The Birth of American Muscle


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The birth of the American Muscle Car came about after the gradual decline of the souped-up Model T's and A's of the hot rodding generation. The former hot rodders grew up and started shifting their priorities over from taking apart and rebuilding hot rods to providing for their families and working at advancing in their careers.
However, the hot rod generation had left their mark on the car manufacturing industry and in the early forties, inspired by moonshine smugglers and high-speed car chases, stock car racing and drag racing was born.
As more and more car enthusiasts were added to the roster of clients looking for the most powerful vehicle available in the market, car manufacturers began designing speed demons that reached speeds that souped-up Model A's and T's could only dream of. Bigger was also considered better and the early muscle cars packed on the pounds as engineers scrambled to build bigger and better engines to cope with the added weight that muscle cars had to carry.
In the racing industry
The racing aspect was one of the biggest selling points for American muscle cars. Even displaying an American muscle car in their showroom brought in more foot traffic that generated sales even for slow-moving, non-racing automobiles in the dealer showroom!
It was in 1947 that a group of racing enthusiasts decided to form the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR). It began with the organization organizing races in venues that included desert race tracks and racing by the beach.
Eventually, even non-racers began attending events and stock car racing built up a solid following that pushed other car clubs like the U.S. Automobile Club to create and develop their own stock car race events. This motor sport was bringing in record-breaking sales and profits for both car manufacturers and aftermarket companies.
On the other side of the spectrum, drag racing also became something of a phenomenon especially in Southern California where early hot rod enthusiasts had found the ideal conditions for informal or unsanctioned street racing and where the car modification game was in full swing.
Drag racing consisted of quarter-mile acceleration and focused on the ability of a muscle car to go from 0-60mph. In 1951 the National Hot Rod association (NHRA) was created in SoCal and the drag racing industry really took off.
Muscle and the media
During the beginning of the NHRA, the current chief, Wally Parks published the first Hot Rod magazine which promoted the sport of drag racing and the beauty and power of performance vehicles. The car racing industry was also further promoted by the introduction of Motor Trend and many other car and driver publications.
In the Public
More speed and more power became the most sought-after characteristics of a vehicle. The first true muscle car was the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88. It appealed to hot rodders because it featured a shell in the form of the lightweight Oldsmobile body which housed a powerful high-compression engine with an overhead-valve V8 that came out of General Motors (GM) research that began prewar.
Similar models were produced by GM's Cadillac division but it wasn't until Chrysler Corporation came out with the Hemi engine in 1951 and Chevrolet came out with their small-block V8 design in 1955 that the race for best performance muscle car legend really began.
Horsepower began to dominate muscle car conversations but the muscle car manufacturers of Detroit soon realized that savvy advertising and imagination-capturing muscle car names and marketing campaigns had a great impact in how the cars were received by the public.
Clubs devoted to muscle cars are a major part of the automotive scene. Entire shows and events specifically for these vehicles are held across the country. Fans who have gotten together often wear car club t shirts featuring bold graphics of legendary rides like the Mustang Cobra.
Is bigger really better?
After years of dealing with a struggling economy and life after the war, the fifties muscle cars were a reflection of renewed interest in novelty hobbies. Bigger was considered better and car manufacturers added on to the weight and footage of muscle cars while engineers struggled to keep up by developing engines that could cope with the additional load as well as other performance-enhancing components.
Racing regulations and requirements were at the forefront of car manufacturer's minds and muscle cars were a way to show off a company's prowess and improve their image and sales.

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