The Art of the Muscle Car

Cars




The American muscle car: whether you worship the road that they tear up or turn your nose up at their raw, unrefined power – deep down everyone harbours a secret desire to own one. A Dodge Charger isn’t a lifelong partner; it’s a heady fling that is bound up in the remaining threads of the American dream and wrapped in celluloid.

American muscle cars are synonymous with the open road of Vanishing Point, the hatred of The Man found in Two-Lane Blacktop and are achingly cool and beautifully offensive.

In short, part of what makes a Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda and its brawny cousins so tempting is that top quality examples of this bygone genre are unattainable, and this side of the pond, wholly anachronistic.

Tear a genuine muscle car away from its natural habitat and import it to some bucolic, English scene and you’ll destroy their glamour and turn them into fairground attractions.

David Newhardt’s Art of the Muscle Car is the perfect coffee table tome for lovers of these beastly beauties. The book manages to quench your visual thirst for muscle without destroying the fantasy.

The format is simple and accessible: a short paragraph covers the necessary meet-and-greet, before four-to-five choice shots show the engine, badge, bodywork, and interior of all the most important muscle car models. There are the basic stats and facts, but this isn’t anorak territory.

And what accounts for the rise and fall of this brand of All American hero? For the author by the end of the 1960s the custom Hotrod scene had withered away from its post war roots. The manufacturers stepped up to the mark and released factory bred rods that could outrod the rodders.

Newhardt takes us through the muscle years of 1964-1979 in three sections; the innocent years, the excessive years and the declining years; covering 47 different incarnations of pure power. Among those are nestled a few firm favourites: the 1970 Dodge Challenger T/A, the 1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird and the 1965 Pontiac GTO.

Each has its own story, both on the street and on the strip. Take the 1970 Dodge Challenger. In spite of being firmly placed in the muscle car hall of fame thanks to Vanishing Point, it was a model that only lasted a year. Why? Because of the insurance companies growing reluctance to insure muscle cars. It wasn’t even a particularly successful model, finishing fourth overall on the Trans Am circuit.

That same year, the flamboyantly clad Plymouth Road Runner Superbird was released. With it’s enormous spoiler, Loony Toons badge and track hugging front end, visually the Road Runner verged on downright ridiculous. But this “substance over style” road guzzler was designed for success and succeed it did, accelerating all the way through the checkered flag at the Daytona 500.

As Brock Yates finely puts it in the book’s introduction; “We will never truly revisit the decade of the muscle car, but boy, what a ride we had.” This might just be the perfect antidote to an Englishman’s phantom nostalgia for a dream he never really knew.

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