The History of the Muscle Car

The History of the Muscle Car

1964 Pontiac GTO Hardtop
By Sicnag (1964 Pontiac GTO Hardtop) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
The time of the muscle car was short but, the impact muscle cars had on a generation have ensured that the concepts and design ideas are still with us today. Muscle cars are amongst the most sought after cars by collectors around the world today. The muscle car is typified by sharp and aggressive styling, a wide and low profile and is built to look powerful and mean. They also enjoy a high power to weight ration thanks to packing in a meaty V8 power unit onto a mid-sized chassis which means that they not only talk the talk but can race as well.

A good working definition of a muscle car is this – built between 1965 and 1973, has a large V8 engine and a mid-sized chassis. You need to know this because so many companies have tried to emulate them since the end of the era – the muscle car is still a huge marketing attraction for car makers to hook into. There was also a higher standard of trim and car detail added too, with leather interiors and chrome grill and metalwork. A high performance engine also needed better braking and steering systems and muscle cars were the platform for putting design concepts into practice.

How did muscle cars come to be so popular, so iconic even?

We need to go back in time a little to the end of the Second World War and the hordes of returning soldiers from Europe. Soon after the Baby Boomer generation was born, but at this time car design was pretty conservative, much like everything else. Cars were typically cheap but lacked power and speed – they were a practical tool not a recreational item.

Pontiac changed everything in 1964 – they launched the Tempest with an added GTO package which included the V8 engine to deliver superior performance and with the mid-sized body, untouchable speed. Not only was the muscle car born but it was affordable – the mid-sized body and mass production techniques ensured that the price was within many consumers budgets.

Ford quickly followed in 1965 with the Mustang, and within two years more than 1½ million cars were sold. The car got its name because Ford considered it to be a “pony car”, their term for a small car equipped with a powerful engine but Pony was considered inappropriate for marketing but they still wanted a horse-based name – ergo, Mustang.

Later years saw the introduction of heavier cars such as the Plymouth Dodge Runner and the Dodge Super Bee, but their days were numbered. Muscle cars with high performance engines and young driver’s means accidents and insurance premiums started to climb which ensured that young drivers could not afford to insure the car and older owners were put off by the cost. In addition, these cars were gas hogs and they were not too fussy about the level of pollution that they caused. When the fuel crisis hit in 1973 and brought rocketing gas prices, the muscle car was doomed.

Car makers had to respond to the economic realities of the situation and with Congress set to impose radical new anti-environmental protection legislation, the order of the day became cheap, small cars which delivered high fuel economy and that meant sacrificing performance and smaller engines.

Though the muscle car era came to an end, the cars themselves have continued and are highly prized and admired. When you next visit a car show it will not be the old jalopies or the huge sedans and luxury limousines which attract the attention and imagination – it will be the muscle cars – sleek, lean and powerful with an engine growl which sends shivers up and down your spine.

About the Author
Jack Labens works for Empire Covers, a leading provider of car covers, truck covers, and motorcycle covers. Empire Covers can be found online at: or at their blog .
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