The American muscle car craze started with the 1964.5 Ford Mustang. That’s the car that showed Americans that high power could fit into a small package, be inexpensive, and look good at the same time.
The Mustang gave way to a new era of loud-and-fast rear-wheel-drive two-door cars powered by V8 engines. They defined a generation of rebels and teenagers who wanted to live fast and drive hard. The cars were different from sports cars of the time, because they lacked the grace and sophistication of European cars. To put it simply, American cars overcame that lack of grace with pure, raw muscle.
Buyers ate them up for the better part of the next 50 years. But as buyers aged, muscle cars came to represent something different. Instead of symbolizing youth and rebellion, the cars started to represent lost youth and cheap power.
Today’s muscle cars are mostly just remnants of the past. In their heyday you’d never find a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine powering anything that came with the “muscle car” label. Now the most popular sellers in the segment use those small-displacement turbocharged engines. Granted, they can produce more power than the V8s of yesteryear, but they aren’t really muscle cars anymore. They are fast coupes.
Even the cars with V8 engines are now more sports car than muscle car. They are refined and sleek with advanced suspensions and traction control. They may harken back to the glory days of muscle cars, but only in their looks.
Personally, I view muscle cars as a phase. They represent the aspirations of teenagers and young adults with a need for speed. Some people never outgrew that phase, but did grow up enough to be able to afford a new car. American automakers have gladly catered to those people and built modern versions of the cars we loved as teens.
Back in the 1960s and ’70s, muscle cars were unique and stood out on the road. Today’s versions are so common they border on cliche. What’s the point of trying to stand out with a car that blends in with so many others?
I’ll concede the fact that the Charger/Challenger Hemi Hellcats buck the trend, but they also sell in the lowest volume. I think we’ll see the muscle car era fade and be replaced by American sports cars that can give Porsche a run for its money.
Do you think muscle cars are still relevant?