This week AutoMatters visits an exhibit of classic muscle cars. Then it’s off for some high-flying, thrilling entertainment with a review of the action-packed movie “NON-STOP,” now playing at a theater near you.
Ah, muscle cars – I remember them well. Glossy brochure pictures featured these loud, in your face machines in surreal settings like idyllic fields covered in flowers to stimulate your imagination. They were drag raced and many spent their Friday and Saturday nights at impromptu car shows at the local drive-in (movie or burger). These were nostalgic times, recalled by “Muscle Cars: 50 Years of American Horsepower” – a new exhibit at the San Diego Automotive Museum in Balboa Park.
All of the major U.S. auto manufacturers got in on the action. Their very names evoked speed: GTO, AMX, Superbird, Firebird, Mustang, 4-4-2, Road Runner, Torino, Javelin, Charger, Camaro, Barracuda and more.
I was fortunate to have been a teenager with my very own muscle car back in those days. It was a bright red, 1970 Plymouth Duster 340.
What muscle cars lacked in sophistication, build quality and reliability, they made up for with style and brute horsepower. Bright, bold colors included lime green, purple and arrest-me-red. With their big, powerful, carbureted V-8s, these high-performance, four-wheeled pavement pounders had a voracious thirst for what was then inexpensive and plentiful gas.
Revving the engine would really get the heart pumping. Punching the gas pedal resulted in billowing clouds of tire smoke. These cars were brutally fast – in a straight line. A nasty encounter with a roadside wooden fence called into question my Duster’s cornering ability on its skittish bias-ply tires. This was just before radial tires started to take over the performance tire market.
High-speed stability and poor aerodynamics left a lot to be desired too, as a very foolish, flat-out run to its upper limit made my car lift and start to lose directional control. I was lucky to have survived my youth.
Back then these cars were relatively affordable, but now – forget it. They sell at auctions for astronomical prices. Fortunately we are in the midst of a resurgence of automotive performance, only this time it is all-around performance: not just powerful acceleration but also handling, reliability, safety, economy, comfort, electronic entertainment, styling and more.
“Muscle Cars: 50 Years of American Horsepower” is at the San Diego Automotive Museum in Balboa Park and open daily, through May 30, 2014. Perhaps if we ask nicely the museum will blast a soundtrack of loud, revving engines into the exhibit hall. That would be the perfect accompaniment to the cars in this exhibit.
Spend some time reading the informative display cards and check out the variety of other automobiles on display – from antiques, one-of-a-kinds and more, to one of the largest collections of motorcycles on the West Coast. Visit the museum’s well-stocked, automotive-themed store, and perhaps allow some time to explore the rest of Balboa Park with its many excellent museums, beautiful grounds, restaurants and, of course, the world famous San Diego Zoo. For museum hours, admission prices and other information, go to http://sdautomuseum.org.