Muscle Car Review - - Contents -

We can prob­a­bly agree that the Ford Mus­tang cre­ated the pony­car mar­ket, even though the Bar­racuda de­buted sev­eral weeks ear­lier. While the Bar­racuda was a Valiant with a con­tem­po­rary fast­back roofline, the Mus­tang was a much big­ger en­tity: a new class of car backed by solid mar­ket re­search that seized upon emerg­ing youth, fe­male, and two-car fam­ily de­mo­graph­ics and psy­cho­graph­ics.

Yet ap­par­ently we can’t agree on whether or not a Mus­tang with a Co­bra Jet is a mus­cle car.

As a rule, pony­cars in stan­dard form had six-cylin­der and low-per­for­mance V-8 en­gines— not mus­cle cars! How­ever, there is a seg­ment of the mus­cle car hobby that sees a Co­bra Jet and says, “That’s not a mus­cle car. That’s a pony­car!”

Why can’t it be both?

To­day we view mus­cle cars by class: com­pact, in­ter­me­di­ate, and full­size, with in­ter­me­di­ates rep­re­sent­ing the quin­tes­sence. In that spirit, the 1964 GTO is an in­ter­me­di­ate (LeMans) with a per­for­mance engine (389). The pat­tern con­tin­ues: a full­size (Im­pala) with a per­for­mance engine (409) is a mus­cle car, as is a com­pact (Duster) with a per­for­mance engine (340).

Yet a COPO Ca­maro is not a mus­cle car, ac­cord­ing to the logic of a few. Not sure why, con­sid­er­ing that a pony­car (Ca­maro) with a per­for­mance engine (427) doesn’t sound any less like a mus­cle car than those men­tioned above. Mus­cle car is sim­ply a sub­genre of some­thing big­ger.

Head start­ing to hurt? Then pre­pare to toss off all pre­con­ceived no­tions of how you cat­e­go­rize cars and look at how the auto in­dus­try saw the mar­ket­place back in the day. From the Jan­uary 3, 1966, Au­to­mo­tive News:

Gen­er­ally speak­ing, a spe­cialty car is any­thing that isn’t a true com­pact, in­ter­me­di­ate, or stan­dard car. The prod­uct plan­ners con­sider the spe­cialty car unique in that it’s not based on price or on size. In­stead, the spe­cialty-car cat­e­gory is based on these some­what in­tan­gi­ble, but none­the­less real char­ac­ter­is­tics:

• “A unique, pleas­ing, and con­tem­po­rary ap­pear­ance” with styling themes such as the

fast­back, semi-fast­back, and/or long hood and short rear deck.

• “One of a kind,” of­ten with unique body styles not shared with reg­u­lar se­ries.

• “A num­ber of un­usual fea­tures that say ‘this car is dif­fer­ent’” like con­cealed head­lights,

full-width tail­lights, and/or spe­cial paint and trim, among other items.

• “A sporty fla­vor. This is es­pe­cially true of the seat­ing . . . the stylists and prod­uct plan­ners are able to for­get some of the prac­ti­cal­i­ties of a fam­ily car.”

These at­tributes were shared by such var­ied mod­els as the AMC Marlin, Buick Riviera, Chevro­let Cor­vair and Corvette, Dodge Charger, Ford Thun­der­bird and Mus­tang, Oldsmo­bile Toron­ado, and Ply­mouth Bar­racuda. The Chevro­let Ca­maro, Mer­cury Cougar, and Pon­tiac Firebird joined for 1967 (gen­er­ally con­sid­ered the year for the spe­cialty car seg­ment), fol­lowed by the AMC Javelin and AMX for 1968 and the Con­ti­nen­tal Mark III and Pon­tiac Grand Prix for 1969.

Ward’s 1968 Au­to­mo­tive Year­book said, “Af­ter the Mus­tang hit the scene, the in­dus­try’s di­rec­tion be­came clear. The lit­tle old school­teacher in the vin­tage Detroit Elec­tric moved to Pasadena, bought a Mus­tang, and was promptly courted by the lit­tle old man in the Corvette equipped with im­ported Miche­lin rac­ing tires. In short, peo­ple were in­ter­ested in cars with per­son­al­ity.”

A gen­er­ous op­tion list (a big con­trast from the days of ra­dios, white­wall tires, and lit­tle else) was a byprod­uct of the spe­cialty car mar­ket; for 1967, vinyl top, air con­di­tion­ing, power steer­ing, power brakes, and V-8 were most pop­u­lar. Ward’s claimed that Mus­tang buy­ers in par­tic­u­lar added $440 in op­tional equip­ment on av­er­age. The in­flu­ence was felt in dif­fer­ent car cat­e­gories too: “Nearly ev­ery car line avail­able at the be­gin­ning of the ’68 model year boasted spe­cialty-type mod­els and spe­cialty car op­tions,” with the GTO and Road Run­ner be­ing no­table ex­am­ples. “The mar­ket, in its seem­ingly bound­less youth, is not fickle, how­ever, be­cause it seems to know what it wants. It dic­tated the end of sports-type fast­backs af­ter a few short years, forc­ing the re­place­ment of the Marlin and the restyle job of the Charger.”

No one would dare deny that the 1968 Charger R/T was a mus­cle car de­spite be­ing con­sid­ered a “spe­cialty car” by the in­dus­try. Per­haps it’s time to agree that a 14-se­cond Mus­tang or any other high­per­for­mance pony­car is a mus­cle car. What do you think?


n HOT ROD mag­a­zine claimed that the 1968½ Co­bra Jet Mus­tang was the “fastest run­ning Pure Stock in the his­tory of man.” Yet peo­ple say it isn’t a mus­cle car?

n In­spired by a con­ver­sa­tion with col­lec­tor Brian Styles, here’s a Venn-like di­a­gram that shows the think­ing de­ter­min­ing what makes a mus­cle car.

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