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The Definition Of A Muscle Car?

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Here we go with a big can of worms, trying to sort out the exact definition of a muscle car.

The exact definition of a muscle car is precise to some, very loose to others.
It is easy to say a fast muscle car is a car from the 60’s or 70’s (or even the new breed) that is fast, looks like it has muscle and is a classic.
Simple except some may say for example, the AMC Pacer is one too. You could put a 345 V8 engine in a Pacer, so it’s fast and it’s old enough to be a classic and the muscle part would be in the eyes of the beholder.
Very popular TV shows have referred to foreign import vehicles as having ‘muscle’ or being a muscle car. That maybe making the term a bit too loose, but it has been used.
So before the arguments/debate starts, let’s look at some dictionary definitions.

Dictionary Definitions Of A Muscle Car.
The Merriam Webster dictionary  say a muscle cars is a noun, ‘Any of a group of American-made 2-door sports coupes with powerful engines designed for high-performance driving.’  says a muscle cars is, ‘a flashy sports car with a large, powerful engine; a hot rod.’

The Collins Dictionary says, ‘An automobile, esp. in the 1960s, made to look and perform like a racing car, as in being able to accelerate quickly to high speeds, but designed for use on regular roads.’

The Oxford Dictionaries says, ‘A high-performance car; specifically one of a class of sports cars having V-8 engines, produced in the United States mainly in the 1960s and 1970s.’ With the earliest use found in Chicago Tribune Magazine, 1960s.

I have looked through the Chicago Tribune archive and there is no mention online of an early 60’s article mentioning muscle cars. Articles from the late 60s mention a ‘muscle car’, but none from the early 60s. However, as of writing, the Chicago Tribune archive is in beta stage, so it may not be online yet or searchable.

Loose Definitions.
The dictionary definitions are a bit loose. Posts online  asked the question and have had replies saying, the term originates with Oldsmobile and Cadillac in 1949 and the OHV engines, reviewed in magazines of the time as having ‘Plenty of Muscle.’ The term then be modified to ‘muscle car’ in the 50’s.
The definition most people agree with is a mid-sized car, with a high displacement engine that was affordable to the masses, e.g. the GTO, Fairlane GT and Roadrunner. Mustangs and Camaros were ‘pony cars.’
Many times on this website we put them all together as muscle cars, which we get scolded for regularly.

The interesting thing from searching through the Chicago Tribune archive is that news articles up to the 60’s, use the word ‘muscle’ in many different contexts.
‘Muscle in- on the gambling profits.’ – June 17, 1932.
‘he was using any “muscle” in his promotion work.’ – April 28, 1962.
‘McGovern and McGlade were said to have been Stanton’s muscle men.’ – August 20, 1940.
‘Muscle’, ‘Muscle in’, ‘muscle up’, ‘muscle man’ were common terms, so why not refer to a car simply as having muscle? The term may have been used many times since the invention of the automobile. It maybe wasn’t until the introduction of large displacement engines that the term ‘muscle car’ seemed to fit and stick. That’s all subjective, but it’s not a stretch to think so.

The real meaning of a muscle car.
It seems the term ‘muscle car’ is not written in stone or in this case, spot welded onto an engine block somewhere.
However, the term does need some criteria to rank a car as a muscle car. American, high displacement engine, mid-size car, affordable ( not supercar or high-end sports car prices.), ideally a performance vehicle for the masses.
The description above will also be argued and as there is no set in stone definitions. There will always be room for interpretation, which maybe its advantage.

Modern muscle cars you could view as the Dodge Charger and Challenger Hellcat, the modern Mustang and the modern Corvette. However, being strict with the term, the Charger is a four-door, the Mustangs is a pony car and the Corvette is a sports car. AAgghh!
The Equus BASS 770  is one of the finest examples of a modern muscle car. It mixes classic design with modern technology. It just falls down in the affordability stakes.
Australia has had their own breed of muscle cars  in the early 70’s Chrysler Chargers, Fords and Holdens. Brazil had Dodge Darts and Dodge Chargers. Even in the UK they had the Ford Capri, which was sometimes referred to as a European muscle car, but was really not classed as one.

Whatever vehicle you strictly or loosely term as a muscle car, they stand for a group of vehicles unique in their performance and design which has lasted over 50 years.
Other manufacturers from around the world have standout models, but not a whole breed of them.
No other group of vehicles has the presence, longevity or reach of the muscle car and arguably, the more vehicles you refer to as having ‘muscle’ the more they are promoted. That’s the end goal.

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