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Classic Muscle Cars, Baseball and Hotdogs- They have More In Common Than You Think ... (Written by Rochelle Cools for West Coast Classics)

When muscle cars first came on the market in the 1960's, no one could have predicated that they would become American icons much like baseball and hotdogs. Popular both locally and globally, the appeal of the American muscle car is undeniable-even the most die hard environmentalist cant help but notice and admire (if only for a second) a 1966 Ford Mustang Convertible whizzing by on a hot summer's day. Like it or not, muscle cars will continue to grow in popularity and they have the same appeal today as they did yesterday. Why? These fun to drive high performance cars are rare and collectible; their distinctive body styles and powerful engines don't hurt either!

In an ode to all things muscle, we have listed a few of our favorite and most popular classic muscle cars

Muscle Cars We Love- The Hemi's Mopars

Chrysler's muscle cars were not as showy or as good looking as their contemporaries from General Motors or Ford. The company made up for this in a big way with the hemi engine, the most powerful engine available at the time of its introduction. These high performance engines were as muscle as you could get and thus hemi-powered muscle cars such as the Plymouth Roadrunner were virtually unbeatable on the road. The mighty hemi came at a price- a very expensive option in its day (and even more expensive today)- it was available to a select few with deep pockets. As a result, some of the most desirable and collectible muscle cars today are hemi muscle cars or mopars as they are also called. These cars are few in number and thus are extremely rare, collectible and expensive. Among the most popular hemi muscle cars are Plymouth's Road Runner and Barracuda models and Dodge's Charger.

1970 Dodge Challenger RT 

In 1970 Chrysler introduced the Dodge Challenger RT. This wide, sporty muscle car was only available as a coupe or convertible but the dizzying array of options meant that no two cars were exactly alike. The RT, short for road and track, was Dodge's top of the line performance car and of course, a hemi powered RT was the cream of the crop. Dodge had hoped to profit from the RT but this was not to be.  The growing backlash against muscle cars didn't help either, and sales of the RT suffered terribly for example in 1970, only   14 hemi powered RT muscle cars were sold, one of which was a convertible. Due to its rarity, high performance engine and distinct body style, the 1970 RT 426 Hemi is extremely collectible and commands blockbuster prices in today's market.

1967 Plymouth Belvedere GTX

The Plymouth GTX was widely overlooked by the public when it rolled out of factories in 1967. The American public, content to look elsewhere for their muscle, hardly took note of the GTX's stylish sporty design and high performance. This was unfortunate as the GTX proved many times over, that it was not only a contender, but could win big at the race track and it did, winning many races of note in 1966, including the World Championship finals .The 1967 model came in two body styles (convertible and a 2 door hard top) with front bucket seats and back seats styled to look like front seats. The non-functional hood scoops did much to enhance the stylish look of the car, as did the red wire wheels. Again, like most Chrysler muscle cars of that era the Belvedere GTX came with a hemi option. Only 125 units were equipped with the hemi engine and of those seventeen were convertibles. Like other muscle cars with hemi engines, so few were made that the ones still in existence today bring very high prices.

1970 Plymouth 'Hemi Cuda'

Plymouth first introduced the Barracuda in 1964. Available as an option for the Valiant, the Barracuda did not become a car in its own right until 1967 when it was redesigned. This model year however was plagued with problems and so the Barracuda had minor changes in redesign for the years 1968 and again in 1969.

It was not until 1970 however that the folks over at Plymouth finally got it right. The Barracuda underwent a major face-lift. Developed on the completely new 'E' body platform, the new Barracudas allowed for better performance and the accommodation of bigger engines (including the hemi). This new, bigger and better body style resulted in the Barracuda finally become a true performance car going by the moniker 'Cuda'.  

Hemi 'Cudas' were built with functional shaker hood scoops and also came equipped with special high performance suspension packages. In 1970 just 652 hemis were installed on hardtop coupes and only 14 convertibles were outfitted with the hemi package. The 1970 and 1971 Hemi Cudas models are very rare collectible cars, the few in existence today are in the collections of the wealthiest collectors

Muscle Cars We Love- The Pioneers

Classic muscle cars have captured the minds and hearts of enthusiasts the world over. This is incredible given the fact that these classics were only made during a short period in America's history- the mid 60's to early 70'. The following list of cars are just a few of the muscle cars produced during this era which were the first of their kind for either styling, performance or beauty. You probably have your favorites but here are some of ours:

1964 Pontiac GTO

The Pontiac GTO was the most influential muscle car of the 1964-1973 era. This was not a result of its options, styling or performance; simply put, it was the first car of its kind. While one can argue that the GTO was not the first muscle car, (that honor goes to the Oldsmobile Rocket 88) no one can deny that that the GTO put classic American muscle front and center stage. 

The concept of putting a big engine in a smaller size car was not a new one- drag racers of the 50's and early 60's had been doing it for years. Pontiac executives however, were the first of the major car companies to see an opportunity in what they thought was a niche market.  Pontiac quickly realized that the paying public would prefer to buy a new high performance car instead of spending considerable time and money modifying an old one. They were right. Americans responded in droves. The 1964 Pontiac GTO with its attractive styling, hurst shifter transmission and hood scoops a was a massive success with over 32,000 units sold. Ford and Chevrolet took note and this began the muscle cars wars which culminated in 1973. 

The 1964 Pontiac GTO was the spark that ignited the muscle car wars and because of this it has earned its place in muscle car history.

1969 Plymouth Roadrunner

A giant leap in the stiff muscle car market was made by Plymouth with the introduction of the Road Runner in 1968. The old adage, 'don't judge a book by its cover' could not be more true in regard to this muscle car. At first glance, the Roadrunner was nothing special and in looks it could not compare to Pontiac's GTO or Ford's Mustang. Roadrunner owners could take heart though, as this no frills budget car gave any Mustang or GTO a run for the money. When installed with the optional hemi engine, the Roadrunner was virtually unbeatable.  

The 1968 Roadrunner sold well and garnered much press for Chrysler but it was the 1969 model which stole the show- both with the public and with industry insiders. An aggressive marketing campaign and the success of its predecessor resulted in record sales (sales for 1969 were almost double over the previous year).

According to 'Car and Driver' magazine, the 1969 Road Runner had "more mechanical presence than any other American automobile" That same year Motor trend Magazine selected the Road Runner as car of the year. If you're lucky enough to own one of these true originals with the 'beep beep' horn you would do well to hang on to it as this classic muscle car is sure to become even more valuable in the future.

1970 Chevelle SS454, LS6

Chevrolet entered the muscle car market with the Chevelle SS in 1964 but the SS was no match for Pontiac's GT0.  Asleep at the wheel, Chevrolet was determined not only to catch up, but to dominate the mid sized muscle car market. In 1970 it seemed like the dream was a reality. The Chevelle SS, newly restyled was back with a vengeance.

The entry-level engine for the SS was the LS5 with 360 bhp but the top of the line performance engine was the 454 (also known as the LS6) which packed a whopping 450 bhp. At the time the 454 was the fastest engine available in a massed produced car, barely street legal. Available as either a coupe or a convertible, the SS 454 was as muscle as you could get - this elegant and sporty muscle car represented the ultimate package of beauty and performance.  Today many classic car enthusiasts rate the Chevelle SS 454 as the number one classic muscle car.

Today the Chevelle SS 454 is one of the most iconic muscle cars in existence and represents a milestone in classic muscle car history because of its good looks and top of the line engine. Its rarity and collectability means that it fetches a premium. A 1970 Chevelle SS 454 in fair condition will cost a small fortune.  A fully restored one costs a lot more! 

1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 

Like the 1970 Chevelle SS 454, the Mach 1 is one of the most stylish and iconic muscle cars ever built and that's saying a lot. (Ford's basic Mustang trumped the competition by leaps and bounds when it was introduced in 1964 and held its place throughout the muscle car era). Debuting in 1969, the Mach 1 is easily one of Ford's best muscle cars, embodying both style and performance. On first glance, you can't help but notice its  sporty and elegant good looks but peer under the hood and the Mach 1 is even more delightful. The stock engine was the 351 Windsor (with 2 barrel carburetion and 250 horsepower) but other options included the 351 290 horsepower and of course the top of the line 428 Cobra Jet or Super Cobra Jet. Able to negotiate both straight stretches of road and twists and turns, the Mach 1's superb handling of the road was a feat that very few of its contemporaries could boast. 

The Mach 1 was also different in another way-it had the most luxurious interior of any Mustang of that era. Some of its features include its high back bucket seats, black carpets and wood trim. Among the 69 Mach 1's other options are its matte black hood , 4 gears and manual transmission

1969 Chevy Camaro Z28

The massive success that was Ford's Mustang did not go unnoticed by the folks over at Chevrolet. Looking to capture a share of the burgeoning 'pony car' market, Chevrolet's answer to the Mustang was the Camaro. Making its debut in September of 1966 the Camaro, like the Mustang, was available in a wide array of options and body styles. Introduced two years after the Mustang, Chevrolet realized that to pose a serious threat, merely introducing the Camaro would not be enough- a car capable of beating the Mustang at the racetrack was needed if the Camaro was to stand a chance against the widely popular Mustang and thus the Z28 was born.

The Z28 was a special performance package available only for Camaro's coupe. The car, while marketed to the public, was built to best the Mustang at the racetrack and thus all its options were geared towards this purpose. 

All first generation Z28's came with upgraded suspension and racing stripes on the hood and trunk lid. Earlier model cars had the '302' emblem on the front fender while later models like the 68 and 69's had 'Z/28' emblems instead. Other features of the Z28 included its quick steering and front disc brakes but its distinguishing feature was its 302 cubic inch V8 small block engine. Stated at 290 bhp, it is widely accepted by the muscle car community that actual horsepower was in excess of 350 bhp.

While all first generation Z28's (1967-1969) are sought after and collectible, the 1969 model holds a special place in the hearts of enthusiasts and one can argue that it is the most collectible of the first generation Z28's for a number of reasons:

A)Its Unique Body style:

The Z28 was redesigned almost entirely for the'1969' model year and was the only Z28 of its kind designed with the more square looking aggressive and sporty appearance. (The Z28 was again restyled for the 1970 model year making the 69 models unique in appearance)

B)Its Brake, Engine and Exhaust System:

The 69 Z28 had better steering and braking ability and overall performed better than previous models. Its 302 cid engine was redesigned for optimal performance and while front disc brakes were standard on Z28's, there were some new developments and technology which increased the competitiveness and desirability of the 1969 models -namely RPO - JL8. In 1969, Chevy's Corvette was the only massed produced American car to utilize four wheel disc brake technology and thus when this option become available on the Camaro Z28, it increased its appeal. 

Also unique to the 1969 Z28 was its cowl induction hood, which greatly aided in engine performance. This feature once again is a testament to the desirability of the 69 Z28. 

In today's market these are highly sought after muscle cars. It is worth noting that Chevy bested the Mustang with this car as the Camaro Z28 captured the Trans American Championship in 1968 and again in 1969 thus fulfilling the purpose for which it was built.  


Detroit, November 2010. Pontiac, whose muscle cars drag raced down American boulevards, parked at American drive-ins and roared across movie screens around the world, went out of business on Sunday October 31st 2010.

The 84 year old brand, moribund since General Motors decided to kill it off last year as it collapsed into bankruptcy, has been in decline for years. It was destined to the pages of automobile legend and history by a combination of poor strategy and changing driver's tastes and on October 31st GM's agreements with Pontiac dealers expired.

But long before GM's bankruptcy, Pontiac's sales had fallen from their peak of nearly one million in 1968, when the brand's muscle car models were prized for their powerful engines and scowling grills and good looks to less then 267,000 in 2008, less than a third of those sold in 1968.

At Pontiac's pinnacle, in the muscle car era of the late sixties and early seventies, model's like the GTO, Trans Am, Catalina, Bonneville, LeMans and the Firebird packed with horsepower and sporting colors like 'Tiger Gold' were the envy and inspiration for all the other Detroit brands.

Beginning with the storied first muscle car in 1964, the legendary GTO, the inspiration of GM engineers who took a small car, the Tempest and placed a powerful V8 under the hood. The letters GTO stood for 'Grand Turismo Omologato' which is italian for 'Ready to Race' and didn't they for once really mean it?!

Sadly, after Burt Reynolds and Sally Field fled the law in their Firebird Trans Am in the late seventies 'Smokey and the Bandit' movies, Pontiac's demise was well under way and by the eighties Pontiac's had long ago taken off their muscle shirts and were trying to wear suits to combat the Japanese competition. The brand had lost it's edge and once GM combined the brand's engineering, manufacturing and design operations with it's other brands to reduce costs, the car no longer found an audience with any passion for it's product. 

Formed in 1926, Pontiac made cars for the working class until a sales slump in the 1950's nearly killed it off then. GM revived the brand by connecting it to auto racing and from then on, each Pontiac sales boom was driven by that connection. By 1964, sparked by the success of the GTO, the Pontiac brand thrived, making up 17% of the 5.4 million cars and trucks sold by GM in the U.S. in 1968.

Pontiac's decline, like that of Oldsmobile and other legendary American brands, stemmed from a combination of inconsistent strategy and the lack of a true vision and leadership, with executives rotating their way up the corporate ladder in Detroit, with each trying to implement a new vision of the brand, including ill-fated luxury versions of what should have remained an iconic American muscle car.

May she rest in peace!

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