The Rise And Fall Of Muscle Cars To Its Revival

When it comes to Straight-Line speed, none defines it better than muscle cars. The muscle car era is considered to have begun in 1964 with the introduction of the Pontiac GTO and the familiar Chevrolet Camaro. Most motorheads would know that Muscle cars have their origins in the United States of America.

Muscle cars have existed prior to the 60s thanks to the popularity of drag racing and production success of several defunct models from Oldsmobile and Chrysler. The American muscle cars during the 60s were pure power, massive to say the least,  and minimalist in design. During that era, the cars were fitted with V8s and rear-wheel drives, as well as purposefully built light. Needless to say, they instantly became well-received by motorheads in the U.S.A.

We start this article off by paying a tribute to the Pontiac GTO, a car which kicked off a golden era for muscle cars in the States. The GTO was powered by a 325 hp 6.4-liter V8 and it sold for just USD 3,200 in 1964. Sales for the Pontiac GTO went six times better than expected in its first year. The GTO spawned other big American makes, predominantly GM to build their own muscle cars such as the Oldsmobile 442 and Chevrolet Chevelle SS.  Ford was the next to derive a muscle car of its own, which would become an icon till today; it was the Mustang Shelby GT500. Chrysler followed suit by producing the 1967 Plymouth GTX, 1968 Plymouth Road Runner, 1968 Dodge Charger and ’68 Plymouth Barracuda.

With the big players involved in the race to be the best muscle car manufacturer on American landscape, the competition between them led to a horsepower war that peaked in 1970, with some models going up to as much as 450 hp. GM made a 7-liter big-block Chevrolet L72 which would later be the Chevelle in 1969. Sadly by the early 70s, muscle cars’ popularity went on a steep decline due to economic and governance reasons like; the Clean Air Act, the fuel crisis and high insurance costs.

Since the golden era of Muscle cars of the 60s and 70s, several models have remained in production into the mid-90s including the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, but it was not until the 2000s, that they were bought back to life with a vengeance with Challenger, Mustang and Camaro returning to their legendary predecessors roots. 

The Ford Mustang, for example is now into its 6th generation, from 1965 till present. The latest incarnation of the Mustang is the Mach 1, which was released in January 2020. This special edition, newest horse in the stable came back after a 17-year hiatus. It slots just below the Shelby GT350 in the model line-up. It’s got a 5.0-liter, cross-plane crank V8 that’s found in the Mustang GT, but tuned to put out a claimed 480 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque.

The Dodge Challenger is now into its 3rd generation. This muscle car from Dodge started in 1970, The third generation has been around since 2008 and reworked between 2017-2019. The Dodge Challenger SRT, in limited quantity, made its debut as a production drag racing car. It’s got lightweight parts, a single seat, drag radials and a beefed up engine – a 6.2-liter with 2.7-liter supercharger to hit a staggering 840 horsepower.

The Chevrolet Camaro, is course most well recognized by younger audience of today with its appearances in Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise. There are six generations of the Camaro with the first generation sought-after between ’67 – ’69 and the latest from 2016 till present. The 6th-generation Camaro is lighter and more powerful, as well as better than its rivals’ Mustang and Challenger. The top-of-the-line Camaro SS takes up a Corvette C7’s 455hp 6.2-liter V8, while the Camaro LT’s 3.6-liter V6 option does 335 hp for a lesser price tag. This generation’s Camaro also features a four-cylinder 2.0-liter engine as the staring variant, for the first time.  

Excerpts from the New York Auto Show

Camaro’s history caranddriver.com

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