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Muscle Car Stories : MUSCLE CARS: A Brief History
Posted by FikseGTS on 2008/9/22 17:30:00 (2949 reads)
Muscle Car Stories

While opinions on the exact origins of the muscle car vary widely, the car most often cited as the very first such vehicle is the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88, which was created as a response to an increased interest in speed and power from the general public. The Rocket 88 was the first car powered by the American built high-compression overhead valve V8 engine, but it also retained a lighter Oldsmobile body, thus setting a sort of "breed standard."

While opinions on the exact origins of the muscle car vary widely, the car most often cited as the very first such vehicle is the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88, which was created as a response to an increased interest in speed and power from the general public. The Rocket 88 was the first car powered by the American built high-compression overhead valve V8 engine, but it also retained a lighter Oldsmobile body, thus setting a sort of "breed standard."

Within a few years, other manufacturers were also offering performance engines, generally in spiffed up limited edition models, such as Chrysler's 1955 C-300 which blended the style and comfort of a luxury car with the power of a Hemi, and quickly became a NASCAR star. With the excitement the racing circuit was generating at the time, there also arose the risk of more serious accidents and injuries, hastening the arrival of performance car insurance for such high-risk endeavors. With 300 hp of power and the ability to accelerate from zero to sixty mph in under 10 seconds, the Chrysler 300 was also recognized as one of the best-handling cars of the era. It would be followed two years later by the Rambler Rebel, which Motor Trend magazine hailed as the fastest American stock sedan of its day.

By the dawn of the 1960's, both the popularity and the performance of muscle cars had grown, partly because of a battle for drag racing supremacy between Ford and Mopar (Dodge, Plymouth and Chrysler). By 1964 Oldsmobile, Chevrolet and Pontiac were represented within GM's lineup of muscle cars, and in 1965, Buick joined them.

During those two years (1964 &65) Ford introduced their 427 cubic inch Thunderbolts and Mopar gave the world their 426 cubic inch Hemi engine, while the Pontiac GTO, which would become a model in its own right in 1966, had a performance option that included a 389 cubic inch V8 engine, a floor-shifted transmission, and a special trim.

AMC was also a player in the muscle car game, and though it didn't even enter the mix until 1965 (with its Rambler Marlin fastback) it eventually produced quite an impressive collection of performance cars, including a 1967 Marlin and Rebel, each available with the new 280 hp Typhoon V8 engine. They would be followed by true muscle cars in 1968: the Javelin and AMX.

Sales of legitimate muscle cars were never more than modest when compared normal production totals, but what they lacked in volume that made up in bragging rights and publicity. Competition between manufacturers gave buyers the options of engines that were ever more powerful, and caused a battle of horsepower that peaked in 1970 with some models rated at 450 hp, and with others producing just as much actual power even without the rating. Not long after that, the gasoline crisis replaced the competition for more horsepower with the quest for better fuel economy ratings and more economical transportation.

Today, even as "modern" muscle cars, designed as rolling tributes to the original Ford Mustang, and Pontiac GTO are selling to a new generation of automotive enthusiasts, the originals have become the prized possessions of collectors and classic car lovers around the world, with some models carrying price tags that easily rival those of the elite European sports cars. Others are true museum pieces, like the 1969 Chevrolet Camaro.

While environmental awareness has made a new muscle car era unlikely, what has not changed is the love of power and performance, and the sense of nostalgia, that muscle cars impart.

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