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The year of instantaneous decline is how many performance car fans perceived 1971. For, in one fell swoop, many of the hot machines were emasculated, with lowered compression ratios and the increased use of horse-power-robbing pollution devices, while some performance options were dropped altogether. And the insurance companies took full aim at the performance market by charging rates that were unaffordable for many. (Sound familiar?) Though grim as it was, the party wasn't over quite yet. Change on all fronts continued to alter the country at a startling pace. People were fed up with the state of things and began to yearn for the past like never before. Nostalgia and relics of earlier days were suddenly in vogue, a trend that is still with us today.

The cost of living was climbing dramatically, while remarkable shifts in consumer preferences were changing the way people did business. The stores of downtown America were folding, as more and more Americans jumped in their cars and headed for the nearest shopping centers. The focus on automobiles continued to grow, and fuel consumption had increased fourfold since the end of World War II. We were heading for an energy crisis, and it would come sooner than the experts predicted.

The music scene got rolling for the year with Tony Orlando and Dawn, whose "Knock Three Times" stayed at No. 1 for three weeks. The whole thing was a happy accident, but the group wound up touring for seven more years, victims of their huge success. And if some people had thought they'd heard the last of Janis Joplin, who'd died the previous October 4, they must have been surprised to hear the heavy airplay of "Me and Bobby McGee." Jop-lin's posthumous hitwasNo.lfortwo weeks in March. She was some kinda Texas Mama!

It was General Motors that took the big step first, reducing compression ratios across the board for the '71 model year. This was simply early preparation for the unleaded gas they knew would be necessary for use with catalytic converters. As it turned out, it was another four years before the converters came along, but that drop of two or three points in compression on all '71 GM cars cost 20 to 30 hp right off the top. Casualties included the W31 Olds, Pontiac's Ram Air IV and the 375-horse .396, just to name a few.

Over at Buick, they had introduced their 455-cube Stage I option package the prior year. For' 71, they continued it unchanged with the exception of the drop in compression, but that slowed the car about a full second in the quarter, making its performance more like its 1969 400-cube equivalents. The LS6 engine in the Chevelle was a wilder combination than the Stage I Buick, with big-port heads, big 780-cfm Holley carb, solid-lifter cam and valve springs that permitted up to 6500 rpm if the driver was brave. But with only 9:1 compression, the old neck-snapping response wasn't there. Chevy engineers cut their gross power rating from 450 to 425. But factory documents showed the actual net power of the '71 LS6 Chevelle to be about 325 hp at 5400 rpm. As a result, quarter miles were in the mid-14s at 95 to 97 mph with the 4000-pound weight.

The 1971 Camaro Z/28s still has a fighting chance with the low compression because of their modest weight. Their published net power was off to 275 hp at 5600 rpm. A good one would

It should be mentioned that Chevrolet withdrew the 401-cube "Turbo Jet 396" L78 option from Camaros and Novas after compression dropped. Only the 454 LS6 and 350 LTl were retained as all-out performance options.

Corvette was the only glimmer of hope at Chevrolet. A total of five engine options were listed—two small-blocks and three big-blocks—though the ZR2, ZR1, LS6 and LT1 were sold in limited quantities. The ZR2 was a $1747 option and was installed in just 12 Corvettes, making it highly collectible today. Like the LS7, which was never installed in production Corvettes, the LS6 454 featured aluminum heads, and just 188 were produced. These heads saved about 70 pounds. Of course, it was unlikely that a stoplight drag race would see such rare and expensive machines, but the ground would shake when these powerhouses were fired up.

Ground shaking was nothing new to Los Angelenos, who were used to the frequent ground tremors in the L.A. basin. But early on the morning of February 9, an earthquake measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale, centered near Sylmar in the San Fernando Valley, knocked people out of bed, toppled buildings and walls and turned the town upside down. Freeway overpasses collapsed. The only saving factor was the early hour of the day, before thousands of commuters were on the roads. Even so, 65 people lost their lives. Many a musclecar was damaged by falling debris in that minute and a half during which the world seemed to be coming to an end.

While the war in Vietnam played on, although with fewer U.S. troops, the focus shifted to Laos and the debacle there. After South Vietnamese troops suffered over 50 percent of the casualties in the U.S.-ordered operation, the anti-war movement in the U.S. increased.

Attorney General John Mitchell, who regarded the peace marchers as law-breaking revolutionaries, decided to violate their civil rights at a Mayday demonstration in Washington, D.C. In just four days, over 12,000 protesters were arrested in a sweep by National Guardsmen, Washington police and regular Army troops. Mitchell had seen to it that the time-consuming red tape - which required that an arresting officer fill out a form with the name of the person charged, the offense, the arresting officer's name and the time and place of the alleged infraction - could be bypassed. Six weeks after the Mayday uproar, the New York Times broke a story about three decades of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, based on an extraordinary leak of classified documents. The ugly facts were out, and the administration was furious. In a roundabout way. the Pentagon Papers led to the crash of the Nixon administration. The issue of whether the New York Times and Washington Post had the right to publish the documents was decided by the Supreme Court, which upheld publication, under the protection of the First Amendment.

With two chart toppers to their credit, the Temptations came back with another one, "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)." Though Smokey Robinson was still associated with the group and had produced earlier hits, Norman Whitfield was the producer on this one.

Knocking the Temptations out of the No. 1 slot was a song that stayed in that position longer than any other that year. "Joy To The World" by Three Dog Night, a song that appealed to a wide variety of ages, stayed on top for six long weeks. Hoyt Axton wrote "Joy" 15 years after his mother Mae had co-written "Heartbreak Hotel" for Elvis Presley—making them the only mother/son songwriters to each have No. 1 hits. The name Three Dog Night comes from the Australian Outback, where, when it's cold, you sleep with a dog to keep you warm. If it's very cold, you need two dogs. And when the thermometer crashes down below zero, that's a three-dog night.

The Rolling Stones, who were once perceived as dirty riffraff, became international jet setters with the new decade— the ruling rock elite. Mick Jagger, bent on social climbing, went so v far as to marry Bianca Perez Mora Macias, a beauty from Nicaragua with ambassadorial roots on her _ family tree. The Stones' main contribution to the music scene that year was the chart topper "Brown Sugar" on the Rolling Stones Records label. The song was simultaneously interpreted as a racist, sexist slur and as referring to Mexican heroin. By scrambling the vocals, Jagger added to the mystery.

There was no mystery, however, regarding the performance from the Mopar contingent. Chrysler decided to wait a year to cut compression. And since you could still get 100-plus octane fuel at the corner filling station, the hot Mopars got going while the going was good. For instance '71 was the last year for the famous Street Hemi, and Chrysler offered it in all its intermediate-sized cars with either 4-speed or automatic transmissions, and with the original high compression and a strong nydrautic camshaft. The company put a net rating on it of 350 hp at 500 rpm, but that hardly told the story. Motor Trend strip tested a '71 Dodge with the Street Hemi and 4.10 gears. It turned a 13.73 ET at 104 mph. Admittedly, the insurance premiums on the Street Hemis were skyrocketing that year, and sales were falling off fast. But if you could afford to run one, you had just about a sure winner in the stoplight grand prix.

Chrysler officials also decided to keep their 440 Six-Pack engine option on the books for 1971, without major changes from '70. This combination had a net rating of 330 hp at 4700 rpm and was only a tick behind the Street Hemi in acceleration times, when in similar cars. You could figure on low 14s at 100 mph in a Plymouth Road Runner or Dodge Challenger. At an option price of under $500, it was one of the better performance bargains of the day. Especially as the 440 Wedge didn't attract high insurance premiums. Even better off in the insurance scheme was Chrysler's excellent 340 small-block performance engine, netting 240 hp at 5000 rpm with a single crossflow muffler. This made a great combination in the light Darts and Barracudas of the day, but by the early' 70s, the intermediate Chrysler models had gotten too heavy for the small-block engine.

Moviegoers thrilled to a fantastic chase scene in the The French Connection, which walked off with the Academy Award for Best Picture, while star Gene Hackman was voted Best Actor. Jane Fonda won the Best Actress title for her role in Klute. Grammys went to Carole King, James Taylor and the Carpenters. King's Grammys were for best album, record and female pop vocalist. The singles "It's Too Late" and "I Feel the Earth Move" were a double-sided No. 1 for five weeks, quite an accomplishment for the well-known songwriter. It was definitely the high point of her career.

The rock world was shocked once again by the death of one of its biggest stars. Jim Morrison of The Doors was found dead on July 2 in his hotel in Paris. The death was, officially, caused by a heart attack induced by respiratory problems, but everyone wondered what really happened, because of the mysterious circumstances. The album L.A. Woman was the group's last with Morrison. Even the Jefferson Airplane had its troubles. One of its recording sessions got cancelled when group member Grace Slick crashed her Mercedes-Benz into a concrete wall near the Golden Gate Bridge. Fortunately, her recovery was swift.

In motorsports, Richard Petty's Plymouth took the Daytona 500, and A1 Unser won Indy in a PJ Colt-powered by Ford. Jackie Stewart won his second World Championship, while Joe Leonard took the USAC title. It was a good year for racing.

Charles Manson and three of his followers were found guilty of the murders of Sharon Tate and others, while Lt. William Calley also heard the guilty verdict for his part in the Mylai massacre.

Ford, like Chrysler, waited until 1972 to drop compression ratios. This gave the Ford fans a leg up on the GM groupies. And since this was a year when the stag-ger-valve Cleveland and Lima V8s were being perfected, Ford fans has the machinery to play hardball.

Unfortunately, the popular Mustang got the short end of the performance stick. Not only were the wild Boss 302 and Boss 429 engine options dropped (they were no longer needed for Trans-Am and NASCAR racing eligibility), but it so happened that '71 was the year when Ford upgraded the Mustang with another big dose of size, weight and luxury. Those all-new '71s were 9 inches longer and 500 pounds heavier than the Mustangs of the mid-'60s. And this hurt performance.

Surprisingly, the 351 Cobra Jet could take abig-block429 CJ. Both engines were similarly equipped, with big-port heads, 750-cfm Autolite carbs, hi-riser manifolds, hot cams and streamlined exhaust manifolds. The 351 was rated at 330 hp, while the 429 peaked at 370. And usually the small-block had a half second edge in the quarter mile. It made for a great race.

A super-rare option was the 375-horse 429 Super Cobra Jet, which had a stouter mechanical cam and rear axle ratios of either 4:11 or 4:56:1. The 429 Super Cobra Jet was also the top performance option for the Ford Torino, though the car was heavier. Admittedly, Ford never really did much with the engine, as it was just coming on when the muscle-cars were winding down.

Olds and Pontiac hadn't completely given up the ship. Of course, it was Pontiac that had carried the torch for so long with the GTO and hot street machinery of all kinds. Their big news for 1971 was essentially a scrambling of existing off-the-shelf parts that had been well-proven on previous Pontiac Ram Air engines.

Despite the forced drop in compression in all GM cars, Pontiac's new455 HO combination for '71 GTOs and Firebirds proved to be one of their sweetest and most responsive street engines ever. It was a worthy successor to the famous 400-cube Ram Air IV of '69 to '70. Pontiac engineers took the big-port heads, hi-rise aluminum manifold and split-flow exhaust manifold from the RAIV and combined them with the new 455-cube, four-bolt main block and the old 288-degree HO hydraulic cam from the '60s. The resulting combination had a beautifully flat torque curve over a broad rpm range, with quick, smooth response at all speeds.

Olds still had the excellent W30 option package for 4-4-2s, which featured one of the best street camshafts in the industry, plus one of the more efficient hood air scoop designs to get cool air to the engine for optimum breathing. Olds engineers put a conservative net rating of 300 hp at 4700 rpm on that '71 W30 engine. But the torque was awesome, and throttle response seemed to lose little from the drop in compression.

But all told, it was a rough year for tradition. Even Rolls Royce went into receivership. And muscle-cars were fast becoming extinct.

Formula One Championship:

Jackie Stewart (Britain) / Tyrrell-Ford

Wimbledon Women:

Evonne Goolagong d. M. Court (6-4 6-1)

Wimbledon Men:

John Newcombe d. S. Smith (6-3 5-7 2-6 6-4 6-4)

The Movies:

  • The French Connection (number #3 in our Top 5 Car Chase Movies)
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • The Last Picture Show
  • Fiddler on the Roof
  • McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Academy Awards:

  • Best Picture - The French Connection
  • Best Actor - Gene Hackman (The French Connection)
  • Best Actress - Jane Fonda (Klute)

The Charts:

  1. "Joy to the World," Three Dog Night
  2. "Maggie May/Reason to Believe,"Rod Stewart
  3. "It's Too Late/I Feel the Earth Move," Carole King
  4. "One Bad Apple," The Osmonds
  5. "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart," The Bee Gees
  6. "Indian Reservations," Raiders
  7. "Go Away Little Girl," Donny Osmond
  8. "Take Me Home, Country Roads," John Denver with Fat City
  9. "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)," The Temptations
  10. "Knock Three Times," Tony Orlando and Dawn
  11. "Me and Bobby McGee," Janis Joplin
  12. "Tired of Being Alone," A1 Green
  13. "Want Ads," Honey Cone
  14. "Smiling Faces Sometimes," Undisputed Truth
  15. "Treat Her Like a Lady," Cornelius Bros, and Sister Rose


  • Duane Allman (Legendary Southern Rocker)
  • J.C. Penney (Founder of one of the US's most famous retail stores)
  • Igor Stravinsky (Russian composer)
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