Home » History » Early Muscle to the 1970 Plymouth Superbird
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Chevrolet Impala SS was available from 1961 until 1969 and offered on a variety of platforms throughout three generations of the Impala lineup. The SS logo began as a trim option in ’61 but indubitably went on to, eventually, represent Chevy’s high standard of excellence in performance for a full sized automobile. When the EPA stepped in with a heavy hand; after 1969, the nameplate was retired by Chevrolet.
The 1961 SS entry level trim option model is a true high performance automobile powered by a base 348 cu in (5.7 L) V8 engine developing 305 hp (227 kW), or kicked up a notch produces 340 hp (250 kW), but the full meal deal 348 offers 350hp (260 kW). If that doesn’t turn your crank the most attentive and perceptive sales man would take this opportunity to tell you about the 409 cu in (6.7 L) V8 offer which would put 425 hp (317 kW) under the hood of the new Impala SS. The ’61 the SS option is unique because it was not only an exclusive offer for the Impala it was also available for the whole Impala line up including the four door sedans and wagons. The SS package also included heavy duty shocks, thicker springs, upgraded rims, and better tires. There were 186,325 of the Impala SS leave the factory in '64 and 8,684 Chevrolet automobiles factory assembled with the 409 engine that year, most of them were Impala SS.
For 1962 through ’67 the SS trim option is available with any engine in the Chevy arsenal including the base 250 cu in (4.i L) "Turbo-Thrift 16" six cylinder engine which can give you 135 hp (101 kW). For the ’61 Impala model year the hard top and the convertible coupe models solely feature the SS trim option.
For the 1962 through ’63 and again in the ’68 model years the SS Impala is referred to as a “Regular Production Option” (Z03) or “RPO”. For the 1964 through ’67 the SS is a separate model and sports its own VIN number with a “168” prefix while the Impala SS has a “164” prefix.
Models of the SS from 1962 until ’64 come with “engine turned” aluminum trim on the rear panel under the tail lights but the 1965 version the strip is black and the SS is almost identical to the host model the Impala. The ’65 SS has no trim strips on the rockers and the Super Sport scripting is now the “Impala SS” logo instead. There were 243,114 SS convertibles and coupes leave the assembly line in 1965 with all of them having a clock, a vacuum gauge, featuring full instrument clusters with gauges-there were none with “idiot lights”.
Super Sports in the 1966 model year have a new fascia and a redesigned grill. The square tail lights from last year are now round, but still configured three per side. Chevrolet got a lot of complains about “door dings” on the unprotected sides of ’65 models so GM response to that is a centrally located chromed trim strip down each side in ’66.
The sixth generation Plymouth Belvedere is on Chrysler's "B" mid-sized body platform. This model could be powered with a light duty 273 cu in ((4.5 L) engine although there are four larger engine power options on the table including the 426 cu in (7.0 L) Hemi V8 and these would be bolted to three speed automatic or a three speed standard transmission on a factory correct Belvedere. The most powerful version of the Belvedere is an icon of the muscle car era and badged as the GTX .
Our thanks to Gateway Classic Cars for these images