By ‘Animal Jim” Feurer

When searching my old brain for a nostalgia symposium, I decided on this subject:

Why and how did this happen. How did a country, like the USA reveling in automotive maximum horsepower and performance let this happen? How did the Hot Rodders and car buffs let it happen? I offer here some reasons for how and why.

A. High Insurance rates for American Muscle Cars and especially young people. Back in the 60s and 70s, some insurance payments were higher than the car payments.
(Funny: today the same cars, now classics, can be insured for 80% less at a decent price-and full coverage.)
The irony is those cars are still as fast and powerful, and most like: “RESTO MODS and RESTO RODS” are modified for even more horsepower with the collision value higher than back then by 200 to 500 %.
(No one seems to care or worry about the excessive horsepower of modern muscle cars today. like late-model Challenger Red Eye Demons, Camaro Exorcists, and 1000 HP Corvettes. And now-enter the electric autos capable of unreal elapsed times and speeds. All the late models just mentioned are capable of -0 to 60 in less than 3 seconds. Quarter mile ets in dealer trim -8 to 9 seconds. And top speeds of over 200 mph.)

B.  GAS GUZZLERS was another excuse used to squash the muscle car craze after 1971. All Muscle Cars were considered “Gas Guzzlers”. At that time the USA had trumped up gas and oil shortages that were projected as a national threat. Gas prices soared.  Some zealot fanatics ranted it was UN American to have a gas-guzzling Muscle Car. Even sanctioned auto racing was threatened.

C. Safety – Muscle Cars were considered dangerous. (Hence the ridiculous insurance rates). Even a six-cylinder Mustang was earned Muscle Car tariff by the controlling insurance companies. Safety seat belts never mattered on streetcars until 1966.  A true restored pre 66 classic, like my rare 64 Galaxie 500 R code has none. All 66 and later vehicles had seat belts. Contrary to some nay Sayers -66 and later- especially Muscle Cars did come with seat belts.

D.” ZEALOT DO GOODERS” These were the Ralph Nader types and politicians lusting for control. The Muscle Car issue was something they could key on. These are mostly the same jokers who harassed Viet Nam veterans with slanderous outbursts instead of a proper hero’s welcome home. 

E. Muscle Car Values Declined Drastically. The industry and MC owners and buyers were running scared due to the declining trend of the early Muscle Cars. By 72, good used earlier, more powerful ones had their values go to rock bottom.

Here is an example of how quickly things changed from the 1971 Muscle Car world, and how it was rejected a year later. Early 1971, the local Ford dealer had a High-Performance week featuring new Mustangs with Boss  351CJs, 390GTs to 428CJs, and 429CJs.  Equipped with wings, stripes, and all.

That Ford dealer had my Mercury Drag car and Jack Rebholz Ford Torino stock car they sponsored on display. They had a display of all kinds of Ford HP parts, manuals and catalog, pamphlets telling how to further modify your old or new Ford/Merc Muscle Car.

For that week all the salesmen and staff at that dealership ran around in blue, white striped poplin Ford racing logoed windbreakers, yelling- “We speak and sell high performance!” There were banners, signs, pamphlets, media ads, TV, etc.

Some of those salesmen did not know beans about High Performance. One old salesman wearing a Ford racing jacket came out to greet me when I personally arrived on Sat. He thought the car I came in was my race car. I was driving our family car, a pure stock 70 Cyclone GT. He never even noticed it was not a race car. I calmly told him- pointing to the Lettered Up, Orange Big Animal 57 Merc race car full of sponsor decals in the showroom window; “That is my race car.”  “Oh” was all the salesman said.

Only one year later, in 1972 -that same Ford dealer and staff acted as if that 1971 High-Performance promotion never happened. The same dealer salesmen did not speak high performance anymore. They acted as if HIGH PERFORMANCE WAS ILLEGAL PORN.  The dealership’s high-performance parts and catalogs were stuck in a corner, on sale at giveaway prices.

No more Muscle Cars on the premises. Only conservative models.
 I remember like it was yesterday.  I was there. I was in the High Performance and Hot rod business. Plus competing weekly in serious sanctioned drag racing.
Here is an example of how bad Muscle Car values dropped by 1973.

In 73 I had a customer who owed me a $600 balance for brake and suspension work and new Goodyear Rally tires. I had done this work on his beautiful, low mileage, pristine 67 Dodge RT. It recently had a fresh balanced 440 engine, with a new Edlebrock Torker intake and a new Holley DP carb.  It had a new Hayes heavy-duty clutch, 18 spline Hemi trans with Hurst Shifter, and Dana posi rear end. The poor guy could not pay the entire bill. He asked me to sell his car for him. I tried for six months. No takers even to cover the $600 balance on his bill. The customer finally came up with the money and got his car back. This is just one example of declining value and popularity. Today that car in that shape would be worth six figures. I would have bought it myself but we already had two 1970 429 Mercury Cyclones as family cars.  And a race car truck and trailer. We were keying on my drag racing program with all we could afford.

I found cars at dealers like a 70 Boss 429 like new with low miles priced below $2000. 1969 Mach 1 428CJ for a similar price. In 75 I bought a decent grabber green  70 Cyclone Spoiler SCJ 4 speed for $500.

 (I should have bought many Muscle Cars back then and stored them. But my race program came first.)

Car dealers did not want those muscle cars as a trade-in. Clamoring for more practical vehicles skyrocketed. But the dealers were only giving Muscle Cars trade-in dollars in the hundreds instead of the thousands they should have been worth. Some dealers would not take a Muscle Car in trade at all.

Amazingly on my end, I stayed busy with customers that had good jobs and money that bought or already had the 60s to 71 muscle car that could afford them.

Hot new factory cars no more being available, the speed buffs brought the older Muscle Cars to me to modify with aftermarket parts for even more performance. Even the 72s and later owners came to me for an HP retrofit to bring them up to earlier performance standards.

1972 and for a couple more years, several models still looked the Muscle Car part. The engines were still the same but detuned with inverted dome pistons causing less compression ratio, and a lesser cam with retarded cam timing. Horse Power took a dramatic dive.

Plus the manufacturers were installing more intricate EGR systems to please Washington DC- hoping to save the world. All that could be changed back to pre- 72 horsepower, but at a cost. Retrofit back to earlier standards was the name of the game. It worked for me. I was a true “Speed Merchant”.

The effort by car manufacturers was bizarre at that time to help save the Muscle Car image.  Ford had a 72 Mach 1 with Cleveland two-barrel Ram Air. I know. Again I was there.  I was buying and selling a few cars back then. I had bought a 72 Mustang Mach 1 privately. I was astounded it was a Cleveland 2V with a Ford factory Ram Air package.  I did research and learned only 1500 72 Mustangs were equipped that way. I bought it cheap. I made out financially good on that one. It was a rare car, until some fourth owner fool got it, and changed it to an older Windsor 289 4 speed. ???? That owner asked me to do the job. I declined. I did not have the heart. It was too rare to mess up. I think it was done anyway.

In 71, apparently, Mopar saw what was coming. The sacred Hemi was fitted with hyd. lifters. I kid you not. I found out trying to set the valves on a new bright yellow 71 Coronet RT Hemi. Look up 1971 426 Hemi valve setting in any MOTORS Manual. For 71 426 Hemi, It will say (Zero Lash HYD.)  But HP rating was still 425? I never did understand that move.

It took several decades. The muscle cars are back. With a vengeance – (If you are flush with much much coin.)

 There are no do-gooders whining this time. No one cares how much horsepower the new breed muscle cars make. Or how fast they go. Only the buyers do. They want as much HP as possible.

The question is will History repeat like 1972? Personally, I do not think so. The market is too strong and many people have much more coin. However, with our rising economic inflation, I could be wrong.

 I could rant on this subject forever. I realize the demise of the factory muscle cars in 72 affected many people in different ways. And many people have many other ideas and reasons it happened. What I wrote here is my experiences take on it.

As I indicated earlier, that situation brought me more High-Performance business. I had customers that had existing Performance cars from even the 50s to 1971. Buyers could not buy a new hot car anymore. They brought them to me and my peers to update their older muscle car. Or some bought 72 and up cars and had me soup them up as they should be. The aftermarket industry saw this coming and produced more hot rod parts to fit these older models, and new ones like never before. Selling those parts became a gold mine for mail order places like Summit, Jegs, Speedway Motors, and many new wholesale and Retail Performance shops.

Again I ask the question – How long will this late model Muscle Car craze last? It is a huge high-dollar market. In the 60s and early 70s you could buy a decent new Muscle Car for $3,000 to $4.000 dollars. Today a hard-charging American Muscle Car is in the $50,000 to $100,00 range. Even considering the inflated values from five decades ago- 15 times even $3500 equals $52,500. That seems a bit extreme. But—there is always a “But”.  The new Muscle Cars, due to modern technology providing better safety and creature comforts along with an extremely fast car definitely raised the expense bar to produce such a modern Muscle Car.

I own a couple of examples of a newer Muscle Car and a 60s Muscle car. I love my original 64 Ford Galaxie 500 R code. It is 425 HP 427. “But” (there is that word again) back then those true Ford/Mercury R code Muscle Cars cars came with no power anything. No power steering, windows, air conditioning, or automatic trans. Not even cup holders. Four Speeds only. It is fast. The motor companies back then keyed on Speed not creature comforts. Price in 1964 was $3500. Now the 64 is a classic bringing its value to about $60,000. (Back then a Ford vin code fifth digit was a letter. The letter revealed the engine package. R was a 427/425 HP car with two Holley four-barrel carburetors. Hence the R code handle).

Now my other modern Muscle Car; A 2005 GTO. Came with 400 HP, six-speed Tremic manual trans (automatic was optional). It came with AC, PS, am/fm radio /stereo CD. Power steering, windows, power outside mirrors, and power reclining seats, trunk, and release gas filler door. Key Fob Power locks and alarm. The computer has all kinds of warning messages and even cup holders. It is plenty fast. May outrun my 64 R code. Price for Goat new was $33,000 in 2005. That was about 10 times the price of my 64 Gal. new. The value of my 2005 GOAT now IS $19,500. 
My 2005 GTO is almost 17 years old. I wonder what the value will be in 2056.

Well – I have run out of rant about this subject. It is always a great topic to debate. Rest in Peace Jim Morrison.

Thanks, Ya all for reading my words. Stay safe and God Bless Ya all. Happy Thanksgiving.
Remember-Someday is Now!

Photos courtesy of AJ
Written November 19, 2021

Call Dennis today at 515-282-9996
Call Dennis today at 515-282-9996