There’s no telling how many Ford Mustangs, Chevy Camaros and Dodge
Challengers you’ll see this weekend as Detroit revs up for the Woodward Dream Cruise, taking place Saturday, Aug. 15.
The muscle cars have been a staple for cruising Woodward Avenue for
decades. And over the years, they’ve maintained an appeal among car enthusiasts and stood as American icons in the world of automobiles.
In fact, even with the challenges the Detroit carmakers have faced garnering appeal outside of Michigan in recent years, the Mustang, Camaro and Challenger have maintained a strong fan base with some notable competition vying for their space in the hearts of Americans.
Exactly what has driven our fascination with the cars might vary, depending
on who you ask. But whether it’s the sound of the engine or the sporty styling, the cars’ appeal is apparent everywhere from the streets of Detroit to the coast of sunny California.
Nearly every era of pop culture has celebrated the Camaro, Mustang or
Challenger, with the recent redesigns of the cars fueling their popularity even more.
“I like everything about the car, the front end, the rear end,” said 21-year-old New Yorker Jessie Nicholes after seeing the new Challenger during a test drive in New York in 2008. “Everything about the car is gorgeous.”
Tim Hartge, a University of Michigan Dearborn faculty member and longtime automotive analyst, said, “The Chevrolet billboard made for the Woodward Dream Cruise, years ago, says it all: ‘They don’t write songs about Volvo’s.’ Cars are a reflection of one’s standing in the world, it screams ‘look at me!’ The Mustang, Challenger and Camaro are those cars.”
He added, “People can drive the hybrid to work, but those cars don’t give people that youthful and vibrant feeling like the Challenger, Mustang and Camaro. The joy has not gone out of the pony car, there’s a great fan base for all three.”
The Chevy Camaro, the most recent to resurface with a new 2010 model after ceasing production in 2002, is currently one of the hottest selling cars in the U.S.
Perhaps no car in America has had the kind of history of appeal that the
’Stang, Cobra, 5.O. — mention any of these familiar names associated with the Mustang and they instantly trigger thoughts of “cool cars” among those ranging in age from 15 to 65.
First introduced in 1964, Ford’s “Pony Car” was a major influence on the creation of the muscle car era. Set on refining the car, Ford released a more streamlined Mustang in 1969 with an improved 302 motor. Soon after, Chevy brought out the Camaro and its Pontiac sibling, the Firebird.
The Dodge Challenger, which made a comeback in 2008 after a nearly 40-year hiatus, first debuted in 1970 as a spinoff of the ’60s Plymouth Barracuda. The first Camaro was launched in 1967.
Since they first rolled off the assembly line, all three American muscle cars have continued to keep us captivated, serving as the centerpiece of everything from the prized items of car collectors to the computer wallpapers of teens who dream of one day owning one of the rides.
Be it music, TV or films, over the years the Mustang, Camaro and Challenger have had starring roles in a variety of pop culture mediums.
The 2007 feature film “I Am Legend,” starring Will Smith, opens with a breath-taking scene of the actor driving a red and white 2007 Ford Shelby Mustang GT500, roaring through the deserted streets of New York City chasing deer.
And in any given conversation about the Mustang, the 1968 film “Bullit” with Steve McQueen as a police detective chasing down killers in a ’68 Mustang GT390 will likely come up.
The Mustang 5.0 even had a starring role in the 1993 film “Menace II Society” as the vehicle of choice for a memorable car theft scene.
“Mustang has had the most roles of any Ford vehicle, and there are no competing cars that come close,” said Bob Witter, of Ford Global Brand Entertainment (FGBE), a Ford office based in Beverly Hills that works to cast Ford-branded vehicles in movies, television and other entertainment media.
In the television series “Knight Rider,” the Shelby Mustang GT500KR stars as the computerized, talking super car, KITT. The Mustang also had a starring role in the 2000 remake of “Gone In 60 Seconds” starring Nicholas Cage.
Since 1964, the Mustang has appeared in more than 500 movies and hundreds of television programs. The car has also been the central theme of countless songs, ranging from Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally” to a number of recent R&B songs.
Pontiac’s Camaro sibling, the TransAm, really solidified its place in pop culture in the 1977 movie “Smokey and the Bandit” starring Burt Reynolds. The original ‘80s “Knight Rider” TV series featured KITT as a blacked-out Pontiac Firebird Trans Am.
An old school Camaro, Challenger and Trans Am were featured in one of the most memorable scenes in the blockbuster film “Bad Boys II” starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. A demand for the Camaro featured in the “Transformers” movies has spawned the development of a special edition of the sports car.
“When the first “Transformers” was setting box office records, we had countless customers asking to purchase the ‘Bumblebee’ Camaro,” said Karen Rafferty, product marketing director, Chevrolet.
William Gock, senior editor of Rides magazine, which has featured celebrities and their cars, said the popularity of the Mustang, Challenger and Camaro has stood the test of time.
“The continuation and revival of these cares are, of course, welcomed by fans of American muscle, but their appeal is universal,” said Gock. “Like sneaker giant Nike has already proved, a new twist on a proven classic rarely fails.”
While a lot of the cars being featured in movies today are the result of product placement deals, they still work because the cars are already perceived as cool, noted Hartge.
Adding to the popularity of the cars has been their affordability
over the years.
The first Mustangs sold for less than $2500, which was considerably less expensive than a number of other cars on the market.
Even today, the costs of the Camaro, Mustang and Challenger are very reasonable, considering their appeal. All three have a base price around $25,000, give or take a few hundred.
To date, more than 8 million Mustangs have been sold since the first in 1964, and currently there’s a waiting list for the new Camaro.
Granted, with all the talk about “Going Green” and a need for more fuel efficient vehicles, public praise for Detroit’s muscle icons might not be as frequent as it was years ago when the craze for roaring big engines and burn-outs was at its height.
In fact, at one point it was rumored that Chevy was considering
nixing plans to even manufacture the new Camaro due to the timing of the car’s launch with concerns about fuel efficiency and GM’s economic
Imagine that, considering how popular the new model is today as well as its counterparts, the Mustang and Challenger.
It’s hard to imagine not having any one of these cars around now considering the popularity of both the new and old models. And that’ll be even more evident this weekend if you’re anywhere near Woodward Avenue.
Count on it.
Marcus Amick is a national automotive analyst and lifestyle
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