What’s So Great About Muscle Cars?


I know I’m out of step with car lovers everywhere, but I’ve never understood the visceral, some would say Neanderthal, appeal of the muscle car (MC). Back in the days of the GTO, when young and old were talking Hurst shifters and hood scoops, I kept thinking, “What is this about? It’s still Detroit iron with a big motor that only goes well in a straight line.” I liked, and still like: sports cars, hotrods, and one-offs; Cadillacs, hearses, and limos. Vehicles, that is, with a distinct purpose.

Now comes a new generation of MCs that makes even less sense. The new Challenger, Camaro, and Mustang (CC&M) are getting all kinds of media attention, and people want to buy these dumb beasts because they either hold some quirky nostalgia for the ‘60s or mistakenly think of them as “performance cars.”

Taking a big engine and putting it in a heavy sedan chassis (with lousy brakes and handling) doesn’t make a performance car. Yet this same process goes on with the new, reskinned CC&M, at a time when Big Power is supposedly on the way out. The new Camaro (18 mpg, city) beat Honda’s Insight 2 to 1 in sales for May. How will the Obama administration read that development?

These cars won’t even meet government fuel-economy standards in a few years. An interesting article (the accompanying video is above) offers ways to get these behemoths into compliance, including lighter materials and smaller, more economical engines.

But I think the traditions of the CC&M are far too strong, and if transformed, they wouldn’t be anything like the same cars. So by 2016, the deadline date for emissions targets, they will die and—like their prehistoric forbears—turn themselves into pools of oil.

I know, you all love your GTOs and Mustangs. Well, how are they going to fit into the new world of global warming, oil independence, downsizing, and eco-transport? In fact, how are all of us car lovers going to fit into that world? Hit us with some ideas.



  1. For once (or twice) I agree w/ J. Goods. Muscle cars are about as interesting as drag racing, compared to road racing. Which is to say, of passing interest, but not much.

  2. Of course muscle cars have a purpose: to get from one stop light to the next as fast as possible. My MGB sucks in acceleration, but cornering is another story. It’s not a muscle car, it’s a sports car. It, too, has a defined purpose.

  3. Thanks! I’d like to add that as far as fitting into the world of econo/oil/eco/global warming…ain’t gonna happen. Muscle Cars embody that ethereal American fascination with breaking the law with a smile on your face. If the manufacturers stop making them, Americans will simply go back to making them in their driveways, same as they always did. And as long as Nascar and dragstrips and Monster trucks continue to glamorize the speed and noise and adrenaline factors, you can be sure MCs will be around for a long time. Some kid in 2020 is going to take an old Ford Crown Vic and drop a 1200 hp Cummins supercharged diesel in it so it, and no one will be surprised. Hm, that has possibilities…

  4. @Norm
    Norm, you make a good case, maybe the best case, for the MCs. Thanks for writing. Hell, I don’t understand bungee jumping or kick boxing either!

  5. Wow, it’s hard to know where to begin. One of the great appeals of a real muscle car is it’s notable lack of sophistication. It isn’t over-engineered, over-designed, or meant for mom and pop. As such, it fills an admittedly adolescent need for raw, unrefined (some would say uncontrolled) power. That’s it in a nutshell… raw power. Too much power to control. Too much power to use in any reasonable way.

    If you don’t like that sort of thing, that’s cool. Sure, these cars have no real purpose. Neither does bungee jumping or kick boxing. And to be honest, a muscle car with a ‘defined purpose’ is no longer a muscle car, in my opinion. My 66 GTO does not do corners…and I don’t care.

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