Muscle Car History: Understand How They Came to Be

January 27, 2012

Muscle car history is an interesting story. It is all about the American love for speed and a passion for the automobile. Asking a number of muscle car experts will probably get a number of different answers regarding the origins of the muscle car. What you will find with all of them, though, is a love of the cars that delivered the horsepower. That passion and need for speed is the heart of muscle car life.

The First Muscle Car?

As mentioned earlier, different muscle car experts will cite different vehicles as the first true muscle car. One vehicle will probably cross more lips than any other, though. That would be the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88. It was the first time a major manufacturer had put a high performance engine into a car that would have been considered too small to need that much power. Of course, by what was to become the standard for muscle cars in the 1960’s, this engine wasn’t all that potent. It was a 303 cubic inch V-8 that delivered 135 horsepower. It was, though, the first high compression, dual overhead cam engine offered by an American manufacturer.

The Battle Heats Up

With America’s growing desire for speed and power, the Rocket 88 generated a lot of interest and sales. That will always equate to competition and by the mid-part of the 1950’s, pretty much every manufacturer had their own lighter weight car with V8 power. The first Hemi engines came out in this wave of cars – in 1951 to be exact.

The 1960’s

By the 1960’s, considered by many to be the real peak of the muscle car phenomenon, engines topping 400 cubic inches weren’t uncommon. The Corvette had been around for several years, but in so many ways it is a car unto itself. Super Sport Impalas were introduced in the first part of the 60’s and it all set the scene for what many consider the golden age of muscle cars.

The Golden Age

1964 is considered by most automotive historians to be the real start of the golden age of muscle cars. With cars like the Pontiac GTO and the Oldsmobile 442, the bar had been raised again. Four barrel carburetors were first introduced for widespread use. The Ford Mustang debuted late in the 1964 model year and was a huge success. In fact, so popular was that one, it launched a whole new type of car--the “pony car”. Entrants like the Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger and Pontiac Firebird soon followed. Even American Motors jumped in with their Javelin.

The End

By the first part of the 1970’s, new regulations requiring unleaded fuel (and lower compression engines to burn it) were set to come in to play. With them came the death of the muscle car phenomenon. The oil crisis in 1976 signaled an even bigger death knell, but what a ride it had been.

Muscle cars are the thing of legend these days. It’s easy to forget the story of how it all came to be, though. Understanding the history and the landmarks along the way really gives an enhanced appreciation of the muscle car life.

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