need for better fuel economy.
In answer to collision safety and to appease the insurance lobby, car makers added big bulky bumpers front and rear. They also discontinued pillarless hardtops for the most part. Factory-convertibles were even harder to come by after a few years. Positive Point: shoulder belts were now commonplace.
As for the quest for cleaner air, and again to appease the insurance lobby, engines lost power. The biggest cause of this was the lowering of compression ratios and changing camshaft profiles. Also, each year it seemed that a new emissions control device was added. More power was lost with the addition of each such as EGR valves, air pumps and catalytic converters. ‘Miles’ of vacuum line were now reality. Manual transmissions were only available with certain more emissions friendly engines. Positive Point: electronic ignition systems became available.
As for fuel mileage, many new tricks were now played by the industry. Lighter, smaller subcompact cars were now a reality. In regular sized cars, engines over 400 CID were slowly being phased out. Six cylinders were now standard power in larger cars. The next step up was usually a V8 of under 5 liters, which was considered very small at the time. Diesel engines were tried and for the most part were big flops. More plastics, and even aluminum alloys were finding their way into cars. Positive Point: lower resistance radial tires were becoming commonplace.
Why start coverage in 1973? GM’s midsize cars got the new colonnade look for ’73 and their trucks also got reworked. The GM X-bodies and F-bodies gained weight and got uglier front bumpers in ’73. Ford’s full size cars and trucks both got restyled for ’73. The Mustang was at its heaviest and was about to get restyled. Chrysler’s fullsize models were about to get changed over to a new look. Because of the previously mentioned industry changes and vehicle restyles, 1973 is a good overall ‘average’ to start from.
Why end coverage at 1983? After ’83, vehicles started to get true performance back through improved turbocharging and/or fuel injection. Also, new trends such as SUVs, mini-vans, and front wheel drives were really starting to take off. True ‘barnstorming’ performance still had a few years to go, but let’s point out what started in 1984. A new Chevy Corvette, Pontiac Fiero, turbocharged Grand National, widely available Ford 5.0 EFI, Mustang SVO, Ford Tempo, Ford Bronco II, Lincoln Mark VII, Chrysler minivans, Jeep XJ Cherokee, etc. The year 1983 is a good average to stop with due to all the positive changes and new trends starting the next year.
*EDIT*… This site will now cover certain 1971/1972 and 1984/1985 vehicles. Why you ask? In 1971, the government issued a strong request to the automakers that they make their cars low-lead and unleaded fuel compatible. This was the beginning of low compression engines and different cylinder heads. General Motors, and a few lesser players complied with the request this year. Ford and Chrysler complied for model year 1972. Something else happened for 1972. It was the beginning of the ‘net’ horsepower and torque specifications and the end of ‘gross’ (bare engine) testing. This meant that engine outputs were were now measured with the complete engine accessory package in place (mufflers, fan, air cleaner, power steering pump). In reality, horsepower and torque were almost the same as the year previous, but now ‘psychologically low’. As for the 1984 and 1985 vehicles, most still had a ‘stench of smoggy’ on them and were ‘almost’ there as far as performance.