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What is a Muscle Car?

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  • Written By: Stacy Ruble
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Images By: Kelly, John Heard
  • Last Modified Date: 16 August 2017
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A muscle car is a medium-size car that is built for performance and speed. Muscle cars are powered by large engines such as the V8 or Hemi. They are economically priced, particularly in comparison with their counterpart sports cars and personal luxury cars. A muscle car is larger than a pony car. Pony cars are also built with performance and speed in mind but are smaller and tend to be slower than muscle cars.

Even among muscle car enthusiasts there is a lack of agreement as to which cars are pony cars and which are muscle cars. Some people argue that pony cars are simply smaller versions of muscle cars. Others believe that pony cars are a type of muscle car. Still others take a more purist view of muscle cars and feel strongly that pony cars and muscle cars are two distinct car classes.

Muscle cars have a strong and loyal following of fans. Muscle car clubs bring together people who own the cars or are merely interested in them. There also are dealerships and mechanic shops that focus solely on muscle cars.

Muscle cars are often restyled versions of larger, less powerful, more expensive models. Some muscle cars are limited edition models. An example of a muscle car is the Pontiac GTO. The Pontiac GTO was released in 1964 and considered by many to be the first classic muscle car. Muscle car enthusiasts trace the history of the craze back to the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88.

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The term "pony car" came from the Ford Mustang, even though the Plymouth Barracuda was released two weeks before the Mustang in 1964. Other examples of 1960s muscle cars are the Dodge Dart Max Wedge and the Plymouth Road Runner. There is some disagreement about when the term “muscle car” was first used, though some say it is a reference to the cars' sturdy strength compared to their more refined counterparts. These high-performance cars gained popularity with younger car buyers in the 1960s and were often used for drag racing. During this time, the cars were called super cars or hot rods.

In the mid-1970s, muscle car became a less appealing option as gas prices rose and insurance rates increased. People began turning to economical, smaller, less powerful cars or luxury cars. There were also safety concerns related to drag racing and muscle cars. In the mid- to late 1980s, there was a slight rebound of the muscle car market. Muscle car models continued to be released every few years into the early 21st century.

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