American muscle-cars fired up the youth of the 1960s and 1970s and became the stuff of legend. Young men fell in love with them, Rock n’ Roll singers sang about them and Americans formed an entire subculture around them. Yet, in recent years, European and Japanese tuner cars have become more popular than the muscle car. Indeed, some observers suggest that the days of the muscle-car have ended (The Guardian, 2008). Others believe that import tuners are simply muscle-cars “grown up” or done right (Dyer, 2006). While foreign imports have some advantages over the muscle-car, muscle-cars have the edge over their competitors in a number of areas and they are likely to have a longer-lasting legacy.
In order to properly judge whether muscle cars or import tuners are better vehicles, it is important to lay out the criteria by which each set is judged. Buyers tend to look for at the following traits when purchasing a vehicle: appearance, performance, cost. Also important is a vehicles historical value or legacy. These, then, seem to be reasonable traits by which to judge the two sets of automobiles.
So how do muscle-cars compare to imports in terms of appearance? To a certain extent, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Porsche’s imports are undeniably beautiful. The Boxster S, for instance, is smooth, sleek and sporty with a finish that is like glass. Its seats are much like pilot’s seats and it is absolutely gorgeous. Yet, the Corvette ZR1 is equally beautiful. Its body is long and elegant, but it looks somehow tougher and darker than the Boxster. Everything about the ZR1 says, “Suave.” It is the sort of car one might expect James Bond or Bruce Wayne to step out of. One could argue that one or the other was more beautiful, but it is largely a matter of taste. But, which set has the reputation for being more attractive?
As Dyer points out, those who work with import tuners tend to focus more on performance than appearance – though there are exceptions to that rule. This gives American muscle cars like the aforementioned ZR1, Ford Mustang, Pontiac GTO and Dodge Viper an edge in attractiveness. If one compares them, for instance, to tuner cars such as the Honda Civic, the Mazda RX8, or the Toyota Yaris. Indeed, some of the tuner cars are so lacking in style that one writer suggests that young men are now driving vehicles their parents drove them around in when they were toddlers.
Still, performance is more important than aesthetics. How, then, do muscle cars and foreign tuners compare in this department? In terms of sheer speed, some of the muscle cars again have the edge. The Barracuda, for instance, according to Fred Langan of Canada’s National Post, packs some colossal power in its V8 engine and is more than a match for almost any import in terms of quickness. On the other hand, he says, it is mainly good for racing in a straight line. Its breaks do not work as well as they should and it does not handle turns well. (Langan, 2008)
Modern imports do not generally suffer from such defects. Since driving in a straight line is not very practical, the imports have the advantage in this area. Indeed, Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear says of muscle cars, “They all look fantastic, but all muscle cars are crap. They don’t handle properly. Six hundred horsepower and leaf springs … are you mad?” Classic Muscle Cars, therefore, are attractive and powerful, but they handle poorly. Yet, some of the more modern muscle cars handle and perform better. The last of the Camaros, for instance, handled very well and had better mileage than most muscle cars. According to GM’s Vice President for Chevrolet, Ed Peper, “The new Camaro delivers the best of both worlds – great heritage and a thoroughly modern, advanced package of performance, comfort and technology.” (The New Zealand Herald, 2008)But even Peper’s quote makes it look like great performance is the exception for muscle cars, rather than the rule. Therefore, import tuners still win out.