What’s the definition of a muscle car? Certainly, it needs to be fast off the line, and it needs to be American. Sports cars such as McLarens, Porsches and Ferraris have all the performance you could want, but, as Roland Moore-Colyer writes in Tom’s Guide, “they arguably lack the bombast of muscle cars.”
Does a muscle car have to have a noisy, smoky gas engine, or is incredible performance enough to earn the title? Could a Tesla possibly be described as a muscle car? It may lack noise and smoke, but Elon Musk certainly provides plenty of bombast.
Mr. Moore-Colyer describes himself as “a car fan, but also someone who’s not so keen on the devastating effects of climate change.” He’s in good company—Elon Musk and Martin Eberhard described themselves in very similar terms.
Lately, fans of motoring muscle have been watching some frost begin to form on the gates of Hell, as automakers consider converting iconic muscle cars to electric drive—or at least appropriating their names and branding. Ford’s Mustang Mach-E has little in common with a classic V8 ‘Stang other than the name and the equine logo. What about the F-150 pickup? Could a pickup be considered a muscle car? For some, they do appeal to the same primal instincts.
Rumor has it that Chevrolet is planning an all-electric version of the Camaro, which has seen its sales fall behind those of competitors from Ford and Dodge in recent years. Would this really be an electric muscle car? According to the whisperers, the e-Camaro would be a four-door sedan.
It’s hard to escape the conclusion that electrification is likely to mean the end of the muscle car, at least as a mass-market model (like horses and sailing ships, they will never disappear completely).
Above: Dodge claims they're electrifying their muscle cars because 'performance made us do it' (YouTube: Dodge)
Moore-Colyer is worried about the future of muscle cars, and he surely has a lot of company. “Impractical as the likes of a Camaro or Shelby GT might be, there’s something special hearing one approach in the distance with a sonorous tone from its V8 as it zips past,” he writes. “Or simply hearing the burble of that engine as it waits at a traffic light, seemingly wanting another car to challenge it to a quarter-mile sprint.”
Thus might our great-grandparents have rhapsodized about the beauty of a clipper ship under full sail, the seamen rushing aloft to reef topsails as the breeze freshens into a gale; or the inspiring image of a team of heavy draft horses pulling a cart, their warm breath clouding in the frosty morning as they rear and plunge, the earth shaking under their powerful hooves.
Whenever a new technology replaces an old one, some beloved things are lost (my generation pines for the crackle of a vinyl record, the smell of a book fresh from the library, the reassuring voice of Walter Cronkite). But alas, time tarries never, and we must embrace the newer, more utilitarian, cleaner and cheaper ways of doing things, or be left behind.
A Tesla Model 3 is the most American car you can buy, and it can smoke just about any gas car on the road. A Mustang Mach-E, Porsche Taycan or Audi e-tron GT can get the job done in similar fashion. Could these high-performance EVs be described as “muscle cars?” Perhaps the title should be reserved for the road warriors of the previous century, but lovers of automotive performance can look forward to plenty of fun in this one.
As Moore-Colyer concludes, “If the slow death of the classic American muscle cars paves the way for more exciting EVs, then perhaps it’s time to put nostalgia aside and welcome electric cars with open arms.”