Q: Greg, when and what car do you feel was the real first muscle car built here in America? I’m talking about a car that was available from the dealer showroom and not a special-order piece. I’d also like to know your top five muscle cars of all time.
Q: Greg, when and what car do you feel was the real first muscle car built here in America? I’m talking about a car that was available from the dealer showroom and not a special-order piece. I’d also like to know your top five muscle cars of all time. Thank you, Henry N., email from Pennsylvania.
A: Henry, let’s put it this way - prior to 1949, no overhead valve V8s were produced in Detroit. In 1949, both Cadillac and Oldsmobile introduced overhead valve V8 engines in a 331-cubic-inch and 303.7-cubic-inch designs, respectively. These engines were light and powerful with compression ratios of just 7.5 in the Cadillac and 7.25 in the Olds.
The Cadillac produced 160 horses and pulled the heavyweight to 60 mph in 12 seconds. Oldsmobile fans, meanwhile, found that the much lighter “88” series two-door, later to become known as the “Rocket 88,” was faster than the Caddy. Thus, I’ll give my first official muscle car nod to the V8 Olds Rocket 88 in 1949.
The next big “muscle car” step, in my opinion, occurred when Chrysler introduced its 331-cubic-inch Hemi in 1951-52, complete with massive hemispherical cylinder heads. By 1955, Chrysler 330’s were winning countless NASCAR races and setting speed records regularly. The Hemi is still used to this day as a favorite of hot rodders, drag racers and available in several crate engine designs direct from Chrysler. So, since the Hemi passes all tests of time, it receives slot No. 2 in 1965 Plymouth Savoy, two-door hemi dress. Modern-day? How about a 2011 Hemi Challenger SRT?
No. 3 on my list is the Chevy small block, introduced in 1956 as a 265-cubic-incher. It has gone through much evolution, and I personally favor a 327 ‘66 Chevy II (350 to 375 horses) as a great all-around example. Notable is today’s modern day small-block Chevy engine that puts out 426 horses from 376 cubic inches in the 2011 Camaro SS and gets 25 mpg on the highway. Granted, the big block (396-454) was a great engine, but today, it’s the small-block Chevy that still rules.
No. 4 goes to the ’64 Ford Thunderbolt 427, a beast from Ford and one of the hottest cars to come off the assembly line. Many Ford firsts are noteworthy, from the supercharged Thunderbirds in 1957 to the 427 Mercury Marauders in ’63. Today, Ford is still at it with 700-plus horsepower specialty Mustangs in Cobra, Roush, Saleen, Shelby and Boss flavors.
No. 5 - we’re back at GM, as I’d get lots of negative mail if I left Pontiac off this list. Granted, the model is now gone, but the 1964 Pontiac GTO 389 Tri-Power started the entire 1965-1971 mid-size and pony muscle era. Three cheers for Pontiac and those who made it happen behind the scene, including creator John Delorean and marketing whiz and winning drag racer Jim Wangers.
Honorable mentions go to 1970 Buick GSX, 1969 AMC Hurst Scrambler American and the NASCAR winning early “Fabulous” Hudson Hornets.
Thanks for your question.
Greg Zyla writes weekly for GateHouse News Service and welcomes reader questions at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, PA 18840 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.