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Rise Of The American Muscle Car

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We take a nostalgic trip down memory lane, exploring the rich heritage of muscle cars, which dominated the roads from the 1960s to the late 1970s

1908 Ford Model T

The United States of America was the first to implement an assembly line to build the first mass production car. The 1908 Ford Model T was launched as the peoples’ car.

In its infancy, car production had few emissions and manufacturing standards. This led to a common characteristic in American built cars: larger engine capacities in a V8-cylinder (V8) package. These cars were built with power in mind and were later known as Muscle Cars.

1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88

The 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 was arguably the first muscle car.  It was powered by a 5-litre V8; delivering 100kW (135bhp) of power and 357Nm of torque.  It managed 0-100kmh in 17.7 seconds and a top speed of 91kmh.

In the 1960s, American car manufacturers were competing to build the most powerful car. That ushered in the Golden Age of the Muscle Car.

The following are general examples. Note that trim and engine choices differ, even in the same model, as many options and special editions were available.

Pontiac GTO

The term ‘Muscle Car’ was first used by Pontiac to describe the launch of its 1964 GTO.  Soon after, other manufacturers used the same term.

How would one depict an anti-hero? Little respect for authority, adrenaline addict, and a rebel with a heart?  Apt description for the movie xXx (2002) and xXx: The Return of Xander Cage (2017).  The choice car for Vin Diesel’s on-screen anti-hero? The personification of Xander Cage, the 1966 Pontiac GTO.

The 1966 GTO housed a 6-litre V8, with a power output of 250kW (335bhp) and 584Nm of torque, launching it from 0-100kmh in 6.1 seconds with a top speed of 192kmh.

1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 Boss 429

Embodying brain and brawn from the past into the present.  In the movie, John Wick (2014), Keanu Reeves played an assassin coming out of retirement.

The choice car to represent Mr. Wick’s skills and powerful stature: the Mustang Mach 1.  Armed with a 7-litre V8, pushing 429 cui (279kW/374bhp) of power. The Boss 429 did 0-100kmh in 5.3 seconds with an estimated top speed of just under 200kmh.

1977 Chevrolet Camaro LT305 V8

The earth needed saving by a brave, innocent, and child-like hero, empathising with the millennial generations and after, in facing youthful uncertainties.  Enter The Transformers movie series (2007-2023) and Bumblebee (2018).  Bumblebee’s disguise?  Different versions of the Camaro, to discover an unfamiliar world together with a younger generation.

Powered by a 5-litre V8 with 305cui (108kW/145bhp), the LT305 did 0-100kmh in 11 seconds and a top speed of 170kmh.

A must mention is that between the Ford Model T to Bumblebee were the Hot-Rods. After World War 2 (WWII), many returning G.I.s, having picked up mechanical skills during their tour, started modifying older cars. These cars were retrofitted with V8s and stripped down to bare metal to reduce weight.

Muscle cars saw Americans through two World Wars; the Korean and Vietnam wars; and the Cold War. It saw a dormant nation emerge as a super-power after WW2, and become the world’s leading economy. Its media influenced the world. These cars are a reminder and reflection of that history.

How relatable are muscle cars locally? Empathy for muscle cars was mostly lost in Malaya. Singapore, especially after WW2, was focused on recovery under the British. At the height of the muscle car era, Singapore’s baby boomers were fighting for independence, and, thereafter, nation building.  A different experience from the Americans.

Ironically, the millennial generation and after related better to muscle cars   through traditional and, especially, new media platforms. The latter included interactive gaming devices such as Xbox and PlayStation. After watching movies, like the titles mentioned above, individuals can surf the World Wide Web for more information and interact through games like Gran Turismo, GTA 5, and Need For Speed giving a younger generation exposure with a renewed appreciation for muscle cars.

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