For me, a car's most important quality is the way it makes you feel when you jump behind the wheel. It's something that goes beyond acceleration figures, chassis design, and the quality of the parts. Sure those things are important, but it's that connection between man's feelings and the machine that defines a great car. Many cars can trigger those feelings, whether it's a high dollar exotic, a simple Japanese sports car, or a home-built race car. But what about an American muscle car?
Now a lot of people might see muscle cars as wasteful, hulking, barbaric, sloppy machines – and maybe they are.
But that's what makes them so great.
I've had the pleasure of being able to drive a lot of incredible cars thanks to my dads automotive obsessions. Roadrunners, 442's, GTO's, and the like. I've even owned a few "pseudo-muscle cars" myself – like a $600 Plymouth Duster that somehow got me through a year of high school, and also taught me the art of the peg-leg burnout. A lot of people though, even here in the USA, haven't had the chance to experience one of these machines, so I thought I'd do my best to convey that feeling through words and photos.
The subject – my dad's 1970 Pontiac GTO. When I was home for the holiday last week, we got up early and took the car for a little Christmas Eve cruise through crisp 40-degree air.
Now my pops isn't the original owner or anything, but this car has been in the family for about 15 years, although he actually traded it back and forth with his friend a couple times. Now though, I think it's here to stay. Here's a photo of my little brother and I standing by the car back in 1996. Check out the 16" HRE wheels. Pretty crazy stuff back in the mid '90s!
Early this year my dad had the car repainted in Pontiac's "Orbit Orange" color, complete with "Judge" lettering and decals. The car isn't a genuine Judge, but after years of watching the movie Two Lane Blacktop, my dad finally building a Judge clone.
This isn't one of those immaculate numbers-matching muscle cars that you see on those TV auctions, but a car for driving.
It's powered by slightly modified Pontiac 455, replacing the 400 that originally came in it. With a mild cam, the car has that signature loping V8 sound, something I can't get enough of. You don't just hear the engine, you feel it, with the entire car pulsating at idle.
Now you might think with 455 cubes under the hood, the car would be slam-you-in-your-seat fast, but it's not. It moves well, but most modern performance cars will walk away from it. Really though, who wants to race a car like this?
There's no need to drive fast when you're in a car that grabs you like this one. Unless you just want to hear the big 455 rev up to its modest redline….
It wouldn't be a muscle car without some proper hood scoops, would it?
Staring out over the pair of scoops, you can't help but feel like you're some sort of outlaw badass.
The interior of the car is original for the most part, except for a glovebox-mounted CD changer installed sometime in the late '90s.
I don't see much of a reason for the changer though – I don't think Springsteen's Born to Run has ever left the CD player.
The Hurst Dual Gate shifter isn't original either, but it fits right in.
Coated in bright orange paint, and laden with decals and spoilers, this isn't a car for introverts. But it's not like the attention you get is bad attention.
In fact, I've never driven a car that gets more thumbs-up gestures and neck-breaking looks than this one. People love seeing a car like this on the street.
You can't park it anywhere without someone coming up and going "hey, sweet car!".
You'll also get a lot of people telling a stories about how they knew someone who had one just like it, and how bitchin' it was. A lot of these stories will be filled with ridiculous claims and false info, but it's all part of the fun.
Sometime I'd love to do a cross-country road trip in a car like this, not unlike the one in Two Lane Blacktop. Imagine the kind of stories you'd have to tell. It's something that should be a rite of passage.
I'm sure this car will be in the family for many more years, and that there are many great stories yet to come.
A car like this stirs the soul of the person who drives it, and the people who watch it go by.
And again, that's the most important thing about an automobile.
Even if you muscle cars aren't your thing, I highly suggest finding a way to get behind the wheel of one. It's one of those things that every car-lover should do at least once.