Muscle Cars of Yesterday vs. Today's Modern Muscle: How Do They Compare
by Wade Wilcox
Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, muscle cars captured the hearts, imaginations and wallets of car buyers in the U.S. and the world over. Gifted with aggressive styling and fitted with the most powerful high-performance eight-cylinder engines of the era, muscle car offerings from General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and AMC dominated the automotive landscape until rising fuel prices, insurance costs and the market’s growing preference for personal luxury coupes made these vehicles an endangered, if not extinct species.
Today, their modern-day counterparts are bigger and badder than ever. This new breed of muscle car offers all of the performance, creature comforts and safety features that buyers expect, but how well do they stack up to their predecessors?
In terms of sheer performance, today's muscle cars absolutely blow away the vast majority of their predecessors. While the muscle cars of yesterday are still capable of delivering a visceral driving experience, the combination of improved engine, suspension and braking technologies put their modern counterparts head and shoulders above their predecessors.
For example, Consumer Reports compared a 1970 Mustang Boss 302 muscle car to its closest modern-day equivalent, a 2011 Ford Mustang. Despite featuring a 3.7-liter V6 engine, the 2011 model handily outguns the 4.9-liter V8-equipped Boss 302 in terms of horsepower (305 SAE net versus 290 SAE gross) and acceleration from zero to 60 mph (6.2 seconds versus 8 seconds), according to the company’s test figures.
Keep in mind that directly comparing a classic muscle car’s horsepower to its modern-day counterpart is a bit tricky. The 1970 Boss 302’s horsepower figures were calculated under the Society of American Engineers (SAE) standards J245 and J1995. According to Ate Up With Motor, this standard measured an engine’s “gross” horsepower output on a test stand sans alternator, water pump and other power-robbing accessories attached. After 1972, automakers began using SAE standard J1349, which measured net horsepower at the crankshaft with all belt-driven accessories, exhaust system and emission controls attached.
If rising gas prices and stricter government regulations weren’t the death knell of the ‘60s and ‘70s muscle car, rising insurance rates sealed their fate. Starting in the late 1960s, insurance companies began levying surcharges on high-performance vehicles that made owning a muscle car a rather expensive proposition for young muscle car fans of the time.
Many of those young fans have since grown up, raised families and are now returning to their first loves in droves. According to Chevrolet marketing executive John Fitzpatrick in a Wall Street Journal article, “Baby Boomers” between the ages of 45 and 55 are the usual age demographic for the company’s Camaro muscle car. As older drivers tend to be wiser and safer drivers, that’s helped drive down insurance costs.
Insuring classic muscle cars, on the other hand, is somewhat more expensive given their higher value, nostalgia factor and the potential for theft. The best way to find the lowest price available is through a resource such as Captain Compare car insurance, which offers live quotes from multiple insurance brands.
Efficiency and Safety
Modern muscle cars may not be as green as their hybrid counterparts, but they’re much more fuel-efficient and eco-friendly than their classic counterparts. The aforementioned 2011 Mustang in the Consumer Reports comparison achieved 24 mpg overall in stark contrast to the 1970 Boss’s 11 mpg. Meanwhile, the newer 2013 Mustang achieves an EPA-estimated 20 mpg combined with its 5.0-liter V8 and automatic transmission, according to U.S. Department of Energy fuel economy figures.
In terms of overall safety, modern muscle wins out yet again. Whereas the average muscle car only had seat belts, a padded dash and a sizable amount of metal between the driver and an unexpected obstacle, today’s muscle cars feature the latest in driver safety. Front and side airbags, anti-lock brakes, seatbelt pretensioners and traction control are just a few of the many safety features that are available on today’s modern muscle car.
Back in their heyday, muscle car prices have always ranged from the surprisingly affordable to the outrageously expensive. Today’s muscle cars aren’t that different — take the Mustang, for example. According to Road and Track, the list price for a base 1965 Mustang was around $2,368, or about $17,600, when adjusted for inflation. A base 2013 model starts at an MSRP of $22,200, according to Ford, but the company’s current cash rebates help bring that price down to a more reasonable $18,995.
Meanwhile, the current Dodge Challenger costs $26,295 in its V6 SXT form, while the full-enchilada SRT8 392 starts out at $45,195. The 2014 Corvette Stingray clocks in at an MSRP of $51,000, with the top-tier Z51 3LT model starting out at a cool $61,805.
About the Author:
Wade Wilcox has been a fan of '70s muscle cars for years, and shares that enthusiasm with auto sites online.