You see, the truth is that muscle cars are the internal combustion embodiment of the people who build them and buy them. They are the bull in the china shop, the ugly American, the crass and careless houseguest. The thinking man's nothing. They are rolling thunderclaps a step out of time – unapologetic and incongruent products that answer only to passion and pavement, defying the nanny-state know-it-alls in whose face they kick sand. They're muscular (of course), loud and indulgent – the kind of machine that would feel at home on Tony Soprano's payroll.
They brook no compromises and offer little nuance. They mean business, though their business is pleasure. Muscle cars are a black and white, all or nothing proposition, with super-hero exteriors belying the Spartan comforts to be found behind the glass. They enjoy a kind of gladiator luxury – the extravagant expense buying not power windows, power seats and power steering, but power. Pure and simple.
Like a work horse kept in the barn all winter getting a first scent of spring air, stamping the ground and tossing its head; a muscle car urges itself into action. A unique kind of fuel refinery – a prime-mover transforming high-octane into high-excitement. Gas disappears from the tank faster than Gatorade on an NFL sideline; and tires melt like an ice-cream cone in August, leaving behind the snaking patches even the youngest Hot Wheels devotee instantly recognizes.
Summer conversations are cut short as men turn and crane their necks for a glimpse of the gleaming metal and chrome that's just around the corner. Muscle cars announce their arrivals and departures in no uncertain terms. From a block or two away, we recognize the burbling grumble of 8-cylinders waiting impatiently on a crowded city street like Joe Louis sitting in the blue corner waiting for the bell. Waiting for the open road. Waiting for permission to roar and fly.
Muscle cars are not an acquired taste. They're like candy or smoked pork or a fat present under the tree with your name on it. They speak to something ancient within us, drawing us near while daring us to look away. They're a guilty pleasure that overwhelms the guilt. Even the crunchiest granola hippy longs to kick off the Birkenstocks, throw down the protest sign and climb inside for the magic carpet ride. Even the stuffiest upper-crusty blue-blood understands the appeal. "Jeeves . . . the bouquet . . . it's well, a little vinyl. Maybe some oil. And gasoline, mmmm, both raw and burned. And, oh, there's just the faintest soupçon of say, winter storage mustiness, and there's a little flutter of, like a . . . like a nutty Edam cheese. Or, maybe that's paint."
A muscle car is an adult's hyperkinetic erector set – a land rocket you might build or work on yourself. A garage is more than a place to park. With hand and power tools you become the mad surgeon and it becomes the monster. And, it's a monster you love and care for like a family member. Better, even, than that. You hold its life in your hands and in turn it holds yours. Diagnostics need not include more than your own well-tuned senses and maybe a buddy's as well. Hood-up time is as enjoyable as on-road time – as long as the two don't run together very often.
A muscle car is a powerful machine, and it imparts some of that power to its driver. This is not a small part of its attraction – to both men and women alike. From the outside, the driver seems cool and composed – a king of the road – this despite often being a frantic mess on the inside as pushes his car to its limit. After all, it goes too fast and stops too slow. It turns too hard, and can he really trust that pressure gauge? It doesn't matter. What matters is that he is astride the beast and it's his own. Maybe he's compensating for something. But, so what? Who isn't? And besides, he and his car will soon be gone and you'll be left far behind. Wuss.
You see, the truth is that muscle cars aren't cars at all. Leave that mundane and mildewed word for loaded-down Taurus wagons filled with dorm-room furniture. Leave it for anemic Camry's parked outside Applebee's. Leave it for Intrepids and Jettas and Grand-Ams and Accords. Leave it for vehicles that never give anything more to their owners than transportation. The truth is that muscle cars are really pirate ships, war horses, dragons, moon rockets, roller coasters, tidal waves – all of those – and not a bit the 'cars' inhabiting most driveways. The truth is that a muscle car transcends its individual components to become a fantasy machine in which your every dream may yet come true.
[Published as originally submitted.]