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Muscle cars vs Import cars

Updated on May 11, 2016

The overview

Muscle vs import. Or more specifically, import tuners vs American muscle. The sound of that just makes my brain melt. Countless joys I have had in imports. I say it like that because I've grown up around them my whole life, so they hardly feel foreign. Just to clarify, imports- especially in reference to car culture; and especially in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and Europe- almost always refer to Japanese vehicles. The word wears multiple layers of colloquialism (not just any Japanese vehicle, but a performance sports car- and in this case, one that eventually ends up getting “tuned”, if it wasn't already). The vehicles, however still need to meet the regulations and car laws in the destination country. Though, as you may know, import lovers find ways around that. Not necessarily even illegal ones. You see, referring to America, different states have different levels of strictness as pertains to cars and car modification. (Pay attention, because that is the keyword in this entire article.) So if you want the craziest, maddest tuned import and your state of residence can't stomach it, just... (And people actually do this)...move. California is a popular destination for such otherwise disgruntled car owners

Import Vs Muscle

Muscle vs import. Or more specifically, import tuners vs American muscle. The sound of that just makes my brain melt. Countless joys I have had in imports. I say it like that because I've grown up around them my whole life, so they hardly feel foreign. Just to clarify, imports- especially in reference to car culture; and especially in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and Europe- almost always refer to Japanese vehicles. The word wears multiple layers of colloquialism (not just any Japanese vehicle, but a performance sports car- and in this case, one that eventually ends up getting “tuned”, if it wasn't already). The vehicles, however still need to meet the regulations and car laws in the destination country. Though, as you may know, import lovers find ways around that. Not necessarily even illegal ones. You see, referring to America, different states have different levels of strictness as pertains to cars and car modification. (Pay attention, because that is the keyword in this entire article.) So if you want the craziest, maddest tuned import and your state of residence can't stomach it, just... (And people actually do this)...move. California is a popular destination for such otherwise disgruntled car owners. In Australia and kiwi land everyone is mad so you can pretty much do what you want. Seriously, some of the greatest builds originate from that part of the world. As for Asia, they're the ones building these things so you can only imagine what they do with them... on empty mountain passes; or long stretches of motorway, in the middle of the night, with cars that read 180 kph max on the dash but can easily do way past 300. Well, you don't have to imagine, do you? There are movies and YouTube videos for that. And, in Africa... well, I've been there and they love their imports, let me just tell you that. In fact, that's where I got introduced to these import monsters. Mitsubishi and Subaru’s dominate over there.

There is nothing like a “Supped up” Subaru flat four turbo kicking you in the back of the head when the boost kicks in and the exhaust is making all manner of ungodly, adrenaline-adrenaline-rushing noises and the blow-blow-dry valve is squirting and chattering at the front. Not to mention you are overtaking every moving thing at an inexplicable rate. And I know, somewhere, there’s a muscle car modifier, saying that if I have not driven his LS-powered Chevy Corvette (or one like it) down the road at full tilt, I haven't lived. Well, I've seen the videos. And he's probably right. Those are scary! They started the big power, the drag racing, the scariness and physics-defying acceleration and speed. And how did they do it? BIG engines, Hemi, big blocks... V8s! The magic word! The one that started it all. These beasts were doing all this on single-carburetor, naturally aspirated power-trains with 4-speed autos. They did and still do, with the proper tuning, out-accelerate almost anything on the planet... in a straight line. Especially good at this are the modern renditions of themselves, or the modernized original vehicles themselves. They are a marvel, them and the rat rods before them, and the tuners that were born out of the Prohibition. They return all car-car-loving to its roots; simple, born out of its roots. Then blown way out of proportion because we realize: Holy Sh*t! We can actually do this?! Then accruing legions of fans, fanatics, lovers of the cars and the things they can do. The Motorsports that are born out of them! The drag racing burnouts and 1/4 mile times of the American Muscle car is phenomenal.

However, the desert endurance races of Latin America, North Africa and Europe are where Imports shine. The latter of which also relishes track days, hill climbs and rally events. They bury themselves in our hearts. They invoke passion the way only our pets or spouses do. I often say I would rather have almost everything taken away from me but leave my Evo-engine Mitsubishi RVR alone. That acceleration! That power is not worth any price. The feeling you get from it, you can only get from IT. And it is the most refreshing, invigorating, life-giving feeling I have ever gotten from something inanimate. Although any owner of a high performance purpose-built vehicle, especially one that they have built themselves will tell you that it is far from dead. It is one of the most alive things you will ever come into contact with. The connection that develops between you is unprecedented and you will not believe how much you love it, and you will literally feel your affection reciprocated. I Can tell you that!


I'm saying all this so you understand why these cars have dedication weekends; where only Skyline owners or Charger owners receive admission. And why they spend their days going on about engine notes, and what happens at 4,000 rpm when the engine comes on cam, or what JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) body kit is best and which one gets you pulled over every time. It’s the most exciting conversation that they can imagine being a part of. Because they can't believe their eyes when they see thousands of other vehicles just like theirs! A sea of automotive beauty. That's why the muscle vs tuner’ debate rages on. Because someone born in Detroit or Boston or the most American place in you can think of in America can't understand why his countryman wouldn't pick up a perfectly good 2008 Dodge Charger R/T from the dealership down the road, but instead opt to ship a 1998 Nissan Skyline GTR, or 1991 Honda NSX Type-Type-R thousands of miles across the ocean. Then pay extra taxes; and go through all sorts of hassles, just to get it on the road.


Rolling down the street, especially in death blue (the Skyline), and slammed on 20 inch anthracite wheels with a body kit, xenon lamps, and that look about it that it has about a thousand horsepower under the hood... Well, it just seems downright unpatriotic... to a diehard. That's how some homegrown V8 lovers feel; betrayed. Almost disgusted! It makes no sense to them. It's tacky, plastic and, most repulsive of all, has a small engine. ’What do you mean it ain't got a V8?’ The Muscle car lover will ask you, all confused. A 2.6 liter?! I think my blender has a bigger motor. You sure never did have any sense, boy.’ And he'll drive off in his five hundred horsepower, 1969, LS-powered, s5.0 liter V8 Chevy ; a beautiful V8 growl trailing behind it, two tons of pure steel, sickened by the thought of anything even remotely resembling fiberglass!” Very well, Muscle car enthusiast. But then you pass him round a corner or even on a straight (that’s how good these things are!) like he was going in reverse.


Imports were so good when they first came onto the American car scene that they dominated... everything! Yes, your Mustang or your Pontiac had 700 horsepower, and could do a 10.9 s quarter mile; but if I you gave me a Mitsubishi Eclipse 2.0l; a stage three, 67 mm Garrett turbo upgrade pack; an aftermarket ECU; a laptop, a NOS kit and two days, I would best you every time. And I would corner too. And my fuel expenditure would be a quarter of yours. And I could go to work with it every day. And I could park it. And my wife could drive it... They were so much better. Muscle car owners, unless they had a real beast, would be scared to come out. Cause there would be a Subaru at every corner, and a Nissan Silvia at every traffic light waiting to put you in your place. And excuses and insults prevailed, in the face of constant defeat. But it's pretty difficult to bring down someone who was at the finish line before you had a chance to shift for the first time.

Don't get me wrong, some models were crappy. Others couldn't touch the Americans for performance. But for the most part, they were impressive at the least. And at their best, they ate Muscle cars and spit em out. Pacific Muscle, they were called collectively. But most V8 sympathizers called them rice rockets, and other things I can't write down, cause I hug my mom with the same hands I type with.

Needless to say, some improvements needed to be made. The existence and similar capability of European sports cars and supercars didn't help either. Especially since European build quality was by far and away the best in the world at the time. Additionally, their reliability was second only to their Japanese equivalents. Sidebar- when it comes to toughness and longevity, properly built American cars were some of the greatest (they weren't made out of steel and super uncomplicated for nothing). That said, V8 monsters would become second-rate in their own home if their honor wasn't soon defended. And boy was it! Japanese ingenuity had demanded so much respect from the Chevy and Dodge owners it was constantly beating that a new appreciation for non-wastefulness and squeezing every bit of utility out of every single component of the engine, suspension, drive-train came up among them. Muscle tuners started employing Japanese and European approaches to enhancing overall vehicle performance that they had previously ridiculed. Variable valve timing, blueprinting, stroking, boring, turbocharging, electronic fuel injection, Meteorological suspension, push-rod dampers, independent rear suspension, use of exotic materials; like titanium and polymers, boost control, updated supercharging mechanisms (like Eaton provides). Some of these came much later, of course (The Mustang shed its live rear axle just months ago). But you get my point. Nothing was wrong with the American car industry before, or even now. Those V8s, and the approach to engineering is absolutely unique and beautiful, dissimilar from anywhere in the world. So we love them. But how much better did they get after being doused with some oriental wizardry and a big fat slap in the face by reality. How much better can a 6.1l Hemi be with five valves per cylinder instead of two? The answer is better! Much Better!

Look at the Corvette ZR1, Dodge Charger Hellcat, Camaro Z28. Cars that was good in a straight line or only good on American soil, but totally incapable in comparison to other cars in Japan or Europe. Now they are among the best cars in the world in their classes. Because their makers were rudely awakened to the imminent possibility that a world without the American cars they were building was not only plausible. It was welcome.



The conclusion

Imports didn't kill off muscle cars. But they almost did! That is, if they had come up against anything less than arguably the greatest, most proud car industry in the history of the world; America! American super-cars now are almost unrecognizable as the reincarnations of the 70s monsters from which they were born. But it's not a bad thing. All that fancy Blistein suspension and Brembo brakes and inter-cooling’ brought them back to their place among the elite! That's what made them some of the greatest cars ever made. Muscle vs Import is more of about personal choice than it is about performance.

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