Sixties Muscle Cars are Cooler Than Late-Model Muscle Cars

By Nick Licata

In the early ’60s it seemed just about every American-made muscle car from that era had a brawny and attractive performance appearance–the sexy lines and eye-catching trim, along with blinding chrome bumpers commanded your attention. Growing up in SoCal, I was introduced to muscle cars at around 9 or 10 years of age, and I liked them all. I had no brand loyalty, as to me Mustangs, Camaros, Novas, Chevelles, Chargers, Darts, Firebirds, GTOs, and even big ol’ Oldsmobiles with the proper stance combined with a deep rumbling exhaust tone were equally impressive. Back then it was apparent that auto designers were on point, as just about any ’60s car could be transformed into a cool-looking ride by bolting on a set of mag wheels wrapped in wide white-lettered tires, then given a cool rake. Converting the family cruiser into an attention-grabbing street machine required little effort.

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Today, it’s those iconic designs, raw horsepower, and timeless style that still attract many of us to these noisy old vehicles. After the mid ’70s domestic car companies seemed to have lost interest in the classic design elements that hooked so many muscle car fans early on. Be it safety mandates, noise regulations, fuel efficiency, or a host of other reasons, it appeared as though American carmakers missed the mark when it came to building cars with alluring design elements and anything performance related.

1969 Camaro: Cooler. (Photo by Fuelish Media)
1969 Camaro: Cooler. (Photo by Fuelish Media)

If you were around in the ’70s and ’80s then you remember how the sporty lines of ’60s cars were replaced with newer cars becoming unattractively square. The Ford Fairmont and Chevy Malibus are perfect examples. Even Ford’s Mustang had a square chin, although in 1979 the nose became slightly angled, but it still had square headlights, so there’s that. Yes, the third-gen Camaro had something going for it; although it too was square, that squareness was disguised with a lower ride height than most cars of the era—but still square. And don’t get me started on the Dodge Reliant K car. That thing looked like a used fireplace brick and had the personality of a pallet jack. My apologies to pallet jacks and fireplace bricks all over America, you didn’t deserve that.

Finally, in the early ’00s there was an American muscle car resurgence. Ford and Dodge led the way, and a bit later Chevrolet got FOMO (fear of missing out) and realized retro was cool. All three restyled their legacy models to reflect that trend; Ford with the Mustang and Dodge the Challenger and Charger. Chevy brought back the Camaro in 2010 after an eight-year hiatus. Due to safety regulations, there were design limitations but they all carried the spirit of those bygone vintage ’60s muscle cars. Modern technology helped in offering these cars with big horsepower while at the same time efficient enough to comply with emission standards. And today’s muscle cars generate even more power than ever with the ’24 ZL1 Camaro creating 650 hp while still blowing emissions acceptable by local and federal watchdogs. With that said Chevrolet has announced this will be the last year of the sixth-gen Camaro.

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It’s great that the American muscle car has made its way back to the streets, but to me nothing beats a good old vintage hot rod, even with a few minor operational flaws. Take my ’71 Camaro, for example; the doors don’t close as easily as they should, the windows rattle and don’t seal like they used to, and I keep the suspension setup relatively stiff because you never know when an autocross might break out. And even with a significant amount of sound-deadening material applied throughout the interior, the LS3 with long-tube headers, 3-inch exhaust, and Flowmaster mufflers that do their best, the car is still noisy as hell–exactly how I like it.

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