Good morning! I feel like I was too easy on you yesterday, choosing one truly desirable car and another that would probably win a Showdown against most other vehicles. But I don’t want you all going soft on me, so today, there are no good choices. But there are some good colors. So first we’ll state the obvious:
As expected. The SHO won in a landslide. That really is a good price on that car. But I’ve been thinking about it, and I can honestly say that I’d choose the Pontiac. Why? I don’t drive fast, so there’s no point in me having a fast car, and dealing with the higher maintenance, more specialized parts, exponentially higher insurance rates, and all the hassle that would go along with a rare high-performance car like that. You can all fight over it; I’d be more than happy to putter around in that Grand Am.
Now, I want to talk about a subject that seems to scare most automakers, and a majority of buyers too, from the look of most parking lots: color. I will admit the situation is starting to get better, especially in terms of “fun” cars – Stellantis especially has some great color choices for the Charger, Challenger, and Wrangler – but they’re overwhelmed by the sea of black, white, silver, and beige that make up most of the automotive landscape.
But it wasn’t always that way. Back in the days of tailfins, Detroit’s color choices were so good that guitar companies stole them to brighten up their instruments. As late as the 1970s, when nearly everything else about cars was just awful, the color palette remained strong, and the interiors usually matched.
Which brings us to these two. Even as choked down by smog controls as they are, you can’t really call either of these cars “green,” but you can’t deny that they are, in fact, green. Everywhere. Inside and out. So very, very green.
Engine/drivetrain: 225 cubic inch inline 6, 3 speed automatic, RWD
Location: Vancouver, WA
Odometer reading: 122,000 miles
Runs/drives? Yes, but has been sitting, needs brake work
The Plymouth Volaré, and its Dodge Aspen twin, were introduced in 1976 to replace the celebrated but aging Valiant and Dart. Unfortunately, this was tantamount to replacing Wolfgang Puck with that kid who gave you the wrong order at Burger King last week. Or replacing David Lee Roth with Sammy Hagar. (Just kidding, Red; you know I love ya.) It had some big shoes to fill, and wasn’t exactly up to the task. The Aspen and Volaré were plagued with recalls for everything from suspension problems to seat belt failures to rust-through on the front fenders after as little as one year.
Luckily, Chrysler had the good sense to carry over the Dart/Valiant’s main attraction: the legendary “Leaning Tower of Power,” the Slant Six engine. Even swathed in a Medusa-like tangle of vacuum lines and strangled by pollution controls, this engine chugged dutifully along under the Aspen/Volaré hood, backed by an equally stout Torqueflite automatic transmission. And this one is even the two-barrel “Super Six,” with twenty whole extra horsepower.
As bad as these cars were, and they were truly appalling, you do still see them around from time to time. I bought a two-door Volaré for a winter beater in 1996 for $175, assuming it was one of the last ones left. But now that I live on the West Coast, I see them around here and there still, chugging along out of what seems like pure stubbornness. But I have not seen one with an intact grille since the mid-1980s. I think those grilles are made out of hard candy or something.
Overall, this car doesn’t look half bad, for what it is. The paint is probably permanently dull, and the interior has a few popped seams, but it’s remarkably rust-free for a car that was known to rust if you breathed on it hard. The seller says it runs well, and was daily driven only a couple years ago, but now is in need of a brake job. But if that’s really the only thing wrong with it, you could probably put it back into daily service without much trouble.
[Editor’s Note: Look at that rare and early example of amber rear indicators on an American car! – JT]
I mean, you’d have to be the right sort of person to want to daily a barf-green Volaré, but I, for one, would salute you for it.
Engine/drivetrain: 2.3 liter inline 4, 3 speed automatic, RWD
Location: Sultan, WA
Odometer reading: unknown
This is a car that needs no introduction. The “Barbecue That Seats Four,” Ford’s notorious Pinto was a sales success despite the lawsuits and the controversy. Ford sold more than three million of these things over its ten-year run. It was “the car nobody loved, but everybody bought.” My family had one when I was little, a Pinto “Squire” wagon with fake woodgrain sides and a bright blue vinyl interior. We didn’t love it either, and, ironically, replaced it with a Dodge Aspen.
Despite its legacy, the Pinto wasn’t a terrible car. It wasn’t good, but in terms of build quality and sturdiness it was a Rolls-Royce compared to Chevrolet’s competitor the Vega. The “Runabout” hatchback models like this were decent little stuff-haulers, and the 2.3 liter four-cylinder engine was a good enough design to outlive the Pinto by 17 years, powering millions of Mustangs and Rangers well into the Clinton administration.
That engine, sadly, is stuck in front of a three-speed automatic in this instance, sapping what power it has and making for a rather sluggish little car. The good news, I suppose, is that the transmission will live forever with so little torque running through it. According to the seller, the engine starts and runs, but leaks (I’m assuming) coolant after it warms up. And I do think I see a puddle of something under the car in some of the photos. If it’s that bad of a leak, it shouldn’t be too hard to find. It sounds like it might need an alternator as well.
Apart from the mechanical woes, this looks like a reasonably solid little car. The green plaid upholstery is, unfortunately, in awful shape, with mysterious stains on the driver’s seat and rear seat, though the passenger side looks all right. But it doesn’t have much rust at all, and it looks remarkably original and intact.
Yes, I know these are both horrible choices. No, I don’t feel bad at all. Studying the history of cars means studying the dark chapters as well, and this was a pretty dark time for the American auto industry. But hey, at least the cars weren’t all beige or silver. Which one will it be?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)