The year was 1979. Gasoline prices were soaring, the U.S. was in a tense showdown with Middle Eastern extremists, Chrysler Corp. was awash in red ink but on the verge of a strong product revival, and Starsky & Hutch had come and gone from the screen as quickly as their tomato-red ’76 Ford Gran Torino muscle car. U.S. consumers were appalled to spend more than $1 for a gallon of gasoline. The aging Ford Pinto continued to sell well, as did other small, more fuel-efficient cars. The ...

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