Muscle cars and pony cars are icons of America which reached a peak in the 1970s during the horsepower war.
Soon after the 1970s came the 1980s, which many can agree would be the downward spiral of muscle cars and performance enthusiasts due a few models ceasing its production, a few models losing their performance, and almost all models losing their iconic shapes.
Though some models and nameplates remained, the modern resurgence of muscle cars is definitely set in the 2000s when the muscle cars received their biggest updates yet, beginning with the newly designed Mustang that debuted in 2005, then the Challenger in 2008, and the Camaro in 2010. These are the modern interpretations because they have completely shaken off all the design cues from the 1980s and began anew and therefore I shall refer to these as modern muscles.
The biggest differentiator between the 1980s muscle and the modern muscle is the connection with the 1970s muscle; the modern muscles take many cues from the 1970 muscles rather than the 1980 muscles. These cues include the front headlight/grill slit, the blocky shapes, and the muscle hump by the C-pillar. (Do note that the muscle hump is not an essential muscle car design cue, it is a design cue that slowly made its way into the 1970s muscle car rather than being there from the start.) These motifs separate the modern and American inspired muscle cars from the older Japanese inspired muscle cars.
If we are to use the connection and the throwback to the 1970s design as criteria for muscle cars, then it seems that the sixth generation Mustang has, once again, ceased to be a muscle car and instead has become a sports car due to the European influence of its design. The front grill of the fifth generation Mustang is modeled directly after the first generation Mustang, which is defined as a muscle motif because the headlights were in the same slit as the grill. Whereas the sixth generation Mustang’s headlights became separated from the grill, following the steps of European designs rather than American designs.
But to be fair, Ford bought their new look from Pininfarina with the 2006 Ford Focus and it should not be a surprise that they probably used up a decade’s worth of design budget and therefore needs to recycle the cues onto different models. But Ford must be faulted for not being able to understand the basics of the muscle design which is ridiculously simple: a blocky car and a single slit for the lights and grill. This lack of understanding is seen again in the 2018 Mustang refresh where the frontend have been completely redone to the point where it screams “I am partnered with Jaguar”.
However, upon closer examination, it can be seen that the new frontend is designed with an attempt to mimic the generation five and one Mustang, with the headlights being a parallelogram, rather than an upside-down trapezoid. Despite the well intentioned redesign, it is clear that Ford is trying to distant itself from the fact that it’s an American company given its focus on sleeker designs. While the vehicle is perfectly fine, its classification needs to be changed due to its design cues.
Up next is the Challenger which perfectly preserves the muscle car. It preserves the muscle car design, the mission statement, and the performance. Therefore it is the modern muscle exemplar; it lifts the designs from the 1970s and is only alter so it adheres to modern safety standards.
The Camaro is currently straying away from its original design because it currently is looking more bulbous and bloated than the Mustang even though its original mission statement was to be a smaller car the preys on Mustangs. However the modern incarnation of the Camaro stays more faithful to the 1970s than the 1980s relatively speaking. The Camaro has the distinct single slit in both the fifth and the sixth generation. The sixth generation of the Camaro takes less drastic steps in experimenting with the muscle car motif and therefore still retains its muscle car motifs. The sixth generation of the Camaro is slightly too exaggerated and lost the balance between the upper slit and the lower slit on the front end.
Despite radical designs, the Camaro is still true to its mission statement and is outperforming the Mustang. While the Mustang can be hardly called a muscle car, it is still true to its original mission statement as well, being the people’s sports car. Meanwhile the Challenger exists in its own bubble, divorced from the current state of affairs.