More Than Just American Muscle

Audrain Automobile Museum, Newport, RI, USA

Until September 10, 2023

The muscle car era started its evolution in the late 1940s and 50s with the introduction of cars such as the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88, 1955 Chrysler 300, and 1958 Chevrolet Impala.

By the 1960s, powerful big block engines were being built on assembly lines across America and rivalry between manufacturers was fierce. With the release of the Pontiac Tempest GTO in 1964, the muscle car era had officially begun.

With those big blocks in small (for the US) pony cars, modified and enlarged bodies with colors stripes gave birth to new very powerful versions that were “showing their muscles”. Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, Ford Mustang Shelby and Boss, Oldsmobile 442, Plymouth Barracuda… were some of those stars of the category. Detroit’s “Big Three” opted to validate the power and handling of their popular muscle cars to the public by entering the cars in stock car racing series, including the Trans-Am Championship race series.

Manufacturers could take a showroom car, and with minor modifications, go racing. The marketing slogan “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” was born. There were also some English and European muscle cars, often powered by US V8, such as the 1968 Bizzarrini 5300 GT America, bred from a racing lineage of Italian design and styling, married to a Chevrolet Corvette engine. The early 1970s brought about the oil crisis and the implementation of more stringent emissions standards.

At the time many thought the Muscle car was dead, but we now know differently. Engine technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, with cars now having horsepower and performance not even dreamed of in the 1960s and 70s. And in recent years, spectacular and highly powered versions Ford Mustang or Dodge Challenger (and others) have brought Muscle Cars back to life!

The photos on this page belong to AudrainAutomobile Museum, no right of reproduction without the express permission of the museum.