You probably saw a few classic cars out on the road this past Fourth of July weekend. Everything from restored Model T’s to custom hot rods were cruising the streets, and if you’re an automobile aficionado like myself, you look forward to seeing these vehicles in action every Independence Day. But with so many nice cars to gawk at, there’s usually one of them that stands out amongst the crowd: those composed of American muscle.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a muscle car as “any of a group of American-made two-door sports coupes with powerful engines designed for high-performance driving.” These types of cars are a product of American ingenuity and a testament to everything it takes to dominate those who are smaller than you. Muscle cars are all about power, size and speed. Lots and lots of speed.
While the American automobile industry has been manufacturing cars with powerful engines since the 1940s, it wasn’t until the 1960s when they decided to eschew any notion of convenience or safety and build some of the fastest cars on the planet. Cars like the Dodge Dart, Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang were not only fun to drive, but they also helped define a tumultuous generation.
Designed strictly for speed, golden era muscle cars from the 1960s did not have the sophistication or elegance of their European counterparts like the Lamborghini GT 350 or the Ferrari 400 Superamerica. And while Asia was also producing sports cars like the Mazda Cosmo 110S, they were more concerned with manufacturing economical cars like the Toyota Corolla. It was here in the United States of America where we decided that driving a powerful car was more important than looking fancy or saving a few bucks on gas.
The notion that “bigger is better” began immediately after World War II when America no longer had to conserve its resources for battle. Instead, all that extra sheet metal went into making bigger cars, and manufacturers were then forced to build bigger engines to keep pace. Buick, Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Pontiac were already producing V8 engines at this time, but it wasn’t until Chevrolet introduced their small-block V8 in 1955 and made their version the standard for perfection.
When the Chevrolet small-block V8 came out in 1955, it had a displacement of 265 cubic inches. By the time the 1960s were over, the engine had expanded to a whopping 400 cubic inches. As 1970 ushered in a new era of muscle cars, those that were trying to keep pace with Chevrolet in the 60s decided it was time to go even bigger – most notably, Dodge.
The two most popular muscle cars in 1970 were the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang. But that didn’t last long when Dodge unveiled a new car that was larger than both of them and had a much more powerful engine: the Challenger.
The 1970 Dodge Challenger was the answer to the Mustang and Camaro. It was an instant hit among muscle car fans and offered a staggering number of trim and option levels unparalleled in the automobile industry at the time. With multiple engine configurations up to a 440 cubic inch RB V8, over 76,000 units were manufactured during its first production year. Unfortunately, the press was not kind to the Challenger and contributed to its early death in 1974 with a total of 165,437 units sold in in four years.
Despite its demise, the Challenger remained a popular muscle car with many collectors and went up in value during the subsequent years. The demand was so high for the car, that Dodge actually revived the Challenger name between the years 1978 and 1983 for a version of the Mitsubishi Galant Lambda coupe. However, while this car had the Challenger name, it emphasized sportiness instead of muscle. Consumers would have to wait until the 21st century’s muscle car revival to get a true version of the car.
The muscle car revival was sparked in 2005 when Ford introduced the “new” Mustang, based on the original 1964 design. This car brought back many of the aspects people missed from the original muscle cars such as aggressive lines, bold colors and, of course, big engines. The new Mustang was such a success, that it prompted Dodge and Chevrolet to answer back with a new Challenger in 2008 and a new Camaro in 2009. The muscle car era was officially back in action and Americans once again were enthralled with power, only this time the cars were safe and comfortable.
Staying true to tradition, the Dodge Challenger has the biggest engine option out of all the cars: a 392 cubic inch HEMI behemoth with 525 horsepower. While this motor is definitely powerful, it’s still not good enough for Dodge, who has decided to build an even bigger version next year. Nicknamed the “Hellcat” engine, the 2015 Challenger will host the most powerful muscle car motor of all time.
While the Hellcat is a tad smaller than the previous 392 cubic inch Challenger motor, it’s the first HEMI to be factory supercharged. The end result is 378 cubic inches that are capable of producing an unprecedented 707 horsepower with 650 foot-pounds of torque. To put this in perspective, the Hellcat Challenger is more powerful than a Lamborghini Adventador. It’s also the most complete muscle car ever assembled.
“In addition to the awe-inspiring 707 horsepower of the new Hellcat HEMI, the new 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat has been redesigned and totally re-engineered to be the most true-to-form muscle coupe on the market with performance-enhancing technologies inside and out, including the new TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic transmission and an all-new interior inspired by the classic 1971 Challenger.”
It’s clear that Dodge has created a beast of a machine that can’t be matched. And as car manufacturing technology keeps getting better, we can only assume that the new muscle cars will too. But in an era where the automobile industry is actively trying to find alternative fuel methods like electricity and hydrogen, is this too much muscle? I don’t know the answer to this question, but if muscle car history has taught me anything, it’s that we can expect even stronger cars on the horizon.
The horsepower wars are back and they’ve only just begun! Do you think the new Dodge Challenger is overkill, or do you think we should have both fuel-efficient vehicles alongside gas guzzlers?