1970s Style Icons: The Cars That Defined Cool During A Decade Of Dull

We don’t typically look back on the 1970s as a decade of great cars and great car designs. Those years are largely defined by “Malaise Era” design, the oil crisis and tailpipe emission laws robbing cars of their horsepower.

However, there were some great cars, great car designs, and innovative technology that shaped the decade and continue to influence car design today. Wedge design, pop-up headlights, and the emergence of the supercar are just a few of the trends that hit the streets in the ’70s. From amazing concept cars to innovative technology and competition pedigree, here are 40 cars, concepts, and designs that shook up the status quo and made the 1970s bearable.

Volkswagen Golf GTI – 1976

1983 Volkswagen Golf Gti mk1
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

It doesn’t get any more iconic than the Volkswagen Golf GTI. The very first GTI hit the streets in 1976 and became the original “hot hatchback.”

This was a small, 2-door hatchback with a hot engine, subtle styling accents, and performance-tuned suspension that could run with the best sports cars of the day. The OG Golf GTI was a featherweight at only 1,786 pounds, and its 1.6-liter engine produced 108 horsepower. But it wasn’t power that was the GTI’s party-piece, it was the way the car drove. The GTI was a car that proved cheap hatchbacks could deliver a thrill, handle as well as elite sports cars, and still carry a ton of stuff.