What happened to the muscle car
The muscle car has been a staple of the automotive world from the early 60s until the mid 70s but has seemingly disappeared with little trace.
Where it started
The beginning of the muscle car started in 1964 when Pontiac decided to put a huge V8 into their Tempest sedan and took a racing inspired name from Ferrari, GTO. But where Ferrari’s GTO meant Gran Tourismo Omologato, Pontiac was much simpler saying it stood from Grand Tempest Option. Very clever if you ask me. Shortly after, many auto makers started coming out with faster and bigger cars with more displacement than we have today. Some notable names are the Chevy Chevelle, Dodge Charger, Ford Falcon, and AMC Javelin. There was so much competition that sub-categories came into existence such as the pony car and the personal luxury car.
1964 Pontiac GTO
So what happened?
Well as the 70s started to roll around, tighter safety regulations started to hold the cars back. Sure it wasn’t the prettiest year, but 1970 is often seen as the peek of the muscle car era with cars like the Chevelle SS 454 and Charger Hemi 426. But gas prices were starting to rise and the cars never got any faster and it was only going to get worse. Come 1973, the famous oil crisis had hit the U.S. and officially killed the muscle car. Engines like the 454 LS6 and 426 Hemi were no longer available. In fact, many cars ditched the V8 engine completely.
1973 Chevy Chevelle
Just look at the 73 Chevelle and other famed cars. Just by looking at them, you can tell there was a major tradegy. However, there was one brand that was determined to keep the famed muscle car alive with its smaller pony car.
Pontiac tries to keep the name alive
Pontiac tried to keep the name of American performance alive with its Firebird and did so very successfully. The car was sold all the way through 2002 while constantly keeping the muscle car legacy in mind with its large and loud V8s. However, the Firebird and its sister car, the Chevy Camaro, were soon joined by another infamous pony car, the Ford Mustang. It had various ups and downs but managed to pull through the crisis and continued to sell extremely well, better than the Camaro and Firebird even.
1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
Things are looking up for Detroit
Come mid-2000s, cars are finally coming back to their roots and becomin fast and interesting again. Down under in Australia, they’re cooking up some really spicy cars as they’ve always been but there was one in particular that was going to bring American muscle back. When GM heard there was a need for a bite more power since the Firebird had finally been killed off, a man by the name of Bob Lutz was looking at some of Holden’s cars and one stood out in particular, a fast, rear-wheel drive, coupe with a big V8. It was called the Holden Monaro and Lutz loved it and decided to bring it to the U.S. and give it to Pontiac. The legend that started it all was back and was about to rebirth the muscle car movement. The Pontiac GTO.
2004 Pontiac GTO (I love this color)
America’s not so enthused thoughts
Its safe to say that America wasn’t as hyped for the GTO as GM thought they would due to the dated looks, even by 2004 standards. And thus, its sales were mediocre at best. But despite what the public thought, the entire American car industry began working on their depictions of their own retro-modern muscle cars. One year later, Ford came out with the newest iteration of the Mustang and the public LOVED it and it almost immediately outsold the GTO. Dodge reintroduced the Charger as a sedan and brought the Challenger back as well. To compete with the Charger, Pontiac brought another Australian car known as the Commodore and called it the G8. With all this muscle, Detroit was getting back on its legs.
Aaaand it all goes down again
Just as things were looking up in American car culture, the recession of 2008 stopped that from reaching its peek potential so early. One of the biggest upsets was that GM was already in tremendous amounts of debt but received a $30 million grant on one condition, they have to downsize. GM then dropped Pontiac, possibly the most influential American car brand of all time, and a few other branches like Saturn and Hummer. It was a massive upset in the car community and to this day, many of Pontiac’s most coveted vehicles are still appreciating.
So where are we now?
Today, we still have some of the pony cars that we had back in the 60s and 70s. However, there’s a problem with that, all we really have left are the Mustang, Camaro, Charger, and Challenger. With the Mustang and Camaro heading more towards the sportscar market, all that’s left in the muscle category is the Dodge Challenger and Charger. Only those really stick to the ethos of the original muscle car days. And now that Holden is closed, it doesn’t look like there’s much hope for the entire segment that isn’t electrification. However, we’ve seen the GM is bringing Hummer back, albeit its electric, but that gives us hope that there might be a return of Pontiac. Also, there have been rumors that Dodge has claimed the Barracuda and ‘Cuda trademarks so there’s hope for a return of Plymouth as well. Overall, I’m going to keep holding my breath in hopes of the muscle car segment returning to its former glory but until then, I’m probably gonna buy a mid-2000s GTO