The new for 1973 Pontiac Grand Prix was the embodiment of a all too brief period of optimism in America in the early 1970's. It's new but at the same time familiar confident face told America that all was well and the future was bright and shiny. Fitting, since things were looking up for America after the brutal 1960's what with our involvement in Vietnam finally ending, albeit ambiguously, Nixon being reelected in a landslide and gas being thirty six cents a gallon. With the average household income in 1973 at $8983, $47,596 adjusted, and all things being equal, what works out to $1.46 a gallon in today's money was still a really good deal for gas. We can then understand why 10 miles per gallon in most American cars was acceptable. If you read the tea leaves correctly you could also see that the handsome 1973 Grand Prix was also a bellwether; it for told of pending problems and an American automobile industry ill equipped to deal with them.
The OPEC oil embargo of October 1973, a political quagmire that slashed oil production inducing long lines at gas pumps, quadrupled the cost of a barrel of crude and increased the price of gas ultimately by almost twenty cents a gallon. While Henry Kissinger was able to negotiate an increase in oil production that eliminated the long lines, he was unable to lower prices.
What became known as the first energy crisis also turned whimsical, claustrophobic, two ton, two door 5 1/2 passenger coupes like this delicious 455 cubic inch Grand Prix into gas guzzling pariahs. Even before the first gas crisis there was widespread sentiment about America's reliance on foreign oil but would have thought the spigots would ever get turned off?
Sales of these 10 mile per gallon, V-8 American cars screeched to a halt and the economy went in the dumpster as all of a sudden everything became more expensive. In other news, Nixon got implicated in the Watergate scandal and all of a sudden America's sense of optimism was gone. Long gone. While gas prices stabilized for a time through most of the rest of the decade, a second oil shock in 1979 further added to America's doldrums. It would be only until we were deep into the Reagan administration that a cautious America would again have any of the sense of itself that it had after World War II.
President Carter, in his now famous and at the time much derided "Malaise speech" of July 1979, said that there was a crisis of confidence in America. Only after all these years do we appreciate fully how correct Mr. Carter was. Could you blame the country for feeling slightly beaten down?
One thing is for certain, unlike America's confidence, which we've learned can take a beating but is if anything seemingly eternal, the Grand Prix as we knew it in 1973 never came back.