How World War II Led to the Invention of the Pony Car
(From the book “The All American Muscle Car: The Birth, Death and Resurrection of Detroit’s Greatest Performance Cars.” This excerpt was written by Randy Leffingwell)
Detroit muscle cars gave enthusiasts hot rods with warranties. They also proved to be good business for the automakers.
They intercepted the profits that independent speed shops earned and shifted them onto corporate spreadsheets.
Pony cars proved to be even better business because they made muscle cars acceptable, turning them into vehicles their owners could drive to work through the week, to the market on Saturday morning, and to the drag strip or the movies on Saturday night.
Pony cars were the kind of muscle cars that doctors, bankers, and teachers could drive to church on Sunday morning.
For decades, historians have credited product planners and marketing types with inventing muscle cars.
The common premise is that American GIs returned from the wars in Europe and Korea with combat pay in their pockets and a desire for speed and horsepower in their souls.
But that theory doesn’t go far enough, and it doesn’t dig back long enough or reach out broadly enough.
During World War II, automotive engineers spent their time designing better bombsites, improved tank turrets, stronger truck suspensions, and superior aircraft engines.
Those who worked with engines and carburetion became familiar with lighter metals, higher engine speeds, and superior intake and exhaust management.
They were antsy to put that knowledge into the next automobile engine they designed.
Automobile engine designers invented the muscle that went into the car.
Product planners, advertising wizards, and corporate chairmen certainly had imagination and vision. They are the ones who asked for an automobile with a long hood and short rear deck, with two front bucket seats and two occasional ones in back, with red-stripe tires and four-speed floor shifts, and they chose evocative names like Mustang, Camaro, and Barracuda.
They “invented” pony cars. But very few of them imagined they should ask for a 221-cubic inch V-8 with thin walls or a 351 or a 429.
Or to add two additional bolts to each crankshaft bearing cap. Or to increase the carburetor size from one barrel to two or four and to specify 780 cubic feet per minute of air induction capacity. Mounted on a high-rise manifold. With ram air induction. In many cases, engine displacements resulted from size rules in racing classes.
Engineers thrived on the challenge of dividing up the cylinder dimensions of bore and stroke.