Unbelievable excitement ensues as two Seattleites prepare for a baby!

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Milestones in Automotive History: 1974 Chevrolet Chevelle Laguna Type S-3 454

The 1974 Chevy Laguna "Action Car" provided action in very slow, ponderous, inefficient installments.

Those familiar with the subjects of previous installments of Milestones in Automotive History may be puzzled at the vehicle of honor this week. What could a Chevrolet muscle car with a powerful 454-cubic-inch V-8 possibly have in common with the Yugo GVX and Chrysler-Maserati TC?

In truth, the 1974 Chevrolet Chevelle Laguna Type S-3 454 wasn’t so much a muscle car as it was the decaying, bloated corpse of a muscle car – the dug-up remains of the glorious Chevelle 454, reanimated Weekend at Bernies-style with nothing more substantial than a spritz of Lysol and a freshly-pressed leisure suit.

While the Chevelle 454 was one of the brightest stars of the resplendent automotive firmament of the late 1960s, the Laguna was just the opposite - an impossibly inky black hole in the considerably darker sky of the early 1970s.

For its role in tarnishing an automotive legend, and for its status as a car that hit rock bottom in a variety of ways – a slow muscle car, a gas guzzler during the first major fuel shortage, and a cramped, uncomfortable car with massive external proportions - the 1974 Chevrolet Chevelle Laguna Type S-3 454 easily qualifies as a Milestone in Automotive History.

In a 1970 Car & Driver comparison test, a Chevelle 454 had battled the legendary Shelby Cobra to a draw and established itself as one of the most powerful and seductive muscle cars of its era. Despite being saddled with the poor traction of the time’s notoriously poor tires, a 0-60 run of 5.4 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 13.81 seconds would make the Chevelle 454 a seriously quick performance car even today.

1970 Chevy Chevelle 454 - Champ.

Four years later, emissions regulation and fuel shortages were forcing automakers to drastically cut power and move to smaller, lighter cars. Chevrolet responded by dressing its full-size Chevelle up in styling classy enough to enthrall any 1974-era pimp and stifling the the 454 V-8 with emissions gear that transformed the smooth, torquey engine into an unresponsive weakling.

The 454 dropped from 450 to 235 horsepower - though, to be fair, the 1970 engine was rated on a different system that slightly exaggerated power. Still, for reference, the 2006 Hyundai Sonata is available with that same 235 horsepower - in a car with vastly more space, 1,500 pounds lighter, much quicker, and driving three times as far on a gallon of gas.

All this resulted in a tawdry “muscle car” that could manage only a 0-60 time of 7.8 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 16.2 seconds - slightly slower than a modern Honda Odyssey minivan and just a tick ahead of a Kia Spectra. The Chevelle 454 of four years prior would have passed 100 mph and still been accelerating by the time the Laguna hit 80 mph.

1974 Chevy Chevelle Laguna Type S-3 454 - Chump.

To cap things off, the Laguna achieved that stultifying performance while averaging 7.5 MPG in the city and 13 MPG on the freeway – just the ticket for an era of cataclysmic oil shortages and long gas lines. But, at nearly $6,000 in an era in which a Datsun economy car could be had for $2,500, at least the Laguna was expensive.

It might be a bit unfair to compare a 30-year-old car to modern vehicles – though I’d point out that unfairness is one of the founding principles of Milestones in Automotive History. However, regardless of era, I’m just enthralled by the idea of a Chevrolet 454 muscle car that wheezes along in stride with a four-cylinder Kia - especially considering the fact that the Laguna has 7.4 liters of engine to do the job, while the Sephia makes do with only 2.0. How is that possible?

The most damning comment on the Laguna is the fact that even in those dark times, high performance was still possible. Only one year earlier, Pontiac put into limited production its fully emissions-legal Trans-Am SD-455 with acceleration just as quick as the glorious 1970 Chevelle and miles ahead of the Laguna – 0-60 in 5.4 seconds, quarter-mile in 13.8. Even still, it managed better fuel economy than the Laguna.

Yes, those were bad times for cars, but the Laguna was, shockingly, worse still.

This gratuitous immediate post-birth photo of Sophia has absolutely nothing to do with the Chevy Laguna, unless of course she's mourning the collapse of a once-proud Chevrolet performance tradition.


Blogger mrclm said...

The Laguna is the bastartd child of a 74 Impala humping a Camero, and getting the bad genes out of both basically. Disasterous in both looks and performance.

Big Chris

5:12 PM

Blogger Jim Holland said...

Might I offer a partial defense of the Laguna? Certainly the car was a sow's ear on the street, but in the hands of decent mechanical minds and hands, the 75-77 Laguna body style was a silk purse in NASCAR, tallying Daytona wins for Benny Parsons (1975) and Cale Yarborough (1977).
Yarborough also claimed two of three straight NASCAR WCGN point titles (76-78) driving the slope-nose Lagunas on the big tracks and the boxy and very unbeautiful Monte Carlos (another MIAH candidate?) of the era on the short tracks.
Of course, Yarborough's cars were prepared by the legendary Junior Johnson, who probably could have made a Greyhound Bus competitive.

8:39 AM


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