- 1965 Ford Mustang Covertible

How Muscle Cars birthed Rock ‘N’ Roll Music

Rocket 88 was both the world's first muscle car and the world's first rock 'n' roll song!

3w ago


Cars and music are quintessential to the American culture. The nation has acted as a ground zero for various sensations such as rock and hip-hop music, muscle and pony cars, etc. What you might not have known, however, is muscle cars’ and rock ‘n’ roll music’s interconnection. Well, here is the story!

The Birth of the First Muscle Car

1949 Ferrari 166 Inter Farina Berlinetta

1949 Ferrari 166 Inter Farina Berlinetta

They took your daddy’s — or possibly your granddaddy’s — Oldsmobile and added more power.

Tony Barthel, Curbside TV

The automotive industry progressed well after World War I (1914-1919), but once the Great Depression hit the world in 1929, World War II came rolling in 1939. 1945 turned out to be the first time after sixteen years that carmakers could freely invest in passenger cars. Although they had not utilized their full potential during the period, innovations such as the Volkswagen Beetle Type I, Type II, Willy-Overland CJ, and Ferrari 166 Inter came soon. Another pioneer in this era of rejoice was Oldsmobile, with their Futuramic 88. As ambitious and over-the-top as that name sounds, it indeed acted as a step forward.

1947 Cadillac Seventy-Five

1947 Cadillac Seventy-Five

General Motors had, until now, reserved V8 engines for their full-sized vehicles from Cadillac and LaSalle. Oldsmobile, Chevrolet and other volume makers utilized the best they could with I6 engines. However, someone at General Motors came up with a concept similar to hot-rods' — ‘small cars with big engines’. There we had the Oldsmobile 88 — a mid-sized chassis that used the new 5.0 OHV ‘Rocket’ V8 engine. Although 5.13 m long, it measured ‘smaller’ than other V8 cars. While America and USSR competed in the ‘space race’, Detroit now had its own ‘horsepower race’, and frankly, both of them affected this car uniquely.

1950 Oldsmobile Futuramic 88 Holiday Coupé

1950 Oldsmobile Futuramic 88 Holiday Coupé

with the new engine under the hood, stopping was the last thing on your mind

Matt McDonald, Top Speed

The ‘horsepower race’ gifted it with the exceptional (in 1949) 135 bhp, 382 Nm, which was good for a 12.2 s 0-100 km/h run. However, the two tons of ‘space inspiration’ in design weighed down the top speed to 156 km/h. Combine that to the subpar drum brakes and the soft-suspensions, it was better not to race this rocket.

Where does music come in?

The Americans cherished their record-breaking fast and affordable car. This admiration soon transpired into the world’s first rock ‘n’ roll song, ‘Rocket “88”’ (1951). Essentially, Ike Turner, along with his band, the ‘Kings of Rhythm’, took the hot new trendy car and invented an entirely new genre of music out of it. Rocket “88” actually owed its lyrical premises to the song called ‘Cadillac Boogie’ (1948) by Jimmy Liggins.

The Competition

1955 Chrysler C-300

1955 Chrysler C-300

Coming back to my sphere of expertise, Olds’ Rocket 88 was arguably as revolutionary for muscle cars, as the Ford Model A was for hot-rods. The behemoth won 53.38% of the total NASCAR races it entered between 1949 and 1951, before it was obliterated by the fabulous Hudson Hornet. Soon, however, other American makers outclassed the Olds at its own game. Chrysler brought the C-300 in 1955 with the 300 bhp FirePower; Studebaker, the Golden Hawk in 1956 with a supercharged 275 bhp V8; and AMC, the Rambler Rebel in 1957 with a 255 bhp V8. Nevertheless, other cars fitting the definition of a ‘muscle’ car appeared more prominently in 1960s with the likes of the Chevrolet Impala SS.

1964 Plymouth Barracuda Sports Coupé W1-P 149

1964 Plymouth Barracuda Sports Coupé W1-P 149

the [1964 Ford Mustang’s] 170-cu in Falcon six — a piece of machinery about as exciting as a dish of baby food.

Car and Driver, May 1964

Regardless, the unequivocal storms in this market turned out to be the 1964 Plymouth Barracuda and Ford Mustang with their compact lightweight chassis that housed powerful OHV V8 engines. Although their base Slant-6 engines produced only 101 bhp, their flagship V8 did 180 bhp and 210 bhp respectively. You probably know the rest of the history!

Thank you for reading and I'd appreciate your feedback!

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Comments (20)

  • Ahh one more of these history pieces. Best series ever!

      26 days ago
  • Interesting........I thought 60's Cadillacs had something to do with Snoop Dogg and Dr. DRE in the 90's

      25 days ago
  • Interesting

      26 days ago
  • Amazing article, I always learn something new when I read your work,I didn't have any idea that the first rock and roll song was about a car,and a car that resulted in muscle cars coming to existence!

      26 days ago
  • Uhh... Black Sabbath is credited as the grandfathers of heavy metal. Rock N Roll is Elvis and the Beatles.

      27 days ago
    • Black Sabbath, Elvis Presley and the Beatles began in 1968, 1956, and 1960 respectively. However, many argue that Kings of Rythm's Rocket 88 was the first rock 'n' roll song.

        26 days ago
    • Yes. But Black Sabbath is metal. That’s not rock. You’ll piss off an entire community of you say that.

        26 days ago


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