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trimacar

Muscle car - when did this term originate?

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Posted (edited)

OK, so my 15 year old son was watching B-J Auction with me, asks when did the term "muscle car" first come into use.

I was playing with cars in the 70's and don't remember the term. In the 80's I had a 1972 442 convertible, and even then don't remember anyone saying "hey, nice muscle car."

When was the term first used? When did it come into common use?

Edited by trimacar (see edit history)

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I'm pretty sure someone in the enthusiast media dreamed up the term. I can remember seeing it in print in the mid-'60s. If the weather were a bit warmer, I'd go down to the garage and dig through some old magazines.

The term 'muscle car' has suffered the same slings and arrows as 'classic' - it's mis-used more often than not. Back in the '60s, the definition was really tight: a mid-size car (GTO, Fairlane GT, Roadrunner, etc.) with a performance drive-line.

Camaros, Barracudas, etc. were 'pony cars' and performance Novas and Darts were either 'mini-muscle cars' or 'junior muscle cars'. Corvettes and AMXs were 'sports cars' because of their 2-seat arrangement.

Not too long ago, I saw a 6-cylinder automatic '70s Mustang listed on Craigslist as a 'true muscle car'... go figure!

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Posted (edited)

OK, so my 15 year old son was watching B-J Auction with me, asks when did the term "muscle car" first come into use.

I was playing with cars in the 70's and don't remember the term. In the 80's I had a 1972 442 convertible, and even then don't remember anyone saying "hey, nice muscle car."

When was the term first used? When did it com into common use?

The term is a lot older than many might think. It has its origins with the introduction of OHV engines by Oldsmobile and Cadillac in 1949 when car magazine writers described those cars as having "Plenty of Muscle." Obviously the term stuck, was modified to being "Muscle Car" and became a part of the horsepower race lexicon of the 1950's.

As a matter of personal definition, I consider the first true muscle cars as being the 1955 Cadillac Eldorado which came with dual quad carburetors. However the same year Chrysler introduced the C-300 with the first Hemi Head OHV engines, and many might well consider it to be representative of the first true muscle car. Once the horsepower race got well underway the term was used generously to describe sporty 2 door hardtops with monster high compression engines for their weight. Notable engines of the times that gave a car "muscle car" status was Chevy's 348/409 engines, Pontiac's 370 tri-power engines, Olds 371 tri-power engines, Ford's 430 and variations of their FE block engines, and of course Pontiac's fabled 389. Those are just a few examples. Once mid size cars began showing up and manufacturers found ways to "stuff" the big blocks into them the term was generally considered applicable to those cars and then the later class of "pony" cars with those same big blocks stuffed into them.

Jim

Edited by Jim_Edwards (see edit history)

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Classic didn't work so some dreamed up the term.

:) Good one Bob. Although I've heard "classic muscle car" many times.

I know in the mid-80s we used the term "muscle car" so it was around then. I want to say that I used the term to describe my GTO back in highschool around 81 but I'm not 100% sure.

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:) Good one Bob. Although I've heard "classic muscle car" many times.

I know in the mid-80s we used the term "muscle car" so it was around then. I want to say that I used the term to describe my GTO back in highschool around 81 but I'm not 100% sure.

Read the above. All you youngsters seemingly missed the dawn of the muscle car era and the origin of the term.

Jim

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Posted (edited)

Good question. There's no mention of the term in either the '70 or '73 Motor Trend new car books,

though "pony car" is used in both, describing Mustang competitors. Barracuda, Challenger, Camaro,

Firebird, Cougar, and Javelin/AMX. No offense Jim, "muscle car" may have been around for a while,

but Webster's says it entered the lexicon circa 1968. Strange that pony car isn't in the same dictionary.

I think you'll find that Chrysler introduced the first Hemis for the 1951 model year.

TG

Edited by TG57Roadmaster (see edit history)

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There's no mention of the term in either the '70 or '73 Motor Trend new car books,

though "pony car" is used in both. Good question. No offense Jim, the term may

have been around for a while, but Webster's says it entered the lexicon circa 1968.

TG

No offense taken but if you do a web search on the term and its origins it does go back to the 1940s though many may consider the first muscle car as being the '64 GTO, it was not the first car the term "Muscle Car" was used to describe. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I was there as the saying goes and no one was handing out T-Shirts for the experience.:)

Dictionary publishers are always behind the curve of common usage of new words or phrases, many words and phrases never get passed being considered "slang" and don't even make dictionaries as even being accepted as "slang."

Jim

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Jim, I understand what you're saying, that one could look back and say the Olds in 1949 was one of the first "muscle cars,", and at some point someone may have refered to engines with "muscle,", but my question is when did the specific term "muscle car" start coming into use.

According to Wikipedia (and remembering that before the Internet we were uninformed, now with the Internet we can be misinformed) : "According to the June 1967 issue of Road Test magazine, a "muscle car" is exactly what the name implies. It is a product of the American car industry adhering to the hot rodder's philosophy of taking a small car and putting a BIG engine in it"

I started restoring and collecting cars in 1964, and I just don't remember any discussion or reference to "muscle car" in the mid-60's. Performance cars, yes, but even when I test drove a brand new Super Bee, there was no mention of it being a "muscle car."

best- dc

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Posted (edited)

Jim, I understand what you're saying, that one could look back and say the Olds in 1949 was one of the first "muscle cars,", and at some point someone may have refered to engines with "muscle,", but my question is when did the specific term "muscle car" start coming into use.

According to Wikipedia (and remembering that before the Internet we were uninformed, now with the Internet we can be misinformed) : "According to the June 1967 issue of Road Test magazine, a "muscle car" is exactly what the name implies. It is a product of the American car industry adhering to the hot rodder's philosophy of taking a small car and putting a BIG engine in it"

I started restoring and collecting cars in 1964, and I just don't remember any discussion or reference to "muscle car" in the mid-60's. Performance cars, yes, but even when I test drove a brand new Super Bee, there was no mention of it being a "muscle car."

best- dc

I'm a bit confused. On one hand you make a reference to a 1967 publication using the term and then to describe obviously previous production or usage, and then you say you don't remember it from 1964.

Jim

Edited by Jim_Edwards (see edit history)

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Good question. There's no mention of the term in either the '70 or '73 Motor Trend new car books,

though "pony car" is used in both, describing Mustang competitors. Barracuda, Challenger, Camaro,

Firebird, Cougar, and Javelin/AMX. No offense Jim, "muscle car" may have been around for a while,

but Webster's says it entered the lexicon circa 1968. Strange that pony car isn't in the same dictionary.

I think you'll find that Chrysler introduced the first Hemis for the 1951 model year.

TG

That would be correct as a production engine. The Hemi design concept was actually born before WWII but got a bit side tracked. The 300C as it came to be commonly called was the first production car to have 300 horsepower. :)

Now back to the original question of the birth of the term "Muscle Car." I have found in a 1961 reference to the phrase being used in a negative sense in reference to Tom McCahill's description of a 1962 Thunderbird following a road test. Implying a much common description previously applied to various vehicles.

"The performance of the T-Bird Road remained largely unchanged since 1961. The standard engine of 390 cubic inch V8 with 300hp gave the Thunderbird enough speed for a typical buyer of the T-Bird, though not a Muscle Car."

With that said, I'll stand on my comment about the phrase being used to describe the 1949 Oldsmobile as being the first Muscle Car long before the 1960s.

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"I'm a bit confused. On one hand you make a reference to a 1967 publication using the term and then to describe obviously previous production or usage, and then you say you don't remember it from 1964. " from Jim.....

I honestly don't remember the term being used in the 60's, in my hearing....found the reference to '67 online today.....does any of you (us) older guys remember going in to look at a 1966 Oldsmobile 442 or other car in the mid 60's, and asking to see their "muscle car selection." I'm not arguing the point, I'm just curious, maybe it was in common use other than where I was living (Louisiana, you know, the state that's half under water and half under indictment...."

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First time I ever heard the term "muscle car" was when I discovered that people were starting to collect/restore them. I grew up around the Detroit area as a total car guy and I never heard that term until about the late 70's.

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New Jersey was where I grew up and learned to love early cars - Now Louisiana is home.

David, I do rrecall the term "Muscle Car" in the early '60s, as a college student - driving a '56 Bel-air convertible with Power-Pak, a '58 Impala with a 283 (my friend had one with the 348), and then a TR-3, an Alfa Romeo Giuliette Spider Veloce, a '52 Jag XK-120MC, etc --- we bemoaned the "Muscle Cars" and their lack of handling.

Yeah, I'm sure the term was around at least in the early 1960s.

My opinion of the earliest true Muscle Car is the 1936 Buick Century "Guaranteed to hit the CENTURY MARK of 100 miles per hour. This was the lightweight Buick Special body (really Chevrolet class) and the 320 cubic inch engine of the Buick Roadmaster -- same idea as the Pontiac GTO - a Tempest with the Bonnieville 389 Engine.

so many opinions - so many friend's cars to drive

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The term is a lot older than many might think. It has its origins with the introduction of OHV engines by Oldsmobile and Cadillac in 1949 when car magazine writers described those cars as having "Plenty of Muscle." Obviously the term stuck, was modified to being "Muscle Car" and became a part of the horsepower race lexicon of the 1950's.

As a matter of personal definition, I consider the first true muscle cars as being the 1955 Cadillac Eldorado which came with dual quad carburetors. However the same year Chrysler introduced the C-300 with the first Hemi Head OHV engines, and many might well consider it to be representative of the first true muscle car. Once the horsepower race got well underway the term was used generously to describe sporty 2 door hardtops with monster high compression engines for their weight. Notable engines of the times that gave a car "muscle car" status was Chevy's 348/409 engines, Pontiac's 370 tri-power engines, Olds 371 tri-power engines, Ford's 430 and variations of their FE block engines, and of course Pontiac's fabled 389. Those are just a few examples. Once mid size cars began showing up and manufacturers found ways to "stuff" the big blocks into them the term was generally considered applicable to those cars and then the later class of "pony" cars with those same big blocks stuffed into them.

Jim

hi jim, while the chrysler 300 began in 1955, the hemi engine had been around since 1951. you also mention the pontiac 370(1958), but said nothing about the 1956 pontiac 316 285 horse factory dual quad, or the 1957 pontiac and chevy with fuel injection. the 57-58 oldsmobile 371 had triple two barrel carburation, it wasn't called tri-power, it was called and known as the oldsmobile J2. no mention of 1952, when the four barrel carburetor was optional on cadillacs, buicks, oldsmobile, and packard, with buick and packard still running a straight eight engine. no mention of hudson, with the big 262 and 308 cubic inch six cylinder flatheads with twin H power carburation. this came out in may of 1952. charles coker, 1953 pontiac tech advisor.

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That would be correct as a production engine. The Hemi design concept was actually born before WWII but got a bit side tracked. The 300C as it came to be commonly called was the first production car to have 300 horsepower. :)

Now back to the original question of the birth of the term "Muscle Car." I have found in a 1961 reference to the phrase being used in a negative sense in reference to Tom McCahill's description of a 1962 Thunderbird following a road test. Implying a much common description previously applied to various vehicles.

"The performance of the T-Bird Road remained largely unchanged since 1961. The standard engine of 390 cubic inch V8 with 300hp gave the Thunderbird enough speed for a typical buyer of the T-Bird, though not a Muscle Car."

With that said, I'll stand on my comment about the phrase being used to describe the 1949 Oldsmobile as being the first Muscle Car long before the 1960s.

hi 394, the 1955 chrysler 300 had 300 horses, that's why it's known as the 300, the 1956 300-B had both 340 and 355 horses, the 1957 300-C had 375 horses, not 300. charles coker, 1953 pontiac tech advisor.

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I'm a child of the 60's and I never heard the term muscle car. We always said super car or the like...

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"(Louisiana, you know, the state that's half under water and half under indictment...."

I was born in 1960. So I don't remember anything before 1960 or so, and I was not and still am not into Muscle Cars, so I have no recollection of when the term first came into common use, but in the interest of adding absolutely nothing of value to the discussion and with apologies to our friend Marty before hand.... I have to say that David I love your descriptive term for Louisiana.

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I'm from Louisiana, still miss it though I've been gone 22 or so years...politics in Louisiana were so entertaining...and any of you guys from elsewhere who think that your state had colorful politicians...ah, you don't know the Long legacy....and my description is with longing and not derision....glad you appreciate it, Matt.....dc

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Posted (edited)

Hmm, what exactly is a musclecar anyway? faster than most with big, often 400 inch plus engines, higher HP, low slung, sporty styling in birght colors. Power and speed is valued over silent operation and comfort. I think I just described a Stutz Bearcat, Mercer Raceabout, Simplex or even a Model T speedster (except for displacement, maybe that is a very early "pony car").

If they didn't use the term back then, it is only becaouse no one had coined it yet!!

Edited by Steve_Mack_CT (see edit history)

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I'm a child of the 60's and I never heard the term muscle car. We always said super car or the like...

I think Motor Trend and other magazines used that term, supercar, in the late 1960s to define what we now call musclecars. Without referring to my dusty period magazines I think the term musclecar was in print use by the mid 1970s to define the high performance cars that were then being phased out. By 1980-82 I seem to recall the term used in magazine and book titles, but a favorite of mine then by Roger Huntington was still titled "American Supercar".

The accepted musclecar definition at that time was of course based on the 1964 GTO template, a mid size car with a V8 engine of large size compared to regular models. Full size high performance cars were not considered real musclecars, even though their actual performance may have been equal or better, nor were (uncommon) big block compacts. Ponycars were classed separately at that time, but I would say all of the above are now lumped into the same category now. This Huntington book also correctly referenced the 1949 Olds 88 and the 1936 Buick Century as ancestors of the supercar/musclecar. Todd C

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I'm from Louisiana, still miss it though I've been gone 22 or so years...politics in Louisiana were so entertaining...and any of you guys from elsewhere who think that your state had colorful politicians...ah, you don't know the Long legacy....and my description is with longing and not derision....glad you appreciate it, Matt.....dc

Matt, you can take comfort in knowing little has changed with Louisiana politicians since you left. :) Not too many years ago I happened to be in Abbeville on business the week before elections and while in the bar at the hotel I was staying in a candidate for Sheriff came in with a Cajun band and for about three hours bought drinks for the house. Don't know if he won the election but before the night was over I suspect at least half the voters in Abbeville were drunk as hell. Was almost as much fun as the annual Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival and fist fight. :D

Jim

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Todd, I think that is well defined. I would only add that these cars would seemingly be variants of otherwise mid-market cars. My post referencing speedsters was only half humorous, as every era has examples of cars with superior power and speed. Why is the Buick a muscle car ancestor yet the supercharged Auburn Boattail is not? I think that is part of what defines the car as well. Also, like the Classic era, the muscle car era is probably '64 - '72 or therabouts, so there is a generally accepted time frame also??

As to the term, I know it was in use by "non car people" (otherwise known as parents) in the late 70s as I remember the words "You are not getting a muscle car" from my mother in 1978 like yesterday, crushing my efforts when angling for my first car. (Resulted in compromise, as a 307 Camaro was a nice first car, but not a real "muscle car") Just like the failed dirtbike effort a few years earlier - argh!!

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Todd, I think that is well defined. I would only add that these cars would seemingly be variants of otherwise mid-market cars. My post referencing speedsters was only half humorous, as every era has examples of cars with superior power and speed. Why is the Buick a muscle car ancestor yet the supercharged Auburn Boattail is not? I think that is part of what defines the car as well. Also, like the Classic era, the muscle car era is probably '64 - '72 or therabouts, so there is a generally accepted time frame also??

Hi Steve, you are of course correct that the cars as defined are upgraded versions of mass market models. For every Chevelle with a 454 there were probably five Malibus with a 307. As you point out, the definition gets muddied in the prewar era since custom coachbuilding could yield a short wheelbase speedster in the same Packard or Duesenburg model as a long wheelbase town car. As far as the era, 1964-72 is, I think, considered the accepted timeframe as 1972 was the debut of the SAE net horsepower rating and 1971 was the last year for the Chrysler Street Hemi and other high performance models. Todd C

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.......many may consider the first muscle car as being the '64 GTO, it was not the first car the term "Muscle Car" was used to describe. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I was there as the saying goes and no one was handing out T-Shirts for the experience.:)

Jim

As do I, mid size car-very large engine.

The term, itself, probably didn't get used until a year or later in auto magazines, I'd say. In my area, the 64 Goat was the first car to be able to lift its front wheels off the ground between gear shifts. I guess I'm dating myself.:o

Wayne

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Let's muddy up the waters real good and inject into the mix of things "The Little Old Lady from Pasadena" and her Super Stock Dodge. It is considered that "Super Stock" cars first appeared on the scene in 1961 and were full size vehicles. Those cars are considered Muscle Cars. The Muscle Car Club offer's muscle car data plate decoding starting with 1954.

Jim

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