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MUSCLE CAR HISTORY

 

Buying and Selling Hot Rods and Muscle Cars

 

Muscle car

A muscle car is a high-performance automobile . The term principally refers to American models produced between 1964 and 1971 .

Definition

The term muscle car generally describes a mid-size car with a large, powerful 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 and typically known as pony cars , although few would dispute a big-block pony car's credentials as a muscle car.

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 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 (1991-1994) Nissan Sentra SE-R, and excludes other cars typically labeled as muscle cars, such as the Dodge Viper .
 


Origin

Although auto makers such as Chrysler had occasionally experimented with placing a high performance V-8 in a lighter mid-size platform, and full-size cars such as the Ford Galaxie and Chevrolet Impala offered high-performance models, Pontiac is usually credited for starting the muscle car trend with its 1964 Pontiac GTO , based on the rather more pedestrian 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.

It 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. 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).

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 American 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.


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 ; Starsky & Hutch and The Dukes of Hazzard has re-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 phenonemom. 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 began production 2008. Similarly Chevrolet  un-veiled their Camaro in 2010. All these vehicles have distinct resemblance to the 1960's design but have introduced 21st century technology to their platforms.


 
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