The great ol’ United States of America; the home of freedom, liberty, and speed demons. Cars in America have had a bad rap for not being able to go around corners, and frankly as much as I hate to admit it that might be true (at least until the 2000’s). Don’t fret though, I’m not saying that all American cars are bad because they can’t go around a track properly, quite the opposite actually. America gave birth to an entire new world of racing, drag racing.
Drag racing, the simplest form of racing. You take a car with a huge engine with huge output, and throw it down a straight line. Oddly, it’s one of the most satisfying forms of racing and anyone can participate. If it’s either at the stop lights or the drag strip, testing straight line speed by racing your buddy is wildly fun. This form of racing was pioneered by America starting in the 1940’s with the birth of the drag strip icon, the muscle car.
The muscle car is the automatic image when you think of going too fast in a straight line. Muscle cars are, in my opinion, the coolest possible cars ever created. They look mean, the sound mean, and their speed is mean. Starting in the 1940’s, America starting throwing large output V-8’s in their cars. Why did they do this? Moonshine ladies and gentleman, that sweet prohibition juice. Gangsters and former family men who were bootlegging alcohol had to up the power in their vehicles to escape the police. The original Need for Speed folks. I know what your saying “Rev Junkie, the prohibition was the 20’s and 30’s, not the 40’s”. After the prohibition the moonshine business started to die and all these bootleggers needed something to do with their fast cars. Thus street racing was born. Racing red lights became the new fad and companies like Buick decided to coin on this idea by making the first widely accepted muscle car, the Rocket 88. The ’49 Buick Rocket 88’s displacement of 135 hp came form a 303 ci V-8. Not very much power, but the model the V-8 was placed in previously housed a V-6. The Rocket soon became very popular; the first lightweight large engine car with high compression. It was the beginning to an era, the era of muscle.
Mid century hit, and man it hard. Companies started taking on the task of beefing up their vehicles and showing the world that Americans crave speed and performance. Companies like Chrysler and Chevrolet started giving Buick a run for it’s money buy producing some innovative engine formats. Chevy would develop the small block V-8 and Chrysler the Hemi. These engines will come to define the muscle car era and pioneer “the golden age” of American auto making in the 60’s. This is the 50’s though, and some awesome cars started coming into production. The first Hemi introduced was the Chrysler C-300, and it was marketed as “America’s most powerful car”, the 300 in the name being the horsepower output. Chevy also got into the muscle car game and threw their small block V-8 into one of the biggest names in sports cars today, the Corvette. Muscle cars went from a power walk into jogging mode during the 50’s. The ball continued to roll and eventually blew up into oblivion because that’s just how awesome the 60’s were.
A complete understanding and appreciation for great, fast cars, the golden age of automotive America. No other decade other than the 60’s can deserve this title due to the sheer amount of influence and brilliance that came with a fresh set of keys from a car in the 60’s. This was the decade were every auto producer in America was hoping on the speed bandwagon, the result was an explosion of enthusiasts and a respect for cars. The 60’s did start off a little rough from the motor racing ban that was put in place due to an accident involving a death at the 24 Le Mans in 1955. The ban was lifted in 1963 and the Corvette split window Stingray was born. 1963 was the only year that the split window was available and is the undisputed, most beautiful Corvette ever made. I have to shut my mouth on this C2 Corvette because it wasn’t classified as muscle car rather a sports car (what a damn shame, I could go on for hours). This immaculate beauty was quickly followed up in 1964 with Pontiac’s Tempest G.T.O (now that’s a name we all know). Pontiac pioneered the golden age with the tempest by putting a 389 ci V-8 making 348 horsepower at 4900 rpm, in the engine bay. Some serious performance for such an early time in automotive history. Car companies started looking at getting in on this competition, so almost every American car producer started to pump out flagship cars with serious horsepower ratings. The same year, 1964, arguably the most iconic muscle car, even to this day, was released, the Ford Mustang. The 64 1/2 Mustang started the “pony car” revolution and created serious competition, resulting in some bad ass cars. Power output levels were lacking, yet the styling and options allowed for the pony car category to soar through sales and appreciation. Other icons came out this year such as the Chevelle SS, offering a 327 ci motor (the Chevelle will evolve well into the 70’s and become a performance monster). Chevrolet wanted in on the game and decided to create a mustang killer. The Chevy Camaro will test performance and styling, especially with the Z/28 model. 400hp was available with a dual four barrel carb option, making this car a real contender to the Mustang engine upgrade in 1967. One year later the Plymouth needed to start catching up; Mustangs, G.T.O’s, and Camaro’s were flying out dealerships while lighting up the back wheels. Their answer, the Barracuda. At it’s release it wasn’t the most popular but man, will that change. Dodge has had a foot in the door with the muscle car game for a few years now but nothing had really defined the brand until 1968. Charger would become a household name for muscle car enthusiasts. The 1968 model revolutionized the “coke-bottle styling”, with curved and boxy edges in a sort of soda bottle shape. It also had the performance to back it up with the R/T version (road and track), boasting a 440 ci motor rocking 375 horses and 480 lb feet of torque (all standard on the Coronet R/T, GEEZ!). All these companies had a car to show off. Oldsmobile had the 4-4-2. Buick had the Gran Sport. Chevrolet had the Corvette and Camaro. Ford had the Mustang and GT. Dodge had the Charger, Coronet, and Dart. Pontiac had the Firebird, Trans Am, and G.T.O. Plymouth had the Barracuda and Road Runner (damn that was an awesome car). Throughout the 60’s all these cars gained reputation and continued to expand in performance drastically. Judging just by the length of the paragraph it is clear to see the importance of the golden age of American automotive production.
Companies don’t stop with the 60’s and come swinging quite strong into the 70’s. Some argue that the 70’s should be included in the era known as the golden age but I beg to differ. Yes, many amazing classics were created in the 70’s but many were ruined. Lets start off with the bad bits of the 70’s and leave the good bits for the end. Lets start off with the butchering of the Mustang. The second generation of Mustangs released in 1972, the Mustang II, made people cringe at the sight of it’s gross, everything (sorry Mustang II fans, but it’s awful). Ford ruined the perfect styling of the first gen Mustang with the Mustang II, and some argue the Mustang wasn’t fixed until 2005 with the 5th generation. “Now look at that cars rear end, it looks sweet! Lets catch up to see the front! UGH Its atrocious! Hit the breaks!” Now I would be talking about the 2nd generation Camaro. Chevy botched the front end and I will never be able to live that down. I will say though, the Chevy plant was suffering from strikes and such and still pumping out record sales. In my opinion the only Camaro I would buy from that generation would be the ’79 Z/28 cause c’mon, Z/28 people. Emissions, the devil’s word of the 70’s. The trend of lowering horsepower for the sake emission standards started in the 70’s and amazing cars started to suffer such as the Cuda’s, Trans Am’s, and Charger/Challengers. A 6.0 L engine would be pumping out a little over 300 and that is a not a good thought. Not a good one at all. Lets shut up about that stuff because there are plenty of things from the 70’s to praise from the American car industry. Number one, the Dodge Challenger, released in 1970 and continued Dodge’s stance on bad-assery. The Challenger was to compete with the pony car craze; the engine sizes ranged from a mere 198 ci to a monster 440 ci. The 426 Hemi wasn’t the largest engine the Challenger offered but it was the best, sporting 425 horsepower, allowing it to smoke most others at the red light. Then the head honcho of all the monsters in the land was released, the Challengers better brother the ’71 Plymouth Barracuda. A muscle car to top all others with it’s rarest models being the 426 Hemi and 440 Six Barrel Super Commando, selling for millions of dollars today. Those engine trims for the Cuda needed additional suspension components to ensure the immense power was hitting the road. It was an icon in the day and still is for extreme speed and damn fine looks. A little diamond also started to shine in the 70’s, American Motors, better known as AMC. Even though they released their flagship car, the Javelin, in 1968. It wasn’t until the 70’s that the Javelin took full stride. It offered a great power output and it looked quite cool. Then there was the Gremlin, the scary fast power hatch back. If it was a person, it would be the guy that would wink at you weird right after you saw him power lifting a tire. It’s one of my favorite cars from the era because how can it not be, it’s so weird. They also made a drag monster, “The Machine” aka the Rebel. The Rebel would run 14’s down the quarter and made AMC a company to be reckoned with. Now time for the best car to come out of the 70’s (this is pure bias but you have to suck it up and deal with it), the 1979 Trans Am. “YOUR FAVORITE TRANS AM IS NOT EVEN THE SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT MODEL!”, yep you’re right. Obviously the ’77 was really awesome and yes, Burt Reynolds is cool. Yet the ’79 just looks more aggressive and faster. It is my ultimate dream muscle car and you will never change my opinion. I know of the low power and yes, like I stated, it’s not Smokey and the Bandit. I still want it and believe its the best muscle car there is; sporting heritage brown also. Now a recap on the companies best muscle cars out of the 70’s. Oldsmobile had the 4-4-2. Plymouth had the Duster the crazy Cuda, and the Super Bird. Dodge had the Challenger and Charger. Ford had the Mustang. Chevrolet had the Camaro, Chevelle, Nova, and Corvette (its sports car, who cares). AMC had the Javelin, Gremlin, and the Rebel. Buick kind of went away from muscle, until the 80’s. Pontiac had the G.T.O, Trans AM (WOOO!), and Firebird. Now it’s time to take the journey to the age of new wave pop and low horsepower!
So many things went wrong in the 80’s, for example, new wave poop (oops that’s a typo). In the car world, there was a strict regulation on emissions and that damn 80’s styling going on. It was a rough time to be an American car manufacturer. Large emission caps made automotive producers make low output engines causing the, “punch me in the face, please”, decade for cars. Lets start of with the Mustang. Ford decided to use the Fox Body style for the new Mustang and it totally confused people. The once heroic, fast, beautiful styling turned into a box on wheels. Many hate this styling but deep down I love it. I have a personal pleasure to all cars boxy and though it was very weird that it was on a Mustang, I liked it. Now here is the depressing part, the fastest model, the 5.0 liter version from 1988, only made 235 horsepower. That rating is even less than the 60’s; the only thing it had going for it performance wise, was the light weight. Now for another box on wheels, the Chevy Camaro. I love the 80’s Camaro, despite the horribly under-powered 5.0 L engine producing 195 horsepower. Chevy took the boxy approach as well and made the Camaro look bad ass and made people able to look past the low power. Then there was the IROC-Z version, IROC standing for International Race of Champions, a NASCAR competition where the Camaro was the pace car. The IROC-Z defined 80’s styling. Chevy was also making the C4 Corvette, which was okay but at least offered more horsepower than the bunch. Pontiac was still doing well with styling and still pursuing the 70’s curves in there Firebirds, Trans Am’s, and G.T.O’s. They were producing very average horsepower but they still looked damn good. Pontiac was also experimenting with mid-engines too in the late 80’s but we really don’t need to talk about the Fiero because it was the farthest thing from a muscle car. BOOM! PUNCH TO THE FACE! The arrival of the Buick Grand National, especially the ’87 GNX. This car would smoke Ferrari’s down the strip with a 245 horsepower (underrated by the company) 3.8 L, single turbo-charged, V6, with a huge 360 lb feet of torque. Only 547 models were made with GNX tag in ’87 and it was made only in black. This very special model would do 0-60 in 4.3 seconds, probably due to the fact that it was tuned by McLaren. That was basically it, the 80’s were sort of a disappointment in the muscle car field. Time for the recap. Ford had the Mustang. Chevy had the Camaro and Corvette (shhh). Buick had the beast of a car, GNX. Pontiac had the Trans Am, G.T.O, and the Firebird. That is about it except for maybe the Monte Carlo SS which did have a 305 ci V-8 and was quite well known for it’s muscle.
Backstreet Boys, N-SYNC, Bill, and nothing really special besides the 1999 WS6 Trans Am or the C4 ZR-1. The 90’s for American cars was sort of lacking but there were a few companies still pumping out some cool cars. 1992 was the last year for the awesome 3rd generation Camaro and it came with a 25 year heritage package, sporting a 305 ci motor good for 245 horsepower. This thing was seriously bad ass and I want one to this day. Mustangs Fox Body styling also died this decade with the 1993 SVT Cobra Mustang. It was a good way to go out and start bringing the Cobra name to Ford again. This shuffled in the new generations body style which I was a much larger fan of. Displacements also started to gain in power due to emission caps being lowered, oil crisis being over, and better technology. For the Camaro, I believe that the 4th generation was the worst looking to date. Chevy tried making the body too sleek and it ended up looking weird. So weird in fact that it was James Franco’s car in the movie Spring Breakers (Really? Gucci Mane gets the Lambo?). Pontiac was still doing well with it’s LS1 rendition of the Firebird/Trans Am and it led to the creation of the ultimate bad ass 90’s car. It had a ram air hood that made it look like it was going to grab you by your ankles and steel your lunch money. The thing went like hell with it’s 325 horsepower engine, making it 0-60 in 5 seconds flat. It would stare you down then devour your soul. In 1992 Dodge allowed a serial killer to go on the loose. What I mean by that is that the Dodge Viper was created, I believe this car is actual hell on wheels. No ABS, no door handles, battery over the back wheels, this car was insane and did want to kill you. It was on every kids wall because it could run a 4.5 0-60 time and 1 g on the lateral skid pad. It was a force to be reckon with. It is debated, but possibly the C4 ZR-1 was the best car of the 90’s. Known for its 405 horsepower and robust engine; it was a record setting engine for most miles traveled at top speed. The ZR-1 model ran from ’90-’95, making it the performance car of the decade (besides the Viper).
The naughty noughties, a time were America realized that they should try to put a car around a track (finally). The turn of the new millennium brought many awesome cars into play and modified the muscle stereotype. Lets start off with the death of Pontiac, may you rest in piece. In 2009 Pontiac went out of business and car enthusiasts shed their tears across America. It was probably due to the making of the Aztek (Mommy, whats that horribly ugly thing on the road? Did it escape the zoo?), and the import look of the final rendition of the G.T.O. in 2006. Enthusiasts wanted a great old American muscle car feel with the G.T.O. but received a tuner looking power house. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, I was a fan of the looks personally, but I see were people are coming from. They also killed the Trans Am in 2002, which might have pissed some people off (me included). Even with these mistakes, lets take a moment of silence for this great American automaker. Ford was still making the Mustang with the 4th generation look and in 2003 made an SVT version. The 2003 SVT Cobra was adequately powered but suffered from the 4th generation looks. 2004, the year Cadillac decided to hop on the performance game (cough cough, a little late). Doesn’t matter because the CTS-V is and was the bees knees. It rocked 400 horsepower and 395 lb feet of torque. It would go 0-60 in 4.5 seconds and lapped the ring in 8:19 making it on par with the BMW M5. Later, when the second generation came out it in 2009 it housed a modified ZR-1 engine good for 556 horses. That’s right, it lapped the ring in less than 8 minutes making it the fastest sedan at that time. It also had a wagon trim, yep, a wagon with a jet strapped to it (figuratively). Fords turn, in 2005 the best thing that could ever happen to the Mustang, happened. A styling reboot, a damn fine one if I might add. The Mustang was now a contender and the only one in the pony car sector. With the Camaro and Firebird being dropped it had no competition. With a great looking vehicle and no one to beat you at the lights; Ford was looking good. One year before, Ford might have made one of the best decisions ever with the GT reboot. A supercharged V-8, producing 550 horsepower and with a very sexy retro styling. The GT was in production for two years and sold over a thousand examples. In 2005, another generation was updated, the all mighty C6 Corvette. The C6 was insanely fast and when the monster Z06 came the next year, Americans dropped their jaws. It was a naturally aspirated 7.0 L 505 horsepower engine, running 0-60 in 3.7. The Z06 proved to the world that America had their foot in the door for amazing performance. Three years later the Nurburgring conqueror C6 was created, the ZR-1. A super charged 6.2 L with 648 horses, allowing this car to sprint a 7:19 ring time. Car engineering at it’s finest. Dodge didn’t like this and designed the Viper to kick ass and take names. I will skip all the models and trims because there is one that is the reigning king. In 2008 Dodge made a serial killer with a college degree in engineering, the SRT-10 Viper ACR. This 640 horsepower super snake lapped the ring at 7:12, taking the number four spot and only dropping to number six in the past five years. Hear that Ferrari? You don’t even have one car in the top 15 and America has four! Dodge also kicked things up a notch with the Challenger revival in 2008. This car was the best looking muscle car to come out in decades, it looked like it came from the 70’s, which is a good thing! The car was equipped with a large 396 ci engine in the SRT-8 version, and it rumbled it’s fat butt around town like a pimp. Man, this car is the definition of a muscle car, fat, huge engine, tons of horsepower, and cant take a turn. The Charger also received the same treatment with exactly the same specifications. Geez, this decade was an amazing one and America was really able to prove themselves.
Now lets examine the performance take over America is about to have on the world after 2010. The big American automotive manufactures started throwing everything they had at their cares to ensure insane performance. Chevy reinstated the Camaro name and it came knocking with a big 6.2 L V-8 and 426 horsepower in the SS trim. In 2012 Chevy made a version of the Camaro called the ZL-1 and it took the engine from the CTS-V. It was throwing down some serious numbers and had Chevy’s new magnetic ride suspension. Then out of no where Chevy dropped the 2014 Z/28 track eater. This monster housed the 7.0 L naturally aspirated engine from the C6 Z06. Hardcore was defined in this car; only one speaker was put on board so you can have the door alarm. This cars everything is perfect and Chevy owned it in 2014. Chevrolet continued to fully impress with the outstandingly beautiful Corvette C7 release. A complete Corvette re-haul, and a perfect one at that. The brand new LT1 engine would make you fly to 0-60 in just 3.8 seconds. It had looks of a very modern car and took the name of Stingray once again. What makes the new C7 look like a baby though? The outgoing Z06; a supercharged 6.2 L 650 horsepower monster that revs to the sky’s. With the track upgrade package added, you will see a 2.9 second 0-60 time. It’s seeming like nothing can stop Chevy, looking at the last five years. Don’t Close the post yet because there are still two companies hunting for a spot on the performance podium. Ford just announced the new bi-turbo ecoboost V6 GT, which might have the best styling I have seen on a Ford in a long time. Along with the release of the GT was the Mustang 350R, supposedly sporting 500 horsepower. The 350R’s goal is to pay homage to the Boss 302 and to slay the new Z/28. Now there is Dodge, crazy ol’ Dodge. I think I hear a lion roaring, never mind, it’s just the 707 horsepower supercharged 6.4 L Hellcat engine. That’s right, the most powerful muscle car engine to date and they threw it into the Challenger and the Charger. Yep, a sedan that can go over 200 miles a hour. To top it off they also released a special Viper edition, the T/A, or track attack. It is the ultimate Corvette killer; it’s very light weight with a power boost and aerodynamic upgrades. Look out Chevy the Viper is still kicking.
America, the land of the free and the home of the bad ass muscle car that no one should screw with. Car manufactures in the United States have created one of the most interesting car cultures in the world. Without America, red light racing would be so much less exciting. Muscle cars have become a culture icon and have made a name for themselves across the world. Though many of them might not be able to corner like Lotus or hit 250 mph (never mind we have the Hennessy Venom GT), they have soul and beauty that deserves respect. Everyone respects Alpha, Lamborghini, and Ferrari, but there needs to be respect for Shelby, Dodge, Ford, and Chevy. With the recent releases of the updated cars in the last 15 years there is no doubt we are starting to make a mark on the world. The golden age for America is returning and it’s hitting harder than ever.