Detroit Muscles Up Again

January 24, 2007

by Rex Roy


To our great delight, Detroit is back in the muscle car business. General Motors is readying their Camaro. Across town, Chrysler is busy prepping the Challenger. Unlike its rivals, Ford never stopped producing the Mustang, although some would argue the Mustang II wasn't a real muscle car – but the Interceptor concept certainly is.


Detroit 's muscle-car homecoming has been huge news because these cars, more than any other type of vehicle, evoke vast quantities of emotion. People who never knew the originals get just as excited as those who did.


But what triggers this universal visceral reaction to muscle cars? Some would argue the muscle. But the electricity grows in crowds ogling stationary muscle cars at an auto show. At auto shows, one can observe grandmothers and children reacting to cool designs without any notion of what 400+ horsepower will do to a fresh pair of radials. It ain't the power that excites them.


So what gives muscle cars this special power over people? Their design. At the recent Detroit auto show, we talked to the gurus responsible for modern-day muscle from Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors to find out what cues make muscle cars so unique and exciting. MORE --


Intercepting muscle


We caught up with Ford North American Design Director Peter Horbury at the corporation's stand in Detroit at the annual auto show. With the introduction of the Interceptor concept and the continued success of the Mustang, Horbury has something current to reference.


"When it comes to translating muscle car cues, one needs to be careful – tapping into the past must be done in the right way without going into it too much,” he says. “Our goal is to design something that references the past with certain cues but still looks right to somebody who wasn't around when the original inspiration was."


Pointing to the current Mustang, Horbury notes that Ford's design team got it right because old-timers recognize elements from past Mustangs, while kids just like Ford's new pony car it for what it is.


Pointing directly at the just introduced rear-wheel-drive Interceptor, Horbury continues, "It's really a classic muscle car layout with a large dash-to-axle ratio, a squashed greenhouse, and tall doors. Beyond that, we gave it broad shoulders over the rear fenders, and there's a beautiful unbroken character line sailing fore to aft holding the design together."


To his eyes, the Interceptor looks tough, but not cartoonish. The Interceptor brings the muscle car look to a sedan, Horbury adds. It's a design that looks forward because of the modern design touches, contemporary lighting elements, and 21st-century wheel and tire combination.




A Challenge to tradition


2006 Dodge Challenger concept

2006 Dodge Challenger concept

Enlarge Photo
Tom Tremont, Vice President of Advance Product Design Strategy, used Chrysler’s Nassau concept as a talking point for his interpretation of muscle. As Tremont's eyes traced the profile of the Nassau's part sedan/part station wagon body, he said, "Today, there's another iconology that has come along with the new crop of performance cars. For these cars, making a car feel like it has power is done by putting the wheels way out at the corners of the car, and the way the sheet metal seems to be drawn tightly around the wheels." (Think of a thick slice of cheese melting over a burger on the grill.) The Nassau was certainly endowed with those characteristics.
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