QOTD: Can Muscle Cars Do More With Less (Cylinders)?

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler
qotd can muscle cars do more with less cylinders

The Wall Street Journal’s Driver’s Seat touches on the muscle car segment, and whether they’ll fall pitfall to rising gas prices in the future, CAFE regulations or some combination of the two. Among the solutions brought up in the article – by Chrysler executives, no less – is “a high output four-cylinder engine”.

There’s no doubt that the current crop of V6 muscle cars is better than ever; the constant chorus of “V6 Mustang $19,995 FTW!!!111” may get tiresome, but there’s no doubt that the value proposition is there – and it really is a good car. The V6 Challenger with the Pentastar V6 is an often overlooked entrant, and the Camaro V6 is an honest effort, even if it’s not very good.

But to me, and many others, a true muscle car always has been and always will be about the V8 engine, and the intangible qualities that surround it. There’s the sound, the knowledge of all that power under the hood, but also the sheer profligacy and belligerence of the whole package. For an urbanite like myself, the V8 muscle car is a blatant rejection of the current zeitgeist; “sustainability”, the foodie movement, cycling, the push towards mass urbanization, doomsday theories of catastrophic climate change and fossil fuel depletion.The Mustang 5.0 (or the Boss, or the Shelby, or the Challenger SRT8) is unapologetic about being enormous, offensively loud and a deliberate misallocation of precious resources.

The irony is that while the wackier proponents of those theories are seeking a Rousseauian return to a mythical state of nature (where we live in harmony with the earth and our fellow man in a communitarian, kale-saturated paradise) that never really existed, I feel the same way about muscle cars. They evoke feelings of that era in between The Pill and the discovery of HIV, when optimism, not irony, was the spirit of the times, when my Grandfather left his MG Magnette in England and came to this continent. Without fail, he ordered his cars with a V8 engine, because he could, whether it was his first American car, a 1962 Pontiac, or his last, a 79 Caprice with a 350.

Even as someone who grew up during the apogee of the import tuner movement, who finds the same intoxication in a shrieking VTEC four-cylinder that a Boomer would in a big-block V8, the idea of a muscle car with fewer than 8 cylinders just doesn’t sit right with me. A V6 muscle car is a a 370Z. A turbo 4, as great as it is, is still something I associate with Nissan 240SXs and long nights in a damp garage trying to make it “JDM”. There are exceptions; the Buick Grand National is a legend, full stop. A Mustang with the 3.5L Ecoboost is a dream of mine. But then, you’d turn the key, and rather than hear that sublime gurggling, and the machine gun blatt as you leave the light, all that’s there is the subtle whistle of compressors and bypass valves. The F-150 Ecoboost I have now is just fine without the two extra cylinders. The blown V6 does just what I need and may even be better than the available V8s. But a muscle car is not a work truck. I don’t need to tell any of you this. But you can keep telling me how great the V6 ‘Stang is. I won’t disagree.

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4 of 77 comments
  • DenverMike DenverMike on Jul 05, 2012

    Muscle and pony cars deserve the best engine configuration out there and the V8 is as good as it ever got. It's not just about the burble, rumble or power down low, but also engine simplicity, reliability and longevity. Of course, specialty limited editions like the GNX and SVO get a pass, but anything that'll take a V8 will better. Actually, today's V8s are pretty darn fuel efficient if you'd care to look. Way more fuel efficient than boosted 4s or 6s when you consider smiles per gallon.

  • DearS DearS on Jul 06, 2012

    MX-5 with V6 = power to weight fun. don't need V8.

    • See 1 previous
    • Jellodyne Jellodyne on Jul 06, 2012

      Back when Ford was still married to Mazda, I wondered why they didn't sell a version of the Miata with a wheel flares, hood stripes and a v8 and call it a Cobra. Or at least a decent v6.

  • Beachy Asphalt only works to keep the dirt road below it dry, and it is the dry dirt that holds up the asphalt surface to make a smooth road surface. Once the asphalt cracks or a spring wells up and the dirt gets wet, all bets are off. It is usually due to a spring that perennial potholes form. They are very hard to get rid of.
  • JamesG I’m the owner of the featured car that’s currently on EBay. Thanks for such a nice write up on these automobiles. Mine happens to be in excellent condition and the photos don’t do it justice. The HT4100 isn’t as bad as some made them out to be and they can go 200k miles with proper maintenance. I also own a 79 w/the analog fuel injected 5.7 350 which should have been used through 1985 but ever-increasing CAFE regulations called for more economical power plants which made GM shelve this great motor.
  • Jeff S Adam on Rare Classic Cars recently bought a pristine 71 Kenosha Cadillac.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lY-G2dExgXE&ab_channel=RareClassicCars%26AutomotiveHistory
  • Jeff S Wouldn't most of the large suvs in NYC be livery vehicles? If so that would be hurting those who make their living by driving for hire.
  • EBFlex Yes their mass transit is great if you want to be beat within an inch of your life or pushed onto the tracks by some random psycho.