How America Has Kept the Muscle Car Spirit Alive
"Muscle car" performance models are big on horsepower and have proved to have a lasting class for generations. No matter how combustion grows and diminishes and gains turbos and superchargers, there has been muscle.
Nostalgia is a powerful thing
Why is it that 50-year-old machines are still thought of as being so cool and sleek? True class doesn't have a shelf life, as they say, and the American muscle car boom of the late 1960s resulted in some of the best-looking vehicles to ever roll off an assembly line. These stylized performance vehicles have earned a romanticized place in our often idealistic view of the past. They were considered the gold standard of cool decades ago when new, and the effect has only blossomed since.
All about aesthetics, baby
Muscle cars get their name from the performance, but there's a better reason they're admired by people who have never even sat behind the wheel: The Look. The designers behind the classic muscle cars were entrusted with using geometry and visual design to suggest the feeling of heavy horsepower and high speed by a look alone. It was the era before concerns about fuel economy and safety, lead to computer and wind tunnel influenced boxes and bars of soap. If the muscular beauty of these machines is any suggestion, we'd say they succeeded spectacularly.
Prestige projects attract talented designers
It goes without saying that most owners of vintage muscle car aren't going to employ all the power they have available at full throttle, at least not often. But the automakers weren't pushing their specs for practical reasons, but rather as a way to come out on top of the competition on the track, and in advertisements. The high profile marketing fights meant prestige designers and engineers were attracted to getting their names associated with these projects for the publicity. Even though modern cars have specs that far outclass most muscle cars, an inspired design will continue to show the same cleverness and artistry for decades to come. Names like Larry Shinoda, Carroll Shelby, and Zora Arkus-Duntov are a vital part of what made these cars so special in the first place.
Canonized in music, movies and media
The cult of the American muscle car has been helped by a constant stream of healthy media worship. While rock n' roll from the 1950s onward often paid homage to these road demons, movies did their fair share by spotlighting them in action and chase scenes. The most notable example that comes to mind is the 1968 film Bullitt, starring Steve McQueen as a police detective with a distinctive green Ford Mustang 390 GT fastback in a riveting chase through the hills and streets of San Francisco. The late 1960s and early 1970s were full of car-centric films, with titles like Vanishing Point, Two-Lane Blacktop, Gone in 60 Seconds, Sugarland Express, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, and Eat My Dust.
The automotive market has changed considerably since the original muscle car era, but restomods and retro styled modern muscle are still very popular. The mass market may prefer smaller cars and SUVs, with emphasis on efficiency, but the classic muscle car spirit still has a niche. Modern incarnations like the upcoming Dodge Demon, and current Mustang and Camaro models reflect modern power, handling, and efficiency, while directly referencing the vintage style. Specialty shops also are remaking classic original muscle cars with modern LS or Hemi power, and upgraded suspension and brakes that give owners vintage flavor but with modern performance. Only time will tell how timeless the muscle car truly is, as the Baby Boomer generation age out of driving and the next generation of auto hobbyist make the scene.
Happy 4th of July!
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