A wise choice you made, to stay away from '70s Fenders, young Skywalker.
As said, Fender's downhill started from '65, although "experts" say that '69 was the last goodie year, because they still used old parts/old working methods then. '70s was dismal, and 1979 is widely considered to be the worst year for Strats. In the early '80s Fender started to put some effort into their products again, which resulted in decent "high end" strats around '82-'84.
A vintage Fender collector once said in a magazine, "All the best old guitars, the real keepers, are out of the market already. Only the bad ones keep circulating anymore".
Give the Mexican strats a shot. Many people love them, and say that the quality of the best individuals is darn close to Americans, only the price tag has a lower number. And you can always put Kinmans in make them sing. Some say the Standards are not as good as the Classics, but I think you should go out and try them. That's what I'm gonna do.
I hear another cool axe is Jimmie Vaughan strat, med-jumbo frets and Texas special pups, and the list price is something like $650...