Early Muscle to the 1970 Plymouth Superbird
People have wanted to go faster since the beginning, and Oldsmobile built the 1949 Rocket 88 in response to that longstanding tradition. This is arguably the mid-sized car that was the start of the evolution of the muscle car.
© Randomshots | Dreamstime.com 1951 Oldsmobile 88
The Rocket 88, powered by America’s first high-compression, overhead valve V8 equipped with a 303-cubic-inch engine fitted with a two-barrel, put out 135 hp (101 kW) at a comfortable 3600 rpm. The car would remain defined as a muscle car for three decades. In the early years, the only other production car that could almost keep up was the Hudson Hornet.
Chrysler in 1955 produced the Hemi-powered C-300 that looked like a luxury car. It did 0-60 in 9.8 seconds, reaching a top speed of 130 mph or 209 km/h. The car was also touted as being the best handling car ever made. Then, in 1957, the AMC Rambler Rebel became the fastest compact sedan as equipped off the assembly line and came with a Bendix fuel injection.
The infatuation with speed gained momentum, and the 1962 Dodge Dart, powered by the Max Wedge 413-cubic-inch (6.2L), did the quarter-mile in 13 seconds, reaching more than 100 mph (161 km/h). By 1964, GM had four divisions in the muscle car business with Buick making an entrance in the market one year later. Ford offered its 427-cubic-inch (7.0L) as an option though ’64 and ’65 in the Thunderbolt.
The first Pontiac GTO was an option pack in 1965 with a 389-cubic-inch (6.4L) V8 complemented with a Hurst shift kit for the floor-mounted four-speed. The AMC in 1965 had a Rambler Marlin fastback to battle the Ford Mustang and the Plymouth Barracuda. The Marlin, though a nice possibly futuristic auto, lost that battle, so AMC tried the Rebel equipped with the 280 horsepower Typhoon V8 but still without the sales response wanted. Not to be outdone without a fight, AMC tried the pony car market with the very impressive two-seated AMX and then the roomier Javelin a few years later with slightly better results.
© Raytags | Dreamstime.com Vintage car front end
The sales of muscle cars were still not a huge piece of the Detroit car market, but these cars had younger prospective buyers frequenting the showrooms to look at these machines that were putting out up to 450 hp (336 kW). Ford built 200 units of lightweight Galaxies using fiberglass panels, aluminum bumpers, then putting a 427-cubic-inch (7.0L) engine rated at 425 hp (317 kW) under the hood. These Galaxies could do a standing quarter in just over 12 seconds. There were 5,000 similarly equipped daily drivers street legal and able to do 0-60 mph in less than six seconds in a Galaxy 500XL.
© Raytags | Dreamstime.com Superbird
The 1964 Ford Thunderbolt is a lightweight in the Fairlane body but will do the quarter-mile in 11.76 seconds reaching a speed of 122.7 mph (197 km/h). Gaspar “Gas” Ronda got his Thunderbolt to do the quarter in 11.6 seconds going up to 124 mph (200 km/h). The Thunderbolt came with a 427 and special exhaust pipes.
In 1963, if you chose option pack RPOZ-11 for your Impala, you would have a car built for the track, but it was only a one-year offer. The car came with a 409, which was 427-cubic-inch displacement and rated at 430 bhp (321 kW) with a compression ratio of 13.5:1 and burned high octane. This car had many changes made to reduce weight, including aluminum hood, fenders, and bumpers and no sound proofing. More weight-saving as well as power-adding features under the hood were an aluminum fan shroud, two-piece intake manifolds, special exhaust manifolds, cylinder heads, and pistons with a deep sump oil pan and cowl injection air cleaner. Chevy removed any goodies not deemed essential, so no heater, no radio.
Dodge had a 1964 model Hemi that produced 500 bhp (373 kW); this drag racer also had aluminum bumpers, fenders, doors, and lower rocker covers with magnesium front wheels. Inside the car had a light Dodge van seat, one wiper, no sun visors, Lexan windows for safety, no sound proofing, and included with the package was a disclaimer the purchaser needed to sign to cement the deal that it was for supervised race trials and not a daily driver.
© Swtrekker | Dreamstime.com 1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird restoration
Chrysler Corporation had a 1965 Plymouth Satellite powered by a 426 Hemi that put out 550 bhp (410 kW) but only for the one year. The ’66 version was much tamer, but it still put out 425 bhp (317 kW). This Satellite model had “the best combination of brute strength and tractable street manners we have ever driven” said Car and Driver magazine. The car was criticized for poor brakes and low cornering capabilities, but it could do the quarter-mile in 13.8 seconds, reaching 104 mph (167 km/h).