By : ANINDA SARDAR
Everybody loves a good ol’ American muscle car. No matter what they tell you, they all drool at one and there really is only one reason. American muscle cars are undeniably cool and therefore make their owners/ drivers look undeniably cool by extension. If you’re in a posh European limousine (Not to be confused with the over stretched limos that are popular in the US) then you exude an aura of wealth, authority, and heritage. If you’re in a fancy sportscar then you’re probably very rich, super stylish and have a sense of fun. If you’re in an American muscle car, however, then you’re just cool. Incredibly, cool. So, what exactly is the secret to their eternal cool?
To understand that, one needs to first understand the environment in which the muscle car was born. In the aftermath of an Allied victory in European, African and Asian theatres in World War II, there was a significant change in the balance of global power with the United States of America emerging as one of the two super powers in the world. It was the beginning of an era of American dominance everywhere outside the Eastern Bloc, an era of hyper optimism that was light years away from the memories of The Great Depression. There was not a little bit of arrogance and pride too. Anything the world had, America could boast bigger (Not necessarily better though). The American automotive industry echoed these emotions, naturally.
Emotions that can be easily seen in the highly stylised external design of the Oldsmobile 88 from 1949, which arguably, can be considered, the first American muscle car, or at least the precursor of what would soon follow. Its coupé shape, short boot, long bonnet, and the overly flared rear wheel arches were elements of muscle car design that have remained definitive to this day. Try as you might, you will not be able to think of an American muscle car that is bereft of any of these. One of the rare exceptions was the recent generation of the Dodge Charger, which boasted four doors instead of the traditional two, but even then, the designers were careful to retain the slope of a coupé roofline.
The other aspect of the American muscle car that was defined by the Oldsmobile 88, and then further refined by Chrysler with the C-300 in 1955, was the use of a large V8 under the bonnet. None of these had the sophistication of cars being developed on the other side of the world’s smallest and angriest ocean. Yet, these big bore, somewhat lazy to rev, but torque-laden rumbling V8s oozed cool. Added to that was the fact that in spite of what automotive Europhiles have to say about them, American muscle cars have never been slow. Poor at handling, maybe but slow, nope. The use of a powerful engine in a car with a relatively light body meant that the cars offered a huge leap in performance over regular road going cars. Thus, was cast the die that continues to produce muscle cars that nearly all of us love. A major blip came along in the history of the muscle car movement with the OPEC crisis and subsequent oil embargoes that very nearly ended the American muscle car with its thirsty V8. However, as people have come to realise, the country has a superb ability to bounce back, and so did their muscle car. A brilliant resurgence has followed. Muscle car design too went through its own crisis with the mid 1980s producing some truly ghastly styling.
The blips aside, the American muscle car story has continued. The styling has continued to evolve and today’s fantastic designs be it the new age Ford Mustang or the Dodge Challenger or the Chevrolet Camaro, hark back to those days of hyper optimism and America’s status as a global power with enormous muscles. The long stretched out bonnet, the coupé roofline and the two-door configuration, flared haunches and that sexy derriere continue to grab eyeballs around the world and yank them towards the silhouette. Be it in the guise of a Mustang, Challenger or any other set of wheels that you can think of.
Apart from the pure automotive appeal, Hollwood, also played its part in making the American muscle car the ultimate symbol of four-wheeled cool. From the Ford Fairlane in the 1958 movie Thunder Road, starring Robert Mitchum to the swashbuckling car chase in the Steve McQueen starrer Bullitt from 1968, featuring a Ford Mustang Fastback and a Dodge Charger to the Chevy Camaro posing as Bumblebee in the 2007 movie Transformers to all the muscle cars (including the wheelie-ing Charger) of the Fast and Furious series, starring Vin Diesel and a bunch of others, American muscle has always been the choice of wheels of our heroes.
Personally, what I think is the coolest bit about American muscle cars is that they are heroes of the working class. Back when the muscle car movement was at its peak, an average commoner in America could aspire to own a Mustang or a Challenger. Never a Ferrari or a Maserati; those were in the stratosphere where the wealthiest of the wealthy breathed. Even today, an American muscle car is tons cheaper than European exotica. Even in India, where the Ford Mustang costs less than half that of a Ferrari. Crazy performance, looks to die for and a set of wheels that makes you the coolest guy in town. If that isn’t incredible, I don’t know what is.