400 Horses – American Muscle Time Machine
Before anyone realized what was happening, the muscle car was gone, replaced by baroque Monte Carlos, Cordobas swathed in yards of fine Corinthian leather, and other landau roofed personal luxury cars. Gutless, gas guzzling, smog motors strangled by ill-conceived, government mandated pollution control devices barely produced enough power to motivate their host vehicles up steep freeway entrance ramps. The word performance disappeared from the glossy brochures printed by auto manufacturers, replaced by words like crushed velour and landau top in an attempt to market these ponderous, lumbering cars. Performance would not return to the automotive lexicon for a generation.
Auto manufacturers responded to changes in society by changing cars, but in doing so they failed to take one important fact into account - though the conditions of our society had changed, its members hadn't. While the word performance had disappeared from advertising copy, the need for speed hadn't diminished a bit. No one wanted a three ton car propelled by a 145-horsepower boat anchor, and the American auto industry went into a tailspin. It wasn't until manufacturers made tentative baby steps back into the performance market in the mid-1980s that the industry began to recover. Auto industry bean counters might not be the sharpest blades on the Swiss Army knife of life, but they are smart enough to figure out that if some power is good, then more power is better, just as their predecessors had learned decades earlier. It wasn't long before Detroit once again became embroiled in a full-scale performance war.
Today we find ourselves in a new golden war of muscle cars. America's highways once again submit to the brute force of tarmac-rippling horsepower cranked out by such legendary nameplates as "Mustang," "Corvette," "GTO," "Charger," and "Challenger." Engines bored out to 427 cubic inches and engines with hemispherical heads once again provide American muscle. But unlike their predecessors today's muscle cars present the complete package - they stop and turn as well as go fast in a straight line, something that could never be said of a classic muscle car. A 2007 Shelby GT500 Mustang is as capable on a twisty racetrack as its street racing ancestor, the 1965 GT350, and much more so than its original namesake, the 1967-1970 Shelby GT500. Perhaps what's most remarkable is that the new Shelby accomplishes all this without sacrificing comfort and convenience. In traffic it's as docile as a family sedan and as comfortable as any so-called personal luxury car.
It would seem that with such remarkable machines available at any modern dealership we would lose interest in the classic muscle cars, but that has not been the case. Even though today's muscle cars pound through the quarter-mile quicker than those of the classic muscle car era, and do so while coddling their drivers with comfort and convenience, we love the brutish muscle cars of the past now more than ever. That's because classic muscle cars can take us someplace the modern wonders only hint at - the past!