When Was Peak Muscle Car?

Illustration for article titled When Was Peak Muscle Car?
Photo: Chevy

The muscle cars of the 1960s and 1970s weren’t even called muscle cars back then. Muscle cars were, instead, Supercars. I’m guessing “muscle car” later stuck because it is more evocative, and also actual supercars started to come onto the scene. Still: When was peak muscle car?


The Chevy Chevelle, the Oldsmobile Cutlass, the Pontiac GTO, the V8 Ford Mustang, the Chevy Camaro RS, the AMC Javelin, the Plymouth Barracuda, the Pontiac Firebird: These are some muscle cars. Buick Grand National, Dodge Dart, Ford Galaxie, Chevy Monte Carlo, Plymouth Superbird: These are some other muscle cars.

And while the strictest definition of a muscle car — that it must be two-doored, that it must have a manual transmission, that it must be rear-wheel drive, that its engine displacement must be large, that it must be American — is usually the one people mean when they say “muscle car,” it doesn’t have to be.

Because an EV can be a muscle car too, if it is muscle-y enough. I am thinking, of course, of the Tesla Model X Plaid, which is quicker than almost any other car in the world up to 100 mph.

But let’s not get carried away. The answer to this question, I suspect, is probably generational, anyway, as those of you of a certain vintage will argue that, obviously, the peak of muscle cars was in the late 60s and early 70s, given the sheer number of muscle cars that were muscling around. Or maybe Peak Muscle Car is about quality over quantity, so it occurred when the best ones were still on sale. I’m an Old Millennial, however, so for me the peak was in the 1980s, given that I grew up admiring that era’s Mustangs and Camaros, even though that era’s Mustangs and Camaros were not actually good cars.

Perhaps others will argue that, in fact, the 2010s were peak muscle car, given that was the decade the Camaro came back to life, and it was also the decade a base Ford Mustang started making over 300 horsepower.

Still others of you will argue that peak muscle car is right now, in the same way that peak car is always right now, because cars at this very moment in history are better than they have ever been, and cars tomorrow will be better than they are today. I can, for example, go buy a manual transmission 310-horsepower Ford Mustang for under $30,000 at this very moment. A muscle car is, in fact, the only non-truck, non-SUV car Ford still makes.


Or perhaps you think that the aughts were a really great decade for muscle cars — sky-high gas prices and all. Or maybe there is a very convincing argument to be made that, in fact, the cylinder wars were peak muscle car.

I am sticking with the 80s, in part because that is the decade that muscle cars permanently implanted themselves in American culture, so much so that they were both revered and the butt of the joke, simultaneously. When was peak muscle car for you?

News Editor at Jalopnik. 2008 Honda Fit Sport.




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