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In 1963, few cars could match Pontiac's Grand Prix for a combination of raw performance and luxury!

From 1960 through 1963 if you wanted big, bad performance, you wanted a "big" car!
The Big Bad Boys - Muscle cars did not start with the 1964 GTO!

by Society Staff - reprint with permission only

OK, we know most of you are aware that high-performance U.S. cars were available even before WW II, that the hot Over-Head Valve V8 era started with the Olds 88 in 1949, and that the '55 Chevy V8 began the trend of putting performance on the average American's plate. But what most people believe, cut from the lore of the '60s, is that the '64 GTO started the "Muscle Car" era. NOT SO!

Actually, the Big Three were all going at it on the street and the strip by the late '50s, essentially in a spill-over from NASCAR and USAC stock car racing.  Oh sure, if you knew someone in high places before that, you could get fixed up with a "factory special" – going all the way back to the Hudson Hornet with the 7X race engine. If you had big bucks, you could buy the "race" version of Chrysler 300, but showroom super stocks really became a "where's your cash" mega-war beginning with the 1960 model run, where a check on the order form brought you the best the factory could offer in the performance vein.

Why? Some of it was that the "win on Sunday" theme from roundy-round racing was translated into "I want one of them babies," but much more of it was the new-found popularity of stock car drag racing.  Pontiac jumped into the fray first, with their "Trophy" 389 cars, followed quickly by Chevy and Ford. Chrysler was there initially with their Chrysler 300 and "Sonoramic" Plymouths and D-Series Long Ram Dodges.

In 1961, it started getting serious. Pontiac suddenly released a 421 CID Super Duty block, Chevy replaced the 348 with their 409. Ford added 3-2bbls to the 390 and Dodge and Chrysler offered the ram-tuned 383 and solid lifter 413 for the Chrysler late in the year.

By '62, everyone was seriously in the game. A 421 HO Grand Prix was a low 14 second street car you could buy right off the showroom floor. Chevy's 409 was completely redesigned and offered 425 HP. Ford offered the 405 HP 406, and 413 equipped Chrysler 300s (yes, 300s) were kicking butt in the NHRA's Super Stock Automatic class. (BTW, this popularity got the Ramchargers to cajole the Dodge Division to field purpose-built 413s).

Except for the new Dodge, all of these babies were running on 121-123 inch wheelbases and weighing in at just about 3900 lbs! All but the MOPARs offered 4-speeds as the preferred transmission, all sported decent heavy duty suspension and reasonably good brakes, and all could be had with a bucket seat interior (though serious racers opted for the lighter bench seat interior). Take a gander at our road tests of these babies, and you will note that they, for the most part, were FASTER than the muscle cars offered in 1964 and 1965!

In 1963, Big Car Bashes were basically out of control. Dealer cars could be had with light weight front ends, acid dipped bodies, gear sets going as high as 5.10, thin window glass; it goes on and on. On the street, all the challengers were pretty much even. Ford now had a 427, Chevy's 409 made even more street HP, a Pontiac 421 HO was still awesome, and, yes, even the Chrysler 300 got a new hotter cam and other goodies!

But Dodge and Plymouth were the harbinger of things to come. Aside from their light weight factory racers, the 426 max wedge and 426S (street) engines were making serious HP and were located in a 116" wheelbase, mid-size car; weighing 300-400 lbs. less than the behemoths from their completion and, here's the rub, they were thousands of dollars cheaper!

So when you slice it and dice it, the rise of what we call the muscle car was inevitable. Not so much on the basis of performance, but on the basis of PRICE. The "youth market" of baby boomers was hitting the work force and they wanted exciting wheels. Pontiac's DeLorean and Wangers figured it out first, but everyone else was right behind.

Yes, you could still get a big, bad, big boy from Chevy, Ford, Chrysler and even Buick, Pontiac and Olds through '66. But after that, they were rarer than hen's teeth, with really only Chevy and Ford continuing to offer the hi-po engines in their 120+ wheelbase sedans after that.

So remember, it was price more than performance that ushered in the mid-size muscle car - back before 1965, when you wanted true muscle - you wanted big iron!


Ford's 1961 401 HP 390 was the first built for the drags package. Prior to that Police or NASCAR options we the top choice.

Chrysler also got serious in '61 offering a plethora of drag oriented engine combos.

Of course, Pontiac had been at it the longest, and their "Trophy" engine series were soon adapted directly for the street and the drags.

Chevy's 348 was suddenly at a big disadvantage in early 61, so along came the famous 409.

Biggest surprise may have been the Chrysler 300, now available in low-cost form but still able to pack the 300H engine. They cleaned up in SS Automatic late 61.

By '62 Ford was feeling the heat, and as such the 406 was born. It was the true father of the 427.

This 1962 test of the non-ram 300H proved just how potent the 413 was.