Muscle cars Vol. 2
In the first installment of Muscle cars we talked about the golden age of muscle cars, the 1960’s and 1970’s. This was the golden era before the oil crisis set in and ruined everyone’s fun. Muscle cars were fairly non existent for a while as OPEC reduced petroleum production and proclaimed and embargo on oil shipments to the United States in 1973. This stemmed from the Yom Kippur war in Israel. Oil that was at $3 a barrel jumped to $12 dollars a barrel and supply was very limited. This led to gas stations being closed on Sundays and long lines on other days. The government was even telling people to not put lights on their homes during the holidays to conserve energy. This had a large impact on domestic car manufacturers as their sales were surpassed by Japanese cars that were smaller and more fuel efficient. These same Embargos weren’t enforced in Europe but they still felt the effects of the limited production by OAPEC and many countries limited driving and flying to certain days of the week. The embargo was lifted in 1974 but the effects were felt through the rest of the decade until prices collapsed in the mid 1980’s.
As you could imagine, American auto manufacturers were not pumping out 400+ cubic inch tire killing machines during this time because nobody would buy them. As a result you have cars such as the Chevrolet Vega and exploding Ford Pinto. The American cars of the mid to late 70s were known for poor quality as many were sent to showrooms quickly and poorly tested. For instance, the Vega was built in a new plant and there was a problem with frustrated workers sabotaging cars on the assembly line and that exploding Pinto I mentioned? Well its gas tank was placed too far back and tended to catch fire in a rear end collision. It also had rear doors that would jam in a rear end collision creating a mess for Ford. Many cars offered smaller engines and the ones that still offered V-8s were very underpowered. I mean, underpowered like there are many N/A 4 cylinder economy cars these days that have more power. Now the big three still produced there versions of performance vehicles through the late 1970’s and 1980’s but the days of hot rodded versions of every vehicle in their lineup were long gone. Chevrolet still had the Corvette and Camaro, Ford still had the Mustang and Dodge still produced the Omni……Yea sadly the great Mopars went by the wayside as Dodge didn’t really have a flagship sports car line until the Viper came decades later.
The 1980’s Were not great for muscle cars but the manufacturers tried… kind of. The trans am line continued from Pontiac, think Kitt from knight rider, and the Camaro was still around. Everybody has a cousin or Uncle who had an IROC Z and thought they were hot shit haha. The Camaro in the eighties focused on agility with new suspension setups but failed hard in the power department with a 5.0L V8 making 190 hp in top form for 1983. 1987 saw the return of the 350cid V8, now with port fuel injection. It wasn’t until 1993 the Camaro started to come back with the new F-body and LT1 / LS1 V8 engines. I’ve always considered the Corvette as more of a sports car than a muscle car so we will leave that one out here. After the oil crisis there were really just a few players in the “muscle car” realm. The Camaros biggest competitor was and has been the Ford Mustang.
The Mustang was also neutered after the oil crisis like many but it made it through and is still in production to this day. The Mustangs built between 1979 and 1993 are known by many as the Fox body Mustang. They are called this because, well, they were built on Ford’s Fox unibody chassis that was designed to downsize the cars on the 70’s. The Fox body mustang is one of my favorites though I prefer the late 80s, early 90’s single headlight bodystyle, especially the notchback. The Mustangs suffered from the same underpowered engines as the Camaro but the Fox body was smaller, lighter, and more nimble. The Mustang almost ended up a front wheel drive “sports car” but enthusiasts swayed Ford to keep the rear wheel drive, front engine platform. Engines offered through the eighties ranged from 88 hp four cylinders to 205 hp turbo four cylinders to the famous , Vanilla Ice approved, five oh. The 5.0 was unanimously the most popular choice among enthusiasts although the turbo 2.3L was more powerful for certain model years but was never very reliable. Many have come to describe this era of Mustang just by the engine size.
This isn’t a Camaro vs Mustang thing I simply wanted to illustrate how far we had fallen from the glory days of essentially unregulated power outputs of big block powered family sedans and muscle cars. How the mighty had fallen. There is one iconic muscle car from the eighties though that needs mentioning. I don’t necessarily consider it a “muscle car” myself but I think many people lump it in with them. It wasn’t the quintessential big V8 powered car, the Buick Grand National. The 1983 Grand National featured a single turbocharged 3.8L V6 engine that belted out 600 hp and……just kidding. It made 200 hp and 300 ft lbs of torque respectively. That may not sound like much but with the epa and fuel costs putting a stranglehold on performance it was pretty potent. For example the Corvette of the same year only produced 205 hp, the Buick had 10 more ft lbs of twist though. This was a surprise as GM usually didn’t want anything of their own to compete with their flagship sports car. 1986 saw an air to air intercooler and more boost bumping power to 235 hp and 330 ft lbs of torque. The last year for the Grand National was 1987 and the Buick went out in style with a limited GNX model. The standard Grand National made 245 hp and 355 ft lbs of torque but the GNX turned it up to eleven with 276 hp and 360 ft lbs of torque. This was good for a claimed sub five second 0-60 time and mid 13’s in the quarter. It was one of the best performance cars of the eighties and earned it’s rank among the best muscle cars produced.
I’ve been seeing alot of resto mods lately. I don’t think they are getting any more popular than they have been the last 10 years, maybe I’m just noticing them more but they are so cool. If you don’t know, restomods are classic cars, many of them muscle cars, that are restored to look original from the outside but have all the advancements of modern automotive technology. Original on the outside as in the body is original. Most of them have larger wheels and tires with upgraded suspension parts usually taken from modern variants of similar Brand cars, I.E. new Corvette suspension under a 1968 Camaro. I like the restomods for multiple reasons. They look cool as hell when done right. You get some of today’s features like electric windows, air conditioning, good audio, suspension that makes the car feel like it’s not a boat, and other modern day items. On the flip side I feel like they also take some of the nostalgia and experience away. The wallowy suspension, bench seats, and heavy feel of the car are all part of the muscle car, to me anyways. If you have ever been in a big block 4 speed car you know what I mean. I can see both sides though. The restomod would be a much better driver and you could carve up some back roads with it too. If I had my choice I think I’d have to go with a 1967 Corvette with a new LT-5 GM small block lifted from the 2019 ZR1 that’s good for 755 hp and 715 ft lbs of torque, that should do it. Or a 1955 Chevy 210 with a supercharged 540 cubic inch Steve Morris big block making ,1,200+ hp on pump gas, or maybe a Mopar…. There are a lot of very cool options with restomods but make sure you have deep pockets!
I know most people revert back to the 60’s and 70’s when they think about muscle cars and for good reason, they were in their hayday. Manufacturers tried to still make them live on after the oil crisis and stricter EPA laws through the following decade and a half but they just weren’t the same. That’s not to say that there were some cars in the 80’s that make great platforms for “muscle car” build today. The Grand National has a cult following but there are others used as platforms today. These include the mid 80’s Monte Carlo, and G body Malibu. Not focusing on GM but Ford didn’t have much that looked good outside of the Mustang and Chrysler, as much as I love mopars, had a bad decade. You can make a muscle car out of anything really just keep it rear wheel drive and put an overly powerful engine in it and you’ll be good to go! From all of us here at Gearbox have fun, be safe, and keep the shiny side up!