Most people who are not in the car scene have heard the term "classic muscle cars" before, but they don't always understand what they are. Yes, they are vintage cars — but they aren't just any vintage cars.
Rather, classic muscle cars are a specific sub genre of vintage cars that were built and designed with certain specs in mind. Outsiders to the car scene don't realize this, and often make mistakes about them as a result.
If you're new to cars and are curious about the hubbub on these machines, that's totally okay. Every car fan starts somewhere, and this beginner's introduction to muscle cars of yore will help you learn the basics.
What are classic muscle cars, anyway?
Classic muscle cars are vintage cars that were designed with speed, horsepower, and steering in mind. They often doubled as drag race cars when they were first made, and are known for having powerful V8 engines.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a muscle car is "any of a group of American-made two-door sports cars with powerful engines designed for high-performance driving." However, these days, muscle cars can also be considered to be four-door cars with high-performance gears.
In order for a car to be considered a vintage car, it has to be at least 20 years old. The stricter version of the word "vintage" would mean that it's from 1930 or before, however, classic cars are generally considered to be 30 years old or older.
So, basically, they are high performance cars from 30 years ago or more. And, ideally, they're two-door cars that are made by American manufacturers.
Why are classic muscle cars so popular?
Classic muscle cars often show a lot of the major improvements in auto engineering throughout the years. So, from an engineering perspective, classic muscle cars are really impressive reminders of the breakthroughs car design has had.
It was 1948 Oldsmobile Rocket 88, for example, that really set the standard for V8 engine design — and many of the design elements of the Rocket 88 are still used in V8 engine designs of today. Meanwhile, the 1955 Chrysler C-300 became famous for being a luxury car with one of the first legit Hemi engines.
Historically, classic muscle cars also harken back to a time when horsepower was the king of car stats. During the 1950s and 1960s, almost every major auto manufacturer went into a battle to make the car with the highest horsepower. So, to a point, you can also see which car brands were the best back in the day.
And visually, classic muscle cars offer a lot of eye candy. They really are beautiful, especially when you're talking about the muscle cars that were made back in the 1970s and earlier.
What classic muscle cars should everyone know about?
Some classic muscle cars are definitely more famous than others. The following muscle cars are names you should know, even if you aren't looking to become a vintage car guru:
- Ford Mustangs and Ford Cobras. The modern versions of these classic muscle cars are still on the road today, primarily because they are considered to be some of the highest quality sports cars in history. Almost any Mustang or Cobra is considered to be a collector car.
- Ford Galaxies. These were considered to be elite drag race cars of the early 1960s. They were super lightweight, and incredibly fast, with a full-size car being able to run 1/4 in less than 15 seconds.
- Chevrolet Impalas. Yes, the Chevy Impala started as a muscle car. Most notably, the 1963 Chevrolet Impala with RPOZ-11 was known to be a record-breaker in horsepower in its day.
- Chevrolet Chevelle S4. In 1970, the Chevelle line actually broke records with its 450 horsepower engine. That's a lot of zoom!
- AMC Rebels and AMC Javelins. During the 60s and 70s, American Motors Corporation's AMC Rebels and AMC Javelins were seen as the race car of Daytona, Indianapolis, and every other major car rally in the states. They are now considered to be major collector's items, particularly if they are found with race car trim.
So, how do people appreciate classic muscle cars?
There's a lot of ways to have fun with them. You can buy photos of them, own them, look at them, tinker with them, collect them, or actually make them from car kits, if you're skilled enough.
Riding in classic muscle cars and racing them, though, are definitely the best ways to enjoy them. Then again, I, as a fan of car rallies, might be a bit biased in that sense.