Muscle cars didn’t change American culture as much as they became a part of it. Maybe muscle cars are such an integral part of American culture because they represent the truest of American ideals – freedom. Controlling the raw power and speed of a muscle car creates a sense of freedom like no other. Behind the wheel of a muscle car the entire world becomes one big race track; there are no checkered flags, or pace cars, but just open roads as far the eye can see. You can go anywhere you want and have the power and speed to get there. After muscle cars were first introduced in the late 40’s (or the early 60’s for you Pontiac GTO fans) every American automaker began manufacturing their own model. Muscle cars dominated the early racing circuits and redefined what it meant to have a real performance vehicle. Today, muscle cars today still define America culture and what it means to be free.
American culture, especially American cinema was redefined by muscle cars. Without muscle cars classic films like Bullitt and Smokey and the Bandit wouldn’t be the same. People might claim that the star of 1968 film Bullitt was Steve McQeen, but the real star was the 1968 Ford Mustang G.T. 390 Fastback with its big block engine and classic alloy wheels. That Mustang was half of the action in the film Steve McQueen was great and all, but no movie is complete without a good car chase. McQueen’s character, Frank Bulllit, certainly wouldn’t have been able to catch anyone if he was driving 1968 AMC Gremlin. The car chase in Bullitt between McQueen’s Mustang Fastback and the hit mens’ 1968 Dodge Charger was even heralded as one of the American cinema’s most influential chases.
In Smokey and the Bandit, Burt Reynold’s character “The Bandit” races across Texas evading pursuit from Sheriff Justice (Smokey). There is no doubt that Smokey would have definitively caught the Bandit if was he was driving a 1977 Buick Regal Landau instead of his famous 1977 Pontiac Trans Am. Without muscles cars movies would be boring. In a muscle car free world, Smokey and the Bandit would’ve been a 96 minute snore fest about Burt Reynolds’ mustache instead of the great film it is today. Many of Hollywood’s successful films are because of muscle cars. Watching the latest muscle cars in action is the number three reason that people watch Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, right after explosions and Meagan Fox. Although, Meagan Fox isn’t in Dark of the Moon, the newest Transformers film; clearly Hollywood has its priorities in order. And no one has ever said that they want to go see the newest Fast and the Furious movie because of its well structured story and deep characters. On the contrary, people see movies like Fast Five and Gone in 60 Seconds to watch some of the greatest car chases that money can buy.
Plainly put, muscle cars made the auto industry exciting again. Before the first muscle cars were introduced in the mid 20th century cars were simple: just another tool to get you from one place to another. Cars were plain and no more exhilarating than a horse drawn buggy. Sure, racecars were exciting but it wasn’t like they could be freely driven. Muscle cars changed all of that though. Cars became cool and people began to modify and style them to suit their own individual tastes. Muscle cars give rise to the entire after market car industry from custom tires to racing stripes and decals. The American fascination with the fastest and strongest car is all thanks to the muscle cars like the 1964 Pontiac GTO. Muscle cars have not just changed American culture, they are American culture.
Photo by Stephen Hanafin