Cruising Through the History of American Muscle Cars!
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The History of American Muscle Cars
Characterized by their 2-door coupe designs and larger-than-life engines for high-performance driving, muscle cars
are an iconic and long-lasting piece of America's automotive history. From the 1966 Plymouth Barracuda to the 1978
Pontiac Firebird Tans Am, the golden age of American muscle cars gave the world some of the most beautiful and
powerful rides to ever grace the pavement. Even though muscle cars are considered to be most synonymous with
the 60s and 70s, for good reason, they actually got their loud and raucous start with the hot rod subculture of the
1940s. It was hot rods that first popularized the idea of modifying vehicles to incorporate a larger engine as a means
to improve both speed and acceleration, a now defining trait of the American muscle car. But there are distinct
differences between the two-car classes and the world wouldn't see its very first authentic muscle car until 1949 with
the production of the Oldsmobile Rocket 88.
The First Muscle Car
Though there's much debate over which vehicle was truly the very first muscle car, many point to the Oldsmobile Rocket 88 as the jumping-off point. With the
Rocket 88, Oldsmobile was the first company to take a relatively small and lightweight body for the time, one that was 202 inches long and 75.2 inches wide,
and shove a V8 engine into it. Specifically, their brand new 303 cubic inch Rocket V8 motor. The result was something staggering. When the Rocket 88 hit the
market, it maxed out at a top speed of 97 mph and was capable of reaching 60 mph in just about 13 seconds. By today's standards that may not sound like
much at all. In fact, it may be considered almost laughable. For 1949 however, this was quite the feat. It caught the public's attention and, perhaps more
importantly, the attention of its competitors. By the mid-1950s, the Rocket 88 had been made obsolete by companies like Plymouth, Dodge, and Pontiac, who
had all released their very own overhead valve V8 cars that outperformed the 88 in nearly every category. Still, despite the eventual out performance by new
and emerging muscle cars, the Rocket 88 deserves credit for being the vehicle to jump-start the muscle car trend.
The Rise and Fall of the Muscle Car Era
By the 1960s, American muscle car fever had effectively swept the nation, thanks in large part to the popularity of drag racing. Though the early 60s saw its fair
share of impressive muscle cars, such as the 62 Dodge Dart and 63 Pontiac Super Duty, it didn't begin to hit peak levels until the release of the Pontiac
Tempest GTO in 1964. The Tempest GTO, contrary to its resemblance to Pontiac's earlier and more standard Tempest models, was a powerhouse under the
hood. It came with a 389 cubic inch V8 engine, 325 horsepower, dual exhaust pipes, chrome valve covers, a floor-mounted three-speed manual transmission,
wider wheels, and hood scoops. Even its name, GTO, stood for Grand Turismo Omolgato, which translated essentially means "racing approved" If that wasn't
enough, the car was surprisingly affordable at a mere $3,200. Due to its low price and impressive specs, Pontiac was able to sell more than six times as many
Tempest GTOs as it anticipated.
After that, the hits just kept coming. The late 60s and early 70s saw the rise of iconic muscle cars like Plymouth's Barracuda and Road Runner, the Chevrolet
Chevelle in 1969, and the AMC Rebel, also known simply as; The Machine, in 1970. Despite the nation's growing fascination with these high-performance
vehicles, the early 70s also saw the beginning of their decline. Due to regulations put in place by the Clean Air Act of 1970, automobile makers effectively had
their hands tied when it came to building more powerful machines. The horsepower began to fade away and, coupled with new safety standards that required
sturdier metals that significantly added to the cars & weight, muscle cars became significantly less impressive. Add on top of all that the 1973 fuel crisis and
muscle cars weren't just weaker, they were now wildly impracticable.
Muscle Cars Today
Since their decline in the 1970s, muscle cars have seen periodic resurgences over the years. The 80s and 90s saw V8 engines thrown into cars like the Camaro
Z28 and the third generation of the Pontiac Firebird. Then in 2004, Pontiac ushered in the relaunch of its classic GTO, although this particular model was met
with much disappointment. As the years went on, several other classic muscle cars would get relaunches for the modern era. These included the relaunch of the
Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS in 2006, the Dodge Challenger in 2008, and the 2009 Camaro which bears a striking resemblance to its 1969 counterpart. As for the
path to the future muscle cars, the road is unclear. Due to growing environmental concerns and the heavy fuel use of high-performance V8 engines, companies
like Ford and Chevy are continuing to explore electric options for the future of American muscle. Keep an eye out for the all-electric Mustang and Camaro that
have already been teased so you can decide for yourself if this where the future of American muscle truly lies.