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America had produced fast, powerful automobiles since well before World War II. So had various European automakers. But most of these were expensive rarities, purchased by monied upper-crust types with a need for speed. The muscle car was a mass-market child of 1960s America, when youth was king and Detroit ruled the automotive world.
That world was changing radically by 1970, and muscle cars nearly vanished. But they came back in the early '80s to begin an exciting new high-performance era that's still going strong, thanks to huge technical progress since the 1964-70 "golden age." Indeed, many modern muscle automobiles outgun their revered 1960s ancestors yet are thriftier with fuel, pollute much less, and are far superior for handling and safety. In the 1950s, Chrysler unveiled its Hemi engine, and Chevrolet its small-block V-8. These powerful machines broke into pop culture as the Beach Boys celebrated Chevy's "real fine" 409, and there was no stopping the phenomenon.