A Guide to 1979 Cars

With fuel economy on the top of everyone’s minds, most of the best cars of 1979 were small, fuel efficient vehicles built by Japanese companies.
Written by Jacqulyn Graber
Reviewed by Jessica Barrett
Updated on Jun 16, 2022
The Toyota Corolla was known as the most reliable and favorite car of 1979—and, in fact, other brands struggled to hold a candle to the fuel-efficient vehicles Toyota pushed out that year.
1979 was marked by an oil crisis, which began on January 16th when Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in Iran. He cut oil production and reduced exports to the United States, causing gasoline prices to soar. The threat of a shortage caused drivers to ration their gas intake, and—practically overnight—drivers began giving up their gas-guzzling American cars for largely Japanese, compact, fuel-efficient vehicles.
In 2022, fuel economy is still on our brains, which means many of 1979’s top vehicles are still relevant today.
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The best cars of 1979

Whether affordable or luxury, most of 1979’s cars were small and fuel-efficient. Let’s take a look! 

The best car of 1979: Toyota Corolla 

KBB fair market range: $1,000 to $2,500
Powertrain: inline 4-cylinder, 1.6-liter, 75-horsepower engine, paired with a 3-speed automatic, or a 4-speed or 5-speed manual transmission
What makes it special: 
began manufacturing their compact (formerly subcompact)
way back in 1966, and it’s still going strong today. The 1979 version came in either a 2-door, 2-door-hatchback, 4-door-sedan, or 4-door-wagon, allowing buyers the flexibility to choose between something suited for singles or a bit more family-friendly. 
The Corolla got a major restyle in 1979, bringing a square-edged design, a simpler grill, and optional fuel injection—which drivers often prioritized because of its enhanced fuel and engine efficiency. 

The best luxury car of 1979: Mercedes-Benz 240D

KBB fair market range: ~$12,479.
Powertrain: OM616 naturally-aspirated diesel engine making 62 horsepower, paired with a four-speed manual transmission 
What makes it special: 
While most car buyers were shopping for small, fuel-efficient Japanese-made cars, some were still faithful to German engines. The
240D was part of their W123 line, the predecessor to the E-Class, which was produced from 1976 to 1985 and has been called the “most legendary” line-up of Mercedes vehicles of all time.
The 240D certainly wasn’t known for its speed—but, at that time, most drivers didn’t really care. What it was known for was its longevity and reliability; it had a diesel engine that would run well for an average of 350,000 miles. Divide the cost of ownership over each of these miles, and the 240D cost less per mile than just about any other vehicle on the road
What’s more? While most Mercedes sold in the U.S. at this time had automatic transmissions, the 240D maintained a sensible four-speed manual

The best family car of 1979: Toyota Corona 

KBB fair market range: $900 to $1,750
Powertrain: inline 4-cylinder, 2.2-Liter, 90-horsepower engine, paired with a 3-speed automatic or 5-speed manual transmission
What makes it special: 
Toyota was basically the manufacturer of the year, and the 1979 Corona was as fuel efficient as the rest of the lineup, while still being big enough for the entire family. Buyers could choose between a 4-door-sedan, 4-door-hatchback, or 4-door-wagon.
Even better, the gas tank could hold over 16 gallons of gas, meaning the car could drive quite the distance before drivers needed to refuel. 
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The best sports car of 1979: Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

KBB fair market range: ~$22,500
Powertrain: small-block, two-barrel 301-cid V-8, 140 horsepower engine, paired with a turbo Hydra-Matic 350 three-speed automatic transmission or upgraded manual transmission
What makes it special: 
While most drivers were concerned with fuel economy, there were still plenty of gearheads out there worried far more about their car’s coolness factor. The
Firebird Trans Am was the coolest car on the road, bar none. 
It had a much bigger engine than the Corvette, and most were seen in a sleek black with gold graphics. A three-speed automatic transmission was standard, but buyers could upgrade to the manual transmission and squeeze out an extra 20 horsepower. 

The best truck of 1979: Toyota Pickup Truck

KBB fair market range: $2,875 to $10,100
Powertrain: 1.6-litre 12R engine with automatic transmission 
What makes it special: 
Internationally known as the Hilux,
opted for a no-nonsense name for their United States truck—simply, the Pickup. In January 1979, the first four-wheel drive version was introduced, allowing the truck to meet the power and performance we love modern-day pickups for.

What cars came out in 1979? 

In 1979, many manufacturers rushed to redesign their existing vehicles to make them more fuel-efficient, in response to market demands that resulted from the sudden oil crisis. However, there were still a few brand new vehicles made available that year. Let’s take a look. 
Vehicle type
Fair market range
Chevrolet Citation
Compact car
A variety of 2.8-liter engines
$475 to $1,200
While Chevy was previously known for their big, boat-like vehicles, the Citation offered drivers a compact option to better compete in a market tainted by the ongoing fuel crisis.
Dodge Omni 024
Subcompact car
1.7 L Volkswagen I4 or 2.2 L K I4
$475 to $1,325
The 024 was a modified version of the already-popular Dodge Omni, produced from 1979 to 1982. This three-door hatchback coupe was lower and sportier, offering unique bodywork and front-end styling.
Ford Durango
Compact car
3.3-liter Thriftpower Six I6
This two-passenger coupe utility car was sold in limited production between 1979 and 1982 as a joint venture between Ford and National Coach Works in Los Angeles, CA.
Mercedes-Benz G-Class
Luxury SUV
A variety of inline-4, inline-6, and diesel engines
$102,000 - $141,000
Affectionately known as the G-Wagon, this four-wheel-drive automobile was originally developed as a military off-roader, until the civilian version was designed in 1979.
Suzuki Alto
Kei car
T5B two-stroke 539 cc three-cylinder engine
Like many kei cars, the Alto’s selling points included its low price and massive fuel economy. The Alto was originally produced as a derivative of the Fronte, but eventually gained so much popularity that it replaced the Fronte completely.
Volkswagen Jetta
Compact car
Varied based on local market
$850 to $2,000
Marketed as a small family car, the Jetta was designed to fill the sedan niche slightly above the brand’s Golf hatchback.

How to save money on used car insurance

If you’re in the market for a used vehicle, you probably won’t buy something as old as 1979—but you may choose to invest in a vehicle that was popular way back then! (Toyota Corolla—we’re looking at you.)
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