First They Came for the Muscle Cars . . .

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You had to be there to remember – and to understand – so here’s a refresher.

In 1964, group of young Pontiac engineers created the GTO by pairing an expensive big-car’s engine with an inexpensive medium-sized car –  thereby creating the first mass-market muscle car. Which was mass-market because it wasn’t just about muscle. That had been done before, by Chrysler (letter series cars) and Oldsmobile, too.

What made the GTO different – and dangerous, in the view of a certain kind of killjoy – was that it was cheap. Or at least, affordable. You didn’t have to be a rich old man to be able to buy one.

Or get your rich old man to buy one for you.

The GTO was a huge success for that reason and for another reason. There was a huge number of young buyers coming of age at right around the same time – the Baby Boom generation. Combine affordable muscle with lots of young kids who could afford muscle and just like that, muscle cars were everywhere.

Within three years of the ’64 GTO’s debut, every major car company – even AMC (RIP) – had at least one muscle car for sale.

Many car companies offered several. It was a bonanza of horsepower, style and fun.

But as much as muscle cars were loved by those who owned them, they were hated twice as much by those who couldn’t stand them.

They came up with a way to put a stop to the fun.

First, they made insuring a muscle car unaffordable. Then as now, it didn’t matter whether you – the specific individual – had ever wrecked your muscle car. All that mattered, premium-wise, was that someone else did.

You got the presumptive blame – and the actual bill.

But there was a way out, if you could afford to pay cash. It was to skip the coverage – which you could in those days, even if it was illegal. Because in those days The Man lacked the means to find out.

As incredible as it may sound to tender Millennial ears, back in the ‘60s and ‘70s – and even into the ‘80s – the insurance mafia and the government mafia were still separate families. There were even laws pertaining to the respecting of private info.

The government couldn’t directly collude with the insurance mafia as it does now to find out whether you have coverage at any given moment via a quick and even automated sync-check of computer records.

All you – the car owner – had to do to avoid the mordita was to check the box on the government form that said you had coverage.

If it was a lie, so what? Should a guy feel guilt about lying to a mugger about how much cash he has in his wallet?

The people who did not like muscle cars did not like this, of course. So they came up with another – more effective – method to kill the fun.

Two methods, actually.

The first was to strangle them via emissions controls they couldn’t comply with – and didn’t, at first. Those first generation muscle cars of the ‘60s and early-mid-‘70s all had engines designed back in the ‘50s – i.e,. designed without emissions control in mind at all. The only way to make them “compliant” with the emissions regs passed decades after the fact was to cripple them by grafting clumsy emissions controls onto them.

These made them run poorly – and gradually killed off the muscle, too.

It only took four years – from the passage in 1970 of the Clean Air Act   – to eliminate literally every muscle car except the last one, which happened to be a Pontiac, too. It was the 1974 Trans-Am equipped with the 290 horsepower SD-455 V8. Just a few hundred made it through the noose and by the following year – 1975 – the Trans-Am’s strongest engine was a 185 horsepower 400 V8 geezing through a catalytic converter and single exhaust made to look like two.

But just like the Terminator rebooting himself after receiving a shotgun blast to the guts, the muscle car only seemed dead. Gradually, performance began to return. Clean performance, too – via engines designed to be “compliant” and powerful.

By the ’90s, performance had returned to what it had been in the late ’60s and soon exceeded it.

So that had to be stopped, too.

This time, the method applied was unanswerable. Federal fuel economy fatwas descended. It no longer mattered that muscle wasn’t dirty. It now had to be fuel-sippy and that is like making a ribeye without the fat.

The fuel economy fatwas also served to attack mass-market large cars, which went the way of the muscle car.

There was an end-run, briefly. It was christened the “SUV” – which didn’t have to comply with fatwas as strict as those applied to cars. The SUV quickly became the car of choice, until the government caught up with and closed the “loophole” and applied the fatwas to them, too.

They got smaller-engined and bigger-priced, a trend which you can see for yourself – today.

But they’re still being made – along with the highest-powered (and cleanest-ever) muscle cars. The engineers have worked near-miracles on the same plane as Jesus feeding a multitude with a single loaf of bread.

So that has to be dealt with, too.

By shifting the meaning of fuel efficiency to mean “emissions” once again – though this time, not pollution. The new meaning is “greenhouse gasses,” which don’t smog the air or foul the lungs but are asserted to change the climate.

Whether it does or does not is a matter for another column.

What it unquestionably will do is achieve the goal which has been their goal since at least the 1960s. That goal, of course, is to get rid of not just the muscle car, not only the large car and not merely the SUV but every car.

By making it impossible to make them compliant. So as to get people into other forms of transportation, under their control.

They have said so, openly, since the ’60s.

If you read their literature, you’d know all about it.

Now you can see it, all around you.

. . .

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. Always believed that fast cars were meant to be driven hard and fast not saved for later or the museum. To me the “Garage Queen” all original collectors car seems like a waste of god sent talent. They do deserve a place in the world just not in my garage. Most of us never really desired to own one nearly as much as those highly modified “magazine cars” from our youth. High compression, high revving, loud V8s, polished induction devices poking out from the hood, big lumpy cams, pop-ups, uncapped headers, Hurst shifter, big sticky tires, mag wheels, Nitrous, Blowers… AHHHH, the joy it brough to dream that some day..

    • Hi JBN,

      I take a middle ground stance on this. I keep my Trans-Am in the garage and religiously dry. It does not leave the garage if there is any chance it will rain. I submit that for this reason, it still looks very nice – and isn’t rusty – notwithstanding it wears most of its original paint and is 44 years old. However, it also has dings and scratches and you’ll see the evidence of burnouts on the lower rear panels. I let the secondaries moan at least once a month, ideally several times in succession. I don’t want crud building up on the backs of my valves! So, it gets driven – as it was meant to be driven. But it also gets taken care of, which I feel obliged to do in the way a Medieval monk felt obliged to take care of rare books!

      • Eric,
        well said, and I agree, if my old TA were still around it would likely enjoy the same monthly or maybe weekly routine! No other sound in the world excites like that hungry Quadrajet deepthroating a heavy right foot. Just discovered (and saved) your website. The headline of this article caught my attention because I completely agree that our cars were unjustly demonized for the benefit of undeserving greedy entities. Which led to the demise of the US auto industry. Didnt realize until now you were a fellow TA fan. I was a bit obsessed with the F body myself having owned a stable of them many years ago. 67 Firebird 400, 69 TA Ram Air III, 71 455HO, 72 Formula 455, 73 Formula 400, 79 TA 6.6 WS6. My Unicorn was the the fabled 73 SD455.(HP understated-see Insurance Agent)
        The new cars are impressive stock but when modified can be absolute monsters. Forced induction and E85 are game changers. “No replacement for Displacement” no longer applies as a rule of thumb for performance. A friends 2.? litre EVO makes a stunning 1100WHP at 50PSI on E85.

        • Hi JBN,

          Ok, you just knocked over my bucket list! You’ve owned a ’69 RA III TA? And a ’73 SD?? I am now beside myself with envy 🙂 Dammit, man – you’ve had all the fun!

          Of course, I’ve had some as well. My other Trans-Am was also a ’76 – but it was a 50th Anniversary LE car with the 455 and 4-speed. No tops, though. I’d still have it except a dude in a van ran a light and t-boned it. I still have the shaker. And I have my current ’76, Carousel Red with the Honeycombs and eight track, power windows and locks plus the electric rear defrost. It was originally a 400/auto car; it currently has a 455/2004R combo with 3.90 gears.

          I had a buddy in HS whose dad had – and we got to drive – a ’79 Formula with the T/A 6.6 W72 400 and 4-speed, Nocturne Blue with a vinyl roof! Another friend of mine has a 10th Anniversary ’79 with the 400/4-speed as well.

          No question, the new stuff is ferocious. But the old stuff has character, in the manner of an old battleship firing a 16 inch gun broadside!

    • Muscle cars were great but these days, the old timey muscle cars look like wimps. Mustangs, of all things, with 600 hp AT THE REAR WHEELS! HELLFIRE, the drag race camaros back in the day were 600 hp and NOT at the wheels!

      • Hi RD,

        It’s unfair to stack up cars made – and engineered – 50 years ago with modern cars. Apples and oranges. Also, while modern performance cars do perform better, they are so much more civilized that something important is lost. Anyone can drive a new muscle car fast; not many could even drive a dual quad 426 Street Hemi four speed. It was a hairy experience, even if you could – and that’s been lost…

      • rd davis, whats funny is the young set that bought these cars back then can’t afford them today…what good is 600 horsepower when all you can do is look at picture or see some old retired fart drive by in one who payed out a chunk of his government to recapture his past “glory”? and it’s “old time”…what are you, ten?”

        • Hi Nuthin,

          It’s sad. I feel bad for the youth of today. My Trans Am was just an old car when I bought it back in the early ’90s – when I was a kid. I picked it up for $5,700 – about $10k in today’s inflation-raped money, but still not much in real terms. About the cost of a used Corolla today. But $10k today won’t buy you a mint muscle car with low miles, as my TA was back in ’92.

  2. The first epa device was the positive crankcase ventilation valve that replaced the puke tube that ran down to the street and used the air blowing by to suck out the emissions but when the valve came along it actually helped the performance then the canister, catalytic converters, air pump and egr and the failure jibby catar made it way worse when he assumed his excellency ship in 1977 (ASSHOLE!) they are trying different ways around it but hey a car is way over engineered and way too much money california has tried to cripple the performance industry that is why some well known performance vendors are leaving there and just having their general offices there at this time. Everybodies Pain in the Ass is eventually going to have to go by the wayside and give up the ghost it has way too much power and people are realizing it to be the phallic symbol that it is.

    • Hi Mune,

      There was a legitimate emissions issue with cars; what most people do not understand – because they are being deliberately misled – is that the issue hasn’t been one since the ’90s, by which time almost all of the meaningfully harmful byproducts of combustion had been eliminated by more efficient combustion, sequestration or chemical conversion. The “low fruit” had been plucked. Since then, at ever-increasing cost, fractional (and so largely meaningless) reductions have been achieved and we are now at the point that a new car’s IC engine is functionally “zero emissions” as regards the things which create or contribute to smog, breathing problems, etc.

      There is no reasonable basis for objecting – or mandating.

      So an unreasonable basis – C02 “emissions”- had to be created and has now replaced the prior definition of “harmful exhaust emissions.” The beauty of C)2 “emissions” is that they can’t be eliminated without eliminating IC – and even then, they have only been eliminated at the tailpipe.

  3. Would you like something more goofy than usual? Of course you don’t, but bear with me..
    I got a quote on a factory Five Cobra that has a blown(14 psi) 347 Edelbrock with go fast and stop fast stuff. They quoted 42.00 to add it to my policy, and that is until next July, if I last that long.
    The gal that quoted it is named MaryJo. I like girls that have compound names, I even have one too.

  4. The manual for a Cadillac is 2.5 times as thick as the New Testament and as full of shit as the Old Testament. I just want to smite some millenial with a loud exhaust and take all of his oxen and asses in a race.

    • Hi Erie!

      Great minds… I was thinking long the same lines the other day; I pulled the owner’s manual for my ’76 TA from the glovebox and flipped through it. It’s about 40 pages long, maybe. Vs. 400 for most new cars.

      • My old man had a ’76 TransAm. I preferred my rotted out MGB.
        The Trans Am was almost as fast as the Ford two and a half ton 460cid shop truck that my dad was thrilled when he beat a Corvette. Those things would lunge had from the line.
        Me, I like manuals until no longer made. The Tremec on the Caddy is so very easy to use. I will have to work a bit more on first to second to remove the burp but that will not take long at all if the dual named wife will not park me in.
        Of course it has nothing in storage space that she needs for any trip. A satchel on the pillion seat was good enough for me.
        I think that all aspiring women should have to ride a sport bike and limit their loads to what can be bungeed upon the space behing their butt.
        That will be a lesson for later in not buying holiday decorations.

  5. Here’s another thing with the CTS-V. The splitter is so low that when one hits a snowdrift it lifts the crap onto the grille and windshield. There is no procedure in the manual to correct that flaw. Also it has no adaptability to tow a trailer. Did I mention that I hate the buttons?

  6. I’d rather have Jason Flinders Rambler that the Cadillac CTS-V. As you are driving along just rowing through the gears one has to pull over for eight minutes to read the manual on how to turn on the radio. Do you think that lever on the floor with the hieroglyphics will open the hood? You guessed wrong. Consult the manual to see how screwed up the millenials can make a basic car design into an inscrutable mess.
    Cadillac was meant for old farts that have vision problems in focusing on punching a series of buttons to get rid of NPR on the radio.
    I like the drivetrain, but ride around in silence without the eighteen speakers because I cannot figure out the idiot commands to activate it to listen to my Wilson Pickett.

  7. I was disappointed to see a picture of the autistic, ponytailed idiot from a cold cold land pictured in the same article on sports cars. let that soros gal’s picture fade into history.

  8. Hey, Eric, another little-remembered muscle car was the 1957 Rambler Rebel. It was the fastest sedan available in the U.S. in 1957, the only faster car available was the fuelie Corvette and it wasn’t much faster. (Had the Bendix electronic fuel injection planned for the Rebel worked out it would likely have been faster than the ‘vette.)

    AMC used the tried and true formula you’re talking about. Their engineers took the big 327 Nash V8, equipped it with higher compression ratio and solid lifters, and dropped it into a smaller, lighter body. I wouldn’t exactly call it mass-market though since it was only equipped this way for one year and only 1500 were built.

      • Great article Eric- equally entertaining today, is to find someone’s video (posted to social media) where they record themselves while driving at high speed, say Germany’s Autobahn. The liberal tears commenters are more upset at that then ninth month abortions.

        • Hi Dip,

          Liberals are particularly afflicted by cognitive dissonance. They pose as “caring” – but only about the things they care about. They are “diverse” – so long as you agree. They want to “save lives” – sometimes. Some lives. Etc.

      • Damn Eric, that part about the GTO brings back memories. Better days in some ways than today, at least in that regard. But back then we had the Red Scare, and various wars. Some things never change. But attempting to explain the patterns of history to most people is pointless. They are so sunk in the illusions/delusions that the system has loaded them down with, that you might as well be speaking some alien language.

    • Stupid story, When I was a fourteen year old I negotiated to buy a very nice 1962 Studebaker coupe with a 289 and the Paxton blowing through a two barrel. Twenty-five bucks!! A bad rod rap, but would smoke the bald snow tires.
      Anyway, The guy picked up a stock Rambler American. You know the drill, flathead single throat turd. He wanted to blow it up to collect more from the onlookers than he paid for it. Up and down the street past redline and it wouldn’t break Then a colored lady came out to berate the onlookers on her block. She stopped the guy in his failed demonstration and he ended up selling the car to her for twelve dollars. That poor car ran well enough for another three years.

  9. Many people forget that normal people owned muscle cars back then because they were affordable! You could have one with a normal, blue collar job. They weren’t cars for doctors or other professional types (most of those people back then didn’t want those kinds of cars, they WERE cars for the blue collars).

    The irony is that the guys that were young back in the 1960’s and 70’s (who are now in THEIR 60’s and 70’s) are spending a fortune trying to keep those cars around. I wonder what will happen to those cars in twenty years when that generation starts to pass on in larger numbers. Will they become more affordable or get stuck in barns to get dusty?

    • Hi Rich,

      I have been thinking about this myself, for personal reasons. Who gets the Orange Barchetta when I kick the bucket? I feel like Clint in Grand Torino sometimes…

    • Ha Rich. I went to a small Indiana college in Indy 73-77. A guy in the class worked at his father’s business during the summer months and came back to school in September with a new Firebird. Every year till he graduated. That was bought after he paid for his schooling, books, and boarding fees.

      • Hi Joe,

        I have the window sticker for my ’76 – $5,400. And it was loaded with practically every available option. The base Trans-Am’s MSRP was $3,900. That’s about $18k in today’s money, or about what a well-equipped new Corolla lists for.

  10. The next shoe to drop, IMO, is compliant taxes on ICE. So it will start out slow to get the ‘law’ passed, such as “if you, bad person, want to ‘pollute’ the air, you will have to pay say $1000 tax to buy a ICE”. No big deal most will say so they can avoid an EV. But as soon as the EV market is saturated with many avail. then the shoe will drop, $2000, $3000, an on up till it starts eliminating buyers of ICE, moving them to EV.
    I was just giving my opinion to my brother who probably owns more ICE HP than anyone I know, and he says “I will just build my own old car as I have done already many times” ahhhhh, but then they will enact the pollute tax on registration of ICE.
    I hope I’m wrong, but I doubt it.
    Same thing will happen to the new millionaires tax they just passed in jersey. Yeah, no big deal 99% will say, until hundreds/thousands of the millionaires move out, and since they have the law passed, it will get lowered and lowered, 800K, 600K, etc. . until they keep capturing more and more exponentially. They have no other way to pay the deep blue states unfunded liabilities. And all the public employees will cheer. As it has been said many times, they will eventually run out of other peoples money.

  11. I had a ’68 GTO built 400 with 4sp. Holly 850 double pumper 12,5 to 1 compression ported and polished heads and 4:88 gears in the back.Weekend bracket racer. I got 4mpg on the freeway and 11 mpg in town running airplane fuel. I Loved that car and miss it to this day,

    • Hi Anon,

      I miss it, too – and I never owned one! But I am lucky enough to own something similar and close enough… my ’76 Trans-Am… modded 455, Carousel Red and Honeycombs!

  12. Hey Eric, something interesting ive noticed – Lately in the junk mail I get, I keep getting offers on these over priced lego sets from say Costo. Im talking about a GBP 400 lego set of a Mustang or a Land Rover with working everything. Along with a picture of it being made by a bearded soy smiling hipster well past the age he should be pissing around with legos….. Which reminded me of a chat with my dad…. who in the 60s/70s in the US used to pick up muscle cars for about that much money, and do whatever he wanted with it. If this isn’t a sign of decline of living standards in the west, don’t know what is – a young guy going from owning and driving a muscle car to making a lego set of one!!!

  13. “The engineers have worked near-miracles on the same plane as Jesus feeding a multitude with a single loaf of bread.” — EP

    Lord, yes! And under difficult, even contradictory, constraints.

    But in the government-created and subsidized EV boom industry, there’s an alternative to expert engineering: FAKE IT. This morning’s headlines offer a case in point:

    ‘Less than two weeks after signing a $2 billion deal with General Motors, the founder of electric truck start-up Nikola Corp. stepped down amid a claim that he had repeatedly lied about the company’s technology.

    ‘The resignation of Trevor Milton as executive chairman, announced late Sunday, came after the investment fund Hindenburg Research published a report accusing him of making numerous false assertions about Nikola’s technology, including once producing a video in which a truck was rolled down an incline to make it look as if the company had developed a working prototype.

    ‘Hindenburg, a short-selling firm that said it was aiming to profit by betting Nikola’s share price would go down, called Nikola “an intricate fraud.”


    Ridicule videos on YouTube have made a lonely stretch of Utah highway notorious as the Trevor Milton grade, where the miracle of gravity can propel a mocked-up EV semi to 60 mph or more.

    But the big question is, can there be only one cockroach in the EV kitchen cabinet? Tomorrow is Battery Day at Tesla. And it had better be good.

  14. I started driving in 1966, and up until sometime in the early 70’s, insurance wasn’t even mandatory. When they made it “mandatory“, it was real easy to get around. No computers, no instant database. Cops had no idea whether you had it or not. Not that I would ever do anything like this, but some guys would put a small down payment on a policy, get the paperwork that said you were insured and then never make another payment. Didn’t matter if you were canceled, when the cops pulled you over, you had the paperwork to show you were insured.

  15. Are cars supposed to be fun and appeal to the senses, or just means of conveyance? That seems to be the issue. If all you want to do is punch a time clock for your existence, then who cares what a car does, as long as it gets you from here to there. Vehicles could be treated like clothing, we could all just wear the science fiction style standard garment and be done with it. “Any color you want, as long as it is black.”
    But humans aren’t wired like that. We seem to like to individualize ourselves. In the case of clothing, as soon as the universal uniform was issued some pretty young thing would hike up the skirt hem and unzip the front down a little too far. In the case of cars, some enterprising young man will start hacking away at it to see if there’s a way to get it to do something it wasn’t designed to do. Or at least paint it their favorite color.
    Sometimes the designers hide features, to be discovered after the fact. With technology it is known as jailbreaking, after it got out that Apple’s iOS was really just OS-X Unix stripped down and with a different GUI. Pretty soon hackers unlocked the door and soon after that people were loading up all sorts of things that weren’t intended to be done on a “phone.” Some of those add-ons became part of the core OS, because the developers knew it could be done but left it out because of corporate policy or the possibility of crashing the system beyond repair. And again, marketing says it’s a phone, not a pocket computer.

    But once word gets out there’s not much can be done to stop the tide. The kid who figured out that flipping the air cleaner gets positive feedback from his friends, who also flip. Then it’s game on to see who can do the most without destroying the thing. Or who can show the most skin without getting the attention of sister Mary Agnes Gertrude. Then the same guys start looking at what else they could hack, since most engineering is industrial Lego anyway. Stay under the radar and Sister Mary might know something is going on, but can’t do anything about it. But there’s the one who always pushes too far while testing the limits, and out comes the ruler, the lectures and the implementation of new restrictions. Then we back off to lick our wounds and regroup. But not for long.


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