Most car enthusiasts know that the golden days of muscle cars occurred during the 1960s. This is when practically every American manufacturer offered two and four-door sedans that could be optioned with powerful V8 engines and manual transmissions.Not many enthusiasts know the what led up to the muscle car mania of the 1960s, though. Here’s our take on this topic, enjoy!
Bootleggers started it
The need for fast cars started with prohibition. In the 1920s, moonshiners and bootleggers wanted to be able to outrun police vehicles, so they started hot rodding their cars. After a while, they got pretty good at it.
As the years passed and prohibition ended, the moonshining business was not nearly as profitable as it was,so they started to use their cars less for business and more for racing. Honed by years of tinkering, these hot-rodded cars dominated the street racing circuits and thus inspired the Oldsmobile Rocket 88.
The first Muscle Car
What is widely considered the first American muscle car was introduced without much fanfare. In 1949, Oldsmobile released its Rocket 88 sedan. The Rocket 88 had a high-compression overhead valve V8 in a lightweight body.The body was the same design as the Oldsmobile 76, which was designed for a six-cylinder engine. This combination created the definition of a muscle car: a car with a light body and a powerful engine. And it worked, the 1949 Rocket 88 dominated the NASCAR circuit in 1950.
The Rocket 88 was soon surrounded by competition.Two new powerplants allowed two other manufacturers to join the fray.
The first of these was Chrysler Corporation with their new Hemi-head V8. Texan Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram of Humble, TXexplained to us that a hemi engine has a hemispherical (half round) combustion chamber which allows the exhaust and intake valves to face each other. This improves the engine’s airflow capacity, yielding a higher horsepower output. The Hemi was introduced on the 1955 Chrysler C-300, giving it 300hp and its historic name.The C-300 became known as “America’s Most Powerful Car.”
At the same time, the engineers at Chevrolet had been working on their first small-block V8. Released in 1955, the engine became a GM corporate standard and was used in their cars for 50 years. Throughout the 1950s, American automakers continued to make groundbreaking contributions to performance cars, such as Chevrolet’s mechanical fuel injection.
The Muscle Car Era begins
With the popularity of drag racing exploding in the mid-1950s and the availability of new powerful engines, it became inevitable; the public wanted lightweight, powerful cars that we fun to drive. This demand led directly to all the major American manufacturers making muscle cars. The era continued for almost a decade, cooling down only in 1974 when the Saudi Arabia Oil Embargo began and gasoline supplies became scarce.