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What is a muscle car?

a discussion from the Allpar news and rumors forum


I just answered a post in which the enthusiastic staement was made "'s muscle cars come with load ratings and class four trailering". I thought it would be appropriate to look at some numbers I picked up at Car & Driver. Trucks are muscle cars, that's what any dealer will tell you. "Oh, this Ram has great power, really takes off, you'll blow those little V-6s away!" Really, lets look at some cold hard facts - zero to sixty times:

  • 2000 Ram V-10, 8.2 sec.
  • 2002 Ram 4.7, 8.8 sec.
  • 1999 Dakota R/T, 7.3 sec.

  • 2000 Dodge Neon 8.0 sec.
  • 2002 Dodge Neon R/T 7.6 sec.
  • 2001 Sebring LXi 9.1 sec.
  • 1998 Intrepid 8.6 sec.
  • 2001 Intrepid R/T 7.8 sec.

So, most of today's muscle cars cannot outrun today's economy car to 60 mph. Also, these are Dodge vehicles and Dodge doesn't make a dedicated muscle car like the Camaro Z28 or Mustang GT, I don't have the numbers in front of me but I dare say that either of those cars would walk the dog and call the puppies on any truck on the road. True, trucks have big V-8s like 1960s musclecars, but while a lot of cars were rear-wheel drive with a big V-8, they weren't all muscle cars.


As one who grew up with flathead sixes, who witnessed the birth and death of muscle cars, who owned many Mopar 4-bangers and who now owns a 318 Dakota, I'll throw in my 2 cents.

A 318 Dakota with an automatic might be a tick slower to 60 than a Neon, but
the seat of the pants feel is no comparison. The Dakota doesn't have to shift
4 times before you get to 60, and it sounds healthy instead of buzzy. After
60, the Neon becomes a dot in the rear view mirror. After all, it takes a bit
longer to get 4000 pounds moving than it does 2800 pounds.

I have raced Mustangs and Camaros at the local 1/8 mile track and have edged a
couple while being beaten by several more. None beat me badly.

I would prefer to buy a two door, V8 powered, RWD car, but since Chrysler
doesn't make one, I'm driving a '99 Dakota, and am now looking at a 2002
model. Yes, my truck is my muscle car, but only because there is no choice.

Mopar Man

I have to disagree. Look at the 0-60 time for the Dakota R/T. It's better than the cars you listed and is really the only truck in your list that Mopar markets as a muscle vehicle.

When I bought my Dakota R/T ... I had never owned a truck before but knew that it would be a lot more fun to drive than any of the cars Chrysler offers. It's pretty fast for a truck and fast enough to beat the wife's 300M from the stop light.

I'm waiting until there's a RWD V-8 muscle car available from Dodge (CHARGER
R/T), then I'll go back to driving a car.

BTW: There are Dakota R/T owners on the Dakota R/T mailing list that have
pushed their trucks into the 12 sec range in the 1/4 mile.


Look at your classic muscle cars. The GTO the Duster, the Road Runner etc. The
were ALL factory built machines. Sure, people added to the mix with the
aftermarket, but these weren't mild family sedans tuned by aftermarket people.
By the way, check out what can be bought for the Neon R/T before you talk too
much about aftermarket being for "Rice Burners".

I tried to use only documented numbers. The person who made the original statement was referring to the Ram. And the Dakota beat the Neon R/T, at only 150 hp, by only 3 tenths, in the real world (on a road with curves of any sort that type of advantage disappeared.) The original muscle cars owned 0-60 and the Quarter in their time. I hardly think .3 on an econobox owns the road.


A muscle car was image during its heyday. A 383 Roadrunner could be matched by a 440 New Yorker but hood scoops, tape stripes and decals announced a muscle car. It was great from 0 to 100, but never drive it on a windy road. Those roads were reserved for sports cars. I tend to agree that people see their Dakotas as muscle trucks. That is why the sport model is so popular. Most people love the sound and torque. I loved my Daytona Turbo in the 80s but never considered it a muscle car. Always shifting listening the the sewing machine noise just didn't do it for me. In my day a Camaro, Firebird, Mustang, etc were considered sporty cars. Sports cars were from England and Italy (Corvette excepted.)

Doug D

I disagree that muscle cars are created. Many muscle cars were created at the factory and enhanced by their owners. defined muscle cars as [paraphrased] putting large engines into relatively small cars at an affordable price. [They differentiate sports cars which have high prices and high technology, while muscle cars had high displacements.]

Rich Hutchinson

The T/A will never be a true 'muscle car' in the ture sense of the word. It's
a pony car; always has been.

Muscle cars were derived from standard family sedans; like the last real
Impala (the RWD one).


Okay, let's talk power and feel. I agree a truck feels powerful. But does it have the appeal of a big musclecar? It is a truck.

I was just pointing out that trucks are not realy as fast as people think. You'd have a hard time convincing me they are sporty as well (another trademark of musclecars). The Impala SS was a musclecar except for its auto tranny and looked the part. Dakota R/T and Durango R/T are the only production trucks that look the sporty part (I don't count special vehicles available through select dealerships as production. To me a production car is availble at all dealerships though you may have to order it.) These truck come close, but muscle cars, come on. As for all other trucks, they are work vehicles, granted they are powerful work vehicles, but they are work vehicles.


Like anything else, the definition of muscle car can be argued [forever]. My definition of a muscle car is any factory car based on the concept of a daily driven family car, but with a big V8 designed to be the quickest and fastest in their class.

With that in mind, the original muscle car was the 1955 C300, which was
followed in 1956 by the Plymouth Fury, Dodge D-500 and DeSoto Adventurer.
Studebaker had the Golden Hawk in 1956 and AMC came out with the Rambler Rebel
in 1958. The other manufacturers didn't really get into the musclecar business
until 1960. They had some big engines, but no special models to stand out
among the crowd.


I'd add the 1949 Olds 88 with the first Rocket V8 to the list of early muscle
cars (they were originally going to restrict the V8 to the larger & heavier 98
series, but decided to also offer it in the smaller/lighter 76 series body,
thus the 88 was born), along with the '51 Hudson Hornet with its big, torquey
308 CID flathead six--it was quite a performer for its day too. The Chrysler
Saratoga was a nice family car with the first generation Hemi under the hood
in 1951; that might qualify as well...

The '57 Rambler Rebel is very interesting--a smallish car with the large Nash
327 V8 shoved under the hood (this was *not* a Chevy 327--that didn't appear
until 1962). With the right gearing, this little Rebel had a lot of kick. I've
seen 0-60 estimates in the 7 to 8 second range.

A few years ago, I wrote an article about early muscle cars, including some cars from the late 1920s and early 1930s that came close to fulfilling the definition of "muscle car."


The correct term is really Sport Trucks. Trucks with flashy graphics, lowered
ride, big wheels and a tuned V-8. The've been around for a while, but are no
true Muscle Cars.


Wow, my head is still spinning from reading all of the different posts and different opinions. I also read that same post and went huh? I can kinda understand it though. Mopar has been without a muscle car for so long, people will do anything to make them feel like they are still driving a Roadrunner or Coronet. Myself, I'd take a Trans Am WS-6 any day over a Dakota R/T. ... The muscle/pony/sports cars were there on the market. GM (for the most part) and Ford understand that. Chrysler was too brain dead to even figure that out. I give high marks for Ford and GM for following their heritage and doing the right thing over all of these years.

Muscle car or muscle truck, it doesn't matter. I bet it must be amusing to an outsider who comes in here and sees the only option the Mopar fan has is a truck (Dakota R/T). It is not exactly amusing to me, rather it is pretty embarrasing.

I have no shame in buying a Trans Am/Camaro/Mustang, to me those companies did
the right thing.

The closest Mopar I'll ever have to a muscle car, outside of owning a classic, is our '88 Daytona Shelby Z. Even my dad, who has owned a 1970 Challenger R/T 440, feels the Dodge Daytona Shelby Z has a little bit of the old fashion muscle car in it. It doesn't sound like a V-8, but it doesn't sound like a lawnmower, either. Ooops, I got off topic didn't I? Well, I just have to say this topic is interesting. My head is still spinning.


Neither are a muscle car. Thats kind of the point. Muscle cars were primarily mid-sized cars of the day with a big engine stuffed under the hood. The Plymouth Sundance Duster followed this same formula. Small car with a six instead of a four. Trucks all come with big motors. Sport trucks are trucks modified to run fast. Sport compact cars or small sport sedans are small cars built for the same purpose. Neither is a muscle car. To follow the formula, you would have say, a Neon with the Intrepid V-6. That is a muscle car. Of course, most would agree that a proper muscle car is RWD with a V-8. The next Monte Carlo, if the rumors pan out, could be the next muscle car. A big V-8 in a RWD 6 cylinder sedan. They still would need a stick to win the purists.


Well, the new Magnum 4.7 V8 in a Dakota Regular Cab can run 14s easily with a
skilled driver ( I prefer the 5 speed HD manual, but the Multispeed Auto box
is pretty good too). 12s are also possible with a few bolt-ons.

A Dakota is a great alternative to a cramped Trans Am -- You get that awesome seat-of-the-pants muscle car V8 accelleration without the muscle car insurance premiums. You can also buy a new 4.7 V8 Dakota Sport for the mid-17s, while a base V8 Firebird Formula starts at 23 grand! Sure, the Dakota won't handle as well in the corners -- but it does respectable (.65 to .78 Gs depending on Tire/Suspension Package).


Like many earlier posts said, the muscle car formula can be argued forever without resolution. The strange part is that during the heyday of muscle cars, they weren't referred to as such. They were simply brand names with performance models. I was selling Chryslers and Plymouths when the 426 Hemi came out, and it wasn't a big deal...just another HP engine to kick Chevy butts. The muscle car appreciation era came after the mid-70s oil embargo and enthusiasts got tired of the new junk offered at the time. They hauled the old performance cars out of the weeds, and brought them back. That's when the muscle car debate began.

For the time being, I will be content with RWD, two doors, V8 power and a big trunk in an intermediate sized vehicle, and I don't [car] what it's called!


I define the Impala as a present-day musclecar... read what I wrote about present day musclecars and the Impala fits in perfectly. Also another thing that MR wrote about what a vintage or present day for that matter anyway, muscle car is that it must be able to run stock 13s or mid-14s on the quarter mile. As for the Australians, that's for them to decide. I prefer to focus on what a American muscle car is and not what a foreign muscle car is, cause different rules apply... just look at the wonderful slant-six hemi... :)

Curtis Redgap

I was going to stay away from this discussion until I read a comment that the introduction of the 426 c.i. V-8 with the Hemi Heads wasn't a big deal in 1964. That blew me away.

No one who was anywhere near the Chrysler company in any capacity treated the news of this particular engine with anything but excitement and hope! It sent stirrings throughout the entire company like the ghosts of the 1956 Plymouth Fury, DeSoto Adventurer and Dodge D-500. Finally, a chance to compete.

Rushed to production. Marked with some early fatal flaws. Target of a big General Motors industrial spy ring. Constant subject of discussion in the highest Ford racing circles. The hopes of an entire company based upon the engine's ability to race and win. From Lynn Townsend, the ChryCo chairman, to Joe Average in the street, the 1964 Chrysler 426 cubic inch Hemi Head engine was like the event of the decade. No one was "ho hum." Talk about pride!

The day after Richard Petty lead the MoPar parade of finishers at the 1964 Daytona 500 NASCAR event, hundreds of pin on buttons were distributed throughout the Chrsyler factories, dealers, distributors, and to anyone that would wear it. The slogan read "Total what?"

In its total run, [which included the slightly de-tuned street version introduced in 1966], from 1964 to 1971, the 426 Hemi engine set competition records. In total, this engine won in 80% of all the events that it ever competed in. That is performance. That is muscle.


I read some where as a kid that Muscle Cars were defined as big block intermediates. The small block cars were placed in the pony car class. Is this right or wrong? Who knows.

What we do know is that during the mid 60s to early 70s the big three but some mean cars on the street that earned the title muscle car. Technology has made todays newer vehicals more aero dynamic and chassis effiecient so that perform similar to or better than the 60s and 70s cars. What we really have hear is generations of performance cars. I like to call the 60-70 cars muscle cars. Imports seem to be the Japan model while Euro are German, Italian etc. The question is do we lump a 1999 Z28 or Buick Gand National in with the 60s -70s cars? Fast, they are. Muscular, yeah! Big block? No way, but the power and performance is still there.

I honestly feel that the muscle car title should be reserved for the older, pre 75 vehicles. If you were to tell me you have a muscle car at home, my mind thinks 60s or 70s model. Not 98 Trans AM or Chrysler 300L, which by the way both cars are top performers. This new breed of American performance car needs a title of its own. Something that speaks to a time in which the car was made. The Muscle Car was made during a period of excess. Gas was cheap until its demise, and performance was gained through cubic inch and HP. Today gas is expensive, emissions is an issue and performance gains come through chassis, aerodynamics, underdrive pulleys, cat back systems and high tech fuel injection. This second gen muscle car is truly a marvel that deserves a title all its own.

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