Vote for the Winner of TTAC Muscle Car Writing Contest Here
Thanks to all who entered the contest that asked “ Does the American Muscle Car Have a Future?” Far be it for Justin and I to declare a winner of that debate, but we can submit the three top finalists’ arguments on the subject for your delectation. Frank Rogers has a very narrow definition of the genre, and he ain’t shy about sharing it: “Transmission wise, a proper stick or a traditional slushbox is all that’s needed at muscle beach…paddle shifters here would be akin to vein augmentation surgery. And sorry, Dodge Charger. Sedans have no place in musclecardom. Leave the four door bruisers in the hands of coppers.” Addressing the same issues, Don Gammil sees semantics as a clear and present danger to the muscle car’s future. “If the formula can’t keep changing (and changing more than [Motor Trend’s Angus] MacKenzie allows for), the term “muscle car” will either become universally misapplied or will die.” And Jared Petroske considers the muscle car as a uniquely American “hands-on” experience. “But what was so great about these muscle cars wasn’t their design or their power… but rather their simplicity. With an engine compartment roughly the size of my first apartment, we could literally climb inside the Impala and take apart its carburetor or adjust the throttle control, the air filter, or whatever part was rattling around this week.” Good points all, but there can only be one winner (of a subscription to Octane magazine). Cast your votes– I mean vote– now!
Sadly, I didn't see this coming. I thought that someone would have thought the same as I. If I were more eloquent in the english language, I would have put forward my 800 words. But I don't have the time or the skills to do that. What I'm talking about is, of course, the hereditory lineage of the quintessential muscle into what it is known as today. And the lineage is twofold: First, we have the high-end spectrum. The muscle car of today is known through acronyms: M5, E55, GT-R, SRT, -V and so on... The formula is simple, a big engine in a small car, add some boy racerish charm, and hey presto, a muscle car. Second, we have the low-end spectrum. And I'm talking about rice-burners. The Fast and the Furious-crowd. Pimped-outed CRX:s, the Corolla AE86, insanely turbocharged Supras, the Skyline R34. If those people had the money, they would buy a GT-R in sixty seconds flat. These people are those who forty years ago would have bought a Challenger, and could only dream about a Superbird. The thing with muscle cars of today is, V8 is only an option. It doesn't even have to be american. For people on the cheap, it has to be affordable. And for those who doesn't care less, it just have to be faster round the 'ring than the guys next door. The Mustang, Challenger and Camaro are simply relics from a by-gone era, bought for novelty and nostalgia value. The american muscle car is already dead and buried a long time ago...
The American muscle car is dead? This genre is a relic of a bygone era? Japanese penalty boxes are "muscle" cars? Muscle cars can only have two sets of doors or be a certain year or size? My goodness. Tell Australians that their thoroughly American-style Holdens and Fords that they modify and drag race aren't muscle cars. Try driving a Charger SRT8 and see if it feels any different than any other modern muscle car behind the wheel, or look different for that matter. It's one of the most aggressive looking modern muscle car since the evil 4th gen. Firebird WS6. Look at the classic 454 El Camino SS at it's zenith or the turbocharged Grand National of the 1980s. All of these are muscle cars. Muscle cars aren't not made by their body style. They are made of the same bond of being American (or made by a subsidary of an American company in the same vein), RWD and whose primary mission is to put you back in your seat and give you that distinct rush that only a muscle car can deliver. Take a Mustang Bullitt for a spin and see the black and white difference between it and a Civic Si inside, outside and behind the wheel. Behold a Challenger SRT8 next to the Hyundai's biggie-sized Tiburon has real style that turns heads and attracts all sorts of people. The muscle car is still alive, and it's still coughing up blood and guts. Richard Hammond put it best in Top Gear magazine (by far the best American muscle car article I've read this past year, penned by a Brit no less). "There are those who don't like muscle cars, who can't understand their appeal and frown at them in confusion and bewilderment. They will not like the new Challenger. And we should pity these people - pity them, but not fear them, because they are spineless and have no soul. If a car is a dynamic creature, if it's about taking you from where you are to where you need to be and making your hair tingle in the process, then a muscle car is the ultimate expression of that form." http://www.topgear.com/content/features/stories/2008/04/stories/06/1.html It will never be summed up any better by anyone else. New or old, manual or automatic, grocery getter or pony car, the muscle car is a distinctly American expression of ultimate four wheeled freedom. That's something that will never be achieved by a fat, four cylinder Hyundai coupe, a Civic with a wing that's too tall and a blatting exhaust, or some high-end German luxury car with 800 horsepower that only white-collar elitists can afford or will care about in ten years if they even remember them after two once the lease is up. There's no feeling or passion or American heritage in these cars. They are cold, disposable machines for people who want cold, disposable machines. They aren't about performance, they are about warranty, or fuel economy, or my sticker price was higher than yours. That's not the stuff of which muscle car lust is made. If (or when) the muscle car dies, when the Mustang, Corvette, Camaro, etc finally disappear for good we will lose some of our soul and identity. A part of our culture. Our automakers will also lose a big part of their history that gave them a loyal following and made them big in the first place. American automakers will become an empty shell with no modern take on their rich history or style, a true souless husk. The best automakers on the planet know their history, do it justice continuously, and know what they do well. Modern American muscle cars meet that criteria. But the muscle car will never die. While American automakers were great (and now not so great) they have continued to bless us with machines that only they can deliver. And when the new ones are gone we will still purchase, overhaul and enjoy them all, modern and classic. Like Richard Hammond, if you don't "get" any of that, I pity you. Buy what you like to drive to work and back in I'll buy what I like that thrills me. Of all the entries Frank's comes closest to the real mark. Hang out at car shows or on muscle car forums for new and old and you'll see the common bond as the light of the day. It's not the simplicity, it's not the modern modability, it's the passion and the way an American RWD car designed to accelerate fast first and foremost really makes you feel. I really wish I could have submitted a good entry to this contest but I really haven't had much time to sit down and type one out. Maybe I already did.
A core question is whether "muscle car" maintains its classic definition or is expanded into a relatively generic term for high-performance cars. Words aren't sacred deities; they are merely tools that we use to help us communicate more easily with each other. If people spend too much time debating the meaning of a term, this is a good sign that its usage has become too broad and confusing. The more I read this discussion, the more strongly I lean in favor of maintaining the classic definition of muscle car (re: a specific type of American high-performance car built in the 1960s and 1970s . . . ). This frees us up to talk about contemporary performance cars on their own terms. The performance car market is arguably more diverse today than it has ever been. Why constrain how we talk about it with a label that pinches as badly as shoes three sizes too small? At any rate, I think muscle car sounds rather high schoolish. So you just spent upwards of $30,000 for your new Mustang, Camaro or Challenger and are showing it off to your colleagues at work. Would you honestly refer to it as a muscle car? If we reject muscle car as a generic label then what alternative terms do we use? Such a discussion might begin by charting out the different subspecies of contemporary performance cars. What are their distinguishing characteristics? Appropriate labels are likely to emerge organically from such a discussion. Along the way, folks will come to a greater understanding that gearheads have a pretty diverse range of automotive priorities. For example, TriShield may prize the acceleration of a Mustang Bullitt, whereas I'm into the cornering capabilities and open-air qualities of a four-cylinder roadster like the Miata. Do I deserve "pity" for such a predilection? No. And neither does TriShield. There is a future for performance cars. However, 10 years from now the market may look very different than it does today. I suspect that there will still be "legacy" performance cars such as the Mustang (assuming Ford is still around), but I also suspect that we will have entirely new categories that few, if any, of us could possibly predict. That's why looking forward is more interesting to me than looking backward.
"Performance cars" is a broad, generic label and it doesn't accurately describe what this type of these are. The term can apply to muscle cars but it's so vague it applies to everything else like sports cars and sport compacts and any other machine built with performance in mind under the sun, but it doesn't do enough to describe what a muscle car is. Nobody with a Corvette or Viper or Ford GT says they own a "performance car". They say they own a sports car, it describes exactly what they are. Yes, I refer to my car as a muscle car since that's exactly what it is. My colleagues also love it, in fact one offered to buy it from me if I decide to sell it for a new muscle car like the Camaro SS. Muscle cars also aren't exactly one-trick machines anymore either. Many can (and do) handle very well out of the box, especially today. They can also be affordably made to do nearly everything better as well. Accelerate, brake, turn and turn heads. I have a friend that regularly road races his only car, a daily driven 2006 Mustang GT with a Ford Racing suspension (with a warranty from Ford) along with wheel/tire, engine and brake upgrades. And he wins. He embarrasses many lighter cars purpose built for handling like the Miata. He now drives for a professional team that races Roush Mustangs around the region. And wins. Nobody is suggesting we "pity" people who don't like muscle cars but know and appreciate them for what we are. I like pretty much every kind of performance machine out there but the muscle cars are the ones that always get my money. That doesn't mean I don't smile or have fun seeing other people enjoy what they like. What Hammond is referring to is people that (and I've only seen them online) have no idea what they are, look down on them like they are somehow wrong or have no place in the modern automotive world, those that bash the people that own them, or who think this type of car needs to be marginalized or outlawed in some way. That's a bit disheartening. New categories for performance cars will be interesting, but at the end of the day they will never capture my car loving heart like the American muscle car. Enthusiasts always look forward but they never forget nor lose appreciation for where they came from or how really sweet the class has gotten today.