Topps “Autos Of 1977”: A Set That Flies WAAAAAAY Under The Radar

I was at a show recently and picked up several cards from the 1976 Topps “Autos Of 1977” set.  (I don’t actually own a wax pack or the wrapper, this is just an image I borrowed from an auction website).
1976 Topps Autos Of 1977 Pack

Never heard of this set?

That’s OK, I hadn’t a clue of it’s existence until this past November. Here’s how it played out…

I had been shopping on COMC, and had already gone through all the cards I could find from my wantlist. Since there was a promotion going on, I decided to start poking around on the site, and I began to look at non-sport sets from the 1950’s through the 1970’s, just to see if anything caught my eye.

That’s when I ran across cards like this one, listed under the heading “1976 Topps Autos Of 1977”:
1976 Topps Autos Of 1977 Gremlin X

…And my jaw dropped.  Here was a Topps set from when I was 11 years old and in one of my most enthusiastic periods of buying just about anything that came in wax packs…

And I had never even heard of it.

In 1976, I bought packs of baseball, football, hockey, Wacky Packs… even the occasional pack of “Welcome Back, Kotter”.  I was (and still am) also interested in cars. I cannot for the life of me imagine that I would have seen a pack of cards like the one above and not bought at least one pack.

…And yet, here they were, eluding me for nearly 40 years.

I started to feel better about my cluelessness when I tried to research this set and found little information about it.  The most informative article I could find about it didn’t come from a hobby publication or blog, it came from Hemmings Auto News.  Hemmings didn’t share any information beyond what one can determine from having the cards in hand coupled with a little knowledge of the auto industry.  There were 99 cards in the set, with both the photo and card back information apparently provided by the manufacturers.  Very few cars from the 1977 model year are considered classics, which goes a pretty long way towards explaining why there was never a follow-up set.

At this point I decided I’d go talk to the owner of a semi-local card store that specializes in gaming cards and non-sport cards.  He’d been helpful to me before, and I thought there was a decent chance that he’d have some of these cards and would know something about the set. He didn’t know what I was talking about from my description, so he went in the back, dug out a non-sports price guide from the 1980’s, found the listing for the set and, after seeing the thumbnail that went with it, stated “I have never seen these cards before”.

It was right around this point where my brain snapped and I knew that I MUST!  HAVE!  THESE!  CARDS!

But even my base urges have budgets… There were a few of these out on COMC, but while they may have been appropriately priced for the apparent rarity of this set, it was more than I wanted to spend.  I also had certain cards in mind, ones that featured cars to which I had an emotional attachment.

While at the recent show, I found a dealer who had a number of singles in EX/MT condition for $2 each.  I went in with a wantlist of 5 cards, and ended up buying 9.  Here are some of the highlights of that purchase.

Numero Uno on my wantlist was the Ford Granada… The majority of people would have no interest whatsoever in a 1977 Granada, and I would be among them except that the very first car I owned was a 1976 Granada (a.k.a. “The Grenade”).
1976 Topps Autos Of 1977 Granada
Mine was a four-door, and by the time it came to me it had body damage and 100,000 miles, but it was still pretty much what you see here. It was not a particularly good car, but it was my FIRST… and you know what they say about your first.

I haven’t shown the back of the cards yet… Here’s the back of the card for my beloved Grenade.
1976 Topps Autos Of 1977 Granada back

My Granada didn’t come with “Fingertip speed control” or a “Power operated sun roof”… But it was equipped with an “alternate emissions outlet”, which some of my less-insightful neighbors may have regarded as “a hole in the exhaust system”.

When the Granada first came out, Ford tried to pitch it as being similar to a Mercedes but at a fraction of the price… And you knew it was true because a somewhat-chagrined-looking German man in a white lab coat told us so… Or at least we think he told us, he was speaking in German.  He may have been telling us that he’d misplaced his car keys.

My father drove a 1973 Pinto for a while… very much a commuter car for him.  His was brown. Cars used to come in colors like brown and green, and not just white, black, grey, silver, graphite, charcoal, gunmetal, metallic mist and pewter.
1976 Topps Autos Of 1977 Pinto Runabout
The Pinto was not likely my father’s first choice, but there was a gas crisis at the time, and concessions needed to be made.

Before I even got my driver’s license, I spent a lot of time riding shotgun in my friend’s Monte Carlo. His Monte came with an 8-track tape player! Ooooh!  Truth be told, even at that time 8-track was well on it’s way to being dated technology, but when you’re just out of high school, you take what you can get.
1976 Topps Autos Of 1977 Monte Carlo Landau
If you look closely at this car, it’s got rectangular headlights… It seems laughable now, but at the time rectangular headlights were something approximating “cutting edge”.  “Headlights of a shape other than round?  What wizardry is this?!?”

When going through the stack of cards at the show, I felt that I HAD to get a VW Beetle, one of the few cars from the period which would still have some appeal.
1976 Topps Autos Of 1977 Beetle
I feel I should point out that Topps misspelled “Volkswagen” throughout this set.

Despite what I’ve shown you so far, there are cars in this set other than sedans and economy cars…  There are some Camaros, Corvettes, Alfa Romeos, Mercedes, Porsche 911s and Triumph TR7’s… But at least for this go-round, I stayed mainly with cars which had significance to me… And I didn’t know anybody at the time who owned a Porsche or Corvette.

And to be fair, I didn’t know anyone who owned a Chevy Vega Estate Wagon… But I was just amused to no end that Chevrolet would take a low-end economy wagon and try to make it seem impressive by calling it an “estate wagon”. I don’t think you found any Vega Wagons on an estate… well, not any Vega Wagons belonging to the owner of the estate.
1976 Topps Autos Of 1977 Vega Estate Wagon
Before you move on, make sure you take a moment to appreciate the fine wood grain which gives this Vega a touch of class… and because I am a child of that era, I don’t find the simulation of wood through the use of a large vinyl decal to be completely ludicrous. We had some odd ideas about cars back then.

So there you go, that’s most of the cards I got and all of the information I know.  Was this a regional test issue?  A normal set that flopped in a big way?  I have no idea.  If anybody can contribute any information I’ll update the post and give credit where credit is due.

And to wrap up the audience participation portion of our program… What was your first car?  Do you have a favorite car from the 1970’s, even if – like mine – it wasn’t a particularly good car?

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10 thoughts on “Topps “Autos Of 1977”: A Set That Flies WAAAAAAY Under The Radar

  1. i remember this set and like you at that time I pretty much bought a pack of just about anything that was sold in my local queens, new york “candy store”. I was really into cars and I think I had a good chunk of this set. I sold all my miscellaneous non-sports cards in the 80s once I got on the card show circuit.

    My dad drove a 4-door Ford Granada until he got rear-ended and the car was totaled. My favorite cars from that era were the Pontiac Grand Prix and Buick Riviera.

    • Thanks for the info! I grew up out on Long Island, so it’s interesting that you bought the cards in Queens yet I never saw them.

      I always liked the Rivieras which had the funky roofline which went all the way back to the tail

  2. My first car? 1973 Pontiac Bonneville. I think it has about 2000 square feet under the roof — it felt like it, at least.

    And let’s be clear — those Gremlins were made in Wisconsin! :-)

  3. OMG! These are awesome! I had a brown ’72 Pinto. I bought it off a friend who was leaving college to enlist in ’76 I think. I paid him $300. A dude ran me over in a parking lot a year or so later and his insurance carrier offered me $1000 or $750 and I could keep the car with a ‘salvage title’. I drove it another year with the hood tied down with wire. Such a deal!

    I drove an orange Vega wagon for a courier service for awhile. Had a crap aluminum block engine that pretty much self destructed when it overheated.

    My first car was ’66 Malibu SS. Believe it or not I inherited it from my Grandfather who had only driven it for a couple of years. I drove it into the ground when I was too stupid to appreciate what I had. My father took it back, gave me his ’64 Impala and rebuilt the Malibu for my brother who proceeded to drive it into the ground a second time. Fun car!

    I need to find some of these cards.

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