MUSCLE CAR SUMMARY
The “Muscle Car” has roots dating back to the late 1940’s, evolving out of post-WWII American hot rod culture and into a segment all its own. By the 1960’s and 1970’s, the term was broadly given to 2-door, 2-row American sport cars that boasted powerful V8 engines that sent power to the rear wheels. In true American spirit, muscle cars tended to carry relatively affordable price tags for their performance, especially in the straight line. It’s no wonder why muscle car culture is the backbone for several racing leagues, such as NASCAR, NHRA and even the SCCA, even to this day.
Presently, the muscle car genre continues to evolve, with current examples on sale shifting from the bare-bones take-it-or-leave it bar brawlers of the past to more refined grand touring cars with incredible duality. The result of which is that these cars can accelerate like never before, but can also corner exceptionally well, with the overall ride and interior refinement being exceptionally plush. They have also become considerably more expensive, with some of the most capable examples exceeding $70,000. Some even $100,000 when fully optioned. A far cry from their humble beginnings.
MUSCLE CAR HISTORY
Muscle car production began in the 50’s with the Oldsmobile Rocket 88, which was the first time a V8 was put into a smaller lighter chassis. Producing 135 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque the 88 won 8 out of 10 NASCAR races in the 1950 season. Ever since then, the muscle car has been developing from year to year. As time went on the cars got more and more of a racing pedigree, with the peak of the muscle car coming in the late 1960’s to the early-70’s. In that brief period of time, Detroit automakers gave us cars like the Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, and the Plymouth Road Runner. All of these vehicles were an answer to the Ford Mustang, which hit the market in 1964.
PONY CAR VERSUS MUSCLE CAR
The Mustang is the original “Pony Car,” and several automotive historians will vehemently agree that there’s a difference between the venerable Muscle Car and the sportier Pony Car. But as the segments have evolved, they have also blended, and customers that would have otherwise shopped one segment or the other are now assimilated into a single demographic, as evident by buyers cross shopping vehicles like the Ford Mustang with the four-door Dodge Charger.
FALL AND RISE (AND FALL AGAIN) OF THE MUSCLE CAR
In the 70’s muscle cars began to see a decline, insurance rates going up, the 1970 Clean Air Act, and the OPEC Oil Embargo of 1973. by 1974, the muscle car segment was a shell of itself, with vehicles such as the Dodge Challenger being discontinued, and engine output in available cars otherwise being drastically reduced. Collectively, the 1970’s and 1980’s are considered to be the darkest time for American muscle cars due to damage done by stricter government regulations, fuel shortages, and regrettable corporate planning. Nevertheless, vehicles like the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro continued to soldier through the Malaise Era.
In the late 1980’s, new technology such as electronic fuel injection systems, turbochargers and advanced engine management controls helped pull muscle cars out of the dark ages by allowing for more power to be extracted from each drop of gasoline. For instance, the G-Body 1987 Buick Regal GNX used a turbocharged V6 engine that rivaled the performance of V8 engines at the time, even leapfrogging the Chevrolet Corvette as the quickest car in the GM fleet. By the 1990’s, the muscle car mojo was really starting to come back, with the introduction of engines such as the LT1, which helped the Camaro Z/28 at the time run a 14.2 second quarter mile from the factory. The pushrod small block V8 was also a highly tunable engine, and thus began to attract performance and aftermarket companies to the market shortly after.
By 2010, a new “golden age” of muscle cars was in full swing, thanks to the return of the Dodge Challenger, and the launch of the fifth-generation Chevrolet Camaro (after a brief hiatus) to do battle with the never-discontinued Ford Mustang. Supporting the Mopar fleet is the Dodge Charger, which is considered to be the world’s only four-door muscle car on sale today. Sales wise, the segment as a whole appears to be shrinking, but the halo effect that muscle cars continue to bring to the showroom serves as a valuable marketing tool.
In 2022, Dodge confirmed that it would be discontinuing its beloved LX-platform Charger and Challenger after the 2023 model year. Upon this, the brand revealed a concept vehicle of what can only be described as an electric muscle car – a concept that’s controversial to both V8 purists and EV advocates – called the Charger SRT Banshee. Production is scheduled for 2024.
Ford Motor Company will keep to traditions with the S650 Mustang, which will be a 2024 model year vehicle as well. This next-generation Mustang will be an extensive refresh of the existing S550 Mustang, with new interior and exterior styling, as well as modernized processing power and technology. Under the hood will continue to be a standard 2.3L EcoBoost with an optional 5.0L V8 engine for the GT model. The lifecycle of S650 Mustang is expected to go until 2028-2030, depending on factors such as demand and government regulations. It will be the last V8 muscle car on the market by then.
General Motors will discontinue the Chevrolet Camaro after the 2024 model year, ending a return of the muscle car nameplate that began in 2010 with the fifth-generation Camaro. Introduced as a 2016 model year vehicle, the sixth-generation Chevrolet Camaro would have been on the market for eight years. No immediate replacement is planned. GM and Chevrolet are instead pivoting their attention towards an electric Corvette family of vehicles, which will include an electric sedan and an electric SUV.
THE MOST POWERFUL PRODUCTION MUSCLE CAR EVER BUILT (SO FAR)
The most powerful muscle car so far ever created is the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon. When properly set up, the Dodge Demon could accelerate from 0–30 mph in 1.0 second, 0–60 mph in 2.3 seconds (2.0s with a rollout), 0–100 mph in 5.1 seconds, and the quarter mile in only 9.65 seconds at 140.09 mph. It featured a factory-limited top speed of 168 mph. Its 6.2-liter V8 “Demon” engine featured a 2.7-liter supercharger, rated at 808 hp with 91 octane gasoline and 840 hp and 770 lb-fto of torque with 100 octane fuel or higher. Only 3,300 Dodge Demons were made.
THE FUTURE OF MUSCLE CARS
For better or worse, future muscle cars will likely have electric variants to balance out their fuel-heavy V8 performance variants that remain sought after by customers. The first hints of this are the Mustang Lithium Concept, an potential Chevrolet Camaro EV teaser, and comments from FCA executives that electrification is coming to the space. For now, the most powerful muscle car variants on sale today are the 650 horsepower sixth-generation Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, 717 horsepower Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Daytona 50th Anniversary Edition, the 760 horsepower S550 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, and 797 horsepower Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye.
2020 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody. Photo copyright MuscleCarsandTrucks.com
MUSCLE CAR CONCEPTS
List to be updated.
Chevrolet Camaro Concept (2006)
Chevrolet eCOPO Camaro Concept (2018)
Ford Mustang Lithium Concept (2019)
Dodge Super Charger Concept (2017)
Dodge Challenger Shakedown Concept (2018)
Dodge Charger SRT Banshee EV Concept (2022)
MUSCLE CAR NEWS
Please visit our Muscle Car News page.
CURRENT MUSCLE CARS BY AUTOMAKER
Chevrolet Camaro (Sixth-Generation)
Ford Motor Company
Ford Mustang (S550)
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
Chrysler 300 (LX)
Dodge Charger (LX)
Dodge Challenger (LX)
Equus Bass 770
PAST MUSCLE CARS BY AUTOMAKER
Buick Gran National
Buick Regal Grand National (Regal GNX)
Cadillac CT5-V (Blackwing)
Cadillac CT4-V (Blackwing)
Chevrolet Camaro (1st-5th generation)
Chevrolet SS (Holden VF Commodore)
Chevrolet Nova SS (Chevy II, Acadian)
Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS
Chevrolet El Camino SS
Chevrolet Impala SS
Holden VE Commodore
Oldsmobile Cutlass (Cutlass Supreme)
Pontiac Firebird (Trans Am)
Pontiac Grand Prix
Ford Motor Company
Ford Mustang (1st Generation-5th Generation)
Ford Mustang II
Ford Maverick (first generation)
Dodge Super Bee
Plymouth Road Runner
American Motors Corporation
FUTURE MUSCLE CARS
Corvette Sedan (Electric)
Ford Motor Company
Next-Gen Dodge Challenger
Next-Gen Dodge Charger
MUSCLE CAR ENGINES
MUSCLE CAR SALES
NOTABLE MUSCLE CAR AFTERMARKET COMPANIES
Hennessey Performance Engineering
Lebanon Ford Performance
Lingenfelter Performance Engineering
Specialty Vehicle Engineering
Trans Am Depot
NOTABLE MUSCLE CAR EVENTS
LX Spring Fest
One Lap Of America
Sturgis Mustang Rally
Woodward Dream Cruise
Famous Muscle Cars
For information on American pickup trucks and SUVs, visit our Muscle Cars & Trucks page.