What is an American Muscle Car? Before we go full in-depth everything about the American muscle cars, let’s first define what is an American Muscle Car. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, muscle car refers to “any of a group of American-made 2-door sports cars with powerful engines designed for high-performance driving.” To be more precise, it is a 2-door mid-size to the full-size family-style car with at least a large V8 engine, a rear wheel drive, and could carry 4 or more people.
They are very different from the 2-seater sports cars or the 2+2 GTs that were designed for road racing and high-speed touring. The muscle cars are a lot cheaper than other high-performance cars which is why they are the popular choice for street racers and drag racers.
|Ford Mustang Boss 429|
WE COULDN’T COVER EVERY SINGLE MUSCLE CAR- THERE ARE TOO MANY! WE’LL CERTAINLY DO A FOLLOW UP ARTICLE. APOLOGIES IF YOUR FAVORITE IS NOT HERE.
1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88
Although not everyone is in agreement to the true origin of the American muscle, the most accepted first muscle car is the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88. During the late 1940s, the economy was starting to recover and everyone was demanding for more stylish and powerful cars. In response, Oldsmobile built the Rocket 88.
|1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88|
According to Jack Nerad in Driving Today:
“The Rocket V-8 set the standard for every American V-8 engine that would follow it for at least three decades. With a displacement of 303 cubic inches and topped by a two-barrel carburetor, the first Rocket V-8 churned out 135 horsepower (101 kW; 137 PS) at 3,600 rpm and 263 pound force-feet (357 N·m) of torque at a lazy 1800 rpm and no mid-range car in the world, save the Hudson Hornet, came close to the Rocket Olds performance potential”
“The Rocket 88 was the hit of NASCAR’s 1950 season, winning eight of the 10 races. Given its lightning-like success, one could clearly make the case that the Olds 88 with its 135 horsepower (101 kW) V-8 was the first ‘muscle car’.”
The success of the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 pushed other companies to create their own muscle car, and thus the muscle car industry was born. Oldsmobile’s greatest rivals at that time were Chevrolet and Chrysler.
1955 Chrysler C-300
|1955 Chrysler C-300|
1955 Chevrolet Corvette
In 1955, Chevrolet created the small-block V8 engine, which became the cornerstone of Chevy’s light bodied muscle cars. It was so successful that the small-block V8 became a standard engine for GM and was mounted in different models for more than 50 years.
|1955 Chevrolet Corvette|
1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Impala Sport Coupe
|1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Impala Sport Coupe|
|1958 Chevrolet Biscayne|
|1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk|
1957 Rambler Rebel Hardtop
|1957 Rambler Rebel Hardtop|
Just as everything was going well for the muscle car industry, everything went south after the Automobile Manufacturers Association imposed a ban on all company-sponsored racing events in 1957. Members of the association were no longer allowed to participate in all forms of auto racing in any way such as advertising high-performance parts for their passenger cars, display racing results, and associate their cars to racing. This self-imposed ban was due to the 24 Hours of Le Mans tragedy in 1955 when Pierre Levegh in his Mercedes-Benz hit another car and went off-course at 150 mph into the audience stands. His car’s fuel tank was punctured and the car burst into flame. The explosion caused car fragments flying and resulted in a total of 84 death including Pierre Levegh. This is considered as the most tragic accident in the history of motorsports. After the tragedy, Mercedes-Benz pulled away from the racing scene and returned 32 years after. Switzerland completely banned auto racing and was just lifted in 2007.
Harlow Curtice who was the president of GM at that time suggested the self-imposed ban to the Automobile Manufacturers Association. The automobile industry predicted that this ban would prevent the government from implementing regulations for the racing community. However, automakers who were not members of the association continued their racing activities and the association members being left behind. The Automobile Manufacturers Association lifted the ban in 1963.
1962 Dodge Dart
|1962 Dodge Dart|
Plymouth and Dodge neglected their full-sized cars and focused on their smaller cars. Pontiac designed the 1963 Pontiac Super Duty that had a frame that was covered in lightening-hole and became known as the “swiss cheese” frame. This was done by drilling grapefruit sized holes into the railings of the chassis which significantly reduced the weight of the car. A very simple way of increasing the power-to-weight ratio of the car.
More in part 2