Muscle cars are described by many as the “perfect” automobile and are often named as favorite vehicles. They are valuable, they are collector’s items and they are good looking. People wear Mopar apparel, buy products designed after the vehicles and keep them in garages as their prized possessions. But muscle cars are also very interesting pieces of machinery.
World War II Roots The muscle cars of the late sixties and early seventies can trace their roots to the end of World War II. After the war many GI's returned with a renewed vision of how they were going to approach life. Many of them had been involved with maintaining and repairing vehicles during the war effort. When they returned stateside they applied this knowledge to creating vehicles with higher performance than the factories delivered to the showroom floor. As this group of men began to settle down and raise families the sedan became the mode of transportation for the day. As their children, the baby boomers, entered into their mid-teens around 1965 the Vietnam War was beginning to heat up. Just like the generation before them as they returned home with money in their pockets, and a zest for life, the boomers sought diversions with an edge. Detroit manufacturers were more than willing to accommodate them in this regard.
California Car Culture Taking cues from what they saw happening at the grassroots level with backyard mechanics making their own modifications, Ford, Chrysler, and GM each took note and began producing their corporate versions. The California car culture, melded with the beach scene, both epitomized and immortalized by the likes of the Beach Boys, made every American boy dream of Saturday nights at the drag strip or tooling down Sunset Boulevard. Having this huge population come of age all at once allowed all the manufacturers a chance at a piece of a very large marketing pie. Individuality was the predominant theme throughout the car world. Everyone wanted their vehicle to have something different that set it apart. Custom wheels became an essential part of the mix as well as unbelievably wide tires which were essential to transferring the power of the increasingly large engines to the pavement.
Speed Demons Muscle cars were noted for their straight line speed more than their handing characteristics. It was all about horsepower and little else. It is hard to imagine that the vehicles of today can be as fast as some of the muscle cars of the sixties and seventies. The suspensions on the cars from that era had not caught up with the sheer torque the engines produced and made for an interesting adventure under full acceleration. This only added to the perception of speed and caused more than one young driver to lose control. The engine displacement to vehicle weight ratio got so out of hand that some engines were just too big to control. This caused muscle car enthusiasts, and even manufacturers, to rethink power to weight ratios creating another opportunity for using lighter materials and redefining engineering principles for maximum performance.
Still Yearned for Today The muscle car enjoyed an exciting, if not abbreviated run. The industry had to re-evaluate the direction of the automobile because of stricter smog controls and the oil embargo of the mid seventies. Maybe because of the brevity of the era, history has enhanced the appeal of the muscle cars to the point that some of the best examples of Detroit iron are now capturing six figure sums at some of the finest auction houses in the country.