The Cessna 170 was a very credible effort by Cessna Aircraft to market a plane after the Second World War when the used airplane market was swamped with surplus aircraft of practically all sizes, shapes and abilities. One thing not available on the surplus market was an economical, four seat aircraft, and thus the Cessna 170 was born. Initial versions of the Cessna 170 had fabric covered wings, but soon it became an all metal, aluminum aircraft which was a relatively new concept in light, private aircraft. Later it became the 172, which has become the most produced aircraft ever. Light plane manufacturers after the war were very conscious to market the metal aircraft aspect of their designs, so 170s, 172s, 180s, 190s, 195s, Navions and Bonanzas were frequently seen with polished aluminum exteriors. Many contemporary aircraft have been restored to this finish.
Perhaps the secret to the 170 and 172's success is that while they don't excel in any particular performance category, the do so many things well enough that they are appealing to a wide spectrum of flyers. They are not STOL planes per se, but they have very good short field performance, they aren't speed demons, but are decently swift, they're not load haulers, but they can take four people into the air without much adieu. If you want a faster plane, you can buy a Bonanza, a STOL plane, a Super Cub, a hauler, a Cessna 206 and so on. If you want a plane that won't do any of these things but is a perfect blend of the aforementioned planes, the Cessna 170/172 is a hard one to pass up. In addition, Cessna aircraft parts are still widely available for the 170/172 series airplanes.
170s and early 172 used Continental 0-300 six cylinder engines that produced 145 hp. Conversions exist to upgrade these airplanes to more modern Lycoming four cylinder engines, most notably, the ubiquitous O-320 and O-360 series. The Continental engines were generally reliable and smooth engines, but they are not as well regarded as the aforementioned Lycomings. 170s and early 172s with Lycoming conversions demand a premium on the used market.
Cessna 172s are often found in the bush (as well as everywhere else!) and some of these planes have been converted to conventional landing gear. The conversion is offered by several companies and is not incredibly expensive considering the change it makes in the aircraft. Floats are available for 172, though the plane tends to be a little underpowered for heavy duty float operations. Being the most produced airplane ever, there are literally hundreds of other modifications available for the 172, some of which are applicable to the 170 as well.
The 170 and 172 are very honest flying aircraft with no vices. As mentioned, they are solid performers but do not excel in any particular performance aspect. Cruise speeds are typically in the 110-130 mph range and stall speeds are low for a plane that does not utilize any high lift devices. Watch this cool Cessna 170 landing.