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!
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
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
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
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.
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
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!