I had the opportunity to fly one of the very first C177s back when they first came out. At the time, I had about 200 hours, most of it in Champs and Cessna 170s. It was a real hand full. The Cardinal was introduced back in 1968 as the 172 Skyhawk replacement. The first year they built nearly 1,200 airplanes! The original airplanes had several problems:
1. They were under powered - it had only 150 HP. Additionally it had 50 pounds less useful load and bigger fuel tanks than a C172, so it was very easy to overload.
2. The originally, the C177 had the "high performance" NACA 6400 series airfoil - the same one used on the Learjet. It's a great airfoil on the Lear, but it tends to build up drag quickly at high angle of attack and low airspeeds - not a particularly good trait for an airplane flown by low-time, step-up pilots. Additionally, the stall speed was higher than the Skyhawk's. The stall and rate of climb "book numbers" don't look too bad, but they were pretty "optimistic" - a common problem with light aircraft performance data from that era. In the real world, the airplane climbed very poorly under the best of conditions, and if the pilot got the nose up a little too high, the drag built up quickly and the climb rate sagged even more.
3. The "final straw" so to say, was the fact that the airplane was very sensitive on the controls - particularly in pitch. The stabilator had a tendency to stall in the landing flare, resulting in a sudden loss of tailpower which dropped the nosewheel onto the runway. Porpoising,wheel-barrowing, and bounced landings, and the damage they cause, were very common.
Overall, because of its tricky landing traits, overloading tendency, and doggy climb performance made it a real handful for the typical Skyhawk pilot.
To fix the problems, in 1969, Cessna recalled all of the 1968 C177s and modified the stabilator by adding slots to the leading edge. This cured the pitch and porpoising problem. In 1969 Cessna changed the designation to the C177A. This airplane had the stabilator slots and a 180 HP Lycoming. Additionally, there were a couple of aircraft modifiers who made a pretty good living retrofitting 180 HP engines into the 150 HP airplanes. In 1970, Cessna came out with the C177B. This was a 180 HP airplane, with a slotted stabilator and a new wing. The new airfoil was a NACA series 2400 similar to the Skyhawk's.
I've got quite a bit of time in the newer "B" airplanes (and the "RG" model too). The mods really made a difference and the newer airplane are very nice to fly. I hope this answers your questions.