Origins: The Muscle Car


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Muscle cars, it is generally agreed, can be blamed on Oldsmobile. That's right. The dowdy "This is not your father's Oldsmobile" kind of car started the muscle revolution in 1949. Oldsmobile took an intermediate car and replaced the V-6 engine with a high compression overhead V-8 for more power. From Musclecars magazine, “The idea of putting a full-size V8 under the hood of an intermediate body and making it run like Jesse Owens in Berlin belongs to none other than Oldsmobile…” Looking to start and capture a market, Chrysler introduced the C300 in 1955. Advertised as the most powerful car ever sold, the C300 came out as a limited edition with a 300 bhp engine. Driven with the pedal to the floor the car reached 60 mph in 6.9 seconds and could reach speeds up to 130 mph.

Moving forward, Ford and Mopar's battle in drag-racing in the early 1960s led to an increased production muscle cars. Ford turned out its 7 L Thunderbolt engine and Mopar turned out its 7 L hemi engine. The Pontiac GTO with its 6.4 L engine became its own model in 1966. This car was developed in a special division lead by John DeLorean who broke corporate rules to put this car on the market. This car was an answer to the Dodge Polera and the Plymouth Barracuda. These high performance cars attracted young people to the showrooms, but they ended up buying the more sedate street models. This lead the auto manufacturers to come out with a more compact, economic model of the muscle car. These models included American Motor's (the 4th car company) Rebel Machine, Plymouth's Road Runner, Dodge's Super Bee, Ford's Torino, and Chevy's Chevelle.

Muscle cars were also produced in Australia (the Holden HG Monaro), the United Kingdom ( Capri 300GT), and South Africa (Firenza CamAm). But, the end was near.

The engine size for the muscle cars peaked around 1970. Muscle cars had obtained a status of being dangerous as traffic fatalities occurred with car owners drag racing their cars and speeding on roadways with cross traffic. Most owners found themselves paying much higher insurance quotes. Further, the gas embargo of 1973 made these cars extremely expensive to drive. In addition, beginning in 1970, car manufacturers were required by law to increase their mileage and reduce pollution. The heaviest polluters and the cars with the worst gas mileage were the muscle cars. Another issue that effected these cars was the impending phaseout of leaded gasolines. The muscle cars of the 1970s were not designed to run on lead proof gas. Between the laws and the desire from consumers for more affordable cars, these behemoths were pulled out of production. Cars became smaller and smaller as imports and higher fuel economy became a necessity.

Beginning in the late 1980's and 1990's, muscle cars of a sort made a return. Based on more efficient engines and less weighty bodies, pony cars, smaller, sportier versions of muscle cars, returned. This led in the early 2000's to the return of some of the muscle car brands including Thunderbird, Camero, and Charger. Gas prices stabilized during this time, and since these cars were better designed, higher insurance quotes were not necessarily a given. The public had tired of small cars.

Once again, however, a spike in gasoline prices to almost $4.00 per gallon has led to a decrease in production and sales of large cars. Along with the recession of 2008 and the increase in hybrid cars, the new muscle cars are being driven out of production once again.

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2 Responses to “Origins: The Muscle Car”

  1. Origins: The Muscle Car | CarZi | Muscle Car Guys said on November 28th, 2011 at 9:44 am

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