When NASCAR was founded by Bill France Sr. more than fifty years ago, the idea was to race cars that could be bought off a dealership showroom floor – stock cars. Over the years as technology advanced, so have the cars, but the NASCAR philosophy remained the same, with driver skill being the deciding factor when a car crosses the finish line. Following a series of deaths in the first few years of the new century – Tony Roper, Kenny Irwin, Adam Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. – NASCAR officials turned their attention to making the sport safer and in 2007 the Car of Tomorrow (COT) was introduced with the emphasis on driver safety.
To level the playing field to an extent, the exact same template was used, regardless of which manufacturer was building the car – Ford, Dodge, Toyota or Chevrolet. The slightly larger build of the Car of Tomorrow was a little less aerodynamic, but more stable at high speeds and better able to handle impact from other cars. The new CoT debuted on March 25, 2007, at Bristol with Kyle Busch winning the race in a Chevrolet, but nonetheless commenting during his victory lane interview that the car “sucked”. Other drivers gave the car mixed reviews, with one of the negatives being that racing had been reduced to a single-file procession with little room for the action provided by competitors passing one another.
Various problems with the CoT were experienced and ironed out over the following years, and in 2012 fuel injection replaced the carburetor as the fuel distributor. For 2013, NASCAR sanctioned a redesign of the CoT body style,which is mostly cosmetic in nature, to identify with the manufacturer, with the chassis and mechanics of the car remaining the same. The CoT was officially renamed the Gen6 car by NASCAR at the 2012 Ford Championship Weekend.
In a recent series of tests at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the new NASCAR Gen 6 reportedly received a stamp of approval from the sixteen drivers testing it. Dale Earnhardt Jr. noted enthusiastically he was really impressed and that NASCAR is going to be “revolutionized” by the car – and that type of endorsement from one of NASCAR’s most popular drivers bodes well for the Gen 6 car in 2013.
The golden age of the Great American Muscle Car began in approximately 1964 and ended in 1971, although these dates are arbitrary. Most people agree that the Pontiac GTO, actually an option package available on the Tempest intermediate car for 1964 and ’65, was the first true muscle car and set the trend for other manufacturers to follow. With its 389 cubic inch V8 and a Hurst shifter to channel the power to the red-lined tires, the GTO made a very big impression. Pretty soon everyone wanted in on Pontiac’s game, and the late 1960s saw legendary muscle cars from Chrysler (Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Challenger), Ford (Mustang Boss 302 and Boss 429, Mercury Marauder) and Chevy (Chevelle SS 396, Corvette 427). The Buick grand Sport and Olds Cutlass 442 were other offerings from GM. Even AMC got in on the act with its fearsome Rebel Machine and AMX models.
Sadly, like all good things, the bubble had to burst. Dropping a powerful engine into a small car might sound like a great idea to you and I, but the insurance companies and highway safety regulators were hearing a different tune – one played to the sound of rising accident rates caused by too much power in inexperienced hands. By the early 1970s, horsepower ratings were in steep decline and monster engines like Chrysler’s 426 Hemi were history. A very special era in automotive history had come to an end. These days, classic muscle cars can be purchased from dealers who specialize in finding, restoring and re-selling them. Muscle cars are also sold by private individuals, often on the Internet. The right muscle car with original parts and rare options can bring 10 to 20 times its original sale price at auction.
- AC Cobra 427/428
- AMC Javelin AMX
- Buick Riviera Gran Sport
- Chevrolet Camaro
- Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu SS
- Dodge Charger
- Ford Mustang Boss 302
- Mercury Comet
- Plymouth Barracuda
- Plymouth Road Runner
- Pontiac Firebird
- Pontiac Grand Prix
- Pontiac Tempest Le Mans/GTO
The Plymouth Road Runner was a muscle car built by Plymouth to be the crowning glory over the following cars by the same manufacturer: the Satellite, the Fury, the Belvedere and the Volare. These cars were all coupes, and it was the opinion of many, that muscle cars had been improving, but also losing the true muscle car feel and characteristics. Plymouth had already built the GTX, which was a high performance car, but they decided to go back to the basics of a muscle car, and bring the original muscle car back to life. They envisioned an affordable car that can also hit the 14 seconds mark in the quarter mile, and the Plymouth Road Runner was all they had aimed for, and its success in the market outranked the GTX.
Plymouth had to pay Warner Brothers $50,000, to enable them to use the Warner Bothers’ Road Runner name and cartoon character. The Plymouth Road Runner would have increased handling and performance abilities, and all the little luxuries that had crept in over the years, and that were not essential to the car, were left out of the design. Even the carpets were left out, which left the car with a Spartan interior. The standard engine for the Road Runner, would be a 383 CID, or 6.3 L, Roadrunner V8. This engine had 425ft-lb of torque and 335 bhp. If you were prepared to pay an additional fee, you could have a 426 CID Hemi engine fitted, which had 490ft-lb torque and 425 bhp. This engine would prove to be the best in the era of muscle cars, and could run a 13.4 second time in a quarter mile, at 105 miles per hour. Plymouth estimated their Plymouth Road Runner sales to be approximately 2,000, but to their delight, sales numbers soared to about 45,000.
In 1969, a few cosmetic changes were made, and a convertible Road Runner added, of which only 2,000 were manufactured in a year. And even more rare, is the fact that only nine convertibles were fitted with a Hemi engine. The standard engine for the Road Runner would remain the 383, but the 440 Six Barrel (440 CID engine that has three two-barrel carburetors) was released specifically for the drag racing class. Six Barrel Road Runners did not feature any hubcaps or wheel covers. Plymouth was slingshot to dragstrip icons, thanks to the 440 6-BBL and the 426 Hemi.
After “Motor Trend” magazine named the Road Runner as the Car of the Year, in 1969, the vehicle sales sky rocketed to 82,109 units. In 1970, the Road Runner underwent a facelift to the front and rear, and together with the GTX, both cars remained very popular. In the following years, the Plymouth Road Runner would go through cosmetic and engine changes, the convertible would be cancelled in 1971, and the 426 Hemi era would come to an end in 1972. The Road Runner would eventually become part of the Volare line, until it own discontinuation in 1980.
Production vehicles come in all shapes and sizes, from family cars to off-road vehicles and much, much more. Each production vehicle manufacturer will create a number of models for mass production, thus providing people with a wide choice of vehicles to suit their needs and budgets. The auto production industry is a perfect example of market forces in action – successful vehicles sell in great quantities and for a long time, while models rejected by the market are soon withdrawn. The history of the automibile reflects the changing tastes of the buying public, whose demands are quickly met by the production vehicles designed and produced by automakers worldwide – and competition for consumer dollars is fierce.
In the United States, the main manufacturers of production vehicles are General Motors, Ford and Chrysler (now officially DaimlerChrysler) – traditionally known as ‘The Big Three’. There used to be many more independent automakers, but almost all have gone out of business or have been absorbed by their larger rivals. Some of these bygone makers of American production vehicles were Studebaker, Packard, Hudson, Nash, Willys and Kaiser. A few of these small independent manufacturers joined forces to form American Motors (AMC), but even this wasn’t enough to ensure survival and AMC was bought out by Chrysler in the mid 1970s.
Foreign production vehicles began arriving on American shores after the Second World War. Names like MG, Triumph and Jaguar (England), Volkswagen and Mercedes (Germany), Fiat and Alfa Romeo (Italy) and Renault (France) achieved varying amounts of success here. However, it was the Japanese who have made the biggest impact, and are now the largest foreign-owned manufacturers of production vehicles in the USA. Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mazda and Subaru are the biggest names and most successful.
Many types of production vehicles are manufactured to directly meet certain automotive needs. Jeep specializes in off-road vehicles that are able to cope with rough terrain and are perfect for adventurous people who want to explore. Porsche and Lamborghini are well known for their powerful and luxurious sports cars. If there’s a recognizable need in the market, you can be sure the automakers will address it with a new production vehicle!
The early 1960s saw competition between the major US automakers on the nation’s racetracks rise to a fever pitch. Driven by the need to “race on Sunday, sell on Monday”, GM, Ford and Chrysler poured millions of dollars into engine development and support of racing teams. It was NASCAR that provided the main arena for these epic contests of speed and power, and the sanctioning body’s homologation rules meant that the cars and engines that roared down the straight-aways at Daytona could also be found on your neighbor’s driveway – albeit in very limited numbers.
It was Chrysler’s legendary Hemi engine that really lit a fire under the other members of automaker’s Big 3. The exceptional power, reliability and success achieved by the Hemi were not only winning races for Chrysler; it was being translated to showroom sales as well. Ford took up the challenge by designing a big-block engine with one goal in mind: beat the Hemi. So it was that in 1963, the Ford 427 was introduced. Marketing was just important as horsepower at the time, and even though the engine’s actual displacement was 425 cubic inches, it was referred to as the 427 because that was NASCAR’s displacement limit. The 427 was a racing engine from top to bottom. Cloverleaf molds, forged pistons and a block made of high nickel content iron provided exceptional strength. Dual 4-barrel carbs and an aluminum manifold allowed awesome power: upwards of 500 horsepower though Ford never released the actual power rating.
Astonishing as the 427 was, Ford wasn’t content to merely match Chrysler’s Hemi, it wanted to clearly beat it. The company’s engineers set out in 1964 to create the ultimate racing engine for the 1965 NASCAR season. Using the ultra high performance 427 side-oiler block as a base, Ford installed new cast-iron cylinder heads with, curiously, hemispherical combustion chambers. A single overhead camshaft (SOHC) and sodium-filled exhaust valves and a transistorized ignition system were among several unique attributes of this mainly hand built engine. Power ranged upwards of 650 horsepower for the 4-barrel version! Alas, the highly anticipated confrontation between Ford’s 427 SOHC and Chrysler’s Hemi was not to be, due to NASCAR rule changes that effectively made the formidable Ford engine illegal.