Does reading the news make your head hurt? It could be worse. Like 1979 worse, for instance. Here are just a few of the top headlines from 40 years ago: a partial reactor meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant; an energy crisis that rocked the U.S. economy; 52 Americans were held hostage in Iran; and if that weren’t enough, an out-of-control space station made a nosedive back to Earth. (NASA couldn’t say where it was going to land exactly, but was keeping its fingers crossed that it didn’t hit you or your house.) But wait, there’s more. The U.S. auto industry also seemed to be in freefall that year, faced with plunging sales while scrambling to meet new corporate fuel average standards of 20 mpg by 1980.
The fuel-efficient future called for smaller displacement engines and smaller vehicles. More bad news—at least for fans of the last American muscle car standing. Through the 1970s, the 6.6-liter Pontiac Trans Am had been the lone heavyweight, dishing out big-displacement knockouts as all other contenders retired. But Pontiac’s 400 would not be making the hyperspace jump into the 1980s. Instead, the 301—never designed as a performance engine (and never becoming one) — was tapped as its replacement. A turbocharged version of the 301 was cooked up to breathe a little performance into this mild-mannered powerplant and give Pontiac’s marketing department something to work with, but it paled in comparison to the 400. In California, the news was worse for Pontiac fans: Trans Ams in the Golden State were powered by the 305 Chevrolet. Adding insult to injury, none of the V-8s could be paired with a manual transmission in ’80… read more >