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Icons of America’s muscle car culture

herr-stritt 25. Juni 2021
car, drag, power

Skill

You are going to read, understand and outline this authentic text. What is more, you are going to widen your knowledge of technical vocabulary – so take note of words that are unknown to you.

Objective

Deepen your knowledge on American cultural icons and understand their demise in this lesson on 20th-century US industrialism.

This text taken from „Supercars.net“ deals with the cultural impact of America’s muscle car culture. Please read it and draw a timeline of their historical development.

1960s Muscle Cars – Their Beginning and Downfall

The 1960s was a decade of great progress. The world was changing, and car design leapt forward, building upon the growth seen in the decade that went before. Power outputs jumped forward too, especially in the United States. Following the baby-boomer optimism of the 1950s, the 1960s saw a confidence and bolshy determination to go faster than the other.

Muscle Cars – A Brief History

1960s muscle cars are a product of the Classic Car Era. They evolved from the pent-up consumerism that exploded after World War II. Overnight, it seemed American consumers opted for bigger and faster cars. Muscle Cars appeared at a time when Detroit was trying to stop the invasion of imported cars led by Volkswagen and included Fiat, Renault , Datsun (now Nissan), with new, light-weight models like the Corvair, Falcon and Valiant.

The term muscle car generally describes a mid-size car with a large, powerful engine (typically, although not universally, a V8 engine) and special trim, intended for maximum acceleration on the street or in drag racing competition. It is distinguishable from sports cars, which were customarily considered smaller, two-seat cars, or GTs, two-seat or 2+2 cars intended for high-speed touring and possibly road racing.

Muscle cars are high-performance automobiles, principally referring to American models produced between 1964 to 1971. During the period these vehicles were interchangeably (and more commonly) described as supercars. The term “Muscle Car” was spawned by the horsepower race. Most give credit to John Z. DeLorean and the Pontiac GTO. The 1964 Pontiac Tempest GTO ignited the muscle car boom by giving the small-car, big-engine make an identity of its own.

The project was technically a violation of General Motors policy limiting its smaller cars to 330 cu. in. (5.4L) displacement, but it proved far more popular than expected, and inspired a host of imitations, both at GM and its competitors – well-known 1960s muscle cars brands.

Also, as the national highway system grew and gasoline became plentiful, Americans wanted more power, more speed. And in 1964 Detroit bowed to consumer pressure by putting big block V-8’s on mid-sized chassis.

The general trend towards factory performance was a reflection of the importance of the youth market. A key appeal of the 1960s muscle cars was that they offered the burgeoning American car culture a selection of vehicles which were priced just within reach of young people with strong street performance that could also be used for racing. The affordability aspect of these 1960s muscle cars was quickly compromised by increases in size, optional equipment, and plushness, forcing the addition of more and more powerful engines just to keep pace with performance.
A backlash against this cost and weight growth led in 1967 and 1968 to a secondary trend of “budget muscle” in the form of the Plymouth Road Runner, Dodge Super Bee, and other stripped, lower-cost variants of these 1960s muscle cars.

Even though the sales of true muscle cars were, compared to total Detroit production standards, modest they had considerable value in publicity and bragging rights. They also served to attract young customers into showrooms who would then buy the standard editions of these mid-size 1960s muscle cars. Models such as the AMC Rebel Machine, the COPO (Central Office Production Order) Chevrolet Chevelle, and Super Cobra Jet Ford Torino were factory upgraded to be turn-key drag racers. The fierce competition led to an escalation in horsepower that peaked in 1970, with some models of 1960s muscle cars offering as much as 450 gross horsepower.

Unfortunately, the muscle cars’ performance soon became a liability during this period. The automotive safety lobby, which had been led by Ralph Nader, policed the sale of such powerful 1960s muscle cars particularly to young buyers . At the same time, efforts to combat air pollution compelled Detroit to emphasize emission control, rather than power. The situation was exacerbated by the OPEC oil embargo in 1973 that led to gasoline rationing. Soon, With all these forces against it, the market 1960s muscle cars rapidly evaporated.
The Clean Air Act of 1970 called for pollution control devices that hampered performance. By the time congress passed the Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rule in 1978 the Muscle Car seemed doomed forever. While performance cars began to make a return in the 1980s, reminiscent of 1960s muscle cars, spiraling costs and complexity seem to have made the low-cost traditional muscle car a thing of the past. Surviving models of those 1960s muscle cars are now prized collectibles, some carrying prices to rival exotic European sports cars.

General Motors discontinued its Camaro and Trans Am models in 2002 (along with the short-lived 1994-1996 Chevrolet Impala SS), leaving the Ford Mustang as the last surviving semi-muscle car built in the states, Chrysler having discontinued its muscle cars after 1974.