Former Muscle Cars

Opinions on the origin of the muscle car vary, but the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88, created in response to public interest in speed and power, is often cited as the first muscle car. It featured America’s first high-compression overhead valve V8 in the smaller, lighter Oldsmobile 76/Chevy body for six-cylinder engines (as opposed to bigger Olds 98 luxury body).
Musclecars magazine wrote: “[t]he idea of putting a full-size V8 under the hood of an intermediate body and making it run like Jesse Owens in Berlin belongs to none other than Oldsmobile… [The] all-new ohv V8…Rocket engine quickly found its way into the lighter 76 series body, and in February 1949, the new 88 series was born.”

The article continued: “Walt Woron of Motor Trend enjoyed the ‘quick-flowing power…that pins you to your seat and keeps you there until you release your foot from the throttle […] Olds dominated the performance landscape in 1950, including wins in the NASCAR Grand National division, Daytona Speed Weeks, and the 2100-plus-mileCarrera Panamericana. In (Belgium), an 88 won a production car race at Spa-Francorchamps […] A husky V8 in a cleanly styled, lightweight coupe body, the original musclecar truly was the ’49 Olds 88.”
Jack Nerad wrote in Driving Today, “the Rocket V-8 set the standard for every American V-8 engine that would follow it for at least three decades[…] With a displacement of 303 cubic inches and topped by a two-barrel carburetor, the first Rocket V-8 churned out 135 hp (101 kW; 137 PS)at 3,600 rpm and 263 pound-feet of torque at a lazy 1800 rpm [and] no mid-range car in the world, save the Hudson Hornet, came close to the Rocket Olds performance potential…”
Nerad added that the Rocket 88 was “the hit of NASCAR’s 1950 season, winning eight of the 10 races. Given its lightning-like success, one could clearly make the case that the Olds 88 with its 135 horsepower (101 kW) V-8 was the first ‘musclecar’…”
Steve Dulcich, writing in Popular Hot Rodding, also cites Oldsmobile, concurrently withCadillac, as having “launched the modern era of the high-performance V-8 with the introduction of the ‘Rocket 88’ overhead-valve V8 in 1949.”
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