Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, December 3, 2009

Top five muscle cars of all time

By Wahid T. Khan

For those not in the know “muscle car” is a term that is used to define high-performance automobiles. However, this term refers to the rear wheel drive mid-size, powerful V8 engine cars from the 1960s to 1970s that were not only available at affordable prices, but were sweet for drag racing AND street use. A perfect gift from the Automobile Almighty.

Now, that said, let's look at the top 5 greatest muscle cars of all time. Notice that these rankings have not been done on performance, but rather in terms of popularity (which itself depends on affordability and performance of the car). The Ford Mustang did not make it to the list, since as per definition; it is more of a pony car than a complete muscle car. Also, you will realize that all these models are pure American, since muscle cars did originate there, before influencing Europe and Australia. Sorry, Pontiac GTO.

Here are the Stars:

5. Ford Thunderbolt- 1964
As the muscle car market began shaping in the mid-60s, Ford introduced a modified edition of their Fairlane intended for drag racing. After some middling success, Ford went back to the drawing board and this time came up with the mighty Thunderbolt- also the very first street-legal drag racing AFFORDABLE car. It utilized the mid-size Fairlane body but incorporated a 427 CID (7.0 L) V8 with two four-barrel carburetors on a high-riser manifold, ram-air through the openings left by deleting the inboard headlights, equal-length headers, trunk-mounted battery, fiberglass hood, doors, fenders and front bumper, acrylic glass windows, and other lightweight options; which included deleted rear door window winders, carpeting, radio, sealant, sun visors, armrests, jack, lug wrench, heater, soundproofing, and passenger side windshield wiper. Did we mention that this special model also delivered 500 hp (approx. 370 kW) at 7, 000 rpm while base price was US$3, 780, when most models at that time started at $5, 000? Innovation indeed.

4. Chrysler Plymouth GTX 440- 1968
The GTX platform was dubbed as the “Budget Supercars” and the “gentleman's muscle car”, which shows it's huge popularity. Originally initiated in 1967 by Chrysler in a bid to enter the muscle car competition, it was the '68 GTX 440 that created all that hubbub for its design, performance, and once again, affordability.

3. Chrysler Plymouth Road Runner-1969
Here's a way of showing exactly how popular the Road Runner was; it was awarded “Car of the Year- 1969” and Reader's Choice of the Year- 1969” by big-time automobile magazine Motor Trend and eclipsed the GTX 440's success in the process.. It ran a 14.7 quarter at 100.6 mph (161.9 km/h) with the standard 383 cu in (6.3 L) engine after the addition of a high-performance factory camshaft plus non-standard, high-performance induction and exhaust manifolds, carburetor and slick friction-reducing tires. All this and the car came with a price tag of US$3,893. The only car that could come close to this beauty was the Dodge Super Bee, with a price of US$3, 227 and a 15 second quarter at 100 mph (160 km/h). That plus the fact that the name was inspired from Warner Bros.' hit cartoon series, “The Roadrunner Show” and Chrysler paid $10, 000 just to develop the characteristic “meep, meep” sound for their horns.

2. AMC Rebel- 1970
American Motors' mid-sized 1970 Rebel Machine, developed in consultation with Hurst Performance, was also built for normal street use. It had a 390 cu in (6.4 L) engine developing 340 hp (254 kW) that gave a 0-60 mph (97 km/h) time of 6.8 seconds and a quarter mile in 14.4 seconds at 99 mph (159 km/h). Early models came in "patriotic" red, white and blue. Monthly publication Driving Today that it was "a straight-up competitor to the GTO, et al. ... the engine was upgraded to 340 horsepower (250 kW) [with] a four-barrel Motorcraft carburetor and other hot rod trickery. The torque figure was equally prodigious430 pound-feet at a lazy 3600 rpm. In this car the engine was practically the entire story. With four-speed manual transmission, the car "could spring from zero to 60 miles per hour in just 6.4 seconds..." In Driving Today's view the car; "somehow, someway deserves to be considered among the Greatest Muscle Cars of All Time. But we decided to place it in second place.

And the Winner is…
1. A clear tie: Ford Torino- 1970 and Chrysler Dodge Charger- 1970
The '70s Ford Torino became the primary model for its muscle car range and the Fairlane now became a sub-series of Torino. Ford moved away from emulating the boxy lines of the full-size Fords to a completely new body for the 1970 Torino/Fairlane line influenced by coke bottle styling. Just as tailfins were influenced by jet aircraft of the 1950s, stylists such as Ford stylist Bill Shenk who designed the 1970 Ford Torino were inspired by supersonic aircraft with narrow waists and bulging forward and rear fuselages needed to reach supersonic speeds. The engine line-up received major changes, and only the 250 CID I-6, 302-2V and the 351W-2V were carried over from the first-generation models of 1969. Most models continued to feature the 250 CID I-6 as the standard engine. Optional engines included the 302-2V (standard on GT and Brougham models), 351W-2V, the new 351 Cleveland available with a 2 or 4 barrel carburetor, and the new 429-4V 385 Series V8 (standard on the Cobra models). They were able to run the quarter mile in 13.63 seconds at 105.95 mph (170.51 km/h), however, this was after the carburetor had been modified (improved power valve, larger primary and secondary jets). Super Stock and Drag Illustrated then fitted a pair of slicks to the same Torino and ran a super quick 13.39 seconds at 106.96 mph (172.14 km/h).

The Dodge Charger shot to immense popularity when featured in the television series The Dukes of Hazzard, as the General Lee. However, it's not only the streamlined body and stunts that are attractive; look beneath the hood; the 440 in³ 2x3 RB., with a choice of automatic and manual transmission and a wheelbase of 117 inches (approx. 30 cm). It is its immense popularity and performance that shoots it to numero uno but also makes it a very difficult choice when the Ford Torino is its competitor as well.

Honorable Mention: The Chrysler C-300- 1955
The 1955 Chrysler C-300 was really a racecar sold for the road for homologation purposes, with Chrysler's most powerful engine, the 331 cu in (5.4 L) FirePower "Hemi" V8, fitted with twin 4-barrel carburetors, a race-profiled camshaft setup, solid valve lifters, stiffer suspension and a performance exhaust system. This was the first American production car to top 360 hp (268 kW) and a top speed of 127.58 mph (205.32 km/h), the C-300 was for many years the most powerful car produced in the United States- and yes, the world- by a fair margin. It cannot be really defined as a muscle car, owing to its body size and price, but the C-300 inspired the concept of muscle cars itself..




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