Malaise Motors Is Your Safe Space to Love Cars That People Hate | Autance

Malaise-era cars haven’t had a huge fanbase, but it does exist!

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Malaise Motors Is Your Safe Space to Love Cars That People Hate | Autance © Malaise Motors Is Your Safe Space to Love Cars That People Hate | Autance

Facebook car groups can be a hot mess. Half of them seem like they’re full of dunderheads asking the same easily Googleable basic questions, and the other half is full of know-it-alls who lambast anyone who doesn’t align completely with their tastes. It’s easy for a group to become toxic or boring, then fade away into nothing. Malaise Motors is, refreshingly, neither.

The Malaise Motors Facebook group is dedicated to cars from the “Malaise” era, which this group defines as 1972 to 1995.

What is Malaise, you ask? To make a long story short, the U.S. had a horrible air pollution problem in the 1960s and ’70s – smoggy air was a common sight in many American cities. The Clean Air Act of 1972, created to clear up hazy skies, introduced limits on how much pollution engines could emit. The side effect, though, is that these emissions restrictions also severely limited output from engines.

Los Angeles, July 15, 1978. From the Associated Press: “…The South Coast Air Quality Management District says even the worst smog is nothing compared to the foul blanket that used to cover Southern California in the 1970s.” – Image: Nick Ut/AP

Suddenly, a 350 horsepower V8 was now making 160 HP because the era’s automotive technology couldn’t really reconcile making power without making pollution. The group considers the mandate of OBDII, the universal computerized diagnostic system virtually every car made since ’96 has, as the end of Malaise. The group calls OBDII the “beginning the modern era of engine management and emissions control.”

Malaise Motors has nearly 10,000 members and have been on Facebook for five years now. This is one of the few groups that can get excited about a front-wheel-drive Cutlass Ciera coupe or grandma-spec Dodge Dynasty in earnest. Whether it has to do with appreciation, sourcing parts for these so-called unloved vehicles, or general tinkering with these cars, the group is always supportive. And no, people in Malaise Motors are not there ironically. If you do have any sort of disrespect towards the cars, or the owners of the cars, you’ll quickly be shown the door. 

Image: Dodge

A few months ago I had a quick chat with Bryan Davis, the group’s creator.

“I started MM on a total whim 5 years ago. I truly love all cars, from the brass era up to the present day. Like a lot of people who are now in early middle age, I grew up with “malaise”. I learned to drive in Mom’s k5 Blazer, I took road trips to the coast in my grandparents Lincolns and, when I was in high school I poured over car ads in old National Geographics from the ‘70s and ‘80s. The new cars they were advertising had, by the ‘90s, become cheap second-hand cars that I might afford. And I thought they were cool, Starions, Town Car Caddies with the V864, all were fascinating to me,” he told me via Facebook Messenger.

For me, I think Malaise-era cars need to be viewed in the proper context. Davis agrees.

“There’s nothing bad about “malaise era” cars, they were just the products of an industry that had to change under the outside influence of safety and emissions regulations. It takes years to bring a car to market, the government set a very high bar for manufacturers to hit. It’s a miracle that they did. What’s more, it forced developments in efficiency, handling, and NVH attenuation that might never have occurred otherwise, to say nothing of the improvements in air quality. The air in Los Angeles used to be yellow with smog. And I feel that now, decades later they can be appreciated for the change they represented in the industry,” he added. 

Image: Ford

I think he’s right. Automotive development, and the tech we have now, we take for granted – it did not happen in a bubble. Although maybe some of the cars from the Malaise-era are a bit sub-par compared, that doesn’t mean that they weren’t important. More pertinently, that doesn’t mean people can’t love them just as much as the new stuff.

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