Here's When You Think American Muscle Peaked

Here's When You Think American Muscle Peaked

2021 Ford GT500
2021 Ford GT500
Image: Ford

As Erik pointed out earlier, this discussion is probably going to fall along generational divides. Some will say that the glory days of the ’60s and ’70s were the peak. Others, like myself, will say that the last 10 or so years have been the peak, as America’s muscle cars saw power and performance levels never seen before. These cars have attained supercar levels right before we head into a possible electric future.

Welcome back to Answers of the Day, our daily Jalopnik feature where we take the best 10 responses from the previous Question of the Day and shine it up to show off. It’s by you and for you, Jalopnik readers. Enjoy!

Staff Writer at Jalopnik. Dad. Lover of all things with 4 wheels. Weird interest in buses.

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1969

1969

1969 Shelby GT500
1969 Shelby GT500
Image: Ford Archives

Yeah, the new stuff is “better” is almost every way, but I don’t want them as much as the old stuff.

Suggested by: Blockheads

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It Depends

It Depends

2013 Ford Shelby GT500
2013 Ford Shelby GT500
Image: Ford

Depends on what you consider a “muscle car”. If it’s supposed to handle like poo, look awesome, and just do burnouts then probably ‘69-’70. If it’s supposed to scare you probably ‘13-’14 GT500.

If it’s supposed to be bang for your buck and big horsepower, it’s obviously right now. The list of 400-500 hp cars you can get with big V8s for under $50k is ridiculous right now.

Suggested by: DeWayneV8

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A Kid Of The 80s

A Kid Of The 80s

1985 Shelby Charger
1985 Shelby Charger
Image: Stellantis Media Archives

As an ‘80's kid, I remember the Muscle Car era had a pretty specific definition - cars built from 1964 (when Pontiac ignored GM’s displacement limit and made the GTO) to 1972 (In ‘73, the fuel crisis and bumper regulations neutered the cars), and often narrowly defined as mid-sized cars with larger engines shoehorned in. The Mustang and Camaro were considered Pony Cars, not muscle cars. Transmission didn’t matter as plenty of them were automatic.

People already pushed to stretch the definition as detuning for unleaded gas started in 1971, so those cars weren’t as fast. Plus there were some cars with big V8s before 1964. By the strictest definition, the muscle car age peaked in 1970 with the Chevelle LS1. That car checked all the boxes in terms of a giant engine getting the most horsepower.

Now we tend to stretch the definition because, frankly, compared to today’s cars, the muscle cars aren’t very muscular. As a guy who drives around in a 1968 Cutlass with a 425 V8, I am painfully aware that there are Toyota Camrys with more horsepower.

So are the Hellcats more muscular than the muscle cars? Yes. That means we haven’t really reached peak muscle. With electric vehicles showing up as bigger torque monsters than the muscle cars ever were, one could definitely argue there will be an electric muscle car era soon.

Suggested by: Sid Bridge

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5 / 12

It Ended After 1967. But...

It Ended After 1967. But...

1967 Chevy Camaro Z/28
1967 Chevy Camaro Z/28
Image: GM Archives

As an ROF (Retired Old Fart), I have seen several iterations of the question “What is a muscle car?” Over fifty years ago, some folks opined that the muscle car era ended after the 1967 model year because the first Federal emissions restrictions went into effect with the 1968 year. Others thought it ended in the 1970s when tightening emissions standards forced automakers to use catalytic converters, which required the use of unleaded gas, which limited the development of high performance motors.

Fuel economy standards were also blamed for the demise of the muscle car, but now we can have power and performance levels that we never dreamed of on cars that use relatively little, or no, gas.

To determine “peak muscle car” one must first define “muscle car.” This is a debate which will go on forever. The truth is that it is unlikely that anyone will come up with a definition of muscle car that is any better that Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography, “I know it when I see it.”

Suggested by: codfangler

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We’re Living The Peak Right Now

We’re Living The Peak Right Now

2010 Dodge Challenger SRT8
2010 Dodge Challenger SRT8
Image: Stellantis Media Archives

I’d argue that we have been @ peak muscle for about a decade. Throw out the Demon/Hellcat/GT500/ZL1 because those are way too god damn expensive to be a muscle car. You touch on this somewhat in the blog, but those deserve their own class of something like supermuscle.

The Camaro SS, Dodge Challenger SRT8 (or is the 392 the good one? I don’t really keep track anymore) and Mustang GT have all been fast and relatively affordable. They each have their own strengths and faults, but are top to bottom pretty good cars that have a bit more HP than is necessary to be a sports car.

Suggested by: GMT 800 Tahoe Guy

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7 / 12

1970

1970

1970 Buick GSX
1970 Buick GSX
Image: GM Archives

1970, with 1969 a very close second.

Those were real mechanical specimens, no power aids from computers, electronics, traction control or other trickery. You could easily maintain and fix them in your garage, and performance gains were easy and meaningful with aftermarket parts.

Later years were saddled with smog equipment, and then computers to make the smog equipment behave.

Today’s cars are more powerful and faster, no doubt. But they also lack soul and character. They are too easy to drive fast. Drive any 1960s car near 100mph and it is a real adrenaline rush. With today’s cars, you would need to drive twice that speed for the same rush.

Suggested by: Grasscatcher2

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8 / 12

1962

1962

‘62 Corvette Brochure
‘62 Corvette Brochure
Image: GM Media Archives

Because a madman chicken farmer from Texas, decided to see what would happen, if you you threw an American V8 into a small European car. The results were glorious, and started a spark that created the whole genre of “Muscle Car”. As, prior to the Cobra, the only performance car the US had was the Corvette, which was sitting on it’s laurels.

Suggested by: Knyte

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9 / 12

2008 - now

2008 - now

2008 Dodge Charger Super Bee
2008 Dodge Charger Super Bee
Image: Stellantis Media Archives

I say 2008-current. Camaro SS, ZL1 and the 1LE variants, Dodge with the Scat Packs, Hellcats and Redeyes, Ford with the GT350, GT500 and the Mach 1, plus any remaining German V8/V12 M/AMG products. And going back a few years, the Chevy SS, Pontiac G8 GXP, the German V8/V12 performance cars, GT-500, 5th Gen Camaro, etc.

Are there EV “muscle cars”? I mean, I guess. Yea they are fast as stink and can handle, but that’s where it stops. There’s no rawness provided by 8 cylinders spinning up to almost 7000 rpm, no burble of the downshifts. No soul. And EV engineers will fight people who say there is no “soul”.

Suggested by: GmGuyL96

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10 / 12

Now. But The Term Muscle Car Is More Broad

Now. But The Term Muscle Car Is More Broad

2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392
2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392
Image: Jeep

Don’t know how you’re going to get 10 slides out of this... But the peak is now.

I think the definition may be a bit more broad now (see: Track Hawk, 392 Wrangler, dual motor Model X, Raptor, etc).

Vehicles today are safer, more efficient & heavier... and they’re still fast as fuck.

Suggested by: Solid_Snek

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11 / 12

Peak Muscle =/= Peak Car

Peak Muscle =/= Peak Car

2006 Pontiac GTO
2006 Pontiac GTO
Image: GM Archives

Also, Peak Muscle =/= Peak Car just in case we have some boomers out there.

Peak Car, 2001-2003? TopGear reboot, You still had Honda cranking out NSX, S2000, RSX-S, Hatchback Sis, Mk5GTI, Nissan Z rebirth, Infiniti G, Toyota MR2 (and Prius for those types), Ford has a sleeper hit with SVT focus - at least the best seats ever made, Mustang is about to get rebooted, Camaro can still be *found*, C5, Pontiac GTO/Olds still existed, lots of true body on frame SUVs, Hummer, Series II Discos, both TJ and XJ exist, Chrysler 300, Prowler in production, BMW was pre-Bangled and offering straight 6 M power, Audi was finally getting something interesting. Subaru/Mitsubishi reach peak rivalry with Evo/WRX, Saab still quirky. Volvo isn’t making rounded suvs exclusively YET but V70R exists, Aston Martin revival, Lambo/Ferrari Revival -Muriceigo/Gallardio F430,599,Enzo, FordFalcon/Holden SS. Did I miss anything - likely. Kia/Hyundai finally move to non-mitsubishi designs and some become halfway decent. Porsche was not making SUVs YET.

Finally, decent safety without excessive nanny-state controls, daily usability, visibility exists. And you could still get manuals in common cars. Fightme. Pre bubble 1998 is a close second by those were also dark days for some German options. Peak Japan, but Germany/US were not cresting.

Suggested by: FutureDoc

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Staff Writer at Jalopnik. Dad. Lover of all things with 4 wheels. Weird interest in buses.

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