Is it Really a Muscle Car?

With the ZL1 1LE making headlines, the modern day muscle car is still alive and kicking, in a day and age where fuel economy and electric vehicles are the most popular subjects. Will all of the advances the ZL1 1LE has, is it still a muscle car? I mean, being 3 seconds faster around the corporate test track, doesn’t necessarily resonate with shaving a few seconds on the 1/8 mile. Does the ZL1 1LE or any of the modern muscle cars, stay true to the heritage? 


This is another question that garners a lot of attention. What actually defines a muscle car? Well, here’s some facts.

As time has advanced, the line that distingushes a muscle car from a pony car has been blurred. Nowadays, the Camaro, Mustang and Challenger are considered good ole American muscle, which stays true to the original definition of a muscle car. High-power, large displacement and straight line performance. Ironically enough, these weren’t even considered American muscle back in the golden age of American muscle. Even more ironic than the last statement, most of the ultimate Camaros, Challengers and Mustangs beast in a straight line, but are more track focused than ever.


With that being said, the term muscle car has a couple of definitions.

The past definition of a “muscle” car, is any large two door, American made, sports car, fitted with RWD and a large engine that produces massive amounts of horsepower, which is designed for high performance driving, mainly in a straight line. These cars included legends like the Chevrolet Chevelle, Plymouth Road Runner and Ford Gran Torino. A “pony car” was the same idea, just on a smaller scale. Pony cars are smaller and highly styled but still portray a high performance image. Pony cars included the Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challeneger and Ford Mustang (which defined the term, due to design details) which were the most popular. Either way, these cars were most likely powered by a V8 and still made enough horsepower to compete. It’s safe to say, that a muscle car was just bigger, but not cooler than a pony car.

Here’s a few pictures of some “Muscle” and “Pony” cars.


Nowadays, the modern definition of a “muscle” car is a combination of both “muscle” car and “pony” car. Still the same rules apply with a few slight modifications. A modern day “muscle” car can be defined as any 2 or 4 door, American made, sports car, fitted with RWD and a large V8, that produces massive amounts of horsepower, which is designed for high performance driving, in a straightline or on a road course. That being said, cars like the Dodge Charger/Chrysler 300 (in higher trim levels) qualify just as much as the 04-06 Pontiac GTO and modern day track monsters like the ZL1 1LE and the GT350.

Here’s a few pictures of modern day “Muscle” cars.


In the golden age, its was all about straightline performance whereas nowadays, where straightline performance is still the means to measure your cars performance, but the track is also an option. You have muscle cars like the Mustang Cobra Jet, SRT Challenger Demon and the COPO Camaro that are built for drag racing, while you have the Camaro SS/ZL1 1LE and Z/28 for track days, and the GT500 Supersnake and SRT Hellcat Charger running in excess of 200mph. I mean, all of these are muscle cars according to modern day standards, but as time and technology have progressed, the term “muscle car” has became more diverse. While most of the new stuff isn’t about straight line peformance and even high displacement, the Muscle cars of today, would probably destroy Muscle cars of the past.

I guess the verdict and the answer to the first question at the beginning is, no, most modern day muscle cars do not stay completely true to their heritage completely. While we have some that stay true to the heritage in ways, most of today’s stuff is a new breed. While the 60’s and 70’s was about the biggest engine and straight line runs, the new era is about multifaceted dominance. Without extensive modification, an old muscle car would beast on a drag strip, but wouldn’t have the same success on a road course. So the answer to the question of “what defines a muscle car?” Is dependent on its era. If it was around during the golden age, it can’t be placed under the modern definition and vice versa.

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