The following was written under the official cause of “because I can.” It is an official rant not meant to be turned into a debate or hashtag.
The Second End to the Muscle Car
The year 1971 was a biggie in American history. Throughout the year, the national voting age was lowered to 18 years old, Charles Manson was convicted of murder, Disney World opened its doors for the first time, the then Soviet Union launched its first space station (Salyut 1). At the same time, NASA supervised Apollo 14 land on the moon, and the Pentagon Papers proved that the U.S. government should provide a shovel with every press release.
More importantly, moviegoers in 1971 got to premiere three films that were mostly about driving powerful machines. One was Duel, about a man trying to outrun a murderous truck driver in a turbocharged diesel tanker truck. Next, you had Vanishing Point, a film about a war hero/race car driver trying to outrun his demons in a Dodge Challenger with a handful of west-coast turnarounds, or what the kids today call Adderall. Lastly, Two Lane Blacktop, a film about drifting across the United States at 130 mph. Muscle cars were king of the road riding high on the crest of a glories peak of a wave made of leaded fuel costing only 40 cents a gallon – a wave that would ultimately drop onto jagged rocks in 1973.
Most people would agree that the original muscle car era ended after the oil crisis of the early 1970s. Even though there were muscle cars throughout the 70s, it wasn’t the same. All the hood graphics in the world couldn’t overlook the fact that a giant 6.6-liter V8 was only producing 200-hp. With a few exceptions, it would take several decades before the phrase “muscle car” became a profitable marketing term again. The 2010s saw a reboot of the American muscle car. You had younger actors playing familiar roles that could stop, turn, and keep you safe. Now, at the 50-year mark, buying a four-door sedan with 797-hp using eight cylinders (and a supercharger) is possible. But, just like 1971, right when the modern muscle car is peaking, there is an unavoidable feeling that it is all about to change.
Can a Muscle Car be Electric? Nope. But That’s Okay.
Change is inevitable. Adapting is difficult. Autoblog stated that Dodge plans to continue building the Challenger until 2023. Dodge also declared that it was developing a new electric muscle car designed to fight fire with fire on the strip against plaid-badged Teslas. This news is supposed to comfort those who don’t want to see these nostalgic nameplates going away in favor of EVs, but keeping the name doesn’t quite work. Look at how many people were angry that Ford named an electric SUV after the Mustang – even if the vehicle itself has been getting positive reviews.
It brings up the question; can a muscle car be electric? If someone swaps a Tesla battery into a 1971 Plymouth Road Runner, do you still call it a muscle car? As an automotive journalist who owns several vintage-era V8s, I am going to side with no. An electric muscle car may look like a duck, but it sure as hell won’t sound like one. Muscle cars are more than just a marketing term. They are, as the kids say, a vibe. It’s more than just quarter-mile times, burnouts, and Murcia-themed bumper stickers. Like a spaghetti western, a significant portion of a muscle car’s appeal comes down to its soundtrack.
Turning the key, or button, on a muscle car is the first sip of a cold beer after a hard day’s work. The spurring metallic noise of metal turning by fire and bellowing out of the exhaust pipe is enough to make you grin with delight no matter the stress, anxiety, or worries on the mind. It makes you feel strong like an action hero shrugging off a bullet wound because he doesn’t have time to bleed. Yes, this noise can often inspire immaturity with disastrous results, but a driver can make a mistake in any vehicle.
It’s easy to label muscle cars in the same company as fireworks, expensive gestures of colorful explosives that serve no efficient purpose other than to make us feel excited or amazed. So it is safe to predict that the term “muscle car” will live on as a marketing tool in promoting 1,500-hp electric, twin-turbo, nuclear-fusion-powered sports cars of the future wearing a familiar nameplate. However, all the instant torque and nano-second 0 to 60 times to come will never match the sensation of fireballs inside a cast-iron heart. For the same reason, modern electronic devices don’t have the allure of hitting the keys on an old fashioned typewriter or spinning the dial on an antique rotary phone, and they don’t have to.
Electric muscle cars do not have to feel or sound like 1971 or 2021. Instead, they will be their own thing, building on the common ground of speed and curb appeal. Yet, the feel and allure of the controlled chaos inside a gas-burning engine and capturing the subtle vibrations of eight cylinders thumping away in precise rhythm is something we will miss as much as certain members of the future generations will wish they witnessed it. As for electric muscle cars, you can replace sugar with sodium and call it diet, but it will never match the same sinful (I know it’s terrible for me, but I want it away) delicious taste of a classic coke.
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