First, consider a hot rod to be a pre-1948 automobile designed for speed and style.
Then, let’s consider a muscle vehicle to be a post-1950s American automobile, manufactured either by the manufacturer or by you at home, that is also designed to travel quickly and look cool.
It would be a mistake not to classify performance-oriented production automobiles equipped with a Firepower Hemi, Olds Rocket, 283 Chevy, Ford 390, or Chevy 409 as muscle cars. They were the ancestors of the species, so let’s include them in this category for our discussion.
Let’s begin with the advantages of an early hot rod. It is difficult to dispute the aesthetic effect of an ancient hot rod cruising down the street. Hot rods are all about attitude, and there’s simply something about seeing a wicked, low, and loud early automobile rumbling and braying and bouncing around in traffic amongst the late-model SUVs and economy cars. And the experience behind the wheel is frequently more visceral than that of newer, more sophisticated vehicles. No matter how often you do it, driving across the country in a roadster or even just across town on a starry night is an unforgettable experience. In one of these automobiles, driving is always an exciting experience.
If you’re searching for a disadvantage of these pre-1948 automobiles, you can find it in the fact that they were designed for pre-war American roads, not modern freeways. Spent some time commuting in a completely stock Model A Ford and discover that the mechanical brakes are only good for one hard stop before failing, the factory engine sounds like it’s going to explode at 50 mph, and the inside is, to say the least, snug. In these automobiles, enhanced brakes, power, transmission, and suspension are practically essential.
On the other hand, muscle cars can typically keep up with modern traffic. They may be a bit louder and rougher than your modern daily driver, but that is part of their beauty. It is difficult not to feel energized while slipping behind the wheel of a relic from the renowned Detroit horsepower battles. Things such as hood scoop, pistol grip shifters, and a plethora of gauges that were created at the factory are just cool. In addition, muscle cars are typically superior for “upgrade as you go” projects. With the availability of upgrade parts from aftermarket manufacturers, these cars can be transformed into legitimate modern performance cars that can keep up with a new ‘Vette on the twisties, stop on a dime, and run sub-12 second timeslips at the drags, all while maintaining air conditioning and a stereo system. When you’re caught next to a big rig on the highway, they also tend to feel more substantial and less intimidating than an older vehicle.
You may have also noticed that we said the mid-1950s and later for the muscle car era, rather than ’72. Increasingly, cars from the malaise era of the mid-1970s to early 1980s are being upgraded with modern drivetrains and displayed with pride at Friday night cruise-ins alongside classic Camaros, Road Runners, and Tornados. In the mid-1980s, cars such as the Grand National, 5.0 Mustang, and IROC Camaros began to sell in reasonable quantities once more, indicating the muscle car’s comeback. This ushered in the contemporary era of GT500 Mustangs, ZL1 Camaros, and Hellcat Challengers competing with horsepower and performance figures formerly believed unachievable for production cars, all while preserving leather upholstery and a manufacturer’s guarantee. Are these vehicles still muscle cars? Do you desire one of these for your garage, or do you prefer something more conventional?
So, what will you park in your fantasy garage? A classic hot rod or a 1960s or 1970s muscle car? How about a contemporary muscle car? There are no incorrect responses here. Everything can be converted into a fun driver with the correct care and a few well-chosen enhancements, and there is a place in our hobby for everyone.