History Of American Muscle Cars (part 2)

Part2 of History Of American Muscle Cars

1964 Pontiac Tempest GTO
1964 Pontiac Tempest GTO
The release of the 1964 Pontiac Tempest GTO signaled the start of the Golden Age for the American muscles. The name GTO stands for Gran Turismo Omologato which means Grand Tourer Homologation, this means that the GTO cars were passed the racing standards. The Pontiac GTO had both the beauty and power which made a big mark in the muscle car history. The Tempest GTO looks like your standard Tempest but it had engine options that broke a GM rule of building mid-size cars that had an engine size not greater than 330 cid. Even though it had outstanding beauty and power, the GTO was fairly affordable with a price of $3,200, this allowed the younger generation to afford them. In its debut year, the Pontiac was able to sell 6 times more than they anticipated. During the same year, Ford released the Thunderbolt that was powered by the gigantic 427 CID engine. It was believed to be too dangerous to drive and only 127 cars were built but they are still revered as a great muscle car.


1964 Pontiac GTO 
1964 Pontiac GTO
>More: Pontiac GTO Pictures Collection

1964 Ford Thunderbolt
1964 Ford Thunderbolt
Still, the same year was the release of the Ford Mustang. It featured a striking design, multiple options available, and a very affordable price, but lacked in power. This created a brand new class, the pony cars. It’s very common for people to think pony cars and muscle cars are the same. Although the do appear to be similar and some actually have a bit of power, they are completely different. The pony cars lack the necessary power to claim the title of muscle cars. Some of the popular pony cars include the Chevy Camaro, Plymouth Barracuda, and the Dodge Challenger. And although some may think otherwise, the 1960s Corvettes are not muscle cars or pony cars.

1969 Dodge Charger Daytona
1969 Dodge Charger Daytona
By 1967, Ford improved the Mustang from its small-block to the bigger 390 cid big-block engine. Carroll Shelby’s 428 cid engine was also made available by Ford. The other companies did also stepped up and released their own muscle cars: Chevrolet released the Camaro and Pontiac with their Firebird. Plymouth designs a more affordable muscle car – the Plymouth Road Runner. With more than a handful of automakers focusing on the muscle car market, it became over saturated and the companies started to lose money. (more: 10 Famous Cars in 'The Fast And The Furious' Movie)

The End of Legends

In the early 1970s, a lot of things changed for the automobile industry. The government implemented new emission regulations and the automakers were forced to create engines that used low-lead fuel. The automakers were also forced to reduce the power of all their engine to meet the standards set by the government. This resulted in the decline in power of all muscle cars.

By 1973, America experienced its 1st oil crisis when OPEC stopped exporting oils to the country. Fuel was in short supply which caused the gas prices to skyrocket. Insurance companies gave up on high-performance cars because all of the muscle cars from the late 1960s were believed to be unsafe. Topped with inflation rates, the cost of owning a muscle car became too expensive for the general public. It was more economical to buy smaller and compact cars, either from Detroit or imported cars. And for those that can actually afford a muscle car, they lost interest as the muscle cars no longer had the power they boasted. The demands for muscle cars plummeted and by 1975, almost all of the big-block cars disappeared.

To keep the muscle cars alive, some models such as the Plymouth Road Runner were heavily restyled and no longer focused on power. The pony cars were also heavily battered – by 1974, on the Firebird and the Camaro survived. The Ford Mustang was no longer a pony car and changed into a high-end compact car.

During the mid-1970s, the Firebird was able to dominate the dwindling market due to its improved handling and absence of competition. In 1977, Chevrolet noticed Pontiac’s success with the Firebird and revived the Camaro Z-28 after is disappeared from the market for 2 years. Some pony cars also made a comeback and also focused on style. During the late 70s, the automakers have adapted to the government regulations. And in 1979, the 3rd generation Mustangs were introduced that had a restyle and a V8 engine option. The new Mustang with the low-torque V8 engine was received well and it gave hope for the muscle car market to bring back some power but this was short lived when America experienced another gas crisis. It lasted until 1982 and the market for performance cars started to grow again.

The following years were more forgiving for the muscle cars and this paved way to their evolution. Slowly, more modern technology was incorporated into these classics. They were also safer and engines were getting bigger without exceeding the regulations.

We’ve talked a lot about muscle cars, so now will give you some ideas as to why they are so popular. Here are some of the most popular muscle cars in history:

Pontiac GTO
Pontiac GTO
For those who do not consider the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 as the first muscle car, the 1964 Pontiac GTO is their choice. The Pontiac GTO was built from 1964 until 1974. What made the Pontiac GTO amazing was its 389 cubic inch V8 engine which should not have been allowed. General Motors had a rule against mounting engine larger than 330 cubic inches into small-size cars but because of its huge success, GM executives allowed it later on. This also inspired other brands such as Oldsmobile, Buick, and Chevrolet to design muscle cars based on the GTO. This is why the Pontiac GTO is considered by some as the first muscle car. Its most popular model year is the 1967 Pontiac GTO. (more: List of classic American muscle car)

Plymouth Road Runner Hemi
Plymouth Road Runner Hemi
The Plymouth Road Runner Hemi built was from 1968 to1980 that created 3 generations of muscle cars. The Road Runner Hemi kept it simple, it did not care about style or beauty and only focused on what’s important – raw power. It is among the greatest high-performance cars of all time. It’s proud and glory is the 426 cubic inch Hemi V8 engine that is capable of producing 425 horsepower. The roar of the Road Runner is music to the ears of any hot blooded dragster.

As some of you may have guessed, it is named after the popular cartoon character – the Road Runner. And before it made its debut in 1968, Plymouth got the approval of Warner Brothers to use the name and image of the Road Runner into their car. To further capitalize on the popular cartoon character, Plymouth even developed a horn that resembled Road Runner’s “Beep-beep”. (more: Top 10 Cars Used in Fast & Furious 7)

Ford Mustang Boss 429
Ford Mustang Boss 429
We know that the Ford Mustang was a pony car, well, this Mustang’s big brother. The Ford Mustang Boss 429. It is Ford’s answer to the NASCAR. Built from 1969 to 1970, the two-year run was only able to produce less than 1,400 Boss 429 which makes it a very rare muscle car. The Boss 429 name is taken from its 429 cubic inch V8 engine with an output of 375 horsepower. Although it produces a considerable amount of power, compared to the other popular muscle cars it’s on the low side.

What made the Boss 429 interesting is that fact that it is basically hand-made. The large 429 engine could not fit in a regular Mustang without heavy modifications to the hood. Ford asked Kar Kraft from Michigan to handcraft the body. You can identify a Boss 429 with its hood scoop and a spoiler mounted on the trunk lid. (more: Ford Mustang Boss Pictures Collection)

Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
The 1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 holds a legendary status and with great reasons. Chevrolet built less than 70 Camaro Zl1s in 1969 which makes it the rarest of all Chevy production cars. What made it a legend is its 427 V8 engine which was made entirely of aluminum, it was based on Chevy iron 427 V8 engine. It was the first mass-produced aluminum engine and due to its lighter weight, this increased the power-to-weight ratio of the ZL1. Officially, ZL1’s 427 engine was rated at 430 horsepower but independent testing measured a much high power output. (more: 1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1)

Buick GSX Stage 1
Buick GSX Stage 1
The Buick GSX Stage 1 was Buick’s ticket into the muscle car market. Buick was known luxurious cars that also had considerable power, and that clearly shows on the Buick GSX Stage 1.

The GSX is actually a package option that was available for the Gran Sport 455 in 1970. The GSX’s design was quite different from Buick’s previous designs. The GSX Stage 1 was available from 1970 until 1974. On its debut year, only 488 GSX Stage 1 were ordered. It was powered by a 455 cid V8 engine which could produce a strong 510 lbs.-ft. of torque and 360 horsepower. The Buick GSX Stage 1 may not be one of the fastest but it surely had its own unique beauty to cope. (more: List of classic American muscle car)

Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda
Plymouth Hemi Cuda
The Plymouth Barracuda had a wide range of engine options from the 6-cylinder engines to the larger V8 engines. The top contender of all Barracudas was the Hemi ‘Cuda with its 426 cubic inch Hemi engine topped with dual-carburetor that could produce 425 horsepower. The Hemi ‘Cuda was able to go head to head with other top muscle cars of its time. Plymouth designed a special suspension that was built to handle hard accelerations which made it perfect for drag racing.

The ‘Cuda was a trim package for the Plymouth Barracuda and was available from 1969 until 1974. Plymouth only produced a limited number of Hemi ‘Cuda which makes them a valued classic. And even though only a handful of them exist, they still left a mark in the history of automobiles.
(more: Supercharged Plymouth Hemi 'Cuda)

Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454
Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454
A lot of people believe that 1970 was the peak of the muscle car age and the 1970 Chevelle SS 454 is the perfect evidence of that. 2 versions were available for the 454 cid V8 engine: the LS5 that produced 360 horsepower and the LS6 that could produce an incredible 450 horsepower. The LS6 version topped with the Holley 4-barrel carburetor made the Chevelle SS 454 a legendary muscle car. The 1970 Chevelle SS 454 out gunned all other muscle cars of its time and together with its striking appearance, you’ll know that the Chevelle SS 454 is something you should watch out for. Unfortunately, the following years was also the decline of the muscle car age.

Source: classiccarlabs.com