There’s something freeing about being behind the wheel of a muscle car. They capture a certain American feeling and are a big part of our favorite shows and movies.
Now that fuel efficiency standards are rising; these powerful vehicles may face a sunset.
With some big automakers killing off their iconic models, are we seeing the death of these powerhouses?
What Are Muscle Cars?
Muscle cars are two-door performance vehicles often powered by large V8 engines. By definition, they’re also more affordable than sports or luxury options. They’re also American by default.
There’s some debate about which models and packages to include under the hood. But they’re generally mid-sized and have four seats. Some pony-style and compact cars are also in the family.
The Dodge Charger in The Dukes of Hazard is one of the most iconic examples. Starsky and Hutch use a Ford Gran Torino throughout their adventures. Their popularity on TV and film is all part of their appeal.
These cars have a youthful, blue-collar vibe that helps regular folks capture the Fast and Furious feel. They’re perfect if you’ve got a lead foot and little cash for a downpayment. But they burn through gas quickly, which is why they’re starting to disappear.
The History of Muscle Cars
While the term didn’t appear until the mid-60s, the original muscle car came out in 1949. Most people consider the Oldsmobile Rocket 88 the first.
The vehicles are essentially perfect for racing. You’d commonly see them on the main drag revving their engines, looking for some competition on a Friday night.
While the cars didn’t sell much, they helped brands build their reputation. The style hit its peak popularity in the late 60s. Manufacturers entered a horsepower war with their high-performance cars, many topping 400 hp.
The cars were synonymous with fast acceleration. The best could go from 0-60 mph in six seconds, while newer models can do it in less than three. These cars are loud and proud, and gearheads love spending their weekends working on their babies.
But in the 70s, they started to decline in popularity. The combined hit of the Clean Air Act, the fuel crisis, and rising insurance costs made it harder for their target demographic to afford them. While they saw a brief resurgence in the 90s, rising fuel costs and environmental concerns slowed them down again. Plus, safety concerns took over the consumer mindset.
Pro Tip: While on the road in your car, you’ll want to know Can I Sleep in My Car in a National Forest?
Are Muscle Cars Safe?
Muscle cars are perfect for driving fast. But the average driver doesn’t need to hit top speeds on a daily basis. They encourage bad behavior, which increases your risk of accidents. Even if you drive conservatively, you may wonder how safe these vehicles are.
The truth isn’t pretty. In 2016, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety put them to the test. None of them came out as a top safety pick. But it wasn’t all bad. The biggest brands ranged from “moderate” to “good” in crash testing for occupant protection.
Newer models have better safety ratings as companies develop new technology. But none of them fare as well as more practical modern vehicles. All in all, you’ll probably come out okay if you practice defensive driving.
Which Muscle Cars Should You Steer Clear of?
Some of the most popular muscle cars also happen to be pretty scary. The Ford Mustang, one of the most iconic autos in its class, was involved in over 1,500 deadly incidents between 2015 to 2018.
The Camaro Coupe is crazy powerful but has a scary track record for fatal accidents. Its roof strength ratings are particularly problematic. And speaking of big-name vehicles, the Dodge Charger has twice the death rate as the Chevy.
Besides having less-than-ideal crash ratings, these cars are just designed to move fast. It’s easy to get in over your head, and if your reaction time isn’t fast enough, you may be out of luck.
The Death of the Muscle Car As We Know It
In 2022, Dodge announced one “last call” on their Charger and Challenger models. They would create one final line of the cars. It’s a farewell tour to two of the most aggressive vehicles in history.
These models are supposed to be the most high-performance vehicles they’ve ever created. Now that they’re on the streets, they’ll likely be one of the last generations of muscle cars.
Most automakers are exploring alternatives to comply with EPA regulations about emissions and fuel efficiency. Stellantis, the company that makes Dodge, is already at risk of fines if it doesn’t improve things. Chevy is also putting the curtain call on the Camaro.
But honestly, is this so bad? Road traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for people under 54. And as the engines get bigger, the gas gets more expensive. Of course, Dodge has already planned something to address that.
Is Something Replacing Muscle Cars?
Dodge is already working on an all-electric Charger, though it’s already been delayed until 2025. It’s supposedly much louder than other e-models. It makes sense because how else would you challenge someone to a race?
For now, other major automakers are watching to see what happens with high-performance electric vehicles. But Ford is continuing with the Mustang for at least another year. While they do have slightly better gas mileage with the eco-boost engine, they’ll still burn a hole in your wallet with gas.
Pro Tip: Muscle car or not, you’ll want to know Should You Ever Tow with a Car?
It’s Time To Say Goodbye!
There’s a certain freedom about driving at top speed on the open road. Unfortunately, you’ve got to grow up eventually. Making the daily commute in a loud, aggressive vehicle is like asking for trouble each morning. While we may miss the youthful feeling of invincibility, we welcome a cleaner, safer alternative to these classic cars.
Especially when we’ve got to sit in rush hour traffic.
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