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The muscle car is an American icon. Hailing from an era of plentiful gasoline and social unrest, these loud, powerful coupes proved to be the rough and ready American answer to the more refined European sports car. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Mustangs, Camaros, Challengers, Firebirds and dozens of other models dominated the roads with squealing tires and roaring engines. Then they dropped out of popularity almost as quickly as they rose to it. Now, despite an increasing trend of more fuel-efficient vehicles, some familiar names are back on the road. After so many years out of the spotlight, why are American muscle cars returning stronger than ever before?

Oldsmobile was the first company to pack a V8 into a coupe with the Oldsmobile 88 in 1949. The “Rocket 88” became a sensation among automotive enthusiasts, and similar designs were picked up by all of the major car companies soon after. By the 1960s, muscle cars were in full swing. The Chevrolet Impala was released in 1961, followed by the Dodge Dart, Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Charger. In a society rocked by social upheaval but still clinging to essential optimism, these fun, flashy and most importantly fast cars were the perfect expression of the American attitude.

Then, as the wild and chaotic 1970s began, things changed. An oil crisis sent the price of gasoline skyrocketing, and suddenly the thirsty muscle cars lost their appeal. People began buying smaller, more sensible cars and manufacturers quickly shot down their muscle lines. By the time Americans had rediscovered their passion for speed, sleek sports cars such as the Chevrolet Corvette had taken over the market. Only a few models, including the Mustang, Camaro and Firebird, carried the muscle car brand during these lean years.

In the 1990s, a war of increasing horsepower between the Camaro and Mustang whetted America’s appetite for the muscle car. In 2003, the Impala SS went back into production, and 2004 saw the reintroduction of the Pontiac GTO. Today, consumers are able to buy updated versions of the Marauder, Challenger and Charger as well. These new vehicles benefit from modern technology, with better handling, improved safety features and more horsepower than ever before. Although some purists criticize this more refined style, the muscle cars of today evoke the passionate spirit of their ancestors and are more than capable of injecting a little vigor into an industry long focused on the small and economical.

Bryan is a blogger for Corvette Mods, an online Corvette parts retailer.