In Feb. 24 IssueBy Ron Cowell, Columnist
Some automotive historians trace the beginning of the muscle car all the way back to when Oldsmobile stuffed a 303 cubic inch overhead-valve V8 into the 1949 Rocket 88.
The car produced a whopping 135 horse power. That's all it took to be king of the performance hill in 1949.
Performance continued to improve over the next 10 years. By 1955, Chrysler was on top of the performance hill with their classic C-300.
The C-300 was a big car but with the 300 horse power Hemi, it was the most powerful American car manufactured in 1955. The Hemi could propel the luxury car from zero to sixty in 9.8 seconds and it had a top speed of 130 mph.
The 1960's was the golden age of the muscle car. The decade started with cars build specifically for the drag racing crowd. The compact Dodge Dart promptly dominated the drag strip. Ford created the Thunderbolt from a stripped down Fairlane.
With its' fiberglass body boards and its' lack of all comfort features, it was a real runner. Quarter mile times in less than twelve seconds were common. Ford also offered 200 copies of a stripped down version of the Galaxies with a 427 cubic inch engine.
These were very limited production models and only a few copies were sold. The only muscle car offered to the masses during the early part of the decade was the Impala Super Sport with a 409 engine.
1964 there was the introduction of the Pontiac GTO. The GTO was the first of the classic muscle cars. It was an intermediate sized car and it came with a 389 engine. Performance was very acceptable with 0-60 time of 7.7 seconds and a ¼ mile time of 15.8 seconds. However, performance was only part of the success of the GTO. The secret to the GTO's success was the look were right, the performance was right.
Ford was the next manufacturer to produce a performance car. The Mustang changed everything.
General Motors quickly added the Chevelle Super Sport and Buick added the Olds 442 to its' muscle car list. Chrysler began stuffing Hemis and big blocks into everything they could. Chargers and GTXs all became legends.
The rare HEMI and the accommodating 440 big blocks were tearing up the roads. Ford had the Fairlane and the Galaxies for those wanting something a little larger than the original Mustang.
Plymouth quickly launched the Baracudda and even beat the Mustang to market.
By 1967 GM introduced the Camero and the Firebird. The next year AMC launched the XMX and the Javelin. Many consider 1970 as the pinnacle year for classic muscle cars.
Then things changed, fuel prices began to rise, the insurance companies started raising rates and the economy began to slow down.
By 1974 all the original muscle cars were just shadows of their former selves. Performance was no longer a consideration for the automotive customer was looking for fuel economy, not tire burning performance. The Cuda and Challenger were discontinued. The Chargers and Chevelles were now mid-priced luxury cars.
The only cars to continue the tradition were the Firebird and the Camaro. Although, they too were much less powerful than just a few years earlier
Nothing much happened until the Ford Mustang was reintroduced in 1979 as a performance model. In 1984 Chevrolet introduced a new Corvette. Performance was back.
The cars kept getting better and better and by the late 1990's these new muscle cars out did their classic muscle cars in every category. Performance, comfort, reliability and fuel consumption were all much better than they were in the 1960s.
Amazingly, no one cared. Sales were down across the board. GM even stopped production of the Camaro and Firebird in 2002.
In 2005 Ford redesigned the Mustang and for the third time, the Mustang changed the automotive landscape. Sales exploded and people loved the retro look.
At the same time, Chrysler developed a new line of rear wheel drive intermediates and the Charger with an optional HEMI engine was born. The muscle car was back.
Dodge followed up the Charger with a retro Challenger and Chevrolet is racing to re-introduce a classic Camaro. The muscle car is back.
That's it for this week. It won't be long before we start seeing Cruise Ins and Car Shows and these cars back on the street. Till next time, "Keep Cruisin."