To anyone old enough to remember the heyday of American muscle cars, it was a wonder to behold. We don’t mean hot rods – the cars from the 1930s and ‘40s that young guys like Paul Le Mat’s character in American Graffiti would restore, trick out, and tick off the local squares with. Hot rods are awesome in their own right, but we’re talking production cars, primarily from the 1960s, and including a few choice models from the ’70 that didn’t suffer the comprehensive design changes resulting from the oil shortages of the late ‘60s and ‘70s, and the global panic that we’d run out of fossil fuels by 1980.
These were cars that manufacturers in Detroit knew were going to be customized, and in many ways, these machines were made to be performance automobiles. In fact, thanks to guys like Carroll Shelby, some of the models that left the production line were ready for street racing or exhibitions as soon as they rolled off of the showroom floor.
The Rise of the American Muscle Car
With declining inflation and an economy in decent shape in the mid-to-late 1960s, young guys returning from active duty, those working part-time and going to school, blue-collar guys, and well-established older gear heads could afford to pick up a new (or fairly new) stock car and transform it into a performance beast with the universe of aftermarket performance products made by companies like Hurst, Edelbrock, Hooker, or Wynn’s.
Models like Chevy’s Corvette, Chevelle, and Camaro, the Dodge Daytona, Pontiac’s GTO and Trans Am, the Oldsmobile 442 and Buick Riviera, the Plymouth Barracuda, the Ford Mustang GT, and of course the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 headed up a pantheon of automobiles that quickly became legends – and it goes without saying that anything less than a V8 wasn’t even in the running.
Downsizing and the Dark Ages
The fossil fuel shortages of the 1970s and global concern over the oil supply was a major factor in comprehensive changes in the design paradigm of American automobiles. The advent of smaller, more fuel-efficient models and the ascendency of Japanese manufacturers (who got a handle on the demand for fuel efficiency ahead of American auto makers) put a damper on the popularity of American muscle machines.
Some manufacturers like GM continued to produce cars like the Trans Am and the Camaro IROC Z28 to address the demand for these models and the market’s desire for performance production cars, but concerns over fossil fuel conservation and other factors gave rise to some offerings that that still occasionally embarrass their manufacturers. The Mustang II (popularized to some degree after being featured in the original TV series Charlie’s Angels), which was manufactured by Ford from 1973 until 1978, was one such product. It had a 140 cu in (2.3 L), 4-cylinder engine in its most common incarnation, and shared a platform with the litigation-plagued Ford Pinto.
The Retro Boom
In recent years, new technologies in fuel efficiency and lighter, state-of-the-art materials have allowed American auto manufacturers to re-introduce updated versions of their classic muscle cars. Going with what worked in the 1960s in terms of design have proved very successful with customers who loved the classic models before they were classics, as well as the younger crowd.
Developments such as these have aficionados to argue recently that the “Golden Age” of American muscle cars wasn’t the 1960s, but is upon us right now. Updated versions of Detroit’s classics not only outperform the originals, but they also include all of the modern amenities afforded by advances in digital technology.
Concerning the argument that American muscle cars have always been more loud and ostentatious than fast, consider this: the fastest production automobiles at present – the Koenigsegg supercars – are V8 machines whose designers arguably took at least as much technologically from American muscle cars as they took from European supercar makers. And not that we’d ever throw off on the engineering wonders of our Japanese and European friends in recent years, but the most tricked-out, high-performance 4-cylinder coupe is still a just 4-cylinder coupe.
So, what’s the Best Muscle Car of 2016?
As far as what’s best for 2016? It’s the same as it was in 1966: You are “The Judge” (the name of one of Pontiac’s popular muscle cars from 1969 through 1971): test drive ’em all, and go with what you dig the most! Here are some of our top picks:
2016 Dodge Charger (R/T Scat Pack . . . yes please!)
2016 Dodge Challenger (Did we mention there’s an SRT Hellcat model!?)
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Posted by Josh Green on Friday, August 14, 2015
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