Classic cars of the 1970s: anniversary edition


In part 4 in our classic car anniversary celebration, we’re looking at classics from the 1970s and their impact on motoring, style and popular culture. More specifically, classics turning 50 years old in 2022 – and boy are there a lot of them!

Panther J72 – 50th birthday

Suggested by Ray Bridges

Val Bridges, chairman of the Panther Car Club, kindly provided us with some background on these remarkable cars and the marque itself.

The Panther Westwinds car company was founded in 1972 and produced unusual and exotic cars, often pastiches of older models. Their first model was the J72 (conveniently named after its year of production), created in the style of the Jaguar SS100. Other models Panther produced in the 1970s include the Rio, based on a Triumph Dolomite, and the Lima.

Panther founder Bob Jankel had a family background in the fashion industry, but had previously studied engineering and was inspired to set up the Panther Westwinds company after a bullfighter in Spain offered him £10,000 for a Rolls-Royce he had rebuilt.

Panther J72 1972 classic car anniversary
A Panther J72, photo courtesy of the Panther Car Club

The design of the J72 was closely based on the pre-war Jaguar SS 100. The modern Jaguar engines available for the J72 required more cooling air than the SS 100 engines, so Panther installed additional air intakes above the bumper and on the side of the hood.

The luxury roadster appealed to a celebrity clientele, who favoured its exclusivity and looks. Only 368 units were produced, making the Panther J72 one of the rarest classics still in existence today.

Panther J72 drop down windscreen twin Brooklands aero screens
J72 with drop down windscreen and twin Brooklands aero screens, photo courtesy of the Panther Car Club





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Porsche 911 Carrera RS 2.7 – 50th birthday

It’s been 50 years since the 911 Carrera RS’s unveiling at the Paris Motor Show in October 1972. Motortrend called this ‘the car that made the 911 a legend’ – and solved the model’s racetrack dilemma.

While the 917 was beating out Ferraris at Le Mans, the 911 had a front-end lift problem, which aerodynamic expert Hermann Burst was brought in to solve. He wasn’t allowed to change the shape of the car and any solution had to be workable as a bolt-on to existing 911s.

Using sheet metal & wooden blocks, the engineers designed the “ducktail” rear spoiler, which in tests reduced lift, increased air cooling to the engine, and reduced drag. The Germans called it the ‘Entenbürzel’, from ‘Ente’, duck, and ‘bürzel’, rump.

It might have drawn some chuckles in prototype, but it did the job. Supercars.net say that the 911 Carrera RS 2.7 is ‘the model against which all subsequent high-performance 911s are judged.’

Porsche 911 Carrera RS 2.7
The Porsche 911 Carrera RS 2.7 was a formidable racer
First generation Honda Civic 50 years old classic car anniversaries
The first generation Honda Civic, via FavCars.com

Honda Civic – 50th birthday

How could we pass by the Honda Civic in our celebration of classics launched in 1972? A popular compact car, the Civic appeared at a time when smaller cars were gaining popularity. This grew from 1973 onwards partly because of the oil crisis and a need for more economical vehicle options.

The Civic was reliable and had great fuel economy; it could also run on leaded or unleaded fuel. The first generation had a 1,169cc, four-cylinder water-cooled engine, and the power for the base Civic model was upped several times before the end of the decade.

The Civic’s advertising strapline was ‘It will get you where you’re going’. You can’t say fairer than that for a car that’s sold nearly 20 million units since its launch!

Howards Motor Group have a lovely timeline of the Civic which you can visit here.

Mercedes S-Class - 50th birthday

The ‘flagship sedan’ of the Mercedes-Benz brand, the S-Class or W116 series, also celebrates its 50th birthday in 2022.

This model was built with a number of newly-developed safety features such as padding to the door trim, steering wheel, and the interior generally. Mercedes had also considered rainwater management, to help with driver visibility, and a first aid kit built into the rear parcel shelf.

Safety consideration aside, the luxury S-Class was a powerful and elegant model. A major design change seen in the early S-Class is the headlamp shape, which changed from vertically-placed (e.g. the W108) to horizontal, a shape that’s carried through later models. The engine sizes ranged from 2.8 to 6.8 litres, and the 450SE won ‘European Car of the Year’ in 1974.

Mercedes W116 S-Class 450 SEL classic car anniversary
A 450 SEL (W116) at the Frankfurt International Motor Show in 2013
Renault 5 1972 classic car anniversary
Renault 5 via bestcarmags.net

Renault 5 – 50th birthday

This ‘supermini’ front-wheel drive hatchback was an almost instant hit. The goal for the Renault 5 was to create a ‘voiture à vivre’, that would be suitable for all aspects of life.

Like its predecessor the Renault 4, the 5 was front-wheel drive, and its small and smart design alongside a vibrant advertising campaign ensured it success.

Designer Michael Boué, the man behind the Renault 5, sadly never saw the car in production, as he died a few months before the Renault 5 was launched right at the end of 1971. The car went on to become the best-selling car in France until it went out of production.


We can’t possibly fit every iconic classic born in 1972 into this piece, so keep your eyes peeled for a follow-up soon, and feel free to send us your suggestions below.

In our next anniversary edition, we’ll celebrate classics from the 1950s. If you have any suggestions for inclusions in this or a future classic car anniversary feature, we’d love to hear from you – just send us a message below!