In this edition of the Muscle Car Time Machine, we turn the clock back to the year 1973. This is the year the Sears Tower opens in Chicago, Pink Floyd releases their “Dark Side of the Moon” opus, and OPEC’s oil embargo cause gas shortages in the United States. In the automotive world, General Motors introduces new Colonnade styling on their A-bodies, Chrysler’s fuselage design makes one last appearance, and it’s the final year of Ford’s first generation Mustang. 1973 is also the year all manufacturers had to install bumpers capable of withstanding crashes of 5 mph in the front and 2.5 mph in the rear. Welcome to the beginning of the Malaise Era. This is the point in history where smog and noise regulations killed the performance car and nameplates like the Pinto and Vega thrived. By now, the GTO, Charger, and Torino were merely shadows of their former selves.
1973 is seen by many as the year the muscle car died — or did it? Nobody told the folks over at Pontiac that you couldn’t build a muscle car in 1973. Nope, they bucked the system and introduced the 455 Super Duty engine. The motor’s story is one of intrigue and captivation for most muscle car enthusiasts. It just goes to show that Pontiac had one last trick up its sleeve and wanted to give the muscle car one last hurrah while it still could.
The engine’s controversial story is legendary with Pontiac enthusiasts. Pontiac had to go through a stringent process to get the engine certified with the EPA. The process was quite a nightmare for the company’s engineers. For one thing, in order for the engine to pass noise restrictions, the scoop on the Trans Am had to be riveted shut. Now, things start to get interesting. Here’s where Pontiac decides to “stick it to the man.” Someone at Pontiac learned the EPA’s certification process ran for 50 seconds. With that in mind, the engineers programmed the power-robbing EGR system to deactivate after 53 seconds. By doing this, the engine’s output was rated at 310 horsepower. However, the EPA learned about this underhanded scheme and made Pontiac rework the EGR system so it would pass inspections. Pontiac also had to paint the engine a different color so the EPA’s engineers could tell the new EGR system was actually installed.
Originally, the Super Duty 455 was to be an option for the GTO, Grand Am, and Firebird. A 1973 GTO equipped with the Super Duty impressed Hi-Performance Cars magazine and they awarded the GTO their Car of the Year award. Stock photography of the Grand Am with the SD-455 was also created by Pontiac. Sadly, at the last minute, Pontiac decided to make the engine available strictly for the Firebird and Trans Am. Too bad for Hi-Performance Cars magazine. The news came too late and their Car of the Year story was published before they could pull the plug on the issue. Before we head back to the Time Machine, we stop at the local 7-Eleven and get a copy of the magazine.
As we return to the Time Machine, we discuss what other automotive events we could explore while we are here in 1973. As we thumb through the pages of our history archives, we come across an event that attracts our attention. This one is just too good to pass up. We strap ourselves into our seats and set the controls on the Time Machine to June 19th. Our destination is Camp David, Maryland.
Camp David is the location of the presidential compound near Washington D.C. In June, President Nixon invited Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev here to secure a permanent SALT agreement. While at the compound, Nixon presented Brezhnev with a gift — a brand new dark blue Lincoln Continental. Brezhnev, a collector of luxury cars, was astonished when presented with the car. He immediately climbed into the driver’s seat to marvel at the beautiful luxury automobile. While inside, Brezhnev gestured to Nixon to jump into the front seat with him. Without warning, Brezhnev starts the engine, puts the car in drive, and speeds out of the compound. Since Brezhnev was used to unhindered driving in the Soviet Union, he sped down the winding roads and ran stop signs without regard to his or Nixon’s safety. Keep in mind, these are the two most powerful men in the world out on a wild joyride without Secret Service or Brezhnev’s security detail accompanying them. How would relations between the two countries be affected if one or both of them had been killed in an accident? Needless to say, Nixon was somewhat petrified by the experience. He had driven this road himself in a golf cart and had to be careful not to go off the sharp turn at the bottom. He did his best to get Brezhnev to slow down and drive sensibly but his efforts were ignored. One can only imagine Nixon’s relief to get back to the compound unscathed.
As the day comes to an end, we realize we skipped lunch and are anxious to get some dinner. While in D.C., we stop off at Ben’s Chili Bowl. We’ve heard great things about the food and wanted to sample some local flavor while in D.C. We enjoyed ourselves but it’s time to get back to the present and get some much needed rest. We can’t wait to start planning our next big adventure.