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  • Jason Chandler

Bootleggers and the need for Fast Cars

The need for fast cars started with prohibition in the 1920's. Moonshiners and bootleggers wanted to be able to outrun police vehicles, so they started modifying their cars. As the years passed and prohibition ended, the Southern moonshiners became infamous for their modified cars. The moonshiners transformed their cars due to the demand for speed, handling, and cargo capacity. By the 1940's, these cars progressed to be more efficient. The moonshine business was not nearly as profitable as it was during prohibition; the moonshiners started to use their cars for racing. These remodeled cars dominated the street racing circuits and thus inspired many different performance models from the big three.


Opinions on the origin of the muscle car vary, but the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88, is often cited as the first muscle car. The Rocket 88 was the first time a powerful V8 engine was available in a smaller and lighter body style (in this case the 304 ci 5.0 engine from the larger Oldsmobile 98 with the body from the six-cylinder Oldsmobile 76). The Rocket 88 produced 135 hp at 3,600 rpm and 263 lb⋅ft at 1800 rpm and won eight out of ten races in the 1950 NASCAR season.



The Rocket 88's Oldsmobile 303 V8 engine (along with the Cadillac 331 engine, also introduced in 1949) are stated to have "launched the modern era of the high-performance V-8." The 303ci overhead-valve motor featured a forged steel crankshaft, aluminum pistons with floating wrist-pins, and a dual-plane intake manifold, producing 135 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque. The over-square design had a bore of 3.75" and stroke of 3.438".


Olds Rocket 88 V8 with some upgrades

Once the Rocket V8 engine was placed inside Oldsmobile's lighter-bodied 76-series cars, the Rocket 88 series began, marking the first time a larger-than 300ci engine was installed in a mid-size car. The Rocket 88 won at Daytona Speed Weeks, the 2,100-plus mile Carrera Panamericana, and dominated NASCAR's Grand National series for several years. The Olds 303ci engine was produced from 1949 until 1953, subsequently getting larger and more powerful.

1950 Oldsmobile 88

Following the timeline of post-WW2 America, the late fifties and early sixties brought about new outlets for car performance, such as NASCAR oval tracks, Speed Trials at Florida's Daytona Beach, and straight-line acceleration runs at NHRA drag strips.

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