The year was 1976. We were listening to the Bay City Rollers and ABBA—(OK, I was listening to Aerosmith and ZZ Top). The Cold War raged, the Concorde flew commercially for the first time, we had 59-cent-a-gallon gas, Apple Computer was born, the VHS recorder made its debut, the ozone hole was discovered, the first space shuttle was revealed, and Detroit was reeling from the one-two punch of the OPEC oil embargo and new federal safety regulations. It might sound like a throwaway year when compared to benchmarks like 1969 or 1957, but it’s my era, so this month we’re going to belly up to the bar and drink deeply.

There’s big debate on whether mid-’70s cars are mere scrap, or good fodder for a hot rod project. Popular Mechanics recently published an article (“10 Wimpiest Muscle Cars Ever”) scorning them as a “dead zone in the history of performance cars,” a “‘malaise era,’ when machines were so strangled by new emissions rules that their performance levels were an embarrassment to even today’s compact cars.” We’ll remind them that even in the muscle car heyday, a stock big-block Chevelle was barely good for a 15-second e.t. It’s old news that ’70s cars are slow, the difference is, PHR readers are smart enough to see the potential and do something about it.

We think the boys at PM are missing the point and could benefit from a change of heart. It’s not about what a car came with from the factory, it’s about what you can do with it. Lucky for us, these cars can be picked up for a song. And since most of them are mechanically related to the more popular muscle cars of the ’60s and early ’70s, most stuff—from engines, transmissions, and rearends, to suspensions and brakes—will easily fit. As newer cars, they are safer and generally have superior handling dynamics. All that’s needed is some imagination.

This month, we’re taking a closer look at 1976 in particular. Why ’76? Because the laws in many states (California, for example) require smog testing for model years ’76 and up. As such, nobody wants them—yet. We predict that state smog laws will change as these cars roll up to the 40-year mark. (That’s in just three years.) At the moment, the sex appeal for anything ’76 is at its nadir, as are the prices. The desirability and price can only go up from here, which means it’s time to buy.

We put together a short list of potentially cool cars from 1976 and brought them to artist and designer Ben Hermance for some visual massaging. Ben normally does muscle car renderings from the ’60s, so this was a nice change of pace for him. We hope you’ll consider using one of them as the basis for a future project that we can feature in PHR!

“It’s old news that ’70s cars are slow, the difference is, PHR readers are smart enough to see the potential…”

1976 Chevy Laguna

This model is a Hunkins favorite, as some of you already know from Project Laguna. Not everybody, however, is into the period NASCAR look or satin black paint of Project Laguna, so on this version artist Ben Hermance slathered on some Camaro Inferno Orange Metallic and juxtaposed it with judicious use of satin charcoal graphics. Ben blacked out the window trim, recessed the grille pockets with a mesh insert, and swapped the headlights and turn signals for composite pieces. Ben also smoothed, tucked, and painted the bumpers, added a custom chin spoiler, and morphed the hood with cowl induction and ZL1 Camaro-style heat extractor vents. The hoops are 18- and 19-inch Grip Equipped “Knuckler” wheels.