This post was originally published on CarLustBlog.com on June 3, 2015. It’s been tweaked a bit, but otherwise it’s all the same.
That ‘70s Show was not only gut-busting entertainment, it was a learning experience, even if it had a lousy final season and continuity mistakes big enough to drive a Vista Cruiser through. It gave a window to how life was in mid-to-late 1970s North America. What we now consider kitschy-cool was actually considered lame back then, not everyone liked ABBA (or Styx for that matter), and being in the throes of adolescence sucked no matter what decade it is. Am I right?
If these cars could talk… most of them would have trouble remembering what went down.
Ah, the Vista Cruiser, a car that you can literally cruise the vistas. Of all the cars, this humble Aztec Gold 1969 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon is the car that was more prominently featured in the show. So much so that it even has its own Wikia entry. Heck, it’s probably the most well-known Vista Cruiser in the world! It’s because of this that I came to learn about Vista Cruisers in general.
It’s been used as a prop (aside from the interior, the hood alone has seen more than its fair share of use, and occasionally the back) as a plot point numerous times including the pilot episode, and promo tool. It even appeared in the show’s intro (minus the much-derided last season). It’s Eric Forman’s wheels, “given” to him by his father, Red Forman. I use air quotes because there were times that Red took the car back, not only to use it, but as punishment when Eric messed up on a number of occasions –even though some weren’t his fault. But even with conditional ownership, the freedom granted to Eric was priceless. Without it, the show would’ve been a bit more dull.
Bob: “Red, A Toyota?”
Red: “Yeah, it’s mine. I tell you the last time I was that close to a Japanese machine, it was shooting at me.”
Eric’s parents got a new car: a 1976 Toyota Corolla. One can only imagine the heated discussions that Red and wife Kitty had over buying a car from a country that Red fought against back in WWII, gas crisis or not… which was the reason to buy it. Red turned down $400 trade-in on the Vista Cruiser, considering the deal to be lousy. While not as prominently used as the Vista Cruiser, it still gets its share of use for comedic character interaction.
In a flashback episode, Red and Kitty used to have a ’55 Chevrolet.
“… I DO NOT!!”
AMC’s take a prominent role as automotive backdrops for two reasons: A) it’s the ‘70s and B) the show takes place in Wisconsin, in driving distance to Kenosha, where AMCs are built. Naturally, Gremlins appear from time to time. Here we have Fez’s car, an AMC Gremlin, of course, with the “woman’s scorn” treatment. There’s more written around.
That’s Bob driving an AMC Pacer. Given that both he and wife Midge ended up getting into every fad the decade threw at ‘em, it makes sense to see him driving one of the most quintessential cars of the decade.
Muscle cars make their appearances (As a sidenote, this is probably one of the very few moments in U.S. cinematography that a 1969 Dodge Charger doesn’t get wrecked). The most prominent one has to go to Hyde’s 1967 Chevrolet El Camino, then a 10-year-old car buried in lovable hippy/burn-out Leo Chingwake’s garage. Village idiot Michael Kelso had an eye on it, but Leo couldn’t sell it to him, but gave it away to Hyde, much to Kelso’s chagrin. As soon as the car-truck becomes Hyde’s Eric instantly tries to call his Vista Cruiser superior… and fails, even in gas mileage comparison. While learning to drive, Fez crashes it and was forced to pay for the damages in a comical manner.
-Casey: “I was thinking of using my G.I. Bill for college but, uh, Trans Ams just kick so much a**.”
-Donna: “I love the Trans Am.”
-Casey: “Everybody does…”
It’s an irrefutable fact that second-gen Pontiac Firebirds were one of the hottest cars of the entire decade of the 1970s. Donna Pinciotti has mentioned her liking for ‘em on a number of occasions, and minor-ish character Casey Kelso owns and cherishes his much more than any woman he’s ever been with.
So if you got a new-for ’77 cats-eye Trans Am as your high-school ride in late-1976, you were royalty, and that’s before Burt Reynolds did his thing on the silver screen. Eric befriends such a guy. He was even amused by the power-windows!
We’ve all been there, haven’t we?
Continuing with hot cars, how about Red’s 1958 Chevrolet Corvette? Kitty even felt jealous of it. Neighbor Bob was gonna buy it, but Red got to it first, and then proceeded to rub it in his face. During its brief stay, there were a number of plot points revolving around it. An entire episode is dedicated to Eric outwitting Red in order to “borrow” the car so he could make an impression on a hot date…
… Which, of course, ran into a series of complications. Even selling it was an ordeal because Red didn’t want just anybody buying it.
Luxo-barges? Present, though in small numbers. That’s a 1977 Lincoln Continental, from Jackie Burkhart’s family. They were rich.
One of the few cars not mentioned on That 70s Show IMCDb’s listing is the Cadillac that Donna drove on one episode. If the picture quality was any better, I could tell if it’s a Seville –a tipping point for Cadillac- or one of its more mainstream offers -like a Fleetwood- just by looking at the rear wheel well. I’m going with Seville.
Cadillacs and Pinciottis seem to go together well, since Midge drives one, a Cadillac Eldorado to be specific.
Of course, vans make their appearance in the show, but not in the stereotypical, pristine, all-out- built, ‘70s van-craze-style. Kelso had two. Both got their fair share of screentime as the gang’s extra set of wheels.
“Yeah, even the radio works. And all the doors, they open! And it got brakes, too! I mean, can you believe this? I mean, my uncle, he just gave it to me. He gave it to me for free!”
The first van’s a 1965 Dodge A-100. It was the first vehicle Kelso owned and he had big plans for it. Eagle-eyed wheel-junkies would’ve noticed one of the few period inconsistencies within the show, the American Racing Sawblades/AWC directional-rims that the van wore. When Bob comes over to see Kelso’s pride and joy, he tells how he had a Ford delivery van… and its role in starting a family. Bottom line, Bob recommended that Kelso should sell the van. It served him well until it ended up at the bottom of a lake on an ice-fishing trip.
The second one was a Volkswagen “DeLuxe Station Wagon” Type 2/T1 bus that Kelso won at a local fair. That one met its demise when it went down a mountain, surprisingly thanks to Eric.
-“I can’t believe they trusted Kelso with a cop car”.
-“I can’t believe he left the keys in it.”
-“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
-“Burn rubber, little buddy.”
There was a brief moment where Kelso was a cop/cadet (let that sink in for a moment). He had his supervisor’s squad car at his disposal, a 1975 Plymouth Fury that somehow managed to escape the typical Mopar treatment of late-20th Century North-American entertainment. I kinda wished the producers would’ve used an AMC Ambassador, but the Fury/(Dodge) Monaco are embedded into the minds of many as the vehicles of law enforcement in a time before the Panther platform dynasty came to be. It’s kinda expected that the rest of the guys would “borrow” it while Kelso wasn’t looking, specifically because he was dealing with a code-10-100.
-Brooke: “Michael, don’t you think it’s a little impractical?”
-Kelso: “Impractical? More like ‘imperfecticable.’ This thing is totally baby-friendly.”
-Brooke: “Remind me how this is baby-friendly.”
-Kelso: “‘Cause it’s tiny, just like a baby.”
With a baby on the way, Kelso needed some wheels, so logically he got a 1975 MG Midget MkIV that he picked up at a police auction for cheap (some guy got stabbed in it, so nobody else bid on it) and which he also removed the seatbelts to save weight. Its appearance complements the 70s North-American automotive landscape, as it represents foreign sporty cars with throwback flare, with and English flare in this particular case.
Speaking of foreign sporty cars…
This is Leo’s 1974 BMW 2002. Quite a change from the El Camino with a personalized license plate listed above. Then again, Leo is always full of surprises. I’m gonna go and say that I’m glad that the producers didn’t give Leo a ride heavily associated with the Hippy/Counter-Culture movement.
Here’s a 1970 Datsun 240Z. It’s just a background car, though it pops around a few times. Seeing that today we know how important the original Z is, I’m glad it got included.
-Red: “Look Kitty. Look how good I look on it. Hey, we could get matching jackets. You know how you love things that match.”
-Kitty: “Red, what were you thinking?”
-Red: “Oh, come on, Kitty. You know the last thing I bought for myself? A hose.”
2-wheeled machinery pop up every once in a while, though for some reason they mostly appear in day-dream-like scenarios. This one’s the exception. In the ‘70s, Japanese-brand motorcycles became well-established, and the customer was spoiled for choice. Here we have a Honda CB125 S. It’s a small-capacity motorcycle. While I doubt the producers thought long and hard to choose the right bike, I think they’ve made the right choice. If Red wanted a cruiser, he’s go for Milwaukee’s finest. An off-road machine wouldn’t be too much fun on the road. Musclebikes of the era were basically widow-makers and 2-strokes were just bonkers. And I can just imagine Red’s face at the thought of riding a scooter… This air-cooled 4-stroke ticked all the right boxes, not too fast or powerful, but fun enough to convince Red to award himself by buying it despite his family’s economic concerns (and judging by the Toyota quote, the bike’s country of origin), and fun to convince Kitty to let it stay… and basically call her own.
The final pic I have is another cast promo pic. But I don’t recall that car on the show, nor does it appear on IMCDb. There’s not much to go for since the front, back and even the wheels are not available for your viewing pleasure. But the styling does say ‘70s. Care to hazard a guess?
The Vista Cruiser, Trans Am, VW van: fanpop.com
Under the hood of the Vista Cruiser: beaufortcountynow.com
Show logo, AMCs, cop car, MG, Z: IMCDb
Hyde’s El Camino, Jackie’s Conti, cast promo pic: Tumblr
Donna’s Cadillac: printscreen
Casey’s Trans Am: http://beaufortcountynow.com
Kelso’s A-100 pics: www.tubeplus.is and printscreen, respectively.
Red’s Corvette: www.carseywerner.com, fanpop.com, respectively.