Classic Muscle Cars vs the Modern World
To those in the Boomer generation, the term “Muscle Cars” conjures up memories of big displacement engines produced by the Detroit OEM’s, formerly known as The Big Three (GM, Ford & Chrysler). “There’s no replacement for displacement” was the mantra back in the day. That was before the Japanese and German invasion in the 1960’s with offerings from Daimler, BMW, VW, Audi, Toyota, Nissan and many others.
Volkswagen’s beetle made a huge, post WWII impact on the US auto market beginning in the late 50’s that began the trend toward fuel efficient, small displacement engines. Sixty years later, Japan and Germany have been joined by Korea in the hunt for the US consumer, and are taking increasingly larger bites of the market share pie. Today, small displacement, turbocharged, computer controlled, 4 and 6 cylinder powertrains offer performance on a scale unimaginable in the ‘60’s, and they dominate the market.
The relative inefficiency of a 60’s era Ford 427 Side Oiler V8, mated with a toploader four speed manual transmission, stands in stark contrast to a two liter, four banger with 500 HP. High horsepower, all-wheel-drive, and paddle shifters are commonly found in current offerings from US, German and Japanese manufacturers. Today’s performance cars are far superior to those built 50+ years ago, but that’s to be expected after half a century of technological advancements.
The Appeal of Muscle Cars
The beauty of American Muscle Cars is their emotional appeal. Beyond the timeless lines of a ‘67 Mustang fastback, or a “split-window” 1963 Corvette Stingray, most enthusiasts find the exhaust note from a well-tuned V8 preferable to a 4 cylinder Honda with a fart pipe. Or, to paraphrase a racing cliché, “it’s not how well you go fast, it’s how you look and sound when you do.”
Most of us have an idea of what a muscle car is, but maybe we’re unsure of the exact models that meet the criteria. The term is often loosely applied to most 1960 and 1970’s classic cars that were optioned from the factory with big engines, more horsepower and typically a 4 speed manual transmission.
What Defines a Muscle Car?
First of all, the term “American muscle cars” is superfluous. All official muscle cars are American made. It’s possible you’ve heard of Australian muscle cars or even Latin American, but these are cars manufactured abroad by the Detroit Three.
Muscle cars come in a 2 door, family style package with a V8 engine. These cars are ideal for street use, and also the occasional drag race. The muscle car is quite different from European high performance cars and the Shelby Cobra. While the European cars were designed with agility, the muscle cars were designed to get up and go. Drag races became popular with the help of several successful films including 1957’s Rebel Without A Cause. It wasn’t until the mid 60’s though, that muscle cars began their popular stride. The interest would continue until the 1973 oil crisis and subsequent regulations.
What Was the First Muscle Car?
Though opinions of when the muscle car era began vary, the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 is often cited as the first muscle car, closely followed by the Hudson Hornet. Chrysler then came out with the 1955 C-100. The C-100 stood out from the crowd. Not only was it fast, it possessed unmatched handling. Chrysler advertised it as “America’s Most Powerful Car”.
The original muscle cars boasted 135hp – not much by today’s standards. But by 1970, muscle cars were producing up to 450hp. Variations within the model were commonplace, as each manufacturer offered several upgrade options. Ordering your muscle car and tailoring it to your desire was a big draw among customers. Before long, muscle trucks were introduced. Leading car companies came out with models such as the Ford Ranchero, GMC Sprint and the Chevy El Camino, all available with big block performance options.
How Do Modern Muscle Cars Compare to the Classics?
Muscle cars have been periodically revived, like the 2004 Pontiac GTO and the 2008 Dodge Challenger, but none have been able to sustain the fame of the originals. Certain classic cars, as well as original muscle cars, continue to be well sought after investment opportunities. They have a long-term track record of appreciation, outperforming many other investments. They perform well, both as weekend toys and as an appreciating asset, much like art, antiques, and other historical artifacts.
For example, if you had purchased a 1965 Shelby Cobra when it was new, and sold it 50 years later, you would have realized an annual rate of return of just over 9%.
Besides, you can’t drive a mutual fund.