Being a child in the 1970s really wasn’t so bad. Helicopter moms were a thing of the far-off future, so we had a lot of unsupervised time to find ourselves. That time involved bikes, hikes, scrounging around for excess construction materials to build ramps to jump our bikes with, occasional fireworks, occasional broken bones, and lots of worn-out clothes. My problem, however, might have been those clothes.
As the youngest of four boys, I was the recipient of relentlessly out-of-fashion hand-me-downs. By the time I got the clothes, just in time for me to wear them out, they were close to being a decade out of style. Imagine your mother forcing you to wear plaid bell-bottoms at the dawn of the Reagan era, and you can picture what a 12-year-old Terry had to deal with.
Lately, we are seeing a lot more ’70s vehicles at shows and in the pages of Hemmings, since Disco Era cars are more affordable, with plenty of well-kept examples available for collectors. Seeing the interiors of some of the wilder cars of the Ford and Carter years, in particular, has me reliving some of my own childhood sartorial trauma.
Desperately trying to reinvent itself in the era of OPEC and increased government regulation, the automotive industry made do with hand-me-downs as well. Sure, in the late 1970s, you could get a 350 in the Corvette, or a 302 in that Mustang, but given the smog equipment and compression ratios that were right out of the ’40s, you weren’t going to win a lot of stoplight races with either. Choked and de-smoked, powerplants were hardly a selling point, so automakers made up for this lack of performance with style instead, and while the exterior guys went in what can best be regarded as a Baroque direction, the interior guys apparently turned to the same place that made the fabric for my plaid bell-bottoms, among other sources. Nowhere in ’70s car designs did the stylists take more liberties than in the interiors.
Recently on Hemmings Auctions, we saw an International Scout II Traveler Midas Edition cross the block. From 1977 to 1980, International Harvester teamed up with the Midas Van Conversion Company to produce a total of 298 Midas Edition Scouts, each with what our own Dan Strohl described as having “funky root beer graphics.” Inside was a veritable ocean of plaid. And not just any plaid, but a fuzzy beige, tan, and brown pattern that covered the front swivel seats, the rear row of seats, the door cards, other interior panels, and even the ceiling—yes, the entire ceiling had a plaid headliner!
But International was hardly the only carmaker getting into the game of outrageous interiors in the ’70s, and plenty of them were connected with fashion labels as opposed to Detroit nameplates. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen one in person, but I don’t think anyone, Mopar fan or otherwise, could ever forget the retina-searing look of the Dodge Dart Sport Hang 10 edition sold only in 1974 and 1975. A $254 option, the Hang 10 package included blue-and-red stripe decals on the white body, but that was just a hint of what was inside: “brilliant orange shag carpeting” (per the brochure), the same bright hue on the dashboard and center console, and white vinyl seats (buckets up front) featuring a near rainbow of stripes, a pattern repeated on the door panels. A Houston Astro wearing the famous “tequila sunrise” uniform of the time would be completely camouflaged in a Dart Sport Hang 10.
Who could forget the denim-inspired interiors and colors of the Levi’s edition AMCs—Gremlins, Hornets, Jeeps, and Pacers? But funky interiors weren’t the sole domain of American automakers. Porsche, no stranger to highly individualized interiors, offered not only Tartan-patterned seats in multiple colors, but also an interior scheme called “pasha” in its sports cars in the late ’70s. Imagine a checkered flag looking like it was stretched and pulled over a series of balls and curves, and you get an idea of what pasha was all about.
Seemingly exotic today, these interiors are yet another reason to love vintage cars and a salve for today’s all-black interiors, those shadowy realms where colors go to die. So, yeah, I guess being a kid in the ’70s wasn’t bad, hand-me-downs and all.