Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Ten Reasons Muscle Cars Are Here To Stay

And none of them start with “'Merica”

The cliché is everywhere: “enjoy it while you can.” It's as if being green, efficient, and environmentally responsible have fully overthrown loud, rude, and in-your-face as the proper image you're supposed to portray to the world. Even Miley Cyrus is struggling to get away with acting such ways, and it's no secret that muscle cars are the vehicular portrayal of many of these frowned-upon traits that our politically-correct society suggests are better pushed aside. In turn, this puts our beloved muscle machines in grave danger; many doubt their future entirely and from a logical standpoint things look grim. But automotive enthusiasm isn't logical. We've all heard it before, even straight from the mouth of James May (the “sensible one”) in the opening conversation of Top Gear's most recent season, when he put it bluntly: “the V8 could soon be a thing of the past.” But I call bullshit. The most famous and storied of enthusiast-focused vehicles are going away no quicker than the Prius is becoming the Official Vehicle of Good Drivers. Here's why...

(Note: For the purpose of this article, the Camaro, Mustang, and Challenger will all be categorized as “muscle cars.” While each is muscle-esque in its own way(s)-- and while each strays from muscle in many ways as well-- for the sake of simplicity, they will be categorized together.)

First, past fuel crises couldn't kill the V8. Today, up against the toughest standards yet, they're still alive and are stronger than ever. While automakers disguised past fuel-efficient replacements by shrinking the car versus doing so to the engine, a la Gremlin, modern technology has enabled today's muscle and sports cars to exceed the MPG numbers of some the old-time “econoboxes” that resulted from the fuel crisis eras. High-20's MPG figures are easily achievable with a timid right foot, and some are handily creeping into the low 30's-- territory once, and even very recently, reserved for cars with efficiency as a high priority. Now, though it may not be filed under “intended use,” you can eek out sufficient miles per gallon from your “play toy” for it to still be fairly economical.

Second: there's a future of muscle cars that burn rubber without burning gas. The first Tesla Model S was a land-going, battery-powered rocket ship, and now they've “launched” (ha) the P85D, featuring the infamous “Insane Mode,” a drive setting based on Elon Musk's desire for acceleration matching that of the McLaren F1. Acceleration as a priority? Straight muscle car mojo, be it roaring exhaust or whirring batteries. That kind of power in a smaller, lighter chassis with two less doors and rear-wheel-drive would be fan-freakin-tastic, and the potential for this to be built is proof that a muscle car can exist in a world where being green is hip. It's really just a matter of time before we start seeing Electric Muscle...paging Mr. Musk...

Third, while the typical automaker usually sells fewer halo cars than they do any other vehicle in their catalog, the vehicular icon that represents an entire brand is an entity wholly capable of drawing somebody into the showroom which in turn can generate a sale of either said halo car or, more importantly, of something beneath it. For example, if somebody walks into a Dodge dealership to oogle their Viper-filled fantasy and reality-laden sensibility kicks in, he can still likely justify a Charger as his family car while keeping peace of mind that his pride and joy shares blood with its Hellcat and snake-bitten Dodge brethren. Halo cars create sales of the cars that automakers actually make money on. In the form of muscle cars, they create prestige by giving the other cars the company builds the image of having the same heritage as the more “desirable” car. Brand recognition and image are both extremely important, more so now than ever, and it all starts with the company's most easily recognizable and distinguished car. And if people think they're getting a piece of the fun by purchasing a relative of a sports or muscle car, it's a win-win for the company.

The halo car effect also incorporates itself into the CAFE-standard ordeal; while the V8-bearers might not achieve an average efficiency worthy of meeting the government's mandates, the high-volume sellers are more likely to increase the company's overall average fuel economy, allowing the parent brand to meet said standards and live to see another day. We must not forget that vehicle manufacturing is a business and that automakers need to sell cars to survive, and it is impossible to do so without complying with the government's regulations.

Fourth: Speaking of selling cars, numbers speak volumes: Chevy has sold nearing 500,000 Camaros since the car's reincarnation, while Dodge has moved going on 300,000 Challengers during its newfound life. And, needless to say, Ford has been selling the Mustang nonstop since its introduction, with numbers just behind the Camaro since the Chevy's 5th generation was introduced. These high sales figures drive (so-to-speak) and correlate to the sales of the rest of the product line, and to that of the industry as well. And right now, the resulting numbers are quite good.

Fifth, the kids that will keep car culture going are the ones who embrace muscle cars with open arms and open hearts. They're the ones eagerly awaiting the all-new Mustang's release; they're the ones who geek out over the Z28's lap times; and they're the ones obsessing over the Hellcat's astronomical power figures. Car culture has changed quite a bit since the first coming of Muscle, but if it has any chance of survival it needs a core group of enthusiasts who still love the rumble of eight cylinders. Likewise, with muscle car ownership usually comes the territory of [willingly] doings modifications and maintenance oneself, and the comparative simplicity of V8's and the package wrapped around them makes these cars relatively easy to work on and also relatively affordable, thus positioning them as accessible enthusiast machines. The future lies in the hands of the up-and-coming generation, one that appears to already be accepting of the V8 and of muscle.

Sixth: muscle cars are no longer the one-trick-ponies of yore. When the original Mustang and Camaro debuted they were focused on acceleration, an affordable price tag, and high fun-quotient. But today, with competence tests such as autocross, time attacks, track days (bro), and the likes, modern muscle has to be able to turn too. As such, the automakers have obliged; enter the Camaro 1LE / Z28, Mustang “Track Pack” / Boss 302 / GT350[R], and even the SRT/Hellcat Challenger [and yes, Charger]. Any and all of these cars' dynamic abilities will punch the “American cars can't handle” guy square in the face. Even the Hellcat ran around Motor Trend's figure-eight in the same time as the Alfa 4C, a car dedicated to weight savings by making use of carbon fiber shell, quite contrary to the Hellkitten's close-to 4500-pound heft. Visit a local track day and you will undoubtedly see an assortment of each from the Ford/Chevy/Dodge trio fighting physics in a battle against the clock. In addition to handling prowess, these American bruisers employ some tech that would make the early days
of NASA seem unsophisticated. GM's Magnetic Ride Control uses magnetic particles that float in oil to control suspension damping 1,000 times per second. Meanwhile, even the Mustang has joined the 21st century with the addition of Independent Rear Suspension and all the accompanying toys to qualify it as a fully “modern car.” Then there's Dodge, which is selling a seemingly unlimited number of fully streetable 700+ HP monsters-- a concept which would have been ludicrously unthinkable as recent as a decade ago, before technology made a car with so much power “driveable.” And let's not forget the ever-increasing number of computers fitted to every vehicle. The bottom line is today, muscle is not only about ripping burnouts and slaying the quarter-mile, but it's about being able to conquer corners as well.

On top of this, muscle cars have become genuinely good on the street. They are truly easy to live with, and not just as in “oh yeah, it's fine for what it is,” but in that they're safe, comfortable, semi-practical, reliable vehicles. Compromises are, finally, minimal. I drive my Challenger every day, 105 miles round trip. It's perfectly comfortable, there's ample interior room for people to fit in the back if needed, and better yet, even with a 5.7L V8, averaging 22 MPG is easy. It's even seen figures as high as 29 MPG on a road trip, which was with the A/C on full blast and a week-long vacation's worth of baggage filling the trunk. The proof is there: more and more people are making V8, RWD cars their daily drivers. Traction control, ESP, and other acronym-bearing car brains also make these cars easier to drive year-round, inclimate weather included (with the appropriate tires, of course). Making the case for a muscle car as your only vehicle is no longer difficult; today, it's easy to justify how you can combine practicality and pleasure.

Se7en(th): Thinking outside the box, there's muscle cars from all over the world, not just from the good 'ol US of A. Mercedes represents itself with the C63 and SLS, both of which are notorious for being entirely overpowered versus their handling/chassis departments; Lexus is building a coupe with a 460+ HP V8 and far too little tire; and even Britain has pseudo-muscle in the F-Type R Coupe (the now-defunct RWD version, at least) and some of the Aston Martin cars as well. Broaden the spectrum to GT cars, the concept of which is largely similar (big engine; comfort; rear-wheel-drive; effortless low-RPM cruising; fun; etc), and there are even more options. On the flip side, the “hottest” thing to do today is to swap a fire-breathing V8 into a shell otherwise left to smaller means of propulsion, in turn broadening muscle's influence if only through the hands and minds of madness. What was once an American-only club has gone fully international, with more entries and creations on the horizon and each one making the competition more difficult, thus forcing improvement in every facet. More muscle in the wide world of cars means it's that much harder to get rid of.

Eighth: the sound. Nothing can replace the raw, brutal, grass-roots arrogance of a V8 engine piped through proper headers into a not-so-muffled exhaust. Be it a V12, V10, straight-six, or turbo-4, every engine type has a following, but none has a sound as iconic as that of eight cylinders. Small block or big, the V8's roar is ingrained in songs, movies, and, most importantly, minds, and it's part of why people love muscle cars in the first place.

Ninth: muscle cars are badass. They ooze character and personality. They make good movie cars. They make auto shows important. They get your attention, be it in a commercial or in a parking lot. They make heritage and nostalgia and brand names and rivalries relevant. And they make having a shit-ton of attitude feel like a vital part of life. Hollywood, form over function, and competition: staples of American society that will never, ever go away.

Tenth: smiles. Car enthusiasm is about automotive bliss, being happy around cars, losing oneself in the sights/sounds/feelings, making friends (and enemies), experimenting, trying (and failing), about the grin you get from all of the aforementioned...and, of course, the incomparable connection between you and your car and the road and the freedom that takes perfect form in driving. Muscle cars simply make all of this better. That's really all there is to it. Whatever obstacle there is people will find a way to keep muscle cars around for they enrich lives in a way that only muscle cars can. If this isn't reason enough as to why they're here to stay, I don't know what is.

Despite ever-tightening standards, times, for cars at least, are good. The horsepower wars are swinging harder than ever. Innovation is running wild, hand-in-hand with old-school mentality's greatest hits. Ford, Chevy, and Dodge are fighting harder than ever to make the best cars they can, and not just those with unnecessary amounts of horsepower and torque. But luckily they are focusing on those with unnecessary amounts of horsepower and torque, and we the car people are reaping the benefits. Times are good. No, times are great. Perhaps the best. This is the true golden era of muscle. Muscle cars are too iconic, too blue collar, too laugh-inducing, too enjoyable, and too damn fun to ever go away for good. The outlook is equally great: we're witnessing a new standard, with even better machinery on the horizon. Muscle cars are here to stay. They've adapted before and will have to again, but for now all we can do is enjoy them, because it's not a matter of doing so while they're still around-- it's a matter of enjoying them while we're still around.  Let's face the facts:
Muscle cars are here to stay.
And if you've made it this far, go do a burnout.

-Ross, 6/2/15

Image sources: Google / myself

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