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Evolution of Muscle Cars
The modern day muscle car has evolved and changed in almost every way imaginable. This is due to how the first muscle cars were built, constructed, and styled. In general classic muscle cars have had a long lasting effect on the way every single car is made, the styling of most cars in the modern age have drawn from the early & original designs of classic muscle cars. Some early muscle cars include: the Pontiac GTO, Ford Mustang, Chevy Chevelle, Chevy Camaro, Plymouth Hemi Cuda, Dodge Charger, Dodge Challenger , as well as the Plymouth Road Runner and so many more. All of these cars have many things in common, one of which is the most obvious. They are all american manufacturers. This is due to the fact that the need for fast cars started with prohibition in the 1920s.
Bootleggers were behind this whole adventure, they wanted to be able to outrun police vehicles. So in turn, they modified their cars in order to obtain this goal. As years passed, the prohibition ended and the Southern Moonshiners became very infamous for their transformed cars. They transformed their cars in any means possible in order to meet the demands of speed, handling, and cargo capacity. In the early 1940s these cars continued to be much more efficient. But, their business was nowhere near as profitable as it had been in the prohibition. So, these moonshiners began to start racing. These cars dominated the street racing circuits and in turn inspired the first muscle car. The Oldsmobile Rocket 88. The first american muscle car, the Oldsmobile Rocket 88, was an essential component of the car industry. This car was created to answer the sudden demand for fast cars in this time period. The Rocket 88 had a
high-compression overhead valve V8 in a light Oldsmobile shell. The shell was on the same platform as the Oldsmobile 76. Which was created to originally house a 6 cylinder engine. This dangerous combo created the definition of a muscle car. A muscle car was defined as a car with a light body and a powerful engine. The Rocket 88 had dominated the NASCAR races in 1950, which in turn escalated the craving for speed. After this point the muscle car industry took off throughout the 1950s. In time the Rocket 88 was soon surrounded by competition. The two main contributions to the industry were the Chrysler Corporation Hemi as well as the Chevy small-block V8 engines. The Hemi, still used today, is a series of V8 engines utilizing a hemispherical combustion chamber originally made by Chrysler in 1951. In simpler terms, this combustion chamber has the valves of the cylinders facing towards one another in order to improve the engines airflow capacity which in turn yielded a higher power output. The first hemi used in the 1955 Chrysler C-300, which gave the car 300 HP as well as its historic name. The small-block V8, which was made in 1955, was very important while developing lightweight muscle cars. The chevy small-block became a GM corporate standard and was used for almost 50 years. “Although muscle car sales were relatively modest by Detroit production standards, they hold a big place in classic car history. In 1964, there were Oldsmobile, Chevrolet, and Pontiac muscle cars, with Buick joining in a year later. Ford offered the Fairlane 500 and later the 428 CobraJet. Chrysler unveiled the 426 street Hemi engine in 1966, seen un the Dodge Charger, then later in the Plymouth GTX and Road Runner. Every U.S. car manufacturer began packaging a factory hot rod with youth-oriented advertising. Even safety-conscious American Motors Corporation joined in, offering the SC/Rambler and Rebel Machine (Classic Car History,
2014).” At this point in time, late 60’s and early 70’s, muscle cars were sold at an affordable price. Muscle cars were intended for occasional drag racing and street use. Though, the true origin of the FIRST muscle car can be debated. There is no question at all that they ruled the streets of America from 1964-1970. Very few people were concerned with gas prices, because premium gas was 35 cents-a-gallon.Cheap gas + cheap horsepower = exactly what the doctor ordered. True muscle car history begins with baby boomers coming of driving age and the States’ love for speed and competition.The popularity of “pony cars” and muscle cars grew vastly while Dodge, Plymouth, GM, and Ford were all battling for supremacy at the drag strips across the U.S. In the early 60’s, GM had a corporate policy where it stated that “intermediate cars” couldn’t have engines larger than 330 cubic inches. But, the policy didn’t apply to options, Pontiac bent the rules by advertising a 389ci equipped Tempest as a “special option” model. This, in turn, lead to the GTO project. “Lead by the Pontiac president John DeLorean, who “technically” violated GM’s policy but proved to be much more popular than expected. The sales success of the 389ci Tempest GTO prompted other car companies to use the same formula, and soon there were numerous imitators (Classic Car History, 2014).” This then led to the idea of the legendary Dodge Charger, sharing the same B-body platform of the Coronet. The Chargers long body rode atop of a 117 inch wheelbase. The front sheet metal fairly resembled the Coronet, but the Chargers grill was much wider, smoother, and introduced fully rotating, electrically operated retractable headlights. One of the major helpers that helped the 3,600 pound car look “sporty” were the wide fastback which went all the way across the rear bumper. Across the rear bumper, chrome block letters spaced across the tail lights spelling, Charger. Coming soon after offered as
an option package, was the Dodge Charger Daytona, introduced on April 13, 1969. From the wedge shaped nose to the 23 inch wing, the Daytona measured at about 18 feet long and was able to reach speeds unmatched by any other production car. The standard equipment included heavy-duty suspension as well as heavy-duty brakes. “The power of muscle cars underlined their marginal brakes, handling, and tire adhesion. In response, the automobile insurance industry added surcharges on all high-performance models, an added cost that put many muscle cars out of reach of their intended buyers. A majority of muscle cars came optioned with high-compression engines, some as high as 11.25:1. 100-octane fuel was common until the passage of the Clean Air Act of 1970, where octane ratings were lowered to 91. This was due in part of the removal of tetraethyl lead as a valve lubricant. Unleaded gasoline began to be phased im (Classic Car History, 2014).” This decline, was, in a way inevitable. The immediate demand for big, fast, and thirsty cars quickly dried up due to rising gas prices and hefty insurance premiums. Due to this, this made many buyers look at thriftier, more affordable Detroit compact cars and imported mini cars. Overall, the early muscle car industry went through many changes over the course of its prime. It went through constant ups and downs, where the downs were usually the longer more dramatic periods.
The muscle car industry as a whole is utterly fascinating from a marketing standpoint as well as many other reasons. Even as gas prices rose higher and higher and people frantically tried to find new cars to be able to afford gas as well as insurance. The manufacturers still stayed relatively calm, and kept pushing out muscle car after muscle car. They kept their marketing strategies very similar, making minimal changes because they knew that things would go back to normal, and they did. After Many odd and off putting oil situations the muscle car came back on the rise in the early 90’s. This just proves that being persistent and not giving up pays off. Because the manufacturers stayed calm they were able to continue changing the face of automotive history forever. If they had given up when things got tough, we would all be driving slow, boring cars. Nobody would want that. All in all, the muscle car industry has gone through countless changes all of which tended to have a positive outcome on the people of the United States.
“Muscle Cars Explained: History, Evolution & Buyer's Guide.” Gentleman's Gazette.
the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide. “How Muscle Cars Work.” HowStuffWorks, HowStuffWorks, 16 Jan. 2007.
“Hot Rods and Muscle Cars.” History, A&E Television Networks.
Robinson, Dick. “History of the Muscle Car Era.” The History of the Muscle Car Era | Muscle Cars and Trucks.
“How the American Muscle Car Grew Up.” CARFAX, 17 July 2018.
Naik, Abhijit. “History of American Muscle Cars.” WheelZine, WheelZine, 27 Feb. 2019.