The term muscle car was first used in 1964 with the release of mid-sized Pontiac's with one important new feature - a 389 cubic inch V8. This classic Muscle Car was capable of 0-60 mph in less than 7 seconds which was a truly incredible feat for a car straight out of the show room 50 years ago.
The Muscle Car industry was spawned out of the gradual increase in popularity of stock car racing (NASCAR) and drag racing.
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The first car to be inspired by the need to create ever more powerful machines was actually in 1948 with the Oldsmobile Rocket 88. This car featured the first high compression overhead valve engine combined with a much lighter body and chassis design. By 1955 every car manufacturer was offering their own version of the V8 with some remaining legendary to this day.
Two of the engines that haven't changed much since there original conception is the Chrysler Hemi, first manufactured in 1951 and the other is the small block Chevy which started manufacture in 1955.
Over the forth-coming years the car manufacturers entered into a battle not only over the engine performance but on the size of the cars. In the fifties the cars were huge with the size becoming a status symbol. This increase in size lead to ever more powerful engines being employed to ensure that the acceleration did not diminish. As with today's market there are still individuals that want to go faster which lead to a thriving after-market performance parts industry.
In 1962 Dodge and Plymouth began to drop their heavier cars whilst Ford and Chevy started to offer an intermediate car such as the Fairline. The decrease in weight coupled with the lively engines led to Dodge and Pontiac performing very well on the NASCAR racing circuit.
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When these cars were given over to the tuning enthusiasts the performance increase was phenomenal with Hot Rod recording a quarter mile of just 12.69 seconds and a stock setting 8 NASCAR records. These figures were fantastic marketing material and often quoted be sales people everywhere.
Pontiac's timing of the introduction of the GTO was perfect. They completely misjudged how popular the car would be estimating sales at approximately 5,000 in the first year but actually selling 32,000. The main feature that distinguished this car from other Pontiac's was that Engineers added the higher performance engine as an option. This allowed the designers to overcome the self imposed limitation of mid-sized cars not having engines bigger that 330 cubic inches.
It wouldn't be long before other car manufacturers were hot on Pontiac's heels with the introduction of the Chevelle by Chevrolet and Skylark from Buick.
As competition mounted it was all out war between the competing companies. Each company understood the importance of motor sports in the marketing of these vehicles. Ford in particular sparing to expense in producing some serious competition in rallies, international endurance racing and NASCAR races all over the country. One weapon in Ford arsenal was the introduction of the Ford Thunderbolt which was built for speed having a lightweight body and massive engine it wasn't for the faint-hearted.
In 1964 Ford also introduced the Ford Mustang which came with a long line of options but not originally marketed as a Muscle car. The car was extremely popular and sold over 681, 000 in the first year of sales. The battle of the car manufacturers continued into the 1970's with the more an more powerful cars being introduced.
As the popularity of Muscle Cars increased there became greater concern over the safety of these cars on the public highway. The concern was particularly targeted at the young buyers and the effectiveness of handling, brakes and tire adhesion. This lead to the insurance companies raising the surcharges associated with these cars putting many cars out of reach to the target market. In 1973 there were also efforts to increase the cleanliness of the air which lead to lower octane fuels being introduced.