Classic Muscle Cars
I bought my first car in 1989 when I was 19 years old. It was a 1968 camaro. I was looking in the Sunday auto classified ads when I saw it, a 68 camaro for $1200. That was a good amount of money for me at the time. As soon as I saw it on the lot I knew I wanted it and as soon as I took it out for a test drive I knew it was going home with me. It wasn't in the best of shape when I bought it. The motor needed an overhaul among other things. That's the fun part about those old cars they were easy to fix and fun to work on. It seemed as if there was always something that needed to be done to it. Just when I got something fixed there was something else that needed my attention. I still have that car and I'm still in love with it. Over the years Ive gotten many offers for it and I always turn them down with the intent that I will someday fix it up. Like most people my biggest stepping-stone is money.
The term muscle car generally describes a mid-size car with a large, poweful engine (typically, although not universally, a V8 engine) and special trim, intended for maximum acceleration on the street or in drag racing competition. It is distinguished from sports cars, which were customarily and coincidentally considered smaller, two-seat cars, or GTs, two-seat or 2+2 cars intended for high-speed touring and possibly road racing. High-performance full-size or compact cars are arguably excluded from this category, as are the breed of compact sports coupes inspired by the Ford Mustang, the "pony car". Another factor used in defining a classic muscle cars is age and country of origin. A classic muscle car is usually but not necessarily made in the US or Australia between 1964 and 1975.
An alternate definition is based on power-to-weight ratio, defining a muscle car as an automobile with (for example) fewer than 12 pounds per rated hp. Such definitions are inexact, thanks to a wide variation in curb weight depending on options and to the questionable nature of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) gross hp ratings in use before 1972, which were often deliberately overstated or underrated for various reasons.
Another alternate definition involves a car's original design intents. Muscle cars are factory produced automobiles that have a larger engine than was originally planned for in the design and production phase of the original car. Examples of this trend can be found throughout American, Japanese, and European cars of all designs. This includes many cars that typically are not labeled as muscle cars, such as the B13 & B15 (1991-2006) Nissan Sentra SE-R & Spec-V, and excludes other cars typically labeled as muscle cars, such as the Dodge Viper.
The idea of installing a powerful engine in a post WWII mid-size car was introduced in 1957. The American Motors (AMC) Rebel showcased AMC’s new 327 in³ V8 255 hp with a 4 barrel carburetor (fuel injection was to be optional), thus making it the first American factory hot-rod hardtop sedan. The Rambler Rebel came with a manual or automatic transmission, and dual exhaust. The Rebel was promoted as the fastest four-door car in America from 0-60 mph and ran the quarter mile in 17.0 seconds. It was one of the quickest production automobiles at that time.
The popularity of the muscle car grew in the 1960s. Among these was the Pontiac Tempest. For 1964 and 1965, the GTO was an option package that included Pontiac's 389 in³ (6.5 L) V8 engine, floor-shifted transmission with Hurst shift linkage, and special trim. In 1966, the Pontiac GTO was no longer an option, and became its own model. The project, spearheaded by Pontiac division president John De Lorean, was technically a violation of General Motors policy limiting its smaller cars to 330 in³ (5.4 L) displacement, but it proved far more popular than expected, and inspired a host of imitations, both at GM and its competitors.
This marked a general trend towards factory performance, which reflected the importance of the youth market. A key appeal of the muscle cars was that they offered the burgeoning American car culture an array of relatively affordable vehicles with strong street performance that could also be used for racing. The affordability aspect was quickly compromised by increases in size, optional equipment, and plushness, forcing the addition of more and more powerful engines just to keep pace with performance. A backlash against this cost and weight growth led in 1967 and 1968 to a secondary trend of "budget muscle" in the form of the Plymouth Road Runner, Dodge Super Bee, and other stripped, lower-cost variants.
Although the sales of true muscle cars were relatively modest by total Detroit standards, they had considerable value in publicity and bragging rights, serving to bring young buyers into showrooms. Automakers saw these as halo models and some, such as the AMC Rebel Machine, were factory upgraded to be turn-key drag racers. The 1970 Machine even came with flamboyant and patriotic red, white, and blue reflective body graphics for maximum street and racetrack visibility. The fierce competition led to an escalation in power that peaked in 1970, with some models offering as much as 450 hp (and others likely producing as much actual power, whatever their rating).
The Dodge Charger, known for its appearance as the villan's vehicle in the movie Bullitt
The Dodge Charger, known for its appearance as the villan's vehicle in the movie Bullitt
Another related type of car is the car-based pickup. Examples of these are the Ford Ranchero, GMC Sprint, GMC Caballero, and one of the most famous examples, the Chevrolet El Camino.
Politics of the Muscle Car
The muscle cars' performance soon became a liability during this period. The automotive safety lobby, which had been spearheaded by Ralph Nader, decried the irresponsibility of offering such powerful cars for public sale, particularly targeted to young buyers. The high power of the muscle cars also underlined the marginal handling and braking capacity of many contemporary cars, as well as the severe limitations of their tires. In response, the automobile insurance industry began levying punitive surcharges on all high-powered models, soon pushing many muscle cars out of the price range of their intended buyers. Simultaneously, efforts to combat air pollution led to a shift in Detroit's attention from power to emissions control, a problem that grew more complicated in 1973 when the OPEC oil embargo led to gasoline rationing.
With all these forces against it, the market for muscle cars rapidly evaporated. Power began to drop in 1971 as engine compression ratios were reduced, high-performance engines like Chrysler's 426 Hemi were discontinued, and all but a handful of performance models were discontinued or transformed into soft personal luxury cars. One of the last hold-outs, which Car and Driver dubbed "The Last of the Fast Ones," was Pontiac's Trans Am SD455 model of 1973-1974, which had performance to rival most any other muscle car of the era. The Trans Am remained in production through 2002, but after 1974 its performance, like those of its predecessors and rivals, entered the doldrums.
While performance cars began to make a return in the 1980s, spiraling costs and complexity seem to have made the low-cost traditional muscle car a thing of the past. Surviving models are now prized collectibles, some carrying prices to rival exotic European sports cars.
Outside the US
Australia developed its own muscle car tradition around the same period, with the big three manufacturers Ford Australia, Holden (by then part of General Motors) and Chrysler Australia. The cars were specifically developed to run in the Bathurst 500 - then known as the Armstrong 500 (miles) race and later the Hardie Ferodo 500. These care were supercars in every sense of the word and were brimming with powerful engines and other racing options. The demise of these cars were brought about by the racing rules of the time being that 200 examples had to be sold to the general public before the car could qualify. In 1972 this rule came to a head and the Government stepped in to ban supercars from the streets.
Holden produced the famous Holden Monaro with a 307-350 Chev or 308 Holden, followed by the release of three high performance Toranas, the GTR-XU1 (1970-1973), SL/R 5000 (1974-1977), L34 (1974) and the A9X (1977). The XU-1 was originally fitted with a 186ci (3 Litre) triple carburetored 6 cylinder engine, later increased to 202ci (3.3 litre), as opposed to the 308ci (5.0 Litre) single quad barrel carburetored V8 in the SL/R 5000, L34 and A9X.
Holden Special Vehicles currently produces high-performance versions of various rear-drive Holden Utes, Commodore sedans and Monaro coupes including one model with AWD, fitted with high performance (400hp+) V8 engines, and are perhaps one of the closest contemporary equivalents to the classic American muscle car (excluding the AWD of course) - fast, exciting, but relatively crude automobiles (though with far more attention to handling, suspension, safety and exceptional brakes compared with the stock models).
Chrysler produced the R/T Valiant Charger from 1971 to 1973 when the R/Ts were discontinued, the dominant R/T models were the E38 and E49 with high performance 265 CI Hemi engines featuring triple webber carburetors. Chrysler apparently considered a high performance V8 program importing approximately 340 - 340 V8 engines from the USA.
The 1972 SE E55 340 V8 Valiant Charger
The 1972 SE E55 340 V8 Valiant Charger
Unfortunately this project never went ahead and the engines were subsequently fitted to the upmarket 770 model Charger. Initially this model was designated "SE" E55 340 (V8)and only available with automatic transmission, with a model change to the VJ in 1973 the engine became an option and the performance was watered down. All Chrysler performance Chargers were discontinued in 1974 with the exhausting of high performance 265 CI hemi and 340 V8s.
Ford produced the Ford Falcon GTHO Phase III of 1971 with a 351 Cleveland. Ford Performance Vehicles, turns out similarly uprated special versions of the Ford Falcon Sedan. The major difference being Ford offer a 350+ hp Turbocharged 4.0 litre I6 as well as their V8's.
Currently in Australia Ford and Holden are producing performance vehicles for example Holden has the 2 door GTO, the 4 door Club Sport and SS & SSZ Commodore. Ford Performance Vehicles (FPV) are producing the GT 4 door Falcons both Boss V8 and Turbo Charged sixes. The premier Fords are currently the BOSS V8 and Typhoon Turbo charged inline 6.
In the UK, the muscle car itself never gained a significant market, but it certainly influenced British manufacturers, with models such as the Ford Capri and Vauxhall Firenza directly inspired by American designs. Later, both Ford and Vauxhall continued the tradition of producing high performance variants of its family cars, though often these had more subtle styling than the traditional muscle car, though with some notable exceptions. The more European influenced hot hatch has largely occupied this segment of the market since the early 1980s. Vauxhall imported the Holden Monaro from Australia in 2004 and this could possibly be considered a muscle car as it is identical to the Pontiac GTO (which is a rebadged Monaro).
Modern muscle cars
In the US, General Motors discontinued its Camaro and Trans Am models in 2002 (along with the short-lived 1994-1996 Chevrolet Impala SS), leaving the Ford Mustang Cobra as the last surviving muscle car built in the states, Chrysler having discontinued its musclecars after 1974.
In 2004 the Pontiac GTO returned to the market as a rebadged Holden Monaro, imported from Australia. In the spring of 2004 Chrysler introduced their LX platform, which serves as the base for a new line of rear-wheel drive, V8-powered cars (using the new Hemi engine), including a four-door version of the Dodge Charger. While purists would not consider a station wagon (the Magnum) or a four-door sedan a muscle car, the performance of the new models is the equal of many of the vintage muscle cars of legend. Dodge has also been developing a new performance vehicle under the Challenger badge, which borrows styling cues from its older namesake. The prototype will be making its debut at the 2006 North American International Auto Show.
For 2003, Mercury revived its old Marauder nameplate, as a modified Ford Crown Victoria or Mercury Grand Marquis. Sales were poor, just like those of its 1970s predecessor, and it was discontinued after two years.
However, the last three years has seen an enormous increase of interest in The American Muscle Car. This has been greatly influenced by Hollywood. Movies like Gone In 60 Seconds (a remake of the original 1974 cult hit), Starsky & Hutch, and The Dukes of Hazzard has awoken the image of power when we think of Dodge, Ford, and Chevrolet.
This recent increase in popularity of the Muscle Car has been reflected in their price. A vintage '65 - '72 Muscle car can now cost as much as $100,000 and possibly more depending on availability, demand, and condition of the vehicle.
Detroit was quick enough to catch on to this phenonenon. In 2004 Ford the 'New' Mustang went on sale - this model very distinctly being a re-engineered '67/'68 edition. The other big names weren't long about jumping on the band wagon: Dodge has already un-veiled its new Dodge Charger and also the Dodge Challenger Concept Car has been given the 'Green Light' for production. Similarly Chevrolet recently unveiled their Camaro Concept. All these vehicles have distinct resemblance to the 1960's design but have introduced 21st century technology to their platforms.
Still, in recent years criticisms commonly brought against SUV's with large engine displacements have also been brought against modern muscle cars, as well. Ironically, the original muscle cars of the 60's were subject to the same arguments that criticise the SUV today. The point in question is the fuel consumption of passenger cars during a time of rising petroleum prices (see the "Transportation section of the Energy conservation article).
Today's Featured Article:
In the auto world, one of the most sought after events are classic car shows. This is usually one of those events where you can find lots of car lovers, aficionados, followers, and simple car enthusiasts. And because classic car shows are events where various kinds of people can simply stare, gawk, or even appreciate at all the unusual and really classic autos and vehicles, it would not be very surprising to see throngs and throngs of people during such events.
Just recently, another car show was successfully conducted. In Los Angeles' Sylvan Park, hundreds of car enthusiasts flocked to
Click here to read the rest of this article ...