When a muscle was born..
Muscle car is usually defined as a high performance American 2-door vehicle that has rear wheel drive and is middle sized. Originally these classics are from 1960-1970 period and are equipped with powerful V8’s, had affordable price-tag that caused their popularity in street use and drag racing.
1949 may be defined as a birthday of first muscle car – Oldsmobile Rocket 88 [135 HP]. It was a response to public interest in speed and power with the first ever American high-compression overhead-valve V8 mounted into lighter body. The next one was 1951 Hudson Hornet. A bit later almost all manufacturers had a muscle car in their model range. Chrysler’s Hemi powered luxurious C-300 was described as America’s most powerful and best-handling at that time [1955, 300HP, 0-60 in 9.8 sec]. AMC’s Rambler Rebel was the fastest stock sedan in 1957.
The muscle popularity grew in 1960′ when Ford, Mopar [Dodge, Chrysler and Plymouth] , GM [Oldsmobile, Chevrolet, Pontiac and Buick] and AMC started their competition in power. At 60’s decade famous names were born: Pontiac GTO [“GTO” actually has started as optional package, but in 66′ become a model], Ford Mustang – the first pony car, Plymouth Barracuda, AMC’s Javelin and AMX, Plymouth Road Runner and GTX. During 1970’s , the peak in power, some limited-edition muscle cars had even as much as 450 HP.
The story of pony cars actually began in 1950’s when Ford made its 2-seat version of Thunderbird as a response to Chevy’s Corvette.
Soon after it a few more models had joined the competitions, but the pony class template was defined by 1964 Ford Mustang that used Falcon’s platform with a dull 2.8 liter V6 3-speed manual transmission, but had very good body design. For extra 60% of default price tag customer could get a V8 [the one that drove Ford really profitable]. Originally the first to compete in this class was Plymouth Barracuda, because it was delivered to public 2 weeks before Mustang. Barracuda was not built as a rival to Ford’s Mustang – it was a series expansion of low-cost sports cars like Plymouth Valiant. But Mustang had unique body style, got more attention and from the second in time, became the first in style. When GM introduced Chevrolet Camaro, Mustang got its first redesign. At the same time Pontiac Firebird [based on Camaro] and Mercury Cougar joined the pony family. It looked like family is completed until 1968 AMC Javelin and 1970 Dodge Challenger [Barracuda’s enlarged version] showed up.
After the 1973 oil crisis Challenger, Barracuda and Javelin were cancelled after 1974, Camaro and Firebird had a narrow escape [appearances in TV ensured their popularity and continuation], Mustang was reinvented as Ford Pinto, but soon came back with new sporty image in 1979. Mercurry reentered market with Mustang-based Mercury Capri, American Motors got AMX back.
Pony survivors – Mustang, Camaro and Firebird – enjoyed new popularity in 1980’s, but were more fuel-efficient. Actually, the ponies had almost lost Mustang, because Ford had serious thoughts on replacing it with front wheel drive car [luckily, it appeared as Ford Probe].