Muscle cars; what was once old is new

by Chuck Rehdorf on 2017-08-22 11:24am

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Dodge Challenger, Chevy Camaro, Ford Mustang. For automotive enthusiasts, the names read like they were carved in marble with passion. Whichever is your favorite, there is no doubt the muscle car is back. Some say it never left; more like it went into a decades long coma. Whichever way you believe, the fact of the matter is, a significant portion of new and pre-owned car sales today are now made up of the modern muscle car.

A good automotive dealer, like any other sales professional, always thinks about their product and portraying it in the best light. It’s one of the reasons dealers from California to Florida are taking auto dealers continuing education courses online - so they can knowledgeably and honestly sell their product. But it also helps when a product sells itself, like today’s modern muscle car. Let’s start with a quick historical cruise.

In The Beginning

In the fifties, the term muscle car didn’t exist. But what buyers wanted was ’BIG’. Big, like rocket-BIG, fins included. During that time, a few people saw ‘big car’ meant big motor; and big motor meant fast. At least for going in relatively straight lines.

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Dragstrips and race tracks began springing up all over America, and sales of cars with big motors skyrocketed. Then came the pony-car revolution.Not only were big motors coming into their own, but the size of the cars became smaller (translate again to ‘fast’) and Americans began to think more in terms of handling as well as power. But muscle cars had some, uh, drawbacks.


First, as we said earlier, American muscle cars were not known for their handling characteristics, so curves were not where these cars shined. It wasn’t shine in terms of gas mileage either. Some of the really big boys, 426 Hemi Roadrunners, 427 Camaros or the 428 Mustangs saw gas mileage posted in single digits. But possibly the biggest failing was that for years, no one in the automotive industry cared to think about automobile emissions. When you have 375 ponies pounding pavement, that concept slides behind you like black marks on a dragstrip. These were the factors that almost signaled the death of the muscle car. Many older gearheads believe it did kill the first great muscle car era.

Hard Times for Elephants, Rats, and Cobras

The mid-seventies came, gas prices went galactic, emissions standards were forced on the industry, and Detroit vainly tried to make up for not looking forward. Motor sizes, horsepower ratings, and car sizes plummeted. And like trying to make the monster out of mismatched parts, the big three automakers made watered down attempts to resurrect the muscle car in its former glory, to no avail. But was there a ray of sunshine on the horizon?

In the early eighties American automakers began sending engineers overseas. European and Asian auto markets were expanding, if not booming. After a few years, Detroit began to step up their game. One clear examples of the European influence in design and engineering came when Ford brought back European body designs for a “new” Thunderbird body style and it went straight onto NASCAR tracks and won.

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At the same time refinements in engineering began to see horsepower numbers creep up again. Technology began to catching up with horsepower and with the previously mentioned European and Asian automotive influences, a new day began for car enthusiasts. It was fun to drive again. Those gearheads and racers who had been in the background now seemed more like the old guard who had never given up, and they successfully defended the bastions of pure driving fun. The golden age of the muscle car wasn’t over. In fact, it’s now.

A New Dawn

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Since the early 2000s, increasingly more automakers have raised the fun factor for buyers. There was a brief dip in sales numbers for newer muscle cars in 2016, but nothing that would qualify as a slump. Even at that, the Big Three (as well as most every other carmaker in the world) are catering to the new rage of quick-tech and eyebrow lifting new generation horsepower. For comparison, in 1969 the big-block brawlers threw down somewhere near 450 horsepower. As of 2016, you can buy Mustangs, Camaros, Challengers, or other pavement pounders with 500, 600, or even 700 (yup, that’s right) horsepower. And they get good (well, better than before) fuel mileage. They don’t pollute as badly as their predecessors either. Most importantly, you don’t have to be the daughter of a movie star to afford one. Another significant trend impacting this area of sales for auto dealers in regard to the modern musclecar is nowadays they can also turn corners without listing like a battleship. So for the auto dealer this means education and knowledge are key.

Whether its used car dealer continuing education in Florida or California auto dealer training continuing education, or even Oregon dealer education, a dealer has to have the training to be up-to-speed (pun intended) on trends and changes in the market.

The technology prevalent throughout the different racing industries is making its way to the street faster than ever. Grass-roots auto enthusiasm and racing is bigger than it’s ever been in America. Basic autocross or road track, national or smaller regional dragstrips, it doesn’t matter. More drivers are enjoying a connection with their rides. One of the cool trends is that now models of vehicles and cars are showing up at shows, road races and dragstrips that a true gearhead wouldn’t have thought of in the olden days. A trip to the local dragstrip can yield photos of everything from a Honda CRX (with front drag slicks) to a twin turbo Jeep Cherokee.

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And they’ll turn times that might shock any ‘69 Charger or Nova pilot. Or perhaps a drive to your regional road course where Focuses, Miatas, and WRXs are found shouldering their way around the track with BMWs, Mustangs, and Porsches. And very unlike the heyday of amateur racing where one or two unique cars might be at the track on Saturday, these kinds of cars show up in force today.

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High performance cars are a viable market again. Some might be surprised, given all the negative press carmakers are getting these days. But the broader point for auto dealers is that folks seem to want to have a connection with their car, whether it’s a daily grocery getter or the only-on-sunny-Sundays Bimmer. Which translates directly to the bottom line for those sales professionals sensitive to their clients’ needs. The best way for them to stay that way is through education and training. The gearheads haven’t come back; the fact is they never actually left!


Chuck Rehdorf is a researcher and original content writer for At Your Pace Online, and lifelong gearhead. His current ride is a 2004 BMW 330ci, that he drives in autocross events. But some true muscle cars lurk in his past too, three 1967 GTXs, a ‘69 GT350 Mustang, and more.


AYPO offers online continuing education in many areas. If you’re looking for a quality auto dealers continuing education course, At Your Pace Online provides state recognized online classes across the nation. We offer California auto dealer training continuing education and Oregon dealer education. We also have Florida car dealer continuing education. We are your one stop source for auto dealer education.