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CATEGORIES (articles) > Manufacturers > Mainstream > Run down of American Muscle Cars

Run down of American Muscle Cars

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


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.


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.

Outside the US

Australia developed its own muscle car tradition around the same period, though many were modified four-door sedans or low riding, rear drive pickups, known down under as "Utes" (short for utility vehicle), rather than two-door coupes. The most famous were the Holden Monaro with a 307-350 Chev or 308 Holden, the Ford Falcon GTHO Phase III of 1971 with a 351 Cleveland, the Valiant Charger with 265 (I6) or 318 (V8) Hemi, and the three highest performance Holden Toranas, the A9X, SLR5000 and the XU-1. The XU-1 was fitted with a 202 (3.3 Litre) Triple carburetor, I6 engine, as opposed to the 308 (5.0 Litre) single quad barrel carby V8 in the A9X and SLR5000.

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). Ford Australia has an equivalent operation, Ford Performance Vehicles, turning 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.

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).

In Germany Opel, which belongs to GM and is the non-British version of Vauxhall produced the Opel Manta. A muscle car that quickly became a pop-cult item and made its appearance in several German movies and TV shows.

In Italy, Fiat produced the Fiat Uno Turbo, which was a modification of the Fiat Uno, The Fiat Uno Turbo wasn't much big in size, but its acceleration and top speed made it become one of the Italian Muscle car rappresentant. An other Muscle car common in Italy was the Fiat/Autobianchi 112 70hp Abarth, it was a car even smaller then the Fiat Uno Turbo, thus made its low weight and its 70hp a tough opponent to beat. Lancia also built a muscle car, the Lancia Delta HF Integrale, that was also used in rally competitions.

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 Concept Car has been given the 'Green Light' for production. Similarly Chevrolet recently un-veiled their Camaro Concept. All these vehicles have distinct resemblance to the 1960's design but have introduced 21st century technology to their platforms.

American muscle cars

Road & Track identified the following models as "musclecars" in 1965:

  • 1964-1965 Pontiac Tempest Le Mans/GTO
  • 1965-1975 Buick Riviera Gran Sport
  • 1965-1969 Buick Skylark Gran Sport
  • 1965-1970 Dodge Coronet/Plymouth Belvedere 426-S
  • 1965 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu SS
  • 1965-1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442
Car and Driver also created a list of the 10 Best muscle cars for their January 1990 issue. They focused on the engines and included:
  • 1966-1967 Plymouth/Dodge intermediates with 426 Hemi
  • 1968-1969 Plymouth/Dodge intermediates with 426 Hemi
  • 1970-1971 Plymouth/Dodge intermediates with 426 Hemi
  • 1966-1967 Chevy II SS327
  • 1966-1969 Chevrolet Chevelle SS396
  • 1968-1969 Chevy II Nova SS396
  • 1969 Ford Cobra 428
  • 1969 Plymouth Road Runner/Dodge Super Bee 440 Six Pack
  • 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS454
  • 1969 Pontiac GTO
Other later muscle cars include the following:
  • 1968-1974 AMC AMX, AMC Javelin AMX
  • 1970-1971 AMC Rebel AMC Matador The Machine
  • 1970-1974 Buick GSX
  • 1967-2002 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 Camaro
  • 1965-1973 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454
  • 1958-1985, 1994-1996, 2000-present Chevrolet Impala SS
  • 1970-1972 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS454
  • 1963-1974 Chevrolet Nova SS
  • 1970-1971 Dodge Challenger
  • 1966-1974 Dodge Charger
  • 1968-1976 Dodge Dart GTS and Demon
  • 1969-1970 Dodge Daytona nose cone, goalpost wing
  • 1968-1971 Dodge Super Bee
  • 1966-1969 Ford Fairlane GT, GTA, and Cobra
  • 1964-1973 Ford Mustang Boss 302 Mustang
  • 1968-1974 Ford Torino (GT & Cobra)
  • 1967-1973 Mercury Cougar Cougar Eliminator
  • 1968-1971 Oldsmobile 442
  • 1964-1974 Plymouth Barracuda AAR 'Cuda
  • 1970-1976 Plymouth Duster
  • 1967-1971 Plymouth GTX
  • 1968-1974 Plymouth Road Runner
  • 1970 Plymouth Superbird with nose cone and goalpost wing
  • 1966-1971 Pontiac GTO

Australian muscle cars


  • 1968-1969 HK GTS (327)
  • 1969-1970 HT GTS (327)
  • 1970-1971 HG GTS (350)
  • 1971-1974 HQ GTS (350)
  • 1974-1976 HJ GTS (350)
  • 1976-1977 HX GTS (350)
  • 1977-1977 HZ GTS (350)
  • 1970-1972 LC GTR XU-1 (186)
  • 1972-1974 LJ GTR XU-1 (202)
  • 1974-1976 LH SL/R 5000 (308)
  • 1974-1976 LH SL/R 5000 A9X (308)
  • 1976-1978 LX SL/R 5000 (308)
  • 1976-1978 LX SL/R 5000 A9X (308)
  • 1967-1968 XR GT
  • 1969-1970 XW GT
  • 1969-1970 XW GTHO
  • 1971 XY GT
  • 1971 XY Phase III GTHO
  • 1972 Phase IV GTHO 4 door(only five made)
  • 1972-1973 XA GT hardtop coupe
  • 1973-1976 XB GT hardtop coupe
  • 1977-1979 XC GT hardtop coupe
  • 1977-1979 XC Cobra 5.8
  • 1977-1979 XC Cobra 4.9

The Valiant Charger performance variants, known as the RT Chargers, were:

VH model Charger R/T E37 Charger R/T E38 Charger R/T E48 Charger R/T E49 (Track pack and Big tank were options) Charger S/E E55 (340 cubic inch Chrysler LA engine) VJ model (R/T nomenclature dropped) were: Charger E48 Charger E49 Charger 770 E55

VH Charger R/T and available on VJ - lower ratio differential; six-inch rims; front anti-roll bar; a tachometer and an oil pressure gauge. "Six-pack" 265 ci engine with three two-barrel Weber carburetors E38 - higher compression ratio, different gear ratios, and 280 hp E49 - four-speed manual gearbox, 302 hp. Fully blueprinted engine ready to race. Charger S/E and 770 E55 - 340 ci. V8

CATEGORIES (articles) > Manufacturers > Mainstream > Run down of American Muscle Cars

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