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In the declining period of the seventies there were a few models that emerged to handle the market of the Muscle Cars. The Firebird Trans Arm and 400 did not make the kind of sales that was experienced in the sixties but had an increasing sale rate year after year. They posed as a hope for Muscle Cars to thrive and survive the low that the cars had gone through. The sales convinced the automakers that all was not lost and people still craved for high performance level in spite of the current market scenario. The buyers were looking for high powered engines which gave not only speed but also good road use something that the Muscle Cars of the sixties could not provide. Chevy reinstated the Camaro Z-28 with more emphasis given to handling. General Motors kept its pony cars alive in the market by meeting the safety requirements. Amongst this the economy slowly started to revive from the gas crisis and the Muscle Cars industry slowly started to adapt to the federal regulations and made a promising return with style, class and performance. This lead to the introduction of new age Pony Muscle Cars that were sleek looking and offered performance brilliance and met the demands that the market and regulations had placed.
The national energy crisis increased in October 1973 when the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) drastically reduced oil exports to the United States. The national energy crisis resulted in widespread shortage of fuel and highest increase in the prices of gas. The compelling shortage saw the slow disappearance of Muscle Cars in the country. The government enforced the Corporate Average Fuel Economy law that made the auto manufacturers to meet minimum mpg targets against which they were threatened with hefty fines. With all these price increases, the Muscle Cars headed for a steady and fast decline. The Buick GS, Dodge Charger, Chevrolet Chevelle Super Sport, Super Bee, Mercury Cyclone Spoiler, Plymouth GTX and Ford Torino Cobra were part of the casualty list. The Plymouth’s Road Runner survived the scare but only to become a car for pride than a car for use. All the other Pony Muscle Cars disappeared except for the Pontiac Firebird and the Chevy Camaro. In spite of the heavy disappearance of these cars from the market, there were a few who survived the scare like the Dodge Demon and the Plymouth Duster but with no extra power and easier emissions tuning. Though the sales were not very high they offered some hope to the gloomy market.
The social changes in the market led to the Muscle Cars fading away in the seventies in America. Most of the cars were out of the market by the middle of the decade. They became victimized by the changing markets and strict government regulations. The demand for these high powered vehicles took a beating as the price of gas increased along with insurance premiums that prompted buyers to go for lesser priced compact car models and imported small cars. The limitations imposed on emissions compelled the automakers to redesign their engines with lesser carburetors, low compression and similar power reducing measures. New Federal Motors Vehicle Safety Standards were introduced as a result of which sturdier and bigger bumpers were essential for protection. Though the rules were the same for all the cars, the Muscle machines were the ones to worst hit of all as they had more to lose because of these regulations. In the early seventies recalibrations were carried out on General Motors and Chrysler Corporations’ engines to enable it to run with regular gas rather than premium. Later General Motors announced the losses that it was suffering and American Motors, Chrysler and Ford followed suit and detuned their engines to suit low end fuel. This dramatic shift saw the slow death of Muscle Cars in the United States.
Marketing strategies used for these speedster automobiles were very interesting and innovative. There was a known craze in the market for cartoon characters and television shows which led to the invention of cartoon character model names and logos for Muscle Cars. When the Road Runner show became a bit hit, Plymouth introduced the Road Runner model which also had the famous “beep beep” horn. The Super Bee inspired the Dodges to bring out the bumble bee tail stripes with a helmeted bee speeding on dragster size wheels. When Ford introduced the Torino Cobra, it borrowed the raring snake mascot from Carroll Shelby. The super hot T.V. show Laugh In’s phrase of “Here come da Judge” gave way for the ’69 GTO Judge. The advertisements for these cars also blended with the youth culture. Phrases like ‘White Hat Guys’ and ‘Dodge Rebellion’ were introduced by Dodge; Plymouth’s sponsored British Pop Singer, Petula Clark advertised saying that you should ‘Look what Plymouth’s Up to now’; Ford catch words were ‘The lively ones’ and they also sponsored a similar named talk show and Buick’s phrase was to ‘Light Your Fire’. The catch words, the songs, the street scenes and more made up for the Muscle Car mania that had crept up in the sixties.
There were highly recognized new car dealers in the seventies who became a huge window for Muscle Cars by having showrooms that were set up as speed shops for the factory to improvise on their auto research. These dealers with the high sales volume to boast were the primary ones to sell the latest factory spares and also built their own high powered equipped race cars and participated in drag racing to show off their self developed machines. Drag racing was eventually a good stage to show off their performance related machines. Among the most recognized of these dealers were Mr.Norm’s Grand Spaulding Dodge and Nickey Chevrolet both placed in Chicago, Royal Pontiac from Michigan, Yenko Chevrolet from Pennsylvania and Holman Moody who were affiliated with Ford were from North Carolina. The Muscle Cars trend went along with the youth culture that was prevailing at different times. For instance during the sixties, these high powered automations became a reflection of the modular fashions, Beatle hair styles, acid rock, folk songs, etc. Auto manufacturers found ways to relate themselves with the youthful counter culture by introducing wild colors and wacky names like Plum Crazy and Tor-red. The Muscle Cars industry became so large that is created its own trade group called the Speed Equipment Manufacturer’s Association and the Speed Equipment Market Association.
The young and the adventurous wanted power and speed to be the compelling qualities in a car and even to this day it is the most preferred feature that people look in a car. The creation of the Muscle Cars was as a result of the fast and furious culture of the Americans. The marketing for the cars were focused on this aspect which led to people buying these cars even without having the necessity for it. This was the reason the Muscle Cars had a huge market in spite of them not being sole in huge numbers. One striking feature was the performance banner for these cars which did not disappoint anybody. The car manufacturers had to keep that in mind while producing these fast and furious powerful engines. The credibility of the cars was very essential hence it necessary that apart from the sporting looks of the car it was necessary that it built a winning reputation. Though company sponsored racing came to a stand still for some time, outlaw street racing became a big hit and those races became an unofficial testing ground for new carburetors and other speed components that were developed by manufacturers themselves. The under ground support was part and parcel of the Muscle Cars development.
The Muscle Cars dominated the sixties with car crazy folks and race lovers’ demands increasing through every passing day. There were redesigned models of medium sized Mercurys, Fords, and Dodge fast backs, Coronet based Chargers; restyled General Motors intermediates; Mustang and Shelby GT-350 H were introduced. Compact cars also were produced at a very fast pace. The engines kept getting powerful from day by day. The 409 V8 gave way to the 427 which was a result of the NASCAR experiments. The hulking 428 gave way to the huge low end torque models. The wedgehead was converted to a 440 power horse. The muscle pony cars were invented in the late sixties. The small cars were designed to be fitted with massive powerful engines. The modified version of the pony cars became the biggest hits in the quarter mile racing. Two seated cars called the AMX were introduced by Tiny American Motors which claimed trophies in the racing strip. Muscle Cars prices began to increase in the late sixties when Plymouth introduced its Road Runner for a meager $2986 and broke all records by selling 45,000 cars in the very first year creating a new category of Budget Muscle Cars. Times were changing and the impact of the Muscle Cars on the society was deep and lasting.
The year 1964 saw a lot of excitement amongst the Muscle Cars manufacturers and the buying public as new cars and designs came into the market. Dearborn had hit the headlines with a complete performance package that became an all out assault on every other form of motor sports campaign as this was specifically designed to increase sales of racy new Mercurys and Fords for daily use. Ford introduced the Falcon that was a sleek GT40 for international racing tournaments and the Ford Galaxies claimed won the 1964 NASCAR Grand National Championship. The Ford Thunderbolt, Mustang and Chrysler’s Hemi V8 were all smash hits both on and off the racing tracks. The trend was clearly changing for Detroit as it was very clear that the strip, speedway and street performance action was shifting very fast from the big cars to the muscular medium sized cars and high powered pony cars. There were young buyers in the market who were craving for some four wheel excitement. They were kept happy by the Detroit manufacturers by providing them with new power packed models year after year. All of a sudden the Muscle Cars were evolving from being a low volume specialty to a high profile image builder and to the dismay of manufacturers were casting a heavy shadow on their main stream models.
In spite of the self ban imposed by the automobile manufacturers in the 50s, the engineers still kept working on the engines doing R&D through some under the table support from racers and performance oriented advertisements. High performance automation became the order of the day in the 1960s that signaled the entry of the classical age of Muscle Cars. The V8 engines became a very big hit among the younger generation giving way to manufacturing cars that were capable of holding these engines. The wedge powered Plymouths, Chryslers and Dodges were selling like hot cakes in the market as they could be used both on and off the racing track. The Fords, Chevrolets and Pontiacs too kept up with the emerging trend of Muscle Cars by developing their engines into high performance oriented ones. Detroit by itself was bulging with all the best go fast components. As the momentum gained manufacturers started introducing high performance engines in small economy cars along side the traditional standard full size models. With the buyers preferring a car that was in between sized, the medium sized cars came into being. The most celebrated early Muscle Cars were the 1961 Chevrolet Impala SS 409, 1962 Dodge Dart 413, 1963 Ford Galaxie 427 and the 1963 Pontiac Super Duty 421.