What do you think it takes to make a muscle car? Is it foot/lbs of torque? Horsepower? Is it purely the image? The hype and build-up surrounding a muscle cars can get a little confusing when a new model is released, but the “tried and true” dream cars have proven their power and performance year after year and decade after decade. American, European, and Asian cars appeal to different segments of muscle car enthusiasts, for different reasons.

Several cars immediately race into your thoughts when you think about American muscle cars: Corvette, Camaro’s from the late 60’s through the 70’s, Mustang, and, the AMC Javelin. A car lover could go on to mention the Charger and Challenger, Chevelle, and Gran Torino. What you have there is a short list. The whole list of American muscle cars goes on for miles. Those cars all have one thing in common…performance year after year. To back that up, they all have good PR. Except for the Javelin. AMC never could figure out how to sell its cars.

Should you want to talk European muscle cars, then you have: BMW, Porsche, Ferrari, Opel, Maserati, and Fiat, to name a few of the bigger ones. A lot of people outside of Europe are a little confused when they hear Opel mentioned, but all they have to do is check into racing to get their bona fides. All of these companies were fine tuning and marketing their cars before WWII. The Asian car makers have run Formula 1 and Monte Carlo-style races for quite awhile, but have only gained wide spread recognition in the last few years. They are mostly known for their four cylinder, nitrous backed performance. That creates some debate over their being muscle cars or not. Personally, I have never had much respect for them, other than their gas mileage. With the right equipment, they can put your back to the seat, though.

But, what makes these automobiles muscle cars? When you think of muscle do you break it down into stock and modifieds, or do you include complete build outs? A case can be made for all of these. In the average guy’s mind a muscle car is one that is based on an original factory engine, front end, and drive train. Just adding a new Edlebrock intake does not make a muscle car, either. There has to be some significant change in torque, horsepower, time in the quarter, and top end.

Image has a great deal to do with it. Public perception is more powerful than anything else in this era of media overload. When a car is initially marketed, it has a tag…muscle car, family sedan, granny mobile…that it either lives up to or does not. The guy who buys that car is the one who ultimately determines what stereotype the car endures under. If a car does not deliver, from pedal to repair, it will never resell. Ease of repair, and the relative infrequency of those repairs, has a lot to do with the long term image of a car.

What makes a muscle car is a question that can not be answered with a short list of criteria. It is a feeling, a look, and a whole lot of passion. You have to have a combination of the right factors. Try beefing up a Chevette or a Pacer. All you will get are some stares. a lot of laughs, and a whole bunch of “Why”’s. You could get that thing down the quarter in a heartbeat, 0-60 ahead of a Ferrari, but it still will not be a muscle car. Public image carries most of the weight. The technical stuff is for the “grease monkeys” and “gear heads”. Each group has its own favorite muscle cars. I know which ones are mine and you know which are yours. A guy has to respect that, but don’t cut me off on the highway…We may have to run ‘em to find out.

Jerry Coffey is a cornhole enthusiast and a webmaster at http://www.cornholegameinfo.com