The 1970s weren’t a good time for anyone in the global automotive industry. The oil crisis had struck everyone, and cars that had been all the rage for power and performance just a few years before were now looked down upon for guzzling gas like it was water. As such, a demand for more economic and efficient cars with smaller displacements began to rise. To make things worse, new emission restrictions lowered the ouput of engines, making for some ‘sports’ cars that no longer performed as such.
Despite this era seeing such dark times, some carmakers never lost their creativity and flair for engineering and came out with some true gems during the ’70s. This was a time when European and Japanese automakers capitalized on the American automotive situation, creating some of their best works. Of course, today, looking back at some of the greatest cars also means looking at them with an astounding price tag attached, Moreover, when buying a vehicle half a century old, reliability is crucial. Thus, here are some sports cars from the ’70s that you won’t have to sell a limb to buy, and they’ll also remain dependable once you’ve brought them into your driveway.
10 Toyota Celica 1st generation ($21,000)
Toyota, the Japanese giant, was in a bit of a hurry to export a sport-compact coupe to American shores since Nissan had been so successful with the 240Z. Thus, the Celica arrived, and while it looked like a smaller Mustang from the late sixties, it had remarkable power for its time, running on either a 1.6L or 2.2L inline-4 engine.
It was also on the lighter side, which translated to great handling and even more performance than what the brochure read. Being a Toyota, the first-generation Celica remained a solid option throughout the years and has become a reliable option for young enthusiasts and collectors alike. Well-preserved models of the first generation of the Celica can easily come for around $20,000.
9 1979 MG MGB ($15,000)
MG’s MGB was the quintessential ‘British Roadster’ when it came out in the 1960s and was a hugely successful car from the British car-maker. It sold over half a million units combined, over its entire lifecycle. The MGB resonated with enthusiasts owing to its great handling, beautiful styling, and remarkable performance in its day.
Thankfully, the models in the 1970s still come quite affordable today, as they were even when they came out, and these models sell for close to $15,000, and if you are a young enthusiast looking to turn heads and feel the wind in your hair, the MGB shouldn’t let you down. Owners who have stuck to the MGB since they got it back in the day happily commend its longevity, remarking how keeping it running takes nothing but a timely service.
8 1973 Lotus Europa ($25,000)
Lotus showed the world one of the first mid-engined sports cars in the form of the Europa. It was the second generation of this car that really caught on with consumers after they improved the styling of the car, which was between the years 1968 and 1970. With a fully-independent suspension and lightweight fiberglass body, the Europa was a fantastic car.
Furthermore, the 1971-75 Europa models were powered by Lotus-Ford’s 1600 twin-cam engine, which was, and remains an extremely reliable engine, and made either 105 or 126 hp, and considering the car’s 1600-lb weight, that was a lot. Such late-model Europas are available for just around the $25,000 mark and are a great deal for those looking to decorate their driveway with some seventies style.
7 Fiat X1/9 ($21,000)
The Fiat X1/9 was fondly called a ‘Baby Ferrari’, and is a beautiful, magnificently-shaped car from the 1970s. Crafted by the designer who birthed the Lamborghini Miura, Countach, and the Lancia Stratos. Its removable targa (one-piece panel) top, pop-up headlights, and mid-engined layout have all contributed to its iconic status over the years.
Due to its low weight and short wheelbase and powered by a 1.3L or 1.5L inline-4, the car was incredibly fun to drive, and when properly and proactively maintained, the Fiat X1/9 will certainly last quite long, and the best part about it is how it still comes for somewhere around $12,000.
6 Mercedes-Benz R107 SL/SLC ($15,000)
In 1972, Mercedes brought in the R107 in both coupe and convertible forms, which took heavy styling cues from the Pagoda 280SL which it was replacing. The German automaker offered the R107 SL in several engine options including an inline-six or a V8.
The car had big shoes to fill, and it did so brilliantly, blending style, comfort, and power. While being a little heavy, the car lost agility, but handled well for its size, being a GT car. Owing to how common the car has been, prices have remained low, and prices range from around $10,000 to $21,000. Like any old car nearing half a century in age, the car, when maintained well, should last a long time.
5 1976 Datsun 280Z ($20,000)
Datsun, now a part of Nissan, made its big splash with the 240Z. In fact, the Z-car is revered as having solely kick-started the Japanese import craze that took North America over. While these cars lacked the straight-up power and displacement that American muscle cars did, they proved to be just as fast and even handled a lot better.
In the middle of the 1970s, the 280Z followed up the 260Z and featured a larger 2.8L inline-6 engine which churned out 149 horsepower with fuel injection. On one hand, the 240Z continues to soar in price while clean 280Zs can still be brought home for under $20,000.
4 1976 Lancia Fulvia ($23,500)
The year 1963 was one of Lancia’s last as a maker of independent cars. The Fulvia, originally marketed and released as a sedan, housed an innovative V4 engine that sent power to the front wheels. It was an insanely fun sports car, courtesy of its nimble handling, which also translated to a 1972 International Rally Championship win.
3 1974 BMW 2002 ($26,000)
BMW sure has a reputation for driver’s cars. Where it is the 3-Series today, in the 20th century, the 2002 was considered one of the best driver’s cars. When it came out, it received rave reviews from critics for its peppy engine and excellent handling. Practical and sporty, the car developed 120 hp, and for its weight, was an agile and quick car.
The 2002 “tii” version housed a fuel-injected, 140 hp engine that was quicker than the standard, carbureted model. Its touring and turbo models have all skyrocketed when it comes to price, but the BMW 2002 base model can still be found for relatively cheap. We even managed to find a 2002Tii model for just $26,000, which, given the car’s heritage, is a bargain.
2 Mercedes Benz 450SL ($10,000)
The Mercedes-Benz 450SL is a crucial car in European automobile history. It boasted drastically-reduced emissions and improved safety features, and most importantly, it managed to remain affordable and timeless. The 450SL, at its time, was impressively fast for a cruiser, and its German engineering showed through in how well it handled.
Models from the late 1970s can be found even for $10,000, which is simply as good as it gets for this beautiful icon with Silver Arrows. Still holding the ability to turn heads where it goes, the 450SL also remains a reliable ride, so think of this one if you’re thinking of cruising along the coastline seated in a classic.
1 1978 Porsche 928 ($10,000)
A 4.5-liter V8 producing 230 horsepower back in 1978 sounds like a dream, which is exactly what the Porsche 928 was. A remarkable blend of a nimble and eager sports car with class, the 928 arrived on the scene and immediately started to turn heads.
Over the years, the 928 might have developed a bit of a bad reputation in terms of reliability, but these issues have almost always been caused by negligent owners who didn’t properly maintain the car. As such, a pre-purchase inspection is strongly advised for any 928 you are seriously considering.