The late 60’s and early 70’s were the first golden age of muscle cars. (I say first, because I think we’re entering a new one with ponies like the Mustang Boss 302 and the upcoming Camaro ZL1.) It was an era of over-the-top car features- speedbump scraping chin spoilers and big, functional flank scoops more at home on the fighter jets of the era. Hoods were always a platform for aesthetics, getting scoops of their own, big fat racing stripes to match the tire patterns their cars laid down, and once in a while, the single-eyebrow-raising smirk of the dash-mounted tachometer.
Many cars of the area didn’t even get tachometers in the factory, their manufacturers trusting their customers to just know when to shift. Tachs of the day were usually only offered on special sport trim levels, so their owners could impress their girlfriends best friends with their redline capabilities. If this wasn’t you, you simply fitted an aftermarket tach to your steering column for all your imagined female awe-inspiration.
I remember when I saw my first hood tach. Now, I was born in 1984, so bear with me. I was at a Plymouth, Indiana car show with a good friend of mine. A huge Pontiac fan, he spotted a 1971 Firebird Formula and made a beeline for it. At first I wondered what the strange little backwards and lopsided hood-scoop was, until I came around to look through the windshield and saw a tachometer staring me in the face. It was a kind of Hitchcock moment for me- so subtle, so cool, and fully functional.
Apparently it was an aftermarket addition, but some GM’s came stock with hood tachs. They started things in 1967 with the Pontiac Firebird Sprint, a 215 hp six-cylinder with a four barrel carb. The 3.8 liter Sprint package was designed as a smaller, lighter version of the Camaro brand available in a convertible and a coupe. Also in 1967, Pontiac offered the hood-mounted tach as an option for their horned beast, the mighty GTO 400.
Buick wasn’t always a brand known for their mediocre styling and slow-hogging of the passing lane (a reputation they seem to be trying to shake with their newer, impressively fast, turbocharged cars). Believe it or not, they used to make beautiful, ground shaking muscle cars. And for 1970 they crafted a masterpiece, the GSX Stage 1, which Motor Trend called the fastest muscle car they’d ever tested. Technically classified as the Buick Gran Sport GSX Stage 1, the 455 engine and 4 bbl. carb cranked out a staggering 360 horsepower, and yes, it sported an angry little hood tach. It’s also interesting to note that in those days, the GSX was only available in “Saturn Yellow” or “Apollo White,” and a pair or massive black racing stripes were mandatory. I guess it was just a time when designers had more say than customers, which might not have been a bad thing.
The name “Jeepster” usually conjures images of a post-war America taking a well-deserved nap on a sudden, new-found prosperity. Mornings were quiet, jobs came easy, and gas was bought with spare change. The original Jeepster trundled along under the power of a 62 hp straight four, and was only produced from 1948-1950. But in 1971, it came back into town, and it had been spending some time in the gym. For a rare, extremely limited production run, the Hurst shifter company produced a supped-up version of the Jeepster with a 225 engine and 160 hp. A muscle Jeepster may sound strange, but it was the Age of Muscle, not unlike the current Age of the Hybrid, which has spawned oddities like hybrid Porsches and Ferraris. In keeping with the styling of the day, the Hurst Jeepster sported a pair of racing stripes, a hood scoop (of dubious functionality), and, of, course, a dash-mounted tachometer. It has since become a collector’s car, spawning many CJ rip-offs homages.
These days, most muscle cars come standard with in-dash tachometers, usually supplanted by massive, clock-faced aftermarket tachs which sprout shift lights and USB ports. But aftermarket hood-mounted tachs are still available to those looking for that unique, turn-of-the-decade look that was the envy of the muscle car world. Unsurprisingly, these new, high-tech hood tachs have found a great popularity among owners of the new generation of the Pontiac GTO.
This is by no means comprehensive. Again, I was born in 1984. What other notable hood tachs do you remember?
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.