The original rise of Detroit muscle coincided all too conveniently with my own coming of age. I was totally oblivious to the first generation muscle cars, the 421 Pontiacs, the 426 wedge Mopars, the 409/409 Impala SS with two four barrels that could run a low 14 off the showroom floor...
But it hit me around '67. I remember the exact moment. There was a used book store on Quebec street, right behind Woolworths, where a chain-smoking 90 year old woman peddled second hand books and magazines.
I'd go in there to get last month's Car Craft for ten cents when it had been fifty cents at the magazine rack at the corner store.
One day when I'm around 14 years old I walk out that store and there's a Comet Cyclone sitting there by the curb, idling.
Thrumpa thrumpa thrumpa...
Gave me a boner...
From that moment I was hooked on muscle cars.
Me and the pack I ran with went through a wide variety of the genre. Kipling had one of only eight '66 hemi Chargers sold in Canada. Barney had not one, but two 396/375 Chevy Novas. I went through several 340 Mopars and ended up with a '73 Super Duty Trans Am. Most of these cars could run well into the 13's.
Then a Great Darkness descended on the land.
Car Craft explained to me that smog regulations and insurance companies had conspired to kill the muscle car. And for a while things looked pretty bleak.
The demise of American muscle. Sure, you had the occasional bright spot, like the Buick GNX, but over all, the genre was close to comatose.
But things were stirring. By the late '80's you could buy a five litre Mustang that was capable of a 14 flat. A little further on, you could buy a Subaru WRX capable of 13's.
Holy shit! We're back to Hemi ET's in a four cylinder Japanese car!
I think it was the WRX that re-ignited the horsepower race. The engineers in Detroit who had given up on muscle saw what the Japanese guys could do with four cylinders, and suddenly they were motivated again. Yes, you could indeed meet smog rules and still make big power!
The muscle car has been coming back ever since!
All three American manufacturers now have 500+ horsepower offerings on their dealers' lots.
The American muscle car has now by far surpassed anything we saw in the so-called golden age of muscle cars.
You can walk into your local Dodge dealer and drive away in a Charger or Challenger Hellcat.
An eleven second quarter in a car with air conditioning and power windows.
It's almost enough to make me believe in progress!