12 February 2014

When Muscle Cars were superstars

Power and sex appeal drove the U.S. auto design decisions of the 1960s

The North American muscle cars came to life in 1964 to fuel the need of speed-minded youth who seemed to have the money to match their desire for automobiles with large capacity engines and a high-horsepower output.

If we look back in time, excluding the very expensive, hand-built and fast European sports cars that were available in the North American marketplace, the new muscle cars as they were called were truly the supercars of the day.

The engineers at Ford had recognized this new market and were busy developing the Ford Mustang, a redesign of the compact Ford Falcon.

Over at Pontiac, Russell Gee, Bill Collins and Pontiac’s chief engineer John DeLorean were defying GMs new policy of limiting their A-body intermediate cars to an engine no larger than 330 cu. in. They were secretly fitting a 389 cu. in. engine into the redesigned Pontiac Super Tempest. In their eyes the GTO (Gran Turismo Omologato) would be merely an option package; they could use that loophole to defy the corporate edict and, surprisingly, they got away with it!

At General Motors’ Chevrolet division, the engineers had been working on the first generation Chevelle, which was intended to compete with the similar sized Ford Fairlane. The Chevy engineers decided to toe the line and not upset the top brass, unlike their corporate cousins at Pontiac, so for the time being the largest engine available in the 1964 Chevelle was a 327 cu. in. V8.

That all changed in 1965 when the gloves came off and the muscle car battle broke out; the Chevelle Malibu SS of that year was available with a 396 cu. in. engine.

With the help of a new customer, I discovered that between the end of January and early March 1964, it was possible to order an RPO (Regular Production Order) L76 optioned Chevelle fitted with a 327 cu. in., 365-horsepower Corvette engine and the new Muncie four-speed gearbox which could handle the power and much more.

Only a handful of orders were completed and today these cars are as rare as hen’s teeth!

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