Muscle Cars Then and Now

The generally accepted time frame for the original muscle car era was from 1964 with the introduction of the GTO, to 1974 when the last hold out, the Super Duty Trans Am, ended production.  First it is interesting the the first car to fit the definition was a Pontiac, and so was the last one.  The peak was 1969 – 1970.

There were Hemi’s, Boss Mustangs, 454 Chevelles, the 455 trio from Buick Olds and Pontiac (Yes, I know they didn’t share much of anything other than the displacement).  Just about everyone other than Cadillac, Lincoln and Chrysler/Imperial had something for a muscle car.

Sure by todays standards, the cars were crude.  Power steering and power brakes were often options, as were disk brakes.  To say nothing of power windows, power locks, air conditioning and many of the other amenities that even the most basic cars of today have.  And integrating with your iPod or cell phone?  A what?

But they had style, power to spare (definitely more than the tires could deal with, to say nothing of the brakes) and have a sound that can still turn heads.

After all, you can get by with less when you have a car that sounds like this:

Now, looking at the modern muscle cars, it makes the classics look like something Fred Flintstone would have driven, something like this:

Muscle Cars Then and Now

Ok, so maybe not that simple and crude, but you get the point.  Reliability that would have been unheard of back in the 60’s (unless you are looking at the six cylinder cars, and they still needed a lot more tinkering than a new car), smooth driveability, greatly increased fuel economy and greatly reduced emissions.  I have read that a car from the 60’s pollutes more just sitting there due to gas evaporation than a modern car does driving down the road.  I don’t have a way to test it, but I can believe it.

And that isn’t even taking into account some of the more simple amenities we enjoy today like air conditioning and cruise control.

Since we are talking muscle cars, lets just skip the whole ride and handling part, that is something for a later post, and look at what matters for these cars, POWER.

With the classics, depending on who you believe, what your favorite brand is, and how the planets and stars were aligned when your particular car was built, the power for them went from impressive to nearly ridiculous, especially with tires that had about the same grip as my daughter’s bicycle tires.  Ok, I may exaggerate, but I don’t think by a lot.

I know the horsepower ratings were generated using a different standard, the whole net versus gross, and often influenced by marketing decisions, trying to keep the cars in certain racing classes, trying to keep the insurance rates lower etc.  So let’s just say that the most powerful of them, like the LS6 Chevelle, 426 Hemi and Boss 429 Mustangs made 425-450 horsepower using the current net ratings.  Depending on who you believe, it is close enough for the points I am going to make.  Especially since I don’t have any of those engines sitting around to run on a dyno.  But punching in the horsepower and weight figures into a couple of online quarter mile calculators produces ET’s in the high 12’s depending on the weight you estimate, which sounds reasonable for any of those engines in a car with modern grippy tires.

Now let’s look at the power for the modern cars.  Let’s skip the various V6 versions (even though they would probably run with the lower power V8’s from back then) and go straight to the V8 versions.

The horsepower ranges from 375 to 426 horsepower.  375 for the Challenger with the 5.7 Hemi, 420 for the Mustang, and 400 or 426 for the Camaro, depending on the transmission.  Impressive for a start, but each has more powerful options available, for those of us who think, if a lot is good, then too much is just about right.

The next step up is the Challenger with the 470 horse 392 Hemi.  It only shares the displacement badge with the 392 from the 50’s, but still.  That puts it with about as much horsepower as any of the classic muscle cars, and still meets modern emissions and drivability standards.  Not bad.

If you prefer the Camaro, you can step to the 1LE version with a supercharged 6.2 with 580 horsepower.  That was race car territory in the 60’s and 70’s, now it comes with a factory warranty.

If you prefer the Mustang, there is the Shelby GT500 with 662 horsepower from a supercharged 5.8L V8.

If either of those seems too tame, or the 392 Challenger just isn’t powerful enough, there is the new supercharged Hellcat Challenger.  While you can’t buy one yet, it is coming soon, and with 707 horsepower.  I saw something from Motor Trend that it hit 11.2 in the quarter with street tires.  If that isn’t enough, you need a race car, not a street car.

It amazes me how the manufacturers are able to meet emissions standards, and fuel economy they are able get.  Sure, low 20’s to upper teens won’t win any contests these days, but compared to the old cars, that is close to a 100% improvement.  If anyone has one of those classic cars, and wants me to see what kind of mileage it will get, just let me know, I am there for you.

The drawback to the new cars, is all that awesomeness means a lot of computers and technology to make it all work.  That is the cost of a modern car.

Plus, they just don’t look or sound as cool.

Next time, I will go over my thoughts on swapping one of these awesome new engines into an older car, and why I think it is the best of both.


Muscle Cars Then and Now — 2 Comments

  1. we don’t see many proper muscle cars in ireland, or even europe, excepting the supercars with their associated price tag beyond mere mortals. always had a longing for a mustang myself. the cosworth deserves a worthy mention over here still though

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