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  • Used Car History October, 2004
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      Car History: Car History Year 1979
    Posted on Monday, September 27 @ 13:16:04 UTC by Cars
      Cars The year started with President Jimmy Carter announcing "a crisis of confidence" in a half-hour television address to the nation during which he unveiled a six-point plan to combat America's wasteful consumption of oil. His statement was precipitated by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) increasing the price of a barrel of oil by almost 25 in three months. Carter's conservation program was designed to reduce oil imports and speed up the development of alternative methods of producing energy, with the target of saving 4.5 million barrels of oil a day by the end of the next decade.

    Unfortunately, one of the possible alternative sources of energy - nuclear power - suffered a major setback following a disaster at the Three Mile Island facility in Pennsylvania. The accident, caused by a faulty cooling system, released radioactive gases and further reinforced the protests by antinuclear campaigners. In addition to the energy problems, President Carter was also facing difficulties in the financial sector, with soaring inflation and wildly fluctuating interest rates adding to his worries. The consumer price index jumped by 13.3, the biggest rise for 33 years, and many Wall Street investors lost money as trading leapt to record levels. U.S. Steel closed ten factories, laying off 13,000 workers in the process. The struggling company had been forced to rationalize its operations in the face of fierce competition from overseas and the hefty $1.8 billion expenditure needed to bring plants into line with clean-air regulations. It wasn't all bad news for Carter, though. He managed to broker a peace deal in the Middle East, bringing the leaders of Egypt and Israel together to sign a treaty at the White House. Carter also signed the SALT II agreement with the USSR to limit strategic missiles. As far as the automobile industry was concerned, the big story of the year was the decision by Congress to approve a loan of $1.5 billion to rescue the Chrysler Corporation from bankruptcy. Although there were plenty of commentators in Detroit and the media elsewhere who were happy to let Chrysler die, they reckoned without the dedication and determination of the charismatic Lee lacocca who had taken charge of the company a year earlier. Thanks to his efforts, a deal was thrashed out with the unions for wage cuts and deferred payments to pension funds in order to safeguard the jobs of 150,000 employees, and this agreement helped to secure the government aid. acocca also initiated a morale-boosting campaign using the slogan "We Can Do It!" that not only created confidence throughout Chrysler's workforce - leading to noticeably improved build quality in production - but also gave customers the belief that he would restore the fortunes of the ailing company. Meanwhile, on the other side of Motor City in Dearborn, lacocca's old company Ford were launching the third-generation of Mustang. The bare bones of the concept for this version were actually laid down prior to the arrival of the Mustang II in '74, and began as an attempt to come up with a "world car" - in other words, a design that could be built in Ford factories around the world, with only small variations needed to take care of local requirements. As it turned out, the problems associated with the idea proved insurmountable at that time, but some of the original principles set out for a compact, fuel-efficient car, remained. As they had done previously, Ford gave the task of producing design proposals for the new Mustang to a number of styling studios - three in the USA and Ghia in Italy (owned by Ford and headed by Don DeLa Rossa). Certain fixed parameters were issued to the design teams, including wheelbase, overall length, width, and so on, and using these limits they each had to come up with drawings and models for wind tunnel testing. As a result of this work a number of full-size mockups were generated for consideration by the Ford hierarchy. The design chosen was that produced by Jack Telnack's group at the company's North American Light Car and Truck Design department. Telnack had earlier spent some time at Ford Europe and his experience of designing smaller cars was to prove invaluable. From the outset, Telnack's team (which included Fritz Mayhew, David Rees and Gary Haas) looked at ways of making the new Mustang as aerodynamic as possible. This was rather than creating a stylish shape and then modifying it in the wind tunnel to make it more efficient as had been done in the past. The result was a drag coefficient of 0.44 for the 3-door fastback and 0.46 for the 2-door notchback - not terribly impressive by modern standards, but a major step forward in 1979. Like almost any trend-setting design, the success of the Mustang came about from the stylists breaking the rules. The car's slim, wedge-shaped front end was accentuated by the rake of the hood - a feature Telnack's team achieved by ignoring one of the so-called "hard points," the height of the cowl. To get the effect they wanted, the cowl was raised an inch above the dimension for the Fairmont/Zephyr platform that was being used as the basis for the new model. Despite protests from the production engineers, the cost of manufacturing the special items brought about by this change was quickly approved. The integrated spoiler under the front bumper and a small lip on the rear deck-lid were aerodynamic aids that also added to the overall effect. The new Mustang came with the usual choice of engines, starting with a 2.3-liter four cylinder putting out 88bhp, a turbo version that produced 140bhp, a 109bhp 170 cu.in. V6 and the 302 cu.in V8 that produced 140 horsepower. Later in the model year, problems in obtaining sufficient quantities of the German-built V6 saw the return of the old 200 cu.in. inline six. Prices started at $4,494 for a 2-door coupe with a four-cylinder engine, with a 3-door hatchback listed at $4,828. You could also get Ghia and Cobra versions. That the Mustang's new shape proved to be extremely popular is evident by the fact that production went up from around 180,000 in '78 to over 332,000 this year, elevating the model to number 7 in the 1979 sales charts (up from number 22 the previous year). Another acknowledgement of the Mustang's significance came when it was chosen as the Official Pace Car for the Indianapolis 500 - Ford built something like 6,000 replicas. But possibly the most significant thing about the third-generation Mustang was that it went on to establish itself as one of the most potent drag strip performers of the 1980s. The V8 was briefly discontinued, but quickly made a comeback, and throughout the following decade a whole new industry grew up providing parts for enthusiasts who wanted their Mustang to go quicker. The '79 Mustang might not have created the same sort of sensation as was seen in '64, but if Jimmy Carter was looking for something that could give America confidence in the future, maybe he should have visited his local Ford dealership. Specification FORD MUSTANG PACE CAR Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 302 cu. ins Bore and stroke 4.0x3.0 ins. Horsepower 140 Body styles Coupe No. of seats 4 Weight (lbs) 2,588 Ibs Price $5,000+ Produced 6,000   Specification PONTIAC FIREBIRD TRANS AM LIMITED Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 400 cu. ins Bore and stroke 4.12x3.75 ins. Horsepower 180 Body styles Coupe No. of seats 4 Weight (lbs) 3,551 Ibs Price $10,620 Produced 7,500   Specification JEEP CHEROKEE Engine Cast iron - 6 Cylinders in line Displacement 225 cu. ins Bore and stroke 3.40x4,12 ins. Horsepower 100 Body styles 4 door station wagon No. of seats 5 Weight (lbs) 3500 Ibs Price $6,400 Produced 11,000
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