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September 24 Weekly Open Thread: Non-Muscle Muscle Car Edition

Submitted for your approval. . . .or ridicule or amusement or whatever: Popular Mechanics' Ten Wimpiest Muscle Cars Ever:

There's a dead zone in the history of performance cars between the hairy-chested muscle cars of the 1960s and the rebirth of power in the mid-1980s: the 1972–82 "malaise era," 03-chevy-monza-jpg_232414when machines were so strangled by new emissions rules that their performance levels were an embarrassment to even today's compact cars. Automakers slathered flashy paint and taped racy stripes and stickers to the hoods of the cars, but these 10 just couldn't get'er done at the dragstrip.

Regular readers will recognize some of these that have had starring(?) roles here at Car Lust.

Yeah, yeah, it's hard to argue that any of these are really "muscle cars" so I suppose you might wonder why I'm bothering even linking this. Well, that's the point: Virtually none of them were muscle cars. So why call attention to them being wimpy muscle cars? Look, the muscle car era ended in 1974 or thereabouts. Between insurance costs and emissions and mileage requirements, it didn't make financial sense to build muscle cars anymore. The technology just wasn't there to satisfy enviro requirements at any kind of reasonable cost. Besides, tastes had started to change by then, with customers moving more toward smaller and sportier (and better made) imports. So they quit making them.

The Mustang II, for instance, simply wasn't meant to be a muscle car from the beginning: it was. . .well, it ended up being pulled in a dozen different directions, from traditional pony car to sporty compact to personal luxury car. . .but never a muscle car. Yeah, they dressed it up some with paint-on performance, but that was more marketing concept than design.

Like we say here, judge many of these cars by what they were, not by what we thought they should be.

As always, feel free to discuss anything else vaguely car-related. Image taken from the article.


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I remember seeing a Monza Mirage on display at the Southern Park Mall in 1977 or so. The assembly quality was atrocious.

I'm a Ford guy, in fact, in college my first new car was a base Mustang II coupe. It was a great car...and not deserving of the scorn it received for not being a Shelby GT350, or a Boss 429.
It was great fun, sporty car well suited to the post gas crisis world. And remember, far more "secretary" Mustangs were ever sold than the fondly remembered muscle cars. Just last week at a show I was parked next to a woman who had her 67 Mustang with a run of the mill V-8. her dad bought it new for here when she was 19, still has it. Nothing special equipment-wise, but nicer in its own way than a Mach 1 that's had 20 owners and has been rebuilt 4 times from the days it was a high school kids car back when it was "just a used car".

Having said that, I think the Monza fastback was a great looking car, and the Mirage (which I've never seen on in person) isn't bad either.
Not necessarily a great car or muscle car, but a nice looking car...and IIRC the first with rectangular headlights?

This car was the styling inspiration (for better or worse) for the Monza Fastback: . Please note the teardrop rear side window design especially.

John B:

There are a few of the base-ish models that show up at shows, but not many, which is too bad, since a lot of them are often well taken care of and in great condition despite being unrestored.

I remember when my aunt bought one of those new in '78, a royal blue 2+2 hatchback with the white interior. The Monza itself was a great looking car (still is, actually)... but hers had the boat-anchor Buick 3.2 V6 that guzzled gas and still couldn't get out of its own way - plus the build quality (or lack thereof) definitely showed signs of a Vega hangover. The worst part was when the transmission self-destructed after only 2 years (had only about 17K on it at the time). Clunk.

Oh, crud.
I hijacked the wrong Weekly Open Thread (September 17 Weekly Open Thread--Electric Car Whines) to post my findings of a Ford Mustang II King Cobra in a graphic novel.
Waiting 2 weeks will do that to ya.

Forgive the repost, but it seems appropriate to post again, seeing how the main character loves the thing. I'll just post this one link and if anyone asks about it, I'll answer:

Anthony, are you familiar with this series?

The DeLorean really shouldn't be on this list, it's not a muscle car.

I'm driving one - the 1977 AMC Hornet AMX w/ a 258ci Straight 6. It's a dog and a show w/ no go car but fun!

Back to the subject, indeed many "performance" cars back in the 70s (and 80s) were silly dressed-up pretenders, but think about this: Even the most revered cars of the muscle era (70 Chevelle LS6 454, 70 Hemi Cuda, etc.) would have a hard time keeping up with a basic V6 Toyota Camry family sedan in a drag race today. And comparing, say, a 69 Dodge Super Bee against a new Charger Super Bee? Forget it, it would make total mincemeat out of the '69 without even breaking a sweat.

As ultra-cool as I think the old muscle cars are, they can't even compare with even many of the base family sedans today when it comes to power. Anyone who disagrees is totally drunk on nostalgia.

I drove an 82 Trans Am in college, from 92-94. Even though it was ten years old and unmodified, it was still a lot faster than the other cars I encountered on campus. Had the 305 HO V-8. Lots of problems with the car--rust, electrical issues, and a tendency to stall and vapor lock while idling. Happened to me once when crossing the bridge from Sarnia into Port Huron, and I hate heights. Red, with a black interior, T-tops that leaked like a sieve, and the pop up headlights that rarely worked. And I once dropped a nickel into the cigarette lighter at a toll booth in NYC and blew a fuse. I was glad to buy it, and glad to sell it and get my Probe, which was peppy, very reliable, and sipped gas (5 speed manual).

Should the 360 Road Runner be on this list? It was pathetic from a quality and handling perspective, but the Super Coupes weren't actually slow or wimpy. Agreed that the Delorean wasn't a muscle car, nor was the pathetic but relatively quick X/11. It seems to me that they left a lot of low hanging fruit on the vine. Just look at the cars that GM was homologating for NASCAR in the '80s and you'd be able to fill much of the list. Remember the 1983 Hurst Olds? The 1986 Pontiac Grand Prix 2+2? The Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS of 1984?

I still remember my next door neighbor buying a 1975/6ish Camaro Berlinetta (dark green). I also remember my neighbor quickly regretting that decision. The car was slow, unreliable, with awful build quality.

Any of the Stallion model Fords too. Pinto, Maverick. Nothing special.

Oh, the Volvo 242 GT. just an appearance package

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Pictured above: This is a forlorn Chevy Vega photographed by reader Gary Sinar. (Share yours)

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