Muscle vs Import: Pros, Cons, & Opinions

It’s a hotly debated subject in automotive circles from local garages to online car forums — muscle cars or import cars?

As with so many other debates, the answer is unfortunately ‘it depends’ — and, more importantly: which car is right for you and your needs. And make sure to add a heaping scoop of opinion for good measure.

This quick guide will cover everything you need to know about the pros and cons of each type, along with the history behind them both.

Performance Comparison of Muscle and Import Cars

Comparing the performance between an import car and a muscle car can be somewhat of a nebulous activity, as muscle cars are a very niche, very specific category of cars that have all aged now to be somewhere between forty and fifty years old. They were made to last, however; there are some who believe that the commonplace expression ‘they don’t make it like they used to’ originated in discussion regarding these classic cars.

However, in direct comparison, import cars can be by their very nature any car imported from a place that is not the country in which you reside. Comparing a classic muscle car, therefore, to a car that was just made last year, is going to be an apples-to-oranges activity.

Regarding the performance of muscle cars: People are so into them initially because they were getting exactly what you wanted. Polls showed that the car-buying demographic in the sixties wanted power and excitement but they didn’t want to have to pay too much for it; so, that’s what car manufacturers did.

These muscle cars were great at going in a straight line, but not so great at stopping efficiently or going around a corner. So, one con to a classic muscle car is that, at least for the purposes of racing, they should be limited only to straight drag racing.

Reliability Comparison of Muscle and Import Cars 

Historically, muscle cars simply weren’t associated with words like ‘safety’ and ‘reliability’. For whatever reason, they didn’t seem to do very well with those factors which, today, are more all-important than ever.

Mechanics actually refer to muscle cars as ‘long term lemons’ because they have, relatively speaking, a higher than usual chance of completely breaking down.

And that’s now!

In history, it was much worse, with there even being a tacit competition among muscle cars for the title of having the ‘Most Dangerous Car In History’. However, the standards for engineering a car were simply different back when classic muscle cars were first being designed. The market wanted power and excitability with a low price point, and that was what was delivered: though, lightly at the direct expense of safety features that we now consider mandatory in today’s market.

However, the muscle cars which are being manufactured today, with modern standards of safety and reliability, are doing much better. For a glimpse into the sweet-spot of both horsepower and reliability, check out the 2017 Ford Mustang, the 2017 Chervrolet Camaro, the 2017 Chevrolet SS, the 2017 Dodge Challenger, the 2017 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, or the 2017 Dodge Charger.

These more recent muscle cars pay homage to the classic muscle cars after which they are based, but rein in much of what made them so dangerous and deadly. This makes the once extremely volatile muscle car a much more direct comparison to import cars, which have long been considered extremely safe and reliable — as well has having the horsepower (think 350z) to keep things interesting.

Cost Comparison of Muscle and Import Cars

A muscle car can come in at under half the price tag of other similarly valued cars.

For example, the Mustang GT coupe with 460 horsepower has a price tag of $36,725, whereas this year’s BMW M4 coupe with 444 horsepower has a price tag of $74,895.

These classic muscle cars are also undeniably cheaper than import cars, not least because with an import you also have to pay for the car to travel across an ocean before you can drive it.

What Makes a Muscle Car

Muscle Car

The specific definition of a muscle car is, very generally, an umbrella term which began in America for very high performance cars. These types of cars are generally outfitted with rear-wheel drive, and they usually have extremely large and powerful engines.

What, exactly, makes up a muscle car is a hotly debated topic. However, generally speaking a muscle car will exhibit several of the below factors, characteristics, and furbelows:

  1. The engine in the muscle car will be a very large V8 engine, and it will necessarily have been purchased and installed in such a way that it is in the most powerful setup or configuration optimized for the particular vehicle. 
  2. It will likely have rear-wheel drive.
  3. It will have the distinction of being first made in the United States of America. 
  4. It will have been made sometime in the sixties or seventies; although, some people whittle down this timeframe to the highly window between 1964 and 1973. These people are likely those who have vehicles between these years.
  5. The car will have a two-door body, and the body itself will be of a lightweight heaviness.
  6. It’ll be affordable. This represents a somewhat unique distinction in the world of high performance vehicles.
  7. It will have been designed for drag racing, but only drag racing in a straight line; and it will also remain completely legal for driving on a normal street in normal traffic. 

What Makes an Import

Import Car

An import car can be either a new motor vehicle or a used one which has been imported in a legal manner from one country to another country (often in a parallel import system). For America, popular countries to look at for import are countries with high-end vehicles as one of their main exports.

Many of these cars come from Japan; however, not exclusively. Thailand is currently considered to be the third exporter of both new and used right-hand cars. Singapore currently holds the second spot.

A Brief History of Muscle and Import Cars 

The term ‘muscle car’ originated in America in the 1960’s as a destination for the most special and limited editions of mass-produced cars. These were the cars that everyone knew would be considered rare. They were specially designed for drag racing, and the additional equipment that was required to ‘bulk up’ these cars for their higher performance ventures was referred to as their ‘muscle’.

Part of the reason that they were so successful was because car manufacturers were appealing directly to the boomer generation. Polls were showing that the boomers were wanting of power and excitement at low costs; so, with muscle cars, that exactly what they were given.

In the year 1998, the car manufacturer Volkswagen was fined because it was trying to interfere in the car importation system. The reason for this was because Volkswagen cars were priced differently, and usually lower, in countries other than Germany and Austria. They were blocked, but there have been other reasons throughout history that private entities have wished to block public trade: for example, there is concern over people from America wishing to have right-hand drive cars, and they are freely available via import.

If you’re looking for a high performance vehicle of a specific era and area, you may look to muscle cars or import cars to see if you can find exactly what you are looking for. Understanding the difference takes a minute but can help you appreciate just what you’re looking at in either case, as both umbrella terms offer a world of history and expert manufacturing. Whether you go with a muscle car or an import, know how to take care of your car and it will support you, your needs, and your activities for years to come.

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