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1977: That Was the Year I Was

Dylan looks at the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in Exhaust Notes...

 (National Motoring Library)

By

Dylan Michael

on the 9 Jan, 2013

So, the festive season is behind us, meaning people the world over can mothball their goodwill toward men for another eleven months and return to their natural state of grumpiness. For me though there are a few additional days of celebration, as it’s my birthday this week, an occasion traditionally celebrated with the passing of gifts which arrived too late for Christmas and the stinginess of friends left poverty-stricken by yuletide excesses. Still, it’ll take more than the promise of icy January rain to dampen my enthusiasm, so whilst suffering from a temporary dose of inspirational brain-freeze, I thought I’d have a look at how the year of my birth, 1977, looked in motoring...

Not all that special, to be honest: a generation of largely forgettable, but fuel efficient saloons appeared, conforming to new US legislation; Lamborghini unveiled a disastrous all-terrain vehicle named the Cheetah, aimed at securing a contract to supply the US military, but unaware that it was a clear copy of an earlier candidate; Bertone might have been well advised to retain a veil of secrecy over the hideous Jaguar Ascot; Porsche popped a conventional water-cooled V8 engine in the front of their new Grand Tourer, the 928; Saab stuck a turbo on their old 99 saloon; Ferrari chopped the roof off their 308 GTB and renamed it the GTS, soon to become one of the most recognisable cars in history thanks to moustachioed legend Tom Selleck; Pininfarina spoiled a GTB and named it the Millechiodi just in time to be derided at the Geneva Motor Show; the Paris Motor Show was cancelled due to economic gloom; and BMW introduced their world-beating ‘Seven-Series’.

So if the year proved a little, erm, pedestrian on the road, on the track it was a different tale altogether, regardless of Fiat's 131 Abarth proving unbeatable in the World Rally Championship and Porsche's 936 sweeping all before it in the World Sports Car Championship. Indeed the 936 provided perhaps the greatest upset of the season, for at Le Mans, Stuttgart’s favourites were early casualties, their retirement leaving the way clear for Renault to walk away with the race, which they duly did, until the 17th hour... You see there had been another 936 in the race, that of Haywood and Barth, but by the time Porsche's star driver Jacky Ickx climbed aboard, it was in 41st position, out of contention some might say. Well, nobody told Ickx, who promptly drove the race of his life, and as piston failure claimed the Renaults, he took a famous fourth victory at La Sarthe.


The Festival of Speed

Porsche’s invincible 936 in classic Martini livery at the Goodwood Festival of Speed

 (National Motoring Library)

The Formula 1 Championship saw disappointment for reigning champ James Hunt, as lumbered with the difficult new McLaren M26 he had no answer for Lauda's Ferrari, Andretti in the new ‘ground effect’ Lotus, nor even Scheckter in the briefly impressive Wolf. Tragedy struck early in the year at Kyalami when popular Welshman Tom Pryce hit a young marshall carrying a fire extinguisher whilst travelling flat out past the main grandstand. Neither survived, but little changed. Brazilian star Carlos Pace died in a plane crash a few weeks later, though he would seemingly be reincarnated in cinemas as Bobby Deerfield, subject of a thoroughly dour romance in which a seemingly comatose Al Pacino mumbled about safety and donned his once distinctive crash helmet to correspond with the stock footage.

Not many people bothered to see Bobby Deerfield, and they didn’t really miss much, as there was very little racing, the glorious Martini-liveried Brabham-Alfas only popped up a few times, and even Pacino’s Alfa GTV company car was underused. No, the film of the year for motoring fans had to be Smokey and the Bandit, in fact it was most people’s film of the year, unless sci-fi was your thing, in which case you’d probably have enjoyed 2oth Century Fox’s big budget Damnation Alley with its man-eating cockroaches and famous Landmaster off-road vehicle, or even their low budget longshot Star Wars, which obviously failed to arouse much interest due to a lack of cars.

Anyway, I digress, though finally it’s worth mentioning that ’77 also saw the birth of BBC stalwart Top Gear, and I can’t sign off without mentioning what a dire year it was for the music world, with the passing of The King, three members of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Marc Bolan. Oh, and Fleetwood Mac released the infernal Rumours, the only good thing about which was that it provided the Grand Prix coverage with a good theme… Hmmm, seems I’m slipping back to grumpiness a few days early.

RELATED LINKS

Exhaust Notes 30 - Rotor Blades Not Included

Exhaust Notes 29 - C'ing The Light

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