by Rex Roy
To our great delight,
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
We caught up with Ford North American Design Director Peter Horbury at the corporation's stand in
"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
Tremont continued, "A wide stance also signals power, as does the width of the tire and wheel combination – these are cues used on so many of today's performance cars, especially from the tuner community."
Referencing his company's ready-in-2008 Dodge Challenger, Tremont says, "The proportions are different on the Challenger. The front wheels are thrusted forward and the cab sits rearward on the body. This is really traditional iconography, and it's become a historic, almost animated proportion. It kind of looks like the car has accelerated so quickly that the cabin has slid back in the body. And then there are those chopped tops – the upper portion of the body is kind of sneaky looking, because you're sitting so low in the body."
For the 2008 Challenger, these traditional muscle-car cues were executed in a modern manner, updated by pressing the wheels more out to the corners, and the outside of the fenders -- a significant design spin on the original. When pressed about whether the 2008 Challenger's design is too literal an interpretation of the original, Tremont smiles and retorts, "You look at those two cars side by side and see how completely different they are. Those who think they're clones will quickly see that their minds have fooled them."
Camaro cameo - without its roof
2007 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible Concept
For those that keep track of such things, the 2009 Camaro traces many of its design details back to the '69 model year, making the color that much more appropriate. A nice touch using the orange was the thin stripe along the outer lip of each wheel — it's meant to recall the performance redline tires used in the 1960s.
When asked about muscle-car design, Smith quickly fired off the cues referenced by his compatriots at Ford and Chrysler; long hood, short deck, and wide track. “Traditional muscle cars tend to have a shorter front overhang compared to what's at the rear," he added While noticeable on the Camaro, this is even more obvious on Ford's Interceptor.
"Muscle cars also have more surfacing in the body, like the Coke bottle shape on the Camaro,” he said. “From a plan view, the fenders flare out to cover the wheels, and the body pinches in at the doors." To illustrate his point, his hands swish the shape of a Coke bottle in the air. Raymond Loewy would be proud.
"These are the basics," Smith said. "From here, you then need to refine your design to make sure it doesn't end up looking like somebody else's. When we were doing the Camaro, we had to be really careful, because slight changes made the car look like a Javelin or Mustang or 'Cuda. In the '60s, all of those cars were chasing each other so there were a lot of similarities. As a matter of fact, the three gills leading the rear wheel were really tricky – if we had gone with one gill, that detail would have screamed Mustang. In the end, we succeeded in making this car something you could recognize and name without any badges."
Other muscles flexed
2007 Lexus LF-A concept
Mitsubishi's Prototype X, a thinly veiled iteration of what we expect to be the 2008 Lancer Evo, provides a typical example of how high-volume sedans get a performance makeover. The formula includes adding big diameter wheels, wide tires, aggressive front and rear fascias, bodyside moldings, and a flamboyant spoiler.
The sheer variety of vehicles shown at
Makes you grin just to picture it, eh?
2009 Ford Mustang Spy Shots by KGP Photography (1/18/2007)
Will Giugiaro lead the way?
GM Shows Off Style, Celebs by TCC Team (1/6/2007)
Nick Lachey, Jennifer Hudson and Carmen Electra join the General on the pre-Detroit show runway.
2007 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible Concept by TCC Team (1/4/2007)
Ragtop edition to bow in
2007 Detroit Auto Show Coverage by TCC Team (1/7/2007)
Lights, cameras, Cobo – action.
We Drive Dodge's Challenger by TCC Team (7/31/2006)
And predict big--correction, fast--things for 2009.
Q&A: Chrysler Designer Tom Tremont by TCC Team (7/31/2006)
2007 Ford Interceptor Concept by TCC Team (1/7/2007)
A Mustang-based rear-driver heads for Cobo.