• Jason Chandler

Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Ford get in on the Muscle Car

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the GTO's first challenger came from Oldsmobile, home of the Rocket, which announced its 4-4-2 package at almost the same time. This was available for any non-wagon Cutlass, which shared a basic design with the Tempest/GTO, Buick Skylarks, and Chevrolet's new midsize Chevelles.

The 442 emblem from 1964 to 1967 was three colored boxes, from left to right red, orange and yellow. The numbers were written in black inside each box. In 1968, the Oldsmobile 442 emblem was changed to three silver numbers.

The designation meant 4-barrel carb, 4-speed manual transmission, and 2 exhausts. The V-8 was a 330 pumped up to 310 bhp. Though that was shy of the Pontiac's 325 or 348 bhp, critics thought the 4-4-2 handled a bit better, and it proved nearly as fast in the benchmark 0-60 and quarter-mile tests. Olds sold just 2,999 of the '64s, mainly due to poor promotion, but that mistake would not to be repeated.

There was plenty more excitement in 1964. Dearborn made headlines with "Total Performance," an all-out assault on most every form of motor sports, a campaign designed to boost sales of racy new Fords and Mercurys for the street. Ford spared no expense, whipping up rally-winning Falcon compacts, a sleek maddening Ford GT40 for international endurance racing, and big Ford Galaxies that claimed the 1964 NASCAR Grand National championship.

Ford also unleashed the Thunderbolt, a meek Fairlane two-door turned drag strip terror. It used almost every trick in the speed-shop book: stripped interior, lightweight fiberglass body panels, and a dual-carb version of the year-old "Thunderbird 427 Super High Performance" V-8, a big-block that shoehorned in only with considerable bending of front-chassis metal.

Just 127 were built, and only in '64, but the T-bolt was unforgettable. Hot Rod warned it was "not suitable for driving to and from the strip, let alone on the street." But that was the point. Ford was serious about high performance on and off the track. So was everyone else.

And then there was Ford's Mustang, the smash sales success of the '60s. Arriving midway through model-year '64, this sporty compact took the country by storm with its low price, jaunty looks, and long options list. And though not marketed on muscle at first, Mustangs could be pretty hot with an available small-block V-8, including a new 289-cid version with up to 271 bhp. Ford sold nearly 681,000 in just the first 12 months, establishing another new market category, the pony car.

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