American Muscle is the theme of this year's SEMA show. Usually a single automaker is honored as manufacturer of the show and enjoys a little extra exposure during the week. With this theme, however, all three Detroit auto companies are celebrated. Muscle cars, their impact on American culture and the current resurgence of American iron dominated the discussion at the keynote luncheon on Monday. With a current Mustang and the Camaro and Challenger concept vehicles parked just off the dais, a panel of six industry experts talked about the renaissance of high-powered vehicles and the legacy of speed that was born in the '60s. Motor Trend editor Angus MacKenzie (far left in photo) was the moderator. Included on the panel were (left to right):
  • Pat Schievoni, Ford designer
  • Dan Webb, designer and car builder
  • Ralph Gilles, vice-president Jeep/Truck & Component Design, DaimlerChrysler
  • Tom Hoover, "godfather" of the Hemi
  • Thomas Peters, director of design, GM
  • Al Oppenheiser, GM designer
Favorite muscle cars of the panel included Shelby GT 500, 428 Cobra Jet Mustang, Z/28 Camaro and Hemi Cuda. They laughed at the competitive atmosphere of the '60s and the vicious horsepower wars. Then came the oil embargo, insurance crisis and concerns over pollution. "The environmental issues were inverse proportion to horsepower," said Oppenheiser, who designed the Camaro concept. "Today there is a balance between horsepower and emissions."

The '80s generated laughter as Gilles said motorsports was the "one thing that didn't go away" and MacKenzie noted that trucks were the only vehicles igniting any passion. "We listed to bad music and wore bad clothes," added Webb, trying to explain the onslaught of boring vehicles in that era.

Hoover said technology spurred the muscle car resurgence and will spawn a new generation of enthusiasts. Schievoni agreed and sees "real growth" in muscle cars for the next 15 years. Added Gilles: "Technology like stability control allows anyone to drive a 400-horsepower car."

In closing, Hoover suggested that designers "keep the door cracked just a little bit for a sleeper approach," acknowledging his preference for fast motors in unsuspecting bodies. To which MacKenzie responded: "More engine, less car; it's the '60s all over again!"