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While it’s no secret that American muscle cars have long been fan favourites in the vintage auto enthusiast community – where, when and how did it all begin? 

Although the exact definition of a muscle car has long been debated by industry experts and  automotive enthusiasts alike, muscle cars often have a combination of the following characteristics – 

  • A large V8 engine in the most powerful configuration offered for a particular model
  • Rear-wheel drive
  • Manufactured in the United States in the 1960s or early 1970s (the specific year range of 1964-1973 is often used) 
  • A relatively lightweight two-door body (opinions vary as to whether high-performance full size, compact and pony cars qualify as muscle cars, as some claim that only mid-size cars can qualify)
  • An affordable price range, even as a collectors item 
  • Being designed for straight-line drag racing, while remaining street legal

Although the best muscle car ever released is a hotly debated topic with different answers depending on who you ask, some of the most revered include the Dodge Challenger, Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and the Dodge Charger, who were all iconic releases during what can only be dubbed America’s automotive ‘golden era’ of the 60’s and 70’s. However, was the popularity of muscle cars during this time down to market demand, or something more?

The Origins Of The First Muscle Cars

A muscle car is a phrase usually used to describe high-performance American coupes, usually (but certainly not limited to) rear-wheel drive and fitted with a large displacement V8 engine. The term ‘muscle car’ was first coined in 1964 by automotive journalist Brock Yates, in an attempt to describe the overall character of that year’s Pontiac GTO for ‘Car and Driver Magazine’. 

Despite this, the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 is still widely regarded to be the first ever American muscle car to hit the market, as well as the first to kick start what can now only be referred to as a global phenomenon. Not only did domestic sales explode, but the rapid rise of muscle cars also saw foreign markets take an increased interest in American made vehicles. As a result, many of the leading European manufacturers called upon their designers to craft their own league of muscle cars, such as the De Tomaso Mangusta and Aston Martin V8 Vantage.

The modifications made to American muscle cars when compared to those produced in earlier automotive eras, were that these new kids on the block were designed to hit the jackpot with the three A’s: acceleration, attitude and affordability. As a result, muscle cars became popular with young drivers – particularly young men – in the mid 1960s. Not only were they sleek, attractive and powerful, they were also an affordable option that could be driven for everyday street use and for formal and informal drag racing.

While the Ford Mustang is regarded as the original ‘Pony Car’, several automotive authorities will vehemently agree that there’s a difference between the venerable Muscle Car and the sportier Pony Car, and that despite popular opinion – they are not one in the same. However, as the years went by they have also been known to blend genres, and customers that would have otherwise shopped one segment or the other are now assimilated into a single demographic. An everyday example of this is that for car lovers of both yesteryear and today, many will cross shop vehicles like the Mustang, but will certainly not turn their nose up at the four door Dodge Charger either. To simplify, muscle cars are an extension of the hot rodding philosophy of taking a small car and putting a large-displacement engine in it, purely for the purpose of increased straight-line speed. 

However, the popularity of muscle cars began to decline in the late 1970’s thanks to a raft of new policies and laws in the United States. With insurance rates skyrocketing, the 1970 Clean Air Act and the OPEC Oil Embargo of 1973, the production of muscle cars by the nation’s automotive production giants either significantly declined, or were discontinued altogether. However, just a short time later in the late 1980’s, new technology such as electronic fuel injection systems, turbochargers and advanced engine management controls helped to pull muscle cars back out of the dark ages, by allowing for more power to be extracted from each drop of gas. 

Our universal love of American muscle cars can boil down to a variety of attractive theories – for some, it’s the power, while for others, it’s the relatively modern price tag. Regardless of where you sit on that spectrum, it’s no secret that they are the physical embodiment of a bygone era in time where cars weren’t just for getting from A to B – muscle cars were, and still are, works of art. 

Your Guide To Everything Classic Cars 

Finding a fellow vintage auto enthusiast can feel a bit like finding a needle in a haystack, but rest assured that Wayne’s Garage understands the thrill more than most. Having spent forty years collecting anything and everything from matchbox cars to hub caps, he’s successfully followed his passion to source, collect and stock beautiful and low mileage classic automobiles from around the world. With extensive experience in the automotive industry, it was only a matter of time before Wayne expanded on his love of vintage, iconic vehicles to share his knowledge and passion with the public.

Although his passion is for automobiles built before 1978, with a particular love for Buicks, Cadillacs, Lincolns, Oldsmobiles and even Fords, Wayne is just as passionate about the stories of the owners. Just like the cars, he has found that his fellow classic car enthusiasts all have wildly different attractions and logic behind their passion or hobby, and this often translates into how the car is presented. If it’s even remotely different, rare or just plain unusual, Wayne will overcome the relevant logistical and geographical challenges of bringing the cars to his showroom in Australia. 

Wayne’s Garage is a showroom conveniently located at Seventeen Mile Rocks, that specialises in the restoration and sales of vintage automobiles. If you’re on the hunt for Brisbane classic cars – quite simply, Wayne is your man. If you would like to arrange a viewing or inspect any other of our classic vehicles, please get in touch with us today.