Why you should care

If you don’t already care about muscle cars — old, new or from the green, clean future — then there’s something terribly wrong with you. 

Unrepentant. A perfect description of the lust for automotive power.

And like other great lusts, it defies logical appeals to things like sense, safety and sometimes good taste. “Disregarding the last 50 years of automotive engineering, which is what fans of 1960s muscle cars are doing,” says race car fabricator Greg Davis, “is probably not the smartest thing in the world to do. But I get the appeal.”

Hence, the unrepentant part. The appeal? Horsepower and the styling that begat the name: muscle-y, low-slung and sexy as all get out. And about as politically astute as open-carrying firearms at a Lilith Festival. Because the cars that constitute the front guard of muscle cars — the Dodge Hemis, the Chevy Chevelles, the Oldsmobile Cutlasses, the Pontiac Tempests — manage to go as fast as they do by burning prodigious amounts of fuel, carbon footprint be damned.

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Tom Chilcote working on the author’s 1965 Chevy Chevelle Malibu.

Source Tom Chilcote Sr.

However, a few interesting things have happened since what is widely considered the first muscle car, the Pontiac GTO, rolled off a Detroit production line in 1964. For one, 50 years of relative automotive facelessness by way of sensible but not stylish imports created a groundswell of desire for something different. So among the cognoscenti, when the Buick Grand National, the Chevy Monte Carlo SS and the Mazda Miata appeared in the 1980s, they hit hard and inspired a certain kind of fever.

But now?

Not only do we have the carbon-caution-thrown-to-the-wind 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat — lauded as the fastest muscle car ever with about 707 horsepower, clocking a quarter-mile track time of 11.2 seconds at an easy 125 miles per hour — but we also have a virtual arms race in the automotive industry, with carmakers competing to combine badass styling and muscle-car might in a machine that minds your carbon footprint. Born out of a deal between General Motors and the Department of Energy, a contest was launched to develop something fast and environmentally sensitive.

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With 555 horsepower in my 1965 monster, I am legally obliged to say it goes “very, very freaking fast.

That’s right. A hybrid muscle car.

Kicking off on Sept. 16 in Michigan, teams will have four years to turn Camaros into eco-friendly vehicles, without losing an ounce of muscle. GM provides the cars, the student participants bring the innovative ideas, and they all work together within GM’s vehicle development process to suss out the next wave of muscle cars.

Until then though? Fan boys and girls are snapping up 1960s-era cars, cars that are a finite resource, and building them from the ground up to sell — for anywhere from $65,000 to sometimes twice that. Or simply for the joy of cruising around, to the consternation of anyone related to them.

“Yeah, you can sell them for a lot,” said the late Tom Chilcote (total disclosure: he worked on my 1965 Chevy Chevelle Malibu), “but they also cost a lot. But this is real, living, breathing art, and in that sense, what it’s worth to you is never what it costs.”

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