Car-losophy: Can Europe Make A Muscle Car?
An argument I've read tons of times but never dipped my toe into. Well, I'm putting my whole fist in now.
Before DriveTribe, I used to be on another website similar to DT (similar abbreviation too). Back when I was less active on there, a massive argument spanning multiple days (nearly a week) was had: What makes a muscle car and who makes 'em?
As I mentioned, I wasn't very active at that time. So despite all that I read (and the urges I had to join in the “discussion”), I stayed out of it. There were other things I wanted to do with my time and, quite honestly, didn't think it was worth the trouble due to my absence. I've never really stopped thinking, ranting, and reconsidering this argument though. Despite not getting involved then, I've decided to make good on my desire to talk about this topic. Before getting into this properly, let's set clarify what most mean by “Muscle car.”
"What is a Muscle Car?"
As far as I'm aware, there is a set of generally agreed upon rules/requirements that make a muscle car a muscle car. Those being:
Let's start with the first item on that list.
Photo Credit: FCA
Affordability is arguably the most important factor when we talk about muscle cars. It could be said that it's a key principle in fact, but I think there's more to it than just that. Affordability is important when we talk about muscle cars, but I think how much power for your money you can get is also an important aspect. That line of reasoning lends itself brilliantly to muscle cars. As muscle cars are a fantastic way to get yourself into a 400+ HP machine for less than 40K (45K on the high side).
It's not just true of modern muscle machines either, the origins of the muscle monster cemented this fact. To prove my point, I searched for the original MSRP of a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T with the 440 Six Pack and a Lamborghini Miura. Specifically, a 1972 P400 SV because it's closer to the HP number of the Challenger than the other models. Excluding the Jota of course.
It wasn't easy, but thanks to a website called NADA Guides, I did eventually find what seems to be the original MSRP(s) for both cars. Speaking of which, the numbers are below.
1970 Challenger R/T 440 Six Pack Original MSRP: $3,516
1971 Lamborghini Miura P400 SV Original MSRP: $21,000.
When translated into today's dollars, the prices are $22,651 and $135,908 respectively. That's an absolutely monumental difference in cost between the ol' Chally and the big Lambo; sorry Aaron Hussain.
There's more to it though, as the Challenger 440 Six Pack makes more horsepower than the Lamborghini. The 440 Six-Pack is rated at 390 HP and 490 lb-ft. The Lamborghini (in P400SV spec) comes in at 380 HP and 295 lb-ft. Not a substantial hp difference but certainly a notable torque difference. As is usually the case with most American performance engines when compared to European performance engines.
Obviously, the Lamborghini is lighter. If you know a single thing about physics, then you know that means the Miura can make better use of its power because it has less weight to move. Even still, if all you were looking for was pure power output then the Challenger R/T with the 440 Six-Pack is the way to go (especially if you're on a budget).
Even more obviously, there are other technicalities to note. Such as “the Miura has better build quality, it's made by Lamborghini (pedigree and prestige), it uses more expensive materials, the engine and chassis were far more expensive to build and develop, the Miura was also meant to handle, stop, etc.” All of this is true and are things to consider when we look at the price of the supercar vs the muscle car. Nevertheless, my point still holds up. For what would be 22K today, you could have a vehicle that is more powerful than a European supercar. Obviously, it's not impossible to find that today. It is, however, quite difficult to find such examples in the modern world where the price gap is wider than the space between arms when stretched to full length.
If you think the class difference between the Miura and Challenger is too great to make a fair comparison, then below is a much more sensible comparison.
1967 Sunbeam Tiger Mk2 Original MSRP: $3,716 dollars.
1967 Ford Mustang GT Fastback Original MSRP: $2,698 dollars.
Keep in mind that both vehicles have the 289 V8 (for the Mustang I choose the weakest version, the 225 HP version). I didn't cheat and put a bigger engine in the Tiger, nor did I use a weaker engine in the Mustang. Not that you could get a bigger engine in the Tiger or a weaker engine in the Mustang. So as far as fair comparisons go, I don't think it gets any better than the Mk2 Tiger and '67 Mustang with the same engine. Even still, you get the same horsepower in the Mustang for less money.
In any case, this is a classic Muscle Car principle. Let's move on.
Photo Credit: FCA
Can I ramble just a tiny bit? I can!? Sweet. I'm of the belief that this isn't actually a necessary requirement. I think this is more of a consequence of the landscape in the American Auto Industry back in the 60s and 70s. Stop me if this sounds familiar: America was wealthy and plentiful after WWII, so they embraced the “bigger is better mentality”, we all know the shtick. So America went V8, RWD crazy and soon the muscle car was born (who and what model gave birth to the muscle is a problem for another time). Later there were vehicles like the Oldsmobile Tornado but generally, most American vehicles were RWD or 4WD.
Obviously, having a powerful V8 in a FWD car would be ludicrous. Not only would it be an absolute monstrosity to package, but all that weight over the front without any kind of balance would be terrible (like a reverse Porsche 911). So if you want to make a serious performance machine with a V8, you really only have two options: RWD or AWD/4WD. For AWD see the 2014 Dodge Charger R/T AWD with the HEMI.
Photo Credit: Ford
V8s are part of the mystic around muscle cars. The big, rumbling V8 that shakes the whole car and enough torque to restart the Axiom in Wall-E. They've become and continue to be a defining part of a muscle car. I don't think they were always part of the charm of these vehicles though. I think it was (initially) a matter of circumstance. It was easy to make big V8s that pushed tons of horsepower and it's exactly what the public wanted. America had a deep love for V8s, so the auto industry decided to give American consumers a reason to love them even more. If they thought they could've made similar if not more money with a powerful straight-six or some other engine configuration, they would've went where the money was. Despite my opinion that muscle cars having V8s was more circumstantial than anything, there's no denying it didn't take long for muscle cars to become synonymous with powerful V8s.
If you don't know what I'm talking about in regards to the whole V8 thing, below are some vehicular examples that should help.
-The Dodge Challenger and Charger
-The Ford Mustang (for the sake of this article)
-The Chevrolet Camaro (For the sake of this article)
-The Ford XB Falcon
-The Dodge Coronet Super Bee
-The Plymouth GTX
-The Dodge Demon 340
-The Chevy Nova SS
-The Plymouth 'Cuda
-The Plymouth Superbird
-The Pontiac GTO (of all kinds)
That is just a short list of vehicles that exemplify what I'm talking about. There are tons of other cars that would fit in the list just fine and I'm sure someone in the comments is going to be a little bit annoyed I forgot to include one of them. Anyway, time to move on to some European cars I think could nearly pass as muscle cars.
Number 1: The 2014 Mercedes C63 AMG
Photo Credit: Mercedes-Benz (C63 Edition 507 Shown)
The term “German muscle car” is used quite a lot when discussing an array of Mercedes models. None more so than the 2014 C63 AMG. I've chosen this generation of the C63 rather than the later ones because I feel this is when the C63 was at its most muscular. Also, I'll be using the Edition 507, but everything said here is applicable to other C63 AMGs.
The C63 (Edition 507 and more) has two of the three qualifications (listed above) to be a Muscle car: It has a V8 and it is certainly RWD. I think it also has the “cool factor” that muscle cars have. Not that other cars don't have a cool factor of their own, but I think there's a set of characteristics that give them a coolness specific to them.
Anyway, the C63. I believe it meets all of these conditions with flying colors. The area where it falls short is the power-for-money part of the muscle car stew. Don't get me wrong, the C63 definitely has enough power. It's not short there. The thing is, you're paying upwards of $20-$24K more for that power when you could save yourself the money and buy a Challenger, Mustang, or Camaro. Granted those cars won't have the fit 'n' finish, luxury, handling, etc. However, there is no denying that those vehicles offer more or similar horsepower for less money.
Let's look at the power of the C63 AMG 507. As the name implies, it has 507 horsepower (and 450 lb-ft). That's pretty darn good. However, for the coupe, you had to empty $70K out of your kid's college fund to attain such power. Compare those numbers to the Challenger SRT8 of the time. What you find out is the Challenger SRT8 was $30K less. The Mustang Shelby GT500 of the same time period doesn't make things better either. For a base price of $55,110, you could get yourself a vehicle with 660 horsepower and 631 lb-ft. The difference, in this case, is “only” $14K, but you do get far more horsepower.
The Camaro? Like the other U.S. Muscle cars previously, it strengthens the high-horsepower-for-low-money principle that muscle cars have stuck to since their inception. There are a few powerful models to choose from but I'm going to use the ZL1 in this case. Back in 2014, the ZL1 had a base price of $55,355. With that money you could get a Camaro with 580 horsepower and 556 lb-ft. Thus, we have another example of a muscle car with tons of ponies for far less than cars with comparable horsepower. Obviously, the C63 AMG Edition 507 is down on power compared to the ZL1, but my point is still proven.
My point would still be proven even if I used more modern examples. Challenger R/T Scat pack, Sixth-Generation Camaro SS, 2018 Mustang GT, etc. Even the Challenger Hellcat could be used as an example! However, that car has such a horsepower advantage I feel it would be unfair. So I won't (and wouldn't) use it as an example of what I'm talking about.
Conclusion: The C63 AMG (base, 507, or Black Series) nearly fits all the criteria for a muscle car. However, it's simply too expensive when compared to other cars with similar horsepower numbers, especially the Black Series.
Number 2: The 2015 Audi RS5 Coupe
Photo Credit: Audi Australia (And Marcus Tomczak for giving me access to this photo!)
Yes, an AWD Audi has made it onto this list. Deal with it.
I don't say it often but I love fast Audis, the RS5 being my favorite (sorry R8). Technically speaking, this only fits one of the categories listed at the beginning of this article. However, I did say that AWD was more or less acceptable. So I won't belabor that point too much.
This car has two of the three criteria for a muscle car, just like the C63. It has a V8 and while it's not RWD, I don't think that disqualifies it at all. “Why not?” Because I look at it this way: If Dodge had made that Dodge Challenger GT AWD from SEMA back in 2015, people would be calling that a muscle car until some elitist muscle car “dudebro” berated them in a YouTube comment section for saying such. So as far as I'm concerned, AWD is not where the Audi falls short of being a muscle car.
The engine isn't where the Audi falls short either. It has a 4.2-liter V8 pumping out 450 horsepower and 317 lb-ft. More than enough power to compete with the likes of the Camaro, Mustang, Challenger, and some Aussie muscle cars. I think it also has a similar “cool factor” to the previously mentioned muscle cars. Except it has a German Tuxedo on.
Where does it fall short then? In the same area the C63 did. The price. It's just too darn expensive, at $70,900 dollars back in 2015. Once again, that's $30K more than a more powerful Challenger SRT8 392 and $14K more than either the Shelby GT500 or Camaro ZL1. Even if we use Australian examples the situation doesn't improve. If we compare the RS5 to a Commodore SS, the gap is about as big as the price comparison between the Miura and the Challenger 440 Six-Pack. The numbers are below.
2015 Audi RS5 cost: $130,000AUD.
2015 Holden VF Commodore GTS: $96,990AUD
(Thanks again to Marcus Tomczak for the prices!)
The Audi's cost doesn't include the LCT (Luxury Car Tax). If it did, that number would spike to $157,510AUD. There would be no possible way to feel more rage than if you watched an r/EntitledParent video and the entitled parent won. Getting back to the price, that $157,510AUD is ( if Google is anything to believe) $110,125 in U.S dollars. For a vehicle that is actually $70K here. I'm sorry, but there are way more vehicles I'd rather spend $110K on; The Viper being at the top of the list. On top of that, the Holden makes more power than the Audi. Try 575 horsepower for the Aussie and 450 horsepower for the German. Add on the LCT and there's a $60K price difference between the two cars! And for just because, let's compare two cars with similar HP numbers:
2015 Audi RS5 cost (as previously mentioned): $130,000AUD.
2015 Ford Falcon FG X cost: $54,690AUD.
In case you're wondering, that would've put the Falcon at about $38,869 in America back in 2015. Anyway, if you add the LCT back to the price of the Audi that would make the RS5 $100K more than the Falcon! Granted it would be far more luxurious inside but you're not getting far more horsepower for the money!
“So, that's it? Conclusion time?” Not quite. If you noticed, I didn't use the newest RS5. Which, if you've been paying attention to the RS5, you'll know why. It's doesn't use a V8 anymore. Instead, it now uses a 2.9-liter V6,
“Why are you pointing this out? You better not be about to say some nonsense...” That's exactly what I'm about to do. Except its not nonsense... >:(
“That's it, he's lost it.” No no no, not yet. Well, maybe I have. Look, I get that everyone believes that muscle cars need to have V8s otherwise they're not muscle cars, but if that's the case then what does that make the Australian Chrysler Valiant Charger? That had a “HEMI-6” and there are people that call that a muscle car. Not in small numbers either. Better still, the Chrysler Valiant Charger's straight six wasn't even underpowered. The 265 HEMI-6 (in its most powerful configuration) made a very healthy 302 horsepower and 320 lb-ft.
Imagine if we got that engine stateside! It would've been the perfect engine for the Challenger TA! In any case, the Valiant Charger kinda proves my point that putting high powered V8s into cars (thus creating muscle cars) was more a consequence of the automotive landscape (and culture) back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. If they thought they could've introduced the HEMI-6 here and it would sell, maybe they would've!
So where does that leave the current Audi RS5? I believe it still looks the part of a (European) muscle car, as it still has the macho, he-man body lines of its previous incarnation, the AWD isn't a no-no because a HEMI V8 AWD Challenger would still be called a muscle car, and it wouldn't be the first muscle car to have an engine with six cylinders. However, it is once again too expensive.
Number 3: The Lexus RC F
Photo Credit: Lexus
I know this isn't strictly a European car but Asian “muscle cars” aren't thought to be a thing either, so we're killing two birds with one stone. Besides, this car marks the last of the modern examples.
Onto the RC F. There's not much to say for the muscular Lexus, as it's basically got the same assets and hindrances as the C63. It has the V8, RWD, but it's too expensive. I also believe it has the look of a muscle car, but that's subjective.
Time for some classic examples.
Number 1: The Jensen Interceptor
Mr.choppers [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
A common favorite among others who have pondered the same question, the Jensen Interceptor has a great name, Chrysler V8 power, and good looks. I'm not so sure those looks are very “muscle car-esque” but I'm not that fussed about it.
A British muscle car, the Interceptor certainly is. Or least, it might just be. I've been using NADA Guides to find the majority of the prices for these classic cars and it's unclear to me whether or not the “low retail” prices are period correct or if they're in today's dollars. For the sake of this article, let's assume they're period correct.
With the assumption that they're period correct, that would make the Interceptor the only European car (thus far) to completely meet all of the criteria we talked about at the beginning. Just look at the small list below of cars more expensive than the Jensen!
1968 Jensen Interceptor (back when it had the 383):
Original MSRP: $8,124 dollars.
Low Retail: $9,700 dollars.
1968 Dodge Coronet Super Bee (with the 325 HP 383 V8):
Original MSRP: $3,027 dollars.
Low Retail: $11,687 dollars.
1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastback (with the 355 HP 428 V8):
Original MSRP: $2,955 dollars.
Low Retail: $24,915 dollars.
1968 Chevrolet Chevelle SS (with the 350 HP 396 V8):
Original MSRP: $2,899 dollars.
Low Retail: $28,730 dollars.
Here are the links so some don't think I'm making this up:
The Chevelle: Chevelle SS Price
The Coronet: Coronet Super Bee Price
The Mustang: Mustang GT Price
There is, however, a caveat. I suspect the Interceptor's low retail is so... well, “low” because demand for it wasn't very high. Aside from that though, the Interceptor originally started out with the 383 V8. It wasn't until the Interceptor III came out that the Jensen got the 440 Six-Pack. Which ups the low retail cost to $14,940 dollars. Still, I suspect demand has something to do with that price. Even a Sunbeam Tiger has a higher “low retail” cost (the Tiger sits pretty at $37,600 dollars, apparently).
With that all said, the Jensen is the first car thus far to fit all the criteria what is generally believed to be a muscle car. Even if by some technicalities.
Number 2: The 1977 Aston Martin V8 Vantage
Photo Credit: Aston Martin (We're not talking about the Volante but it's the best photo I could find)
At one time, I would've said this isn't a muscle car (European, British, or otherwise). In fact, that time would've been just a year ago. I've rethought my position though, and now think it could very well be a muscle car. Especially in the looks department, considering it looks like a more sophisticated, grand-touring-oriented fastback Mustang; pun not intended.
As the name implies, it also has a V8. Thus satisfying one of the three original principles we spoke about at the beginning of this long article (and have thus broken in some manner). It's also not short on power. In the first series of the V8 Vantage, it made 390 horsepower and 406 lb-ft. Another attribute that'll please muscle car purists (that I've undoubtedly annoyed by now) is how the V8 Vantage is RWD.
Of course, there is one area that lets the Vantage down. If you've been paying attention, you'll know what area I'm about to say. The cost...
This is an Aston Martin. Realistically, it was always going to be too expensive in all likelihood. However, there's a bigger problem we need to recognize. The V8 Vantage came in 1977. Long after the Oil Crisis crippled the American muscle cars and left them for dead. With this knowledge, it's hard to really compare the Vantage to anything stateside. As there are no muscle cars from that time period in America that would stand a chance against the Vantage.
As much as I want to say “For the sake of this article, let's just say this is too expensive.” It probably is in all honesty. So let's recap: It has a V8, RWD, and the looks. But it's far too expensive.
Number 3: The 1993-1998 V8 Aston Martin Vantage.
Photo Credit: Aston Martin (Technically this is a V600 but it's close enough)
Anyone who knows about the '93-'98 Vantage will know the story here. It's a V8, RWD, macho-looking leviathan that most certainly could pass as a muscle car. However, this is another example of a vehicle that is way too expensive to fit the affordable criteria needed for muscle cars.
Before I continue, I need to clarify something: I'm talking about the V550 version and THE PRICES WERE RIDICULOUSLY HARD TO FIND! Seriously, I spent the better half of a solid 30 minutes looking, checking, and double-checking to find the blasted numbers for this car. Thankfully, after using some calculators (don't ask), I think I've found out what the cost of a V550 would've been in America back in 1993. Ready? Supposedly, it would've cost something like $280,790 dollars to get a Vantage V550 back in 1993. You know the drill: “That's unaffordable!”
Indeed it is, dear reader. It's easily the most unaffordable “muscle car” in all of the European examples we've gone through. Speaking of which, we're now in the Endgame.
Are you still with me?
Did you notice the one common thread throughout all the European examples? Price was the one and only reason why I didn't believe they were 100 percent muscle cars. I didn't discount the current RS5 because it has a V6 or AWD and I didn't discount any car for being European (a common criticism among some when debating the idea of European muscle cars). Price was my only sticking point. Here's why.
Out of all the things people claim muscle cars should be, I think the only objective truth of a muscle car is that they're supposed to be affordable, and as I said at the beginning, I believe that how much bang (horsepower) you get for your buck is also important. In which case, none of the European examples score very highly at all (the Jensen possibly being the best out of all of them).
Which leaves us with this: Can Europe make a muscle car? Unquestionably. All the examples above are proof of that. Do they make a muscle car though? Unfortunately, I think the answer is a resounding “no”. For one simple reason I've been saying over and over again.
…Yet, I have one counterargument. Why is it that we have no problem making the distinction between American cars, European cars, Japanese cars, yet with muscle cars it has to be either American or Australian? Granted, that's because both types of muscle cars follow the same formula, but what's wrong with European muscle cars being slightly different from their American and Australian counterparts?
What I'm driving at is the idea that we've been using “American” and “Australian” ideas for what a muscle car should be to define the European ones, when it should be perfectly fine for Europe to have a slightly different idea for what a muscle car should be. Judging by the cars above, it would seem that Europe's idea for a muscle car is a vehicle that emulates the brawny swagger that muscle cars have, the classic V8 roar, but without sacrificing handling, luxury, and with more sophistication all around. Albeit the luxury part is more a consequence of Mercedes and Audi being luxury brands, but I digress. It would seem that Europe's idea of a muscle car is more in line with being a banker's hot rod/muscle car. Rather than a blue-collar drag monster for the common man.
If it's still too much of a stretch to call the RS5, C63, V8 Vantage, Interceptor, Vantage V550 and many more examples “muscle cars” (as I and many others find it to be), then at the very least calling them “the banker's muscle car/hot rod” might be enough to satisfy both sides of the argument. They'd still be muscle cars but they wouldn't violate the one key attribute muscle cars have stuck to since the outset. Say it with me now: Affordability.
If you've managed to get this far then I must reward you! Congratulations on getting this far! Here's a little title you can put in your profile: “I Survived Cody Wagner's Painfully Long Article” (you can just copy and paste this without the quotation marks at the ends).
Joking aside, tell me if you like this take or if I should brush my teeth and drink orange juice straight to atone for my crimes against muscle carnia (car plus Narnia) in the comments below. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to rejoice by weeping heavily that I finished this absurd article.
Marvel Style End Credits:
Marcus Tomczak: Providing me with the 2015 RS 5 image, prices for the 2015 RS 5 and VF Commodore GTS prices,
Valiant.org: The source for the Australian Charger information.
Driving.co.uk: For showing the price of the V550 Vantage.
NADA Guides: For having the MSRPs on a bunch of classic cars.