Showing posts with label American Muscle Cars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label American Muscle Cars. Show all posts

Buick Gran Sport

Buick Gran Sport 1970s American classic muscle car

The Buick Gran Sport had Pontiac to thank. The latter's GTO was the first muscle car. As such, it saw a big-block V8 fitted in a medium-sized chassis. The result was hard-punching power - at a competitive price. Not surprisingly, then, the GTO sold well. Again, not surprisingly, Pontiac's rivals picked up on the fact. The muscle car era was born.

One of those rivals was Buick. In '65, they took their 'Skylark' car - and mated it with their 401ci 'nailhead' V8. As a consequence, the Skylark's output soared to 325bhp. While the Skylark 'Gran Sport' never played in the same sales league as the GTO, it nonetheless did good business for Buick. In '66, they followed it up with a more powerful Gran Sport. It now kicked out a cool 340bhp. Sales, though, were down on its first year. Attractive as it was, a brand-new Buick did not come cheap! So - in '67 - the 'GS' 400 was launched. A 3-speed auto transmission appeared. As an alternative, Buick offered the budget GS 340. Sales started to climb again.

The Gran Sport's finest hour came in the form of the GS 455. Released in 1970 - complete with a 355ci engine - oomph was nominally upped to 360bhp. However, Buick were almost certainly underestimating it. Road testers swore it felt more like 400bhp. At any rate, it was in 'Stage One Special Package' tune. That comprised a hotter cam, larger valves, and a modified carb. With all that hooked up, the Gran Sport was good for 130mph. Exotic 'GSX' styling options went toe to toe with the performance stats. Spoilers, stripes and supersize tyres made the GS 455 look as well as it went. Sadly, all good things come to an end. As soon as '71, the Gran Sport's best days were behind it. Low-lead gas led to less power. Insurance hikes kicked in, too. One way or another, the muscle car game was up. Like its power-mad siblings from other marques, the GS simply faded away. Times change - and the world moves on. But - like everything else - progress comes at a price. In automotive terms, that meant cars like the Buick Gran Sport. For - despite all their foibles - driving has never been quite the same since!

AMC AMX

AMC AMX 1960s American classic muscle car

To all intents and purposes, the AMX was a stripped-down AMC Javelin. It was a foot shorter - and weighed a lot less. On its release - in February '68 - it was the sole US 2-seater sports car. It stayed in production until '74. If AMC stood for American Motors Corporation, AMX did the same for American Motors eXperimental.

When a car sets 106 speed records, you know you are onto something. When it does so in a month, you know you have hit pay dirt! So it was when Craig Breedlove got behind the wheel of an AMX, shortly after its launch. Unsurprisingly, AMC saw fit to mark his success - with 50 red, white and blue AMX Breedlove specials. Rewind to the real world, and top speed for the AMX roadster was 120mph. The SS version - complete with a 390ci V8 - made at least 340bhp, and probably a whole lot more. Muscle car stats at the time tended to be understated. Built with one eye on the drag strip, just 50 SSs were sold. Partly, that was because its price was supercharged, as well as its power! If you needed more muscle from a standard AMX, way to go was a Go Pack. It included a bigger 401ci V8 motor. Output duly climbed to 330bhp. The Go Pack also provided uprated brakes, suspension and wheels/tyres.

By '71, though, the AMX's hot shot days were numbered. At that point, the top-of-the-range Javelin ruled AMC's roost. Come '74 - and the end of its run - its superstar status was substantially reduced. In its day, though, the AMX was more muscular than most. And certainly more modish. Saying that, the Mustang gave it a run for its money in the stylishness stakes!

Dodge Viper

Dodge Viper 1990s American sports car

Chrysler recruited Carroll Shelby as consultant for their Dodge Viper project. Previously, he had been linchpin of the AC Cobra. Shelby lavished what he had learned from the Cobra onto the Viper - in terms both of its venom-spitting power and serpentine lines. On its début - at the '89 Detroit Motor Show - the Viper mesmerised all who saw it. Such was the frenzy that the concept car created, that Chrysler hastily hatched plans to put it into production. Fast-forward two and a half years - and the Viper was sliding onto the highway. Its 8-litre V10 gave 400bhp. Top speed was 180mph. Its wheels featured wide 13″ rims - helping transfer torque to tarmac. And torque there most certainly was - a churning 450 lb ft of it.

Indeed, the Viper's motor began life in a truck. That was before Lamborghini got hold of it, though. They re-cast the iron block to aluminium. And topped that off with a bright-red cylinder-head. Even so, it was far from a cutting edge engine - comprising just two valves per cylinder, plus hydraulic lifters and pushrods. Which is when Carroll Shelby came in. Basic though the set-up was, he coaxed big numbers out of it. Thankfully, the transmission, at least, was state-of-the-art. A 6-speed 'box was still a rarity, in the early '90s.

Styling-wise, the Viper hit the spot. Its sinuous bodywork was seriously aerodynamic. 'Enthusiastic' drivers loved it. Seals of approval do not come much bigger than selection as pace car for the Indy 500. Stateside, the sports car sector had been in the doldrums. The Viper reinvigorated it. As for Carroll Shelby - the Cobra was always going to be a tough act to top. Tribute to him, then, that the Dodge Viper had 'em dancing in the aisles. Well, in the passenger seats, at any rate!

Pontiac Firebird

Pontiac Firebird 1970s American classic sports car

The Pontiac Firebird flew onto the American car scene in February, '67. Released at the same time as GM's Chevrolet Camaro, they were two peas from the same 'pony car' pod. The most iconic early 'Bird was the '69 Trans Am. The 'Trans-American' was a road race - organised by The Sports Car Club of America. The Pontiac Trans Am was a star turn. Complete with rear spoiler, beefed-up chassis and Ram Air power delivery, it was a muscle car par excellence. Blue and white livery set it off to a tee. Its split-grille nose became the stuff of legend. Indeed, the Firebird would be a flagship for the Pontiac brand for years to come.

The Firebird entered its second phase in 1970. Restyled for the new decade, it was in the Seventies that the car came into its own. In '78 alone, Pontiac sold more than 93,000 Trans Ams. Customers could choose one of three models - standard, luxury Esprit or Formula. For sure, the Firebird was spreading its wings. In fact, it was lucky to have fledged at all. GM considered pulling the plug on the Firebird in '72. They were not convinced that performance cars were the way to go. Thankfully, the Firebird was given the benefit of the doubt. As things turned out, GM would be well-rewarded for their faith in the Firebird.

A third generation of Firebirds arrived in the Eighties. Its charismatic, but time-worn nose had had plastic surgery. It was now more finely-chiselled - and sported cowled headlamps. '87's GTA version featured a 350 cu in V8 engine. Top-of-the-range as it was, the GTA was good for 125mph. It hit 60 in just 5.4s. Design-wise, though, the Firebird was starting to look its age - especially parked next to hot foreign competition. As a result, sales suffered. So, Nineties Firebirds were given a stylistic face-lift. No ravages of time, though, could detract from the glamour of the early years. One of the all-time great American automobiles, the Pontiac Firebird blazed a phoenix-like trail. Whatever automotive fashion dished out, it somehow always rose from the ashes!