Retort: The Appeal of American Muscle Cars

While catching up on my daily dose of car news at an ungodly hour of the night I flipboarded upon a piece of automotive writing so misguided that it warranted a response from me - the resident import fanboy at Boldride. I put on my smoking jacket, grabbed some scotch and sat down at my typewriter. One glass of scotch later I realized that writing a letter wasn't going to cut it. So I fired up my internet, got to clicking and fleshed out this piece of writing below. You should check out the article that inspired this post here: Column: American Muscle Cars – Why?  otherwise the rest of this post will make little sense.

Retort: The Appeal of American Muscle Cars

Ok glad you're back,  pretty simple stuff right? Sounds like a lot things we've all heard, or said before at one point or another. "Muscle cars are bad blah blah because they don't turn and they'll explode if  they're rear ended."  Which is kind of true, except that our dear friend Nino at GTSpirit seems to forget that all cars from the 60's and 70's were terrible. According to Nino, compared to anything made in the last 10 to 20 years, muscle cars are garbage and should be scrapped. Thankfully for the rest of us there's this thing called nostalgia that keeps them around. But give me a break, comparing a muscle car to anything new is like comparing an ox cart to a rocket ship, literally. The 2012  BMW F10 M5, for example, has more computing power than the lunar module that took Neil Armstrong to the moon in 1969. Technically the M5 should be able to make you a cappuccino, while it massages your butt, as you rocket around the Nürburgring in under 8 minutes while streaming "Rocketman" via Pandora. My main gripe however, is best highlighted by Nino's rather hamfisted grip on English. Maybe Nino just doesn't get muscle cars because he  didn't grow up in America, and doesn't understand the appeal of cheap horsepower. And to be fair, muscle cars are as much of an American cultural phenomenon as 50oz soft drinks, and KFC Double Down Breakfast Sandwiches. However, that doesn't explain the massive following Detroit iron has outside the U.S. in countries like the UK, Norway, Finland, Germany and Venezuela. Venezula hates the United States, but they sure love them some muscle cars.

Retort: The Appeal of American Muscle Cars

I think the reason is pretty simple. Muscle cars, unlike Ferrari's, Jaguars and Porsche's, are two-ton, gas guzzling middle fingers to braggart types. They are the alternative for those who don't agree that all fast cars, and therefore all good cars, have to be light, composed of quirky engineer's wet dreams, and be expensive to maintain. Muscle cars are great because they're simple and straightforward. They never attempted to be anything but straight-line performance machines. That's all they did back in the 60's, and that's all they do now. Up until very recently there was no better way to destroy a 1/4 mile than with a muscle car. But please allow me to break down the three basic fundamentals of muscle car awesomeness: 3) Engineering At the time the motors going into the Corvettes, Camaros, Mustangs and GTO's were engineering masterpieces. The pushrod V8 may seem antiquated now, but the amount of horsepower and torque these motors developed at the time was nothing short of amazing. But since we're comparing Ferrari's to Ford's, let's take a moment to remember it was Ford who tried to buy Ferrari and then proceeded to embarrass them on their home soil through the second half of the 1960's.  In addition to running a successful racing program Ford was scaling its European operations. It was also the second largest automotive manufacturer in the world, while Enzo Ferrari fussed over the details of his red toys. All the race engines used by Shelby American and Ford Racing were based on production V8's.

Retort: The Appeal of American Muscle Cars

Sure the handling of your run of the mill muscle car was poor at best. The brakes were too, but if you've driven any other car from the 60's and 70's it's the same thing, muscle cars  just had more mass to deal with. I mean sure a Porsche 911 handled well, until physics took over and suddenly the world was moving backwards through your windshield. The average British roadster had the torsional rigidity of a rubber band. The Alfa Romeo GTV is a great car, but only because it fools you into thinking you're going really fast when you actually aren't.

Retort: The Appeal of American Muscle Cars

The only real difference between muscle cars and European sports cars of the same vintage,  is that instead of using Volkswagen Beetle motors, fire truck water pumps, and highly strung race motors, muscle cars used high performance engines based on mass produced engine blocks. The Chevrolet Small Block was produced continously for close to 50 years; finding it's way into everything from boats to family haulers and race cars. The Ford Windsor V8 was featured in production cars from 1962 through 2001, and you can still buy it as a crate motor through Ford Racing. Though that may seem boring and un-sexy 40 years later, that sort of high horsepower engineering got an entire generation hooked on speed. 2) Styling

Retort: The Appeal of American Muscle Cars

We're not dismissing the beauty of Ferrari, Maserati, Porsche or Alfa Romeo of the 60's or 70's. Their designs are, in every sense of the word, timeless. But the truth is American design, with its often bloated looks, was far more appreciated in America because it was affordable. The Mustang and Camaro were primarily cars for secretaries. But if you chose the right options, it was a cool looking car with big horsepower.

Retort: The Appeal of American Muscle Cars

The issue of size is something Americans struggle with. But what else do you expect when a nation's GDP increases by $300 million in 15 years? 1) Cost This is really the appeal of muscle cars. You can't get any more bang for the your dollar/pound/euro/kroner/yen than a muscle car. There's no shortage of cars that turn and stop better and get better gas mileage. But if you want a great project car to work on, a muscle car is a hell of a place to start. You can still go to a junkyard or a barn and find a great base for a muscle car project. Parts are cheap, they're plentiful, they're overly simple, and since people love them so much you can actually make them handle decently without going bankrupt. But since Nino ruled out the resto-modding argument we won't go there.  Muscle cars in their day were cheap considering the amount of performance they offered, and bang for the buck never goes out of style.

Retort: The Appeal of American Muscle Cars

It seems that the American muscle car, and culture behind it is simply a microcosm of American society. We like  our cars like we like our food, business and our politics; cheap, fast and dirty. It's just democracy at work, baby. In the end the appeal of muscle cars really comes down to an appreciation for the past engineering accomplishments (how is a 400+ horsepower street car in 1968 not impressive?), appreciation for the aesthetics of the classic style, and praticallity. My guess is that it's more the latter than the former, but I'll let our muscle car fans speak for themselves. What do you find most appealing about American muscle cars and why? (Photos: See all muscle cars here)

Be part of something big