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The Last Sunset for Muscle Cars?

Contributing Editor Lou Frenzel worries about the future for those of us who enjoy driving and high-performance vehicles.

Do you have self-driving car angst like I do? Many of us struggle with the idea of a self-driving car. I am still not convinced that there are enough potential car buyers out there who want this transportation option. Yet, billions of dollars are being invested by virtually all auto manufacturers and others to create some form of utopian autonomous vehicle (AV) that hopefully millions will joyfully buy. Maybe they know something we don’t. The generally agreed-upon rationale for AVs is safety and fewer auto deaths. But that claim remains to be proven. I’ll believe it when I see it.

What worries me is the future for those of us who like performance cars. These cars are for people who enjoy driving. Will standard cars still be available or will we all be forced to use these boring transportation appliances that will take us from point A to B without intervention?  Frankly, I’d rather ride a bus or train, with a driver. Are we facing a future where no one makes specialty vehicles like sports cars and muscle cars? I hope not.

The scenario I see is that AVs will come along, say, in 2021 and meet with considerable resistance. High prices will keep sales low. My guess is that these autonomous robots will experience disdain from most drivers. I predict lots of impatience, road rage (at who, the passenger?), and accidents. Insurance companies will try to figure out who to blame for what. Many trouble spots will be identified like multilevel parking garages, four-way stops, bad weather involving rain and snow, highly congested driving environments like New York City, and school dropoff and pickup points. (Would you really trust your self-driving car to shuttle your kids?) Local governments will bless these vehicles but you will see some regulations. This is all just my opinion, of course, and I could be wrong.

I am a longtime aficionado of performance cars. Known as muscle cars, these vehicles feature big high-horsepower engines, upgraded brakes, and enhanced suspension. They are fast, flashy, handle well, and are incredibly fun to drive. The muscle-car movement started back in the 1950s and peaked through the 1970s with the likes of GTOs, Chevelles, Mustang Boss 302, and Road Runners. I suppose those of us muscle-car lovers are classified as immature, irresponsible, and a danger to society. Most people who feel this way have never experienced the thrill of driving a real performance car.

A big motor in a Camaro, Mustang, Charger, or other muscle car generates acceleration where a 0 to 60 mph time in well less than 5 seconds and a quarter mile time is less than 13 seconds at over 100 mph. Top speeds vary but run as high as 150 mph. You have to experience the feeling of acceleration and speed yourself to appreciate this kind of performance. I know it sounds stupid, but it’s fun and there are many fans of this kind of performance. And there is a positive upside as it is easier and safer to merge on the freeway.

With AVs, we are headed into a whole new way of automobile ownership and driving. Frankly I don’t like it, but I am just a throwback. My question is, will performance cars eventually fade into oblivion? If so, I am going to miss the enjoyment of driving a muscle car. My first one was a 1957 Chevy with a 283 cu-in. motor. Fast and good looking. I wish the auto manufacturers would bring back the front bench seat that car had. I also owned a Chevy Chevelle, an Oldsmobile 442, and a Dodge Demon with 340 cu-in. motor. What a blast. My all-time favorite was a black Buick Grand National with a 3.8 liter V6 with a BIG turbo. A very hyper and fast car. My wife loved it more than me and wants it back. But it was stolen by a drug dealer in Fort Lauderdale and wrecked in a chase. It had four bullet holes in the trunk.

 

Here's Lou Frenzel in his '87 Buick Grand National. Lou and his wife miss that car.

 

After that I had a Ford Thunderbird Super Coupe with big V6 and a supercharger, not a turbo but a real supercharger. Then came several BMWs. I especially liked the 330i M series. Classy and super fast with exceptional handling capability. Today I am driving a VW GTI. Some of you would not categorize this as a muscle car. But it is fast as hell, comfortable, and a joy to drive. And it regularly gets 33 mpg on the highway. A real “have your cake and eat it too” vehicle.

I’m not sure what’s next. But I probably should expedite my next muscle-car purchase before they go away. There are not as many muscle cars available today but they are faster than ever. My son got a Dodge R/T with hemi engine recently. A real hot rod. My sister and brother-in-law have a new Corvette. My wife wants an Audi A4. Once you experience this kind of performance, it’s hard to go back to an ordinary vehicle.

I guess it is no longer politically correct to own a muscle car. For those of you like me, go get your final muscle car soon, enjoy it, and hoard it for the future. Many muscle cars become valuable collector favorites and the last of the breed will eventually be highly valued.  

And don’t buy a self-driving car. But do embrace the present and future advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) as these electronic systems really do work well and minimize the risks of driving. The backup camera and automatic braking feature in my SUV have saved me several times. Furthermore, I clearly support all the R&D that the autonomous car is generating and hope that this technology like AI and machine learning will eventually be deployed in standard cars. The new technology combined with a real driver is the optimum combination for safety.

Finally, I am all for electric vehicles (EVs). These can be real performance cars as the Tesla Model S has demonstrated (0-60 in 3 seconds!).  I am waiting for the mileage range to increase, more charging stations to be built, and lower prices. That may take a few more years, but EVs may eventually be the politically correct muscle car of the future.

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