I am curious as to what people here consider to be the very best year for muscle cars. I would expect something like 1968 or 69 but wanted to see what people think. Also, this is probably like asking about oil, politics, or religion, but what do you consider the best muscle car of its time? Ford people will have one, Chevy people will have one, and MOPAR people will also surely have an opinion.
The 1964 GTO seemed to be the first of the muscle cars and it was impressive
The answers will be truly opinion. The definition of “muscle car” is, itself, highly subject to opinion. Rod suggested the '64 GTO, but the Corvette came out in ‘53. IMHO it too is a “muscle car”, even though it wasn’'t until the Sting Ray in '68 that it became a muscle car…and even that fact is arguable. Chevy sold a Corvette Grand Sport in '63 that many would consider the beginning of its muscle car heritage.
Personally, I think it was 1970. but that’s because I happen to like the (at that time) new body style GM introduced for the Camaro and Firebird. That was also about the last year before emissions systems began a downhill slide of reliability and performance that lasted pretty much through the 1980s.
Opinions on this one will be all over the place.
Best year? 2014
4 cylinders that get 25 plus mpg with 300 hp vs the same from v8s that got much less. Of course, with gas much cheaper, it mattered less. Still, I like muscle cars you can drive in the winter ! I will take today’s Mustang or Camaro over anything from 40 years ago.
Really @dagosa, I understand where you are coming from, but name a new car that can burn rubber in all four gears, that is a muscle car definition in my book, ss 396 comes to mind
It was my observation that the muscle cars were the result of the notion that “there is no replacement for displacement” and the NASCAR records of the late 50s had the Pontiac 389 engine outpacing all the competition and to cash in on the “need for speed” the Tempest was outfitted with the big engine and became the GTO. The Chevrolet small block just wasn’t up to meeting the GTO’s performance so Chevrolet developed the Mark IV 396 engine and installed it in the Chevelle and when Ford threw their 390 Fairlane out the muscle car era was in gear. Of course MoPar had their Hemi and the 383 Interceptor and could hold their own from red light to red light but as I recall the GTO was king of the hill until the 396 Chevelle pulled ahead and then emissions regulations threw cold water on the industry. I grew up in the 60s and drove a few of the muscle cars and the driver was usually the determining factor in red light to red light performance, especially cars with 4 speeds. Third gear was often missed by overly excited drivers.
Up through 1970, like TSMB said. Pollution controls started kicking in after that, with muscle cars dead by 1973. It’s all personal preference 1960-1970.
As for favorite, the '67 GTO would be at the top of my list, based on looks (that’s it to start the video above). All the good ones had power. I don’t much like the '68+ GM looks.
I think that the muscle car era began with the 1949 Oldsmobile when GM put its newly developed V-8 in the A body version of the Oldsmobile. This 331 cubic inch engine was originally intended for the larger 98, but the smaller version got a real boost with that engine. The other Oldsmobile model in 1949 was the 76 which had a flathead six cylinder engine. I knew two people who owned 1950 Oldsmobile 88s with the manual shift. They were fast cars for the time. Buick put its larger V-8 engine that appeared in the 1953 Super and Roadmaster in the 1954 smaller bodies. This smaller bodied Buick with the larger V-8 engine was called the Century. It had the same body as the Special, but the Special had a 264 cubic inch V-8 as opposed to the 322 cubic inch that was in the Century and the bigger bodied Super and Roadmaster models.
If my memory serves me correctly, a V-8 engine was available in the Pontiac Tempest that was introduced in 1961. However, most of these Tempests had a four cylinder engine. I do know that the V-8 was available in the 1963 Pontiac Tempest which was the car discussed in the movie “My Cousin Vinny”. However, it was John DeLorean who put a large Pontiac engine in the 1964 Tempest which had abandoned the rear transaxle and curved driveshaft for a more conventional design and this car was called the “GTO” . The GTO was given the credit for being the first muscle car, but I think it belongs to the 1949 Oldsmobile 88. Oldsmobile followed suit with the real 4-4-2 and Buick then came along with the Grand Sport. The GTO, 4-4-2 and Grand Sport were intermediate size cars with the big engines.
My brother has a 1969 Buick Grand Sport with the Stage 1 engine, 4 speed manual transmission and no power assists or air conditioning. I’ve driven the car and it is fun to drive. He bought the car in 1970 and still owns it. I have no idea how it compares with the GTO or 4-4-2 of that time period as far as performance is concerned, but I would guess that it is similar.
IMHO, the last of the GM true muscle cars was probably 1972. In 1973, the pollution standards became so stringent that the engines couldn’t deliver the power they once did. I bought a new Oldsmobile 4-4-2 in 1978 and the 4-4-2 was just a trim package and heavier springs. I really liked the car, but with a 260 V-8, it didn’t have a lot of muscle. Many cars today, with fuel injection and electronic ignition can easily outrun the muscle cars of the 1960s and early 1970s.
“…name a new car that can burn rubber in all four gears, that is a muscle car definition in my book, ss 396 comes to mind”
Corvette, Camaro SS and ZL-1, Shelby GT, Viper, Mustang Boss 302, Porsche 911, BMW M(3,4,5,6), Challenger SRT, Jaguar F, Lexus IS F, any AMG Benz, Nissan GT-R, Cadillac V series. I’m sure there are others. And today’s equivalent of yesteryear’s models will pound the older versions into the pavement.
This is the golden age for cars.
I agree with @dagosa… 2014 We have more cars that produce an honest 500+ horsepower than ever in the 60’s. Any of these cars will spin the tires through the first 4 gears if outfitted with the “wide oval” tires of the 60’s. Modern tires grip MUCH better, almost as good as 60’s drag slicks!
Modern muscle cars will whip the 60’s models’ 0-60 and 1/4 mile times on street tires, have a higher top speed, get better mileage, handle better, protect the passengers better and you can darn near breathe the exhaust without keeling over. Some have turbo 4’s, or 6’s. Some have honkin’ big V8’s and some are supercharged. Motor trend did a comparison a couple of years ago and in all cases, modern cars took the prize.
We are truly living in the best of times for performance automobiles.
@mm-good to know-Kevin
I have to agree that modern cars can knock the socks off the cars of old in terms of handling, performance, fuel economy, emissions, safety, among others. With variable valve timing, computer controls, cylinder deactivation, forced induction, among others, modern technology has enabled all kinds of things people probably never thought was possible. Another thing I think it a good idea are the new essentially what I would call a computer controlled manual transmission. There is no torque converter so losses in the transmission are much less. I am personally a manual transmission guy but have to admit some of the most recent advances in automatics have really made both performance and economy equal or better than most manuals.
I was more thinking of the glory days of the old muscle cars when asking the question but this is a good point. Sure, you could really romp on those old cars but you had better not try to take a turn too fast. Many of them were straight line vehicles only.
One thing I can say about some of the older vehicles and engine designs is that the torque is often better off the line. I am not sure exactly why this is but I have seen overall horsepower increase but torque often decrease, especially at low RPMs, with new engine designs.
I was born in 1979 and it always seemed like the cars in my early years were kinda duds. I really remember some pretty impressive performance cars coming about in the mid to late 1990’s. At least they seemed better than what had come before them where emissions and fuel economy standards dictated a strangled engine because the technology to master performance as well as those requirements simply didn’t exist.
MM - exactly right. But some want that old car ‘edge’. Not me…
As for which was first, next might be the '55 300 with the 331 cid hemi:
@Texases–I forgot about the 1955 Chrysler 300. This was a special model. A year later, Plymouth had its special model muscle car–the Fury. It was eggshell white with a gold band on each side. Desoto had the Adventurer and Dodge had its D-500 engine which made for a hot car at the time. There was a special Dodge with that engine called the Lancer.
Unfortunately, the Fury name was used for the top line Plymouth and the Adventurer became the top line Desoto. The Lancer name was even applied to a compact Dodge in 1961 that was almost like the Plymouth Valiant. Even the Chrysler 300 became a trim line, although the true Chrysler 300 muscle cars put a letter after the 300. In 1956, we had the 300 B, followed in 1957 by the 300 C, etc.
If I had to pick the beginning and the end of the original muscle car era, I’ve got to agree on the '49 Rocket 88 with the OHV V8. That led to the 283 Chevy, 292 Ford Y-block and early Hemi’s, Max Wedge 440’s and then the 409 Chevy, 421 Pontiac in the increasingly bigger cars of the day. The GTO was the first mid-size with a big 389 motor.
The end is 1970. Smog stuff came into play in 71 and most compression ratios got dropped down 2-3 points. Any 1970 Hemi, 454 Chevy, 428 or 429 Ford, 455’s from Buick, Olds and Pontiac in intermediate coupes were an absolute hoot to drive. BIG torque from BIG motors. Great smallblocks, too, 370HP Chevy LT-1’s, Boss 302 Fords and 360 Mopars all made 300+ SAE gross HP.
The 70’s and 80’s just stunk on ice for musclecars. Small turbo rockets, yeah, not true musclecars.
It all depends on what brand you follow, but generally things started to go downhill HP wise in the later 70’s and continuing through the 80’s. When you had V8’s with a little more than 200hp compared to the 435hp of the 67 427 Corvette’s and smog controls everywhere. When you can buy a V6 Mustang with the same Horsepower that you used to buy the V8 to get this is a pretty good era for muscle cars. The 50’s and 60’s cars have more style but if you really compare performance the modern versions are as good or better. Everyone is entitled to their option though, that’s what makes being a car fan so much fun.
I like them all but being a Mopar fan I admit to a bias in that direction after owning an early Roadrunner and Superbee. There’s something about the unrefined brutes of that era that get my adrenaline going.
My dream car was always the Hemi 'Cuda from 1970-1971. Should have bought one back in the day when they could be had for a grand or so…
The big problem back in the old days was lack of traction.
That Roadrunner of mine had F70X14 bias ply tires on it and that’s the same size as the tires on my daughter’s first Mitsubishi Eclipse; a 1991 model. That rubber works well on a 1.8 4 cylinder but surrenders pretty easily with a 383 Magnum.
OK4450, thanks for the laughs and the memories. I remember those skinny old bias plys with a certain fondness. And while I’m not a Mopar guy, I remember the Barracudas as well as the Superbees and Roadrunners fondly. Those were carefree days.
I too wish I’d save a few of my cars. I read about people who still have in their “stable” cars that they bought new decades ago and I think of my old buggys. But I guess I was too busy building a career and a family to be bothered keeping old cars back then. It never occurred to me that I might wish I’d still had them decades later.
Somehow I doubt if my son will remember his A4 as fondly many years from now when he’s my age. Cars today have come a quantum leap in reliability, technology, and performance, but definitely not in their pure character.
Here’s to memories.
@Barkydog "name a new car you can burn rubber in all four gears"
You are absolutely right, Barkey. But not for the reasons you think. New cars have much better rubber with more traction and traction control. The net effect is, they spend less time slipping and burning tires while more efficiently getting down the track. I would be hard pressed to find a muscle car of 40 years ago that could do what the cheapest Mustang would, let alone the v8. 6 cylinder with 305 hp and 30 mpg highway. Now, move up to the v8 or Camaro v8s and there is nothing made 40 years ago. Not only that, but they just “start easier and last longer”. The older we are, the better we were. Old cars seemed better because we had fewer expectations. The handling of a new Muscle car is so superior…I won’t even mention it…
Just wait till affordable electric muscle cars come out…yikes !
Bottom line…the only thing better about muscle cars 40 years ago…IMO, was their names.
There was this 1974 Trans Am with 455SD engine that could go over 160 MPH until the right rear tire blew out. The only guy that never got caught in a pursuit had a 70 Road Runner with a 440. J strips all day long.