The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines muscle cars as, “any of a group of American-made 2-door sports coupes with powerful engines designed for high-performance driving.”
Although opinions vary, it is often cited that the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 is the first muscle car ever created. It was designed with speed and power in mind, using a powerful engine with a lightweight body.
By the mid-1970s some of this market converged into personal luxury performance cars, thus beginning an era where personal luxury trumped lightweight speed.
Performance-type cars began to make a return in the United States during the 1980s, however with new regulations governing safety and pollution combined with increased production costs, these new vehicles were not designed to the formula of the traditional low-cost muscle cars. Introducing electronic fuel injection and overdrive transmission to the remaining muscle car survivors like the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird helped sustain a market share for them alongside personal luxury coupes with performance packages.
Karl Brauer, editor-in-chief of the online car review aggregator “Total Car Score” is a self-described fanatic who characterizes muscle cars as his “primary passion.” He compiled a list of what he considers 10 classic American muscle cars, saying, “Vintage car collectors consider these must-haves!”
Karl Brauer’s list:
• 1970 Oldsmobile 442 W-30
• 1974 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am SD455
• 1970 Buick GSX Stage 1
• 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 LS6
• 1970 Pontiac GTO Judge Ram Air IV
• 1968 Ford Mustang GT500KR
• 1969 Ford Boss 429 Mustang
• 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona Hemi
• 1971 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda
• 1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Car buffs sometimes refer to classic muscle cars as “overpowered iron beasts” because these cars were built to deliver and beating and also to take one. They often burned rubber, and were anything but agile. Big, heavy, loud and rude, they embodied everything that was great about the American auto industry of the 1960s and 1970s.
American car-maker Chevrolet offered many different types, beginning with the Corvette in 1953, adding the Impala, Chevelle, El Camino, and Nova to its ranks throughout the years.
Dodge threw their hat into the ring beginning with the 1966 Charger, adding the Challenger and Super Bee thereafter.
Other American car-makers offerings include:
• AMC’s AMX and Javelin
• Buick’s Grand National
• Ford’s Mustang and Thunderbird
• Mercury’s Cougar
• Oldsmobile’s Olds 442
• Plymouth’s Barracuda and GTX
• Pontiac’s Firebird and GTO
When restoring muscle cars, people have differing views on whether staying true to the original factory’s work is the best way to go, or whether improving on anything you can is better. One thing to keep in mind is that a well-documented restoration performed by a renowned shop will always hold more value than one that’s undocumented or completed by an unknown shop or individuals.
Muscle cars are experiencing a resurgence in popularity, however finding one in mint condition is near impossible. Finding one that needs to be restored, and/or customized is a different story. So many different things about these cars can be customized, it is best to do your research on what features you would like to customize before getting a bid from someone.
Most likely people who own custom car shops are huge car fans who have learned the skills to do something they truly enjoy doing. Ask to see some of their work before going with a custom car shop, and remember it’s OK to barter when asking for custom work to be done to your muscle car.