The end of the muscle car, yet again?

We've heard this tune before. Automakers have pushed vehicles to the zenith of attainable on-road performance, with even family vehicles being outfitted with fire-breathing engines. Anything you buy today will run rings around the performance cars of yore. Boomers may get misty-eyed about how great the glory days of the 1960s were for hot cars, but that's just the filthy exhaust clouding their judgement. The golden age of performance is now. Just as it went down nigh on 38 years ago, big V8 thumpers are having their death knell sounded. Scott Burgess posits in the Detroit News that the muscle car formula could undergo some revision.

Burgess spoke with GM's Troy Clarke, who thinks that muscle cars will evolve into vehicles that sell more on the strength of their style and innovation, rather than live axles and cubic inches. We agree that there will be widespread evolution and experimentation when it comes to powertrains, but we thought muscle cars already sold largely on their stylishness. We went digging at Ford to take a look at Mustang sales to see if our suspicions could be confirmed.

Ford's Dan Jarvis looked at numbers going back to 1994, and found a couple of surprises. Granted, the Mustang is part of the ponycar species of the muscle car genus, but we feel it's representative as a whole. In the Mustang's case, it competes in the two-door coupe segment, comprising about 250,000-300,000 total units per year. Of that total number, the Mustang accounts for roughly half; it's been the 500-pound gorilla of the category for years. That's including such wide and varied choices as the F-Body, FWD coupes like the Tiburon and the Eclipse; overall, a wide variety of cars, though the coupe market as a whole is a mere shadow of its former self.

We suspected that historical trends would show that 6-cylinder Mustangs were bigger sellers than the V8 models, and that's supported by Ford's numbers. 6-cylinder Mustangs outsold V8 models pretty consistently in the numbers Jarvis was looking at, sometimes by as much as two to one. The figures he had in front of him were very steady and predictable, going back about 15 years, and we'd assume that the same pattern holds all the way back to the '65 Mustang, judging by the stable pattern. Interestingly, since 2006, that trend has reversed. Just as we started enjoying $3 per gallon gasoline, V8 Mustangs started selling more units than the V6 models, and that continues with the newest numbers Ford has.

We're not sure exactly why that is, perhaps it's because the Mustang is really the only game in town right now. Sure, we're supposed to get the Challenger this year, and the Camaro is coming soon, too, but for right now, there's really no other choice for a RWD four-place coupe with some pizzaz at a reasonable price point. Even the V6 Mustang is decently lively while also having a reduced appetite for fuel. Looking at the recent V8 trend, we think it's a good move for Chrysler to release the SRT-8 version of the Challenger first, satisfying the enthusiasts who seek the raw performance. Then again, there's conjecture that the Challenger may only last for a couple years and then be discontinued before the new CAFE rules take effect.

Those CAFE rules might prompt a move to different powertrain configurations, like Ford's turbocharged EcoBoost V6, or even a specially-tuned hybrid, but athletic cars are not going away. GM and Nissan are squeezing 300 horsepower out of roughly three and a half liters of V6, who needs a V8? Troy Clark looks further into his crystal ball at GM and comes up with the notion that the V6 Camaro will be more popular than the V8 models, because it will be more about style and fun than outright performance. As much as we love being pinned back in the seat by a wave of torque, we find there's at least equal enjoyment available from cars that are shorter on power and longer on handling. We'd find it hard to complain about a lighter musclecar that loves carving an arc. Besides, when cars weigh less, you don't need the silly horsepower numbers to achieve stellar performance. 3,000 pounds being pushed around by 300 horsepower is more than you'd be able to make use of most of the time, anyway, and sounds plenty entertaining to us. In short, stories of the death of the muscle car have been greatly exaggerated.

[Source: Detroit News]

Share This Photo X