America’s Big Three automakers once made exciting, powerful muscle cars called Camaro, Mustang and Challenger that every young driver dreamed of owning. After fading in importance, or disappearing altogether, those same stylish street fighters from the late 1960s have been reborn with 21st century technology and bodies that recall their glory years. Old and new versions of this tire-shredding trio will be displayed during the Sept. 10-13 Food Lion AutoFair at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in a special \”Retro Muscle Rules\” exhibit.
In 1969, Ford Motor Co. offered an array of 10 engines for its five-year-old Mustang, including a 360-horsepower, 428-cubic-inch Cobra Jet option and an awe-inspiring Boss 429 plant that was advertised at 370 horsepower but put out much, much more. The powerful ponies could be ordered with a hardtop, convertible or fastback body. Equipment packages ranged from sedate (Grandé) to sporty (Mach 1) to brutally fast (Boss 302).
Chevrolet’s Camaro, introduced as a ’67 model, matched the Mustang blow-for-blow in terms of power and marketing for ’69. Fourteen engines were available, including a 425-horsepower, 427-cubic-inch big-block V-8 borrowed from Chevy’s Corvette. The ’69 Camaro, with its \”angry face\” grille design, set a sales record Chevrolet would not break for another decade.
Late to the pony-size muscle car fight, but swinging a knockout punch, was Dodge with its 1970 Challenger. Buyers had their choice of 11 engines, including the legendary 426-cubic-inch \”Hemi\” V-8 that produced 425 horsepower and a 390-horse, 440-cubic-inch monster with three two-barrel carburetors. That first-generation Challenger also benefited from a creative paint palette with 21 eye-catching colors such as Plum Crazy, Go-Mango, Banana, and Panther Pink. Like the Camaro, the Challenger was only available as a hardtop or convertible.
The 1969-70 period was a great time to be a performance enthusiast, but the era of factory-built hot rods was about to come to an end because their big V-8 engines did not meet new federal smog standards. After installing the required pumps, valves, filters and hoses to meet emissions requirements, the big three de-tuned their V-8s to the point of lethargy.
By 1973, engines that had been rated at close to 400 horsepower were producing as little as 150. Putting the final nail in the coffin was that year’s oil embargo against the United States by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries, which created long, anxious waiting lines for expensive gasoline. With performance car sales plummeting, Dodge ended the Challenger’s run in 1974, and the auto industry as a whole began converting production to front-wheel-drive cars with small four-cylinder engines.
All seemed lost until 1985, when new computer technology pushed Camaro and Mustang V-8s past the 200-horsepower mark for the first time in 10 years. The fight for street supremacy escalated anew, with Camaro’s Z28 breaking the 300-horsepower barrier in 1993; Mustang’s Cobra followed in ’96. As they entered the 21st century, the two competitors wore sleek, pointy bodies that cheated the wind but looked nothing at all like the boxy coupes that once charmed a generation of young enthusiasts. Greater performance was not enough to keep the Camaro in production, however; Chevy’s road rocket joined the Challenger in the muscle car graveyard in 2002.
In 2005, inspired by the successful revivals of the classic Volkswagen Beetle and Mini Cooper, Ford introduced a Mustang that would have looked right at home on a dealer lot circa 1969. Its long, flat hood; upright grille with four round headlights; fastback roof line and three-element tail light treatment were borrowed directly from those first-generation drawing tables. Five years later, Ford restyled the Mustang, but retained the stuck-in-the-‘60s appeal. The 2010 GT comes standard with a 315-horsepower, 4.6-liter V-8, but the Mustang-based Shelby GT500’s supercharged 5.4-liter V-8 produces 540 horsepower.
In 2008, Dodge mined its muscle car past and struck gold by creating a near twin to its beloved 1970-74 Challenger. Hot engine choices for the new Challenger include the R/T model’s 376-horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8 or the SRT-8’s 425-horsepower, 6.1-liter V-8 – both of which carry the desirable Hemi name. Not to be left out of the party, Chevrolet enthusiastically resurrected its own legendary model with a modern interpretation of the ’69 Camaro. The new Camaro, which just hit showrooms as an early 2010 offering, can be ordered with the marque’s most powerful engine ever – a 426-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8.
The return of the terrific trio will be celebrated during the Sept. 10-13 Food Lion AutoFair with a special \”Retro Muscle Rules\” display featuring both old and new examples of the Camaro, Mustang and Challenger.
The Food Lion AutoFair attracts more than 100,000 visitors. It features more than 50 car club displays and more than 7,000 vendor spaces offering a huge array of automotive parts and memorabilia. More than 1,500 collectible vehicles of all makes and models will be available for sale in the car corral that rings the 1.5-mile superspeedway.
Food Lion AutoFair hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults while children 12 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5.