Horsepower Horror: 5 Hilariously Underpowered American Cars

It’s no secret that the oil crisis and hunt for fuel economy in the 1970s led to some American cars with big engines and tiny horsepower. However, some folks may not realize just how bad it got. For as iconic as American muscle cars of the 1960s were when it came to big blocks and more power, the ‘70s really brought the party down. Here’s a look at five of the worst specific horsepower output American cars courtesy of Hot Cars.

1975 Ford Maverick Grabber

1972 Ford Maverick Grabber two-door sedan with 302 V8
1972 Ford Maverick Grabber | Ford

The Maverick of the 1970s was a rear-wheel drive compact sedan built on the Falcon platform, not to be confused with the current Ford Maverick compact pickup truck. It has pretty decent muscle car styling and some pretty attractive body lines.

Its passable styling makes the power output even more of a letdown. The Maverick Grabber was the most “potent” variant with Ford’s iconic 5.0-liter small-block V8 under the hood. Don’t get too excited, though. That eight-cylinder hunk of iron only put out 129 horsepower.

1973 Chevrolet Monte Carlo

The Chevrolet Monte Carlo is more than well-known. It was the staple of luxury and performance for Chevrolet for many years. Of course, “performance” is being used relatively lightly here.

Under the hood of the ‘73 Monte is the classic Chevrolet 5.7-liter V8. You may be more familiar with it as a “small-block” or “350.” Another excellent name choice for it would be “disappointing.” In the case of the ‘73 Monte Carlo, it made only 145 horsepower.

1982 Chevrolet Camaro

The Chevrolet Camaro obviously needs no introduction. It’s Chevy’s iconic rival to the Ford Mustang that carved its own path to muscle car fame. You couldn’t spend a day at a drag strip without running into one of these third-generation Camaros.

Of course, the Camaro uses the same 350 cubic-inch V8 found under the hood of the 1973 Monte Carlo. However, after nearly a decade of production and engineering to meet emissions standards and big shoes to fill in the iconic Camaro legacy, Chevy managed to squeeze no extra power out of the V8, and the 1982 Camaro also had 145 horsepower.

1976 Cadillac Eldorado

The Cadillac Eldorado may be the most tragic story of horsepower loss there ever was. The Eldorado had a 500 cubic inch (8.2-liter) V8 that made 405 horsepower upon its initial release. Though that’s not that impressive for the displacement by today’s standards, it was a hefty amount in 1970.

However, the 1976 Eldorado still kept the same massive big-block V8. Emissions restrictions and regulations dropped the power output to an almost unbelievably low 190 horsepower.

1978 Ford Mustang King Cobra

1978 Ford Mustang II King Cobra in black and orange
1978 Ford Mustang II King Cobra | Ford

The Mustang II is pretty insulting to have to look at in its own right. However, even more insulting is the use of the name Cobra just a decade after Carroll Shelby transformed Mustangs into some of the most fierce cars on the road.

The name Cobra is so bad it almost comes full circle into being ironic. You know, like when very large gentlemen are called “Tiny.” Under the hood of this abysmal Mustang is yet another 5.0L/302 small-block Ford V8 pumping out only 139 horsepower. Ouch.

Fortunately, horsepower and efficiency technology has evolved

As we find ourselves in another time of crisis where companies are turning to make highly efficient vehicles, we can all be thankful for modern forced induction and fuel injection. Turbocharged four-cylinder engines are making over double the power of some of these ghosts of disappointment’s past. Yet, they’re likely doing nearly triple what they could in fuel economy.

What a time to be alive!

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