Buy/Drive/Burn: Moderately Luxurious American Coupes From 1976

It’s been a while since Buy/Drive/Burn covered a trio from the Seventies; December 2019, in fact. But today we return to that decade of automotive change with (almost) everybody’s favorite topic: personal luxury coupes.

Let’s sort out which of these PLCs was worth taking home in ’76.

Dodge Charger 

Dodge’s Charger nameplate debuted for the 1966 model year as the company’s muscle car offering. It maintained this guise through 1974, before Chrysler realized that muscle cars were old hat and a PLC was the new hotness. In 1975, the fourth-generation Charger debuted in its new luxury form. Twinning its styling with the Chrysler Cordoba, the Charger was offered solely in SE trim for its first year. Engines on offer were all V8s, in 318 (5.9L), 360 (5.9L) and 400 (6.6L) displacements. In its second model year, trims expanded to four: base and Sport versions were a rebadge of the old Dodge Coronet, while the SE and Daytona trims continued the Charger’s 1974 styling. Transmissions on offer included a three-speed manual or automatic, as well as a four-speed manual. Today’s SE has the mid-pack 360 V8 and an automatic.

Ford Elite

The rise of the PLC market necessitated a product expansion from Ford. The company needed something nicer than the Gran Torino, but less expensive than the top-flight Thunderbird, to satisfy the middle market. Thus in 1974, the Gran Torino Elite trim was introduced. For the first year, it was advertised separately to the Gran Torino, but for all other purposes was still a trim of that model. Ford classed it up from its originally planned name: Gran Torino XL. In 1975, the Elite dropped its prefix and became an independent model. Engines ranged from a 351 (5.8L) V8 to a massive 460 (7.5L), and all cars used the same three-speed automatic. 1976 was the final year for Elite, as a product shakeup occurred in ’77. The shrunken LTD II-based mid-size Thunderbird absorbed the customer for the Elite, and it was thus dropped. Today’s Elite has the middle option 400 (6.6L) Modified V8.

Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme

The Cutlass Supreme was an early entrant into the PLC field, introduced in 1966 as the top spec of the Cutlass range. Like the Elite it was initially a trim of the Cutlass, but unlike either of the other vehicles here, the Supreme name was applied to multiple body styles. A new generation for 1973 limited offerings to a two-door coupe and four-door sedan. The new version included a unique roofline reserved for the Cutlass Supreme coupe. In 1976 the Cutlass Supreme was reworked visually, gaining the quad square headlamps which would take Oldsmobile through all of the Eighties. A pinnacle-tier Brougham trim was added to the Supreme name, creating the model’s ultimate luxury variant. Engines on offer ranged from a 231 (3.8L) Buick V6 through a 455 (7.5L) Oldsmobile V8. Transmissions were of three speeds in manual or automatic guise. A five-speed manual was eventually available, but only with the 260 (4.3L) V8. Today’s Supreme utilizes the familiar 350 (5.7L) Olds V8 and an automatic transmission.

Three luxury coupes, all of them bringing mid-Seventies driving bliss. Which goes home with a Buy?

[Images: seller, Ford, Dodge]

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