Cool Classic Muscle Cars
Classic Muscle Cars
Classic Muscle Cars are high performance street machines built in the United States for formal and informal drag racing. Classic Muscle Cars had their heyday from 1965 to 1970. Today, they are highly prized by collectors and some sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Ralph Nader led a lobbying group that decried Classic Muscle Cars because they were marketed to young men; and because they had powerful engines but mediocre brakes and poor handling. The insurance industry responded by charging hefty fees (about $1000) to insure Classic Muscle Cars for male drivers under age 25.
The higher insurance costs combined with the 1970 Clean Air Act killed the Classic Muscle Cars. The Clean Air Act lowered the top octane of gasoline from 100 to 91, which meant manufacturers had to lower compression ratios and thus engine performance. But the final blow to the days of the Classic Muscle Cars was the gas crunch of 1973.
Special thanks to Johnny Baker and Ward Morrill for helping me select six particular American Muscle Cars to highlight in this article.
1969 Yenko Camaro
The Chevrolet brand reached its pinnacle in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1963, ten percent of all cars sold in America were Chevrolets. The small-block Chevy V-8 engine has been in continuous production since 1955, longer than any mass-produced engine in world history.
The Chevrolet Camaro was introduced in 1967 to compete with the Ford Mustang. At its unveiling, reporters asked, "What is a Camaro?" The answer that was given was "A small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs."
Many people consider the 1969 model to be the best-looking Camaro ever built. For young men who wanted a turn-key drag racer that was still street legal, 500 of the Yenko Camaro were produced with a 427 cubic inch 425 horsepower motor.
The Yenko Camaro ran the quarter-mile in under 12 seconds at 115 mph. A Yenko Camaro sold at auction recently for $2.2M.
Don Yenko was a Chevrolet dealer from Canonsburg, Pennsylvania.
1970 Chevelle SS 454
Louis Chevrolet was born to French parents in Switzerland in 1878. As a young man, he became an automotive engineer. Louis Chevrolet moved to New York and became a race car driver for Buick, which was owned by the founder of General Motors William C Durant.
Louis Chevrolet and William C Durant founded the Chevrolet Motor Car Company in 1911, which was absorbed by General Motors in 1917. Louis Chevrolet lost everything he had in the 1929 stock market crash and was reduced to working as a mechanic for the company he once founded. He died penniless in 1941.
The Chevrolet Chevelle was produced from 1964 to 1977 to compete with the Ford Fairlane. The SS (Super Sport) was the Chevelle Muscle Car.
In 1970, the new 454 cubic inch engine (450 horsepower) was offered as an option. No factory production engine had ever offered this much horsepower.
1969 Dodge Super Bee 440 Six Pack
The Dodge Brothers were from Niles, Michigan, in the same county from whence I hail. Horace and John Dodge were perfectly matched as business partners because Horace was a mechanical wizard while John was a superb administrator and sales and marketing guru.
The Dodge Brothers started their company in 1900 in Detroit to supply carmakers with parts. Soon they were building transmissions for Oldsmobile and engines for Ford. In 1917, Dodge produced its first car and within three years they were # 2 in automobile sales. That same year, 1920, both brothers unexpectedly died. Horace only lived to be 52 years old and it is noteworthy that his widow outlived him by fifty years.
The Dodge Classic Muscle Cars were among the fastest and wildest. The Super Bee, based on the Dodge Coronet, was built from 1968 to 1971. The 1969 Dodge Super Bee was available with an optional 440 Six Pack—Dodge's big 440 cubic inch engine with three Holley two-barrel carburetors mounted on an Edelbrock Hi-Riser manifold—that produced 390 hp.
1970 Hemi Cuda
"The King of the Classic Muscle Cars" is the 1970 Plymouth Barracuda with the 426 Hemi engine, known affectionately as the "Hemi 'Cuda." The Plymouth Barracuda was produced from 1964 to 1974.
Due to new federal emissions standards, the engines were downsized and detuned after 1970. Only 652 Hemi 'Cudas were manufactured in 1970. One sold at auction recently for $329,000 and they routinely fetch more than a Ferrari of the same year.
Walter Chrysler introduced the Plymouth brand in 1928 as a lower cost alternative to his Chrysler automobiles. Plymouth posted outstanding sales for many decades. In 1957, a new record was established when 726,000 Plymouths were sold. The all-time best for the company was 973,000 units in 1973. The last Plymouth was made in 2001.
Chrysler (1875-1940) was the son of a Kansas railroad engineer. As a young man he was a mechanic and machinist whose brilliance landed him a job managing a locomotive plant. In 1912, Chrysler was hired to manage a plant for Buick Motorcar Company, and he soon upped its production from 45 to 600 cars per day. In 1916, he was rewarded by being named the President of Buick.
Walter Chrysler struck out on his own and founded the Chrysler Corporation in 1925. Three years later he purchased the Dodge Brothers Car Company. Chrysler named his parts and service division MoPar (motor parts). He also built one of the most beautiful buildings in the world in Manhattan in 1930, the Chrysler building—tallest in the world at the time.
1969 Shelby Mustang GT 350
Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company of Detroit in 1903, after he convinced a group of investors to back his ideas with $28,000. Henry Ford developed the assembly-line for mass production. Because each worker only had to perform one simple task, Ford was able to provide jobs to unskilled, uneducated men. Henry Ford paid double the prevailing wage because he wanted his workers to be able to afford the car they were producing.
In 1926, Henry Ford introduced the 40 hour work week—unheard of in America—because he thought leisure time made for happier workers who were then more productive. Ford hated labor unions and his company was not unionized until 1941—after a decade of violence and work stoppages forced him to accept the UAW. The reason Henry Ford was against labor unions was because they always lower productivity, and their leaders usually lean toward Marxist ideas.
The Ford Motor Company is # 2 in the U.S. and # 5 in the world for vehicle sales. It is the 8th largest corporation in America with over 200,000 employees and annual revenues of $118B. Approximately five million Ford vehicles are sold each year.
My first car was an orange (with white stripes) 1969 Shelby Mustang GT 350. To say it was a hit cruising around McDonald's is an understatement.
Ford produced Shelby Mustangs from 1965 to 1969. The 1969 Shelby Mustang GT 350 featured a 351 cubic inch engine that produced 290 hp. This beautiful car had roll bars inside and the first eight-track tape decks. It topped out at 140 mph—for this you have my personal testimony.
1,085 Shelby Mustang GT 350 classic muscle cars were sold in 1969. Only 32 are known to exist today. One sold recently for $105,000. Carroll Shelby was an automobile designer and race car driver from Texas.
1969 Boss 429 Mustang
The Ford Mustang debuted in 1964 at the New York World's Fair. The Mustang was the first Pony Car—a compact sports coupe. It weighed only 2,550 lbs. The Mustang was to become the most successful new Ford model since the Model A was launched in 1927. A record 318,000 were sold the first year.
The Mustang served as Pace for the 1964 Indy 500. The first film it appeared in was Goldfinger. The Mustang got heavier every year until 1973.
My father owned one of the 849 Boss 429 'twisted hemi' Mustangs built in 1969 (a red one, of course). To keep insurance costs down, Ford listed it at 375 horsepower but the 429 cubic inch engine actually produced closer to 500 hp.
The Boss 429 disappointed expectations at the drag strip. It was too heavy overall at 3,870 lbs. but the rear end was too light to gain proper traction. Thus the Boss 429 ran the quarter-mile right out of the showroom in 14 seconds flat (103 mph).
All of the Boss 429 Mustangs were sold by Bob Tasca Ford in Providence, Rhode Island, for $5,000. Bob Tasca went to college with Henry Ford II and they became close friends. Bob Tasca was a drag racer and he designed the 428 Cobra Jet engine.
My father eventually replaced the 429 engine with a Holman Moody 427, which ran much faster (in the 10.60s). The car was sold to the chief machinist at our high performance engine shop in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Mike Luyendyk. The last we heard he still had it in pristine condition in his garage in California. A Boss 429 Mustang recently sold at auction for $350,000.
Classic Muscle Cars
My Dad was quite the drag racer back in the day. He had previously raced motorcycles and stock cars. In the early 70s, we built an auto parts store together in Kalamazoo, Michigan, that is still there today: J C Auto Parts (my Dad is J. C. Watkins).
Our store was unusual for the time in that we had a large display area in front of the parts counter. Before this, the parts counter was generally located right near the entry door. We were named the Jobber Topics magazine auto parts store of the year in 1973.
J C Auto Parts included a machine shop that built race car engines, included some for NASCAR driver Tiny Lund, who had won the 1963 Daytona 500. We also had a speed shop in which we sold the latest hi-performance parts for gear-heads to modify their cars. We were direct distributors for Holley carburetors, Edelbrock manifolds, Crane cams, Hooker headers, Mickey Thompson tires, Keystone wheels, and Stewart Warner gauges.
My apologies to fans of the awesome Pontiac GTO, and the hot Trans Am, as well as people who fondly remember the Ford Fairlanes and Torinos. Even American Motors built some Cool Classic Muscle Cars. I almost included the awesome 1978 Corvette L88 427 in this article, but while plenty musclely, it is a true sports car. But space was limited and I chose to highlight these six remarkable machines.