Problems With Muscle Cars We All Overlook

The owner of a classic muscle car can be proud to own a piece of American culture. There is no doubt that cars such as the Dodge Challenger or the Pontiac GTO “The Judge” are simply iconic. While these vehicles appear ideal in movies and TV shows, they are far from perfect in real life. Owning a classic muscle car comes at a high price, and purchasing the car itself is just one of the first expenses.

Regular Insurance Won’t Cut It

AMX Javelin: The $500,000 Muscle Car
Adams Wood / Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Adams Wood / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Another problem that’s often overlooked by new muscle car owners is the high cost of insurance. More often than not, basic coverage will not be sufficient. After all, many owners choose premium plans to protect their precious vehicles against all kinds of damage. Given the price of replacing parts, a premium insurance plan seems completely reasonable.

As a muscle car owner, you’d certainly want to purchase collision insurance in case of an accident. Comprehensive insurance, which will pay for damages in the event of non-vehicular accidents, is strongly recommended as well.

Parts Are Difficult To Get

Plymouth Barracuda vintage car
Dünzlullstein bild via Getty Images
Dünzlullstein bild via Getty Images

While the joy of driving a roaring muscle car is a truly exceptional experience, the maintenance is nowhere near as glorious. Many components of a muscle car simply are not made anymore. Used parts are a bit easier to find, though it is still challenging to find them, particularly for some of the rarest cars that saw a short production run.

Trying to find replacement parts can be extremely difficult for muscle car owners. Your local auto store likely won’t have any parts for a Plymouth Barracuda, for example. Muscle car owners may have to ship a component over from the other side of the country.

Premium Fuel May Be Needed

1967 Pontiac GTO Judge
Barrett-Jackson via Getty Images
Barrett-Jackson via Getty Images

Thinking that premium fuel will improve the performance of any car is a common car myth. In reality, pumping premium fuel into a regular car will only affect how thick your wallet is. However, that does not mean that premium fuel is useless. In fact, it is crucial for some high-performance muscle cars.

Muscle cars, especially those that are modified to make hundreds or even thousands of horsepower, may require premium fuel to run efficiently. Some motors are tuned to operate at a higher compression ratio. If that’s the case, they’ll require higher-octane gas for maximum efficiency.

Awful Fuel Economy

1980-Dodge-Aspen-29014
Instagram/@boostedcaravan
Instagram/@boostedcaravan

When it comes to vintage muscle cars, fuel-efficiency was certainly not a priority. Instead, the automakers’ focus was set to fitting the largest V8 motor under the hood and ensuring the car looked spectacular. Poor fuel economy was not taken into consideration until the energy crisis came about in the 70s.

Muscle cars are notorious for their terrible fuel economy. A Pontiac Grand Prix from 1962 was one of the worst offenders. Its 303-horsepower 389-cubic inch V8 motor can achieve 14 miles per gallon at best.

The Ride Is Not Smooth

Dodge Challenger muscle car
Dünzlullstein bild via Getty Images
Dünzlullstein bild via Getty Images

The fuel economy is far from the only thing that has been improved by automakers in the last decades. Suspensions have certainly come a long way, too. A suspension developed in the 1960s or the 70s, even if it were straight out of the factory, is nowhere near as sophisticated as the modern ones built today.

A smooth ride is not the only upside of modern suspension systems. A modern suspension will perform a lot better than a system from the mid-20th century, all thanks to the technologies we have today.

They Are Expensive

Dodge Coronet Hemi RT 1970
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

This is perhaps the largest downside for every aspiring muscle car owner. Spending your money on frequent oil changes, fixing leaks, or swapping out those terrible vinyl seats are only small parts of the muscle car experience. The first step is buying the car itself, which seems to only get more difficult every year.

Prices for muscle cars are through the roof already, and they keep skyrocketing even further. An iconic vintage muscle car in decent condition will set you back tens of thousands of dollars, and that’s only the beginning!

They’re Not Suitable For The Daily Commute

1976-Chevrolet-Camaro-21368
Instagram/@_wicked_whips
Instagram/@_wicked_whips

Scenic driving roads are ideal for powerful muscle cars. Driving along the historic Route 66 in a big-block Dodge Charger, for example, is bound to be an unforgettable experience. Every mile of the journey is enjoyable. Sadly, the same can’t be said about using a muscle car as a daily driver.

Terrible fuel economy, a bad ride, as well as the lack of any modern comfort or safety features all result in muscle cars being awful for the daily commute. It’s best to store your muscle car away for the weekends and purchase a reliable daily driver for the everyday commute instead.

Lack of Modern Comfort Features

GettyImages-563961333
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

The absence of modern comfort features should not come as a surprise. The most iconic muscle cars are more than 50 years old. Don’t expect your beloved Dodge Charger or Chevrolet Camaro to come equipped with a high-definition speaker system, or even air conditioning.

Modern comfort features can come in handy especially during the daily commute. While the roaring V8 under the hood could replace a car’s stereo, air-conditioning would dramatically improve the comfort. Not to mention powered windows, heated seats, or even Bluetooth connectivity!

Frequent Oil Changes

1970 Plymouth Barracuda
Barrett-Jackson via Getty Images
Barrett-Jackson via Getty Images

Believe it or not, a vintage muscle car will require an oil change more often than your modern daily driver. On top of that, modern engines can continue to work fine even if you forget about changing the oil. Some engines made today can drive over 10,000 miles before an oil change is needed. Classic muscle cars are different, they may even require a different type of engine oil.

Over the past decades, manufacturers continued reducing the amount of ZDDP in engine oil. While modern oil is perfectly fine for modern engines, classic cars could run more efficiently on motor oil designed specifically for classic cars.

They Leak All Kinds of Fluids

1970 Pontiac GTO Judge
Barrett-Jackson via Getty Images
Barrett-Jackson via Getty Images

Having to change oil frequently is the least of a muscle car owner’s worries. One of the most common issues with old muscle cars, or any vintage cars, is never-ending fluid leaks. Owners will move their shiny muscle cars out of the garage only to find a colorful puddle underneath.

It is no secret that some car components are bound to break, especially after being used for decades. A fluid leak is far from the end of the world, it can even simply be a bad seal. However, having to deal with different leaks multiple times each year can surely become annoying.

Carburetors

Dodge Challenger TA 1970
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Luckily, carburetors are no longer found in cars built today. They were replaced around the late 1980s by modern solutions that quickly proved to be more effective and reliable, such as fuel injection systems. Sadly, pretty much every classic muscle car comes fitted with a carburetor.

A bad carburetor can cause an entire array of issues with the engine, such as a rough idle, stalling, or problems with starting the motor altogether. Sometimes, a carburetor can simply be clogged, while in other scenarios it may need to be replaced by a new one. Either way, it is yet another expense associated with owning a classic muscle car.

Bad at Cornering

1971 Miller High Life 500 - Ontario Motor Speedway
Henry Thomas/The Enthusiast Network via Getty Images
Henry Thomas/The Enthusiast Network via Getty Images

Muscle cars were born from drag racing in a straight line, as well as racing around an oval-shaped circuit. Driving around tracks was nowhere near as popular as in Europe, hence American automakers did not focus on making muscle cars that handled well. Instead, they were focused on performance strictly in a straight line.

Classic American muscle cars are infamous for their terrible performance around corners. Outdated suspension systems paired with the curb weight of a bus certainly did not help, either.

Expensive Maintenance

Denver Auto Show
Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The maintenance bill for your muscle car does not stop after taking care of the bodywork. In fact, fixing a few rust patches could turn out to be the least of a muscle car owner’s worries.

Anything could break in a car that’s more than 50 years old, especially if it wasn’t maintained well by the previous owner. Add in the lack of availability and outrageous price tags for replacement parts, and you end up with the recipe for a hefty money pit.

They Are Too Heavy

1966 Dodge Coronet Convertible - 4-Door Sedan Road Test
Bob McVay/The Enthusiast Network via Getty Images
Bob McVay/The Enthusiast Network via Getty Images

In the golden era of classic American muscle cars, automakers paid a lot of attention to the powerful V8 under the hood as well as the exterior design. Sadly, nearly every other aspect of the vehicle was overlooked, including the curb weight.

Another thing old muscle cars are notoriously infamous for is their gigantic curb weight. The big V8 powerplant was pretty heavy by itself. Once you add in the ridiculously large dimensions, a thick steel body, and a terrible suspension system, you’ll end up with a car that handles similarly to a bus.

Difficult To Maintain Pristine Condition

1974 Plymouth Valiant Duster
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images via Getty Images
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images via Getty Images

Nobody wants their classic muscle car to look neglected, no matter if it’s a decked-out show car or a daily driver. Either way, any owner would want their car looking as if it had just left the factory.

Accidents can happen, the well-preserved paint job could get scratched at a car park, or you may even end up spilling something on the seats. Making sure a muscle car looks its best is likely going to cost you a lot of money, as well as stress.

They’re Not As Powerful As You Might Expect

Dodge Coronet Hemi RT 1970
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

The idea of owning an iconic muscle car, ideally with a big-block V8 under the hood, is a dream for countless car freaks. While these cars look and sound amazing, their performance can be rather underwhelming compared with today’s standards.

The 1968 Dodge Charger, for example, makes 425 horsepower in its most powerful variant. That’s about the same as the 2021 Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG, which is powered by a 2.0L flat-four. While 425 horses is still a lot more than the average daily driver, it isn’t too impressive compared to performance-oriented cars of today.

Lack of Reliability

AUTO: AUG 10 Hot August Nights
Lyle Setter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Lyle Setter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Reliability is a crucial factor considered by car owners. Naturally, you can rest assured that your vehicle will start every morning and be able to drive where you want it to. Sadly, things are quite different for owners of classic muscle cars.

Most old cars are nowhere near as reliable as the ones built today. Their lack of reliability combined with high maintenance costs successfully drives potential buyers away. There are some exceptions, like the Plymouth Road Runner. The Road Runner is considered one of the most reliable classic American muscle cars of all time. No wonder its value is skyrocketing.

Weak Engines In The Modern Ones

Myanmar's Economy Sees Continuing Influx Of Global Brands
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Considering how unreliable classic muscle cars are, you could decide to choose one of their modern counterparts instead. While modern muscle cars are not as iconic as the classics, they may be just as fun to drive. As long as you choose a powerful variant, that is.

Some automakers have been offering muscle cars with weak engine variants for decades. The base model of the original first-gen Camaro, for example, came fitted with a 3.8L flat-six under the hood. It was rated at just 140 horsepower! In 2021, the entry-level Camaro comes powered by a 2.0L flat-four that produces 275 horsepower.

Everyone Loves The Old Ones

Dodge Challenger
Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

It goes without saying that the 60s and the 70s were the golden eras of American muscle cars. Nearly every iconic muscle car was built sometime within those two decades. Cars that are over 50 years old can be dreadful for the daily commute, not to mention how fast they can drain money from your wallet. That’s why many buyers opt for their modern counterparts instead.

Many die-hard muscle car fans frown upon the modern versions of legendary muscle cars. After all, we would all just rather have the old ones instead.

No Air Conditioning

XV Motorsports-modified 1970 Dodge Challenger XV001
Craig Ruttle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Craig Ruttle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The highlight of owning a classic muscle car is a pure, immersive driving experience. Feeling the wind in your hair, changing gears with a stick-shift all while listening to a roaring V8 motor are all part of the fun. While that is certainly true, that same muscle car driving experience does not include any modern comfort features, not even air conditioning.

Taking your muscle car for a long drive during the summer can be a truly dreadful experience. There’s no way to cool off using A/C, you’d have to count on the breeze coming in through open windows. As long as it’s not raining, that is.

Brakes Are Not Good Enough

1970 Plymouth Barracuda
Barrett-Jackson via Getty Images
Barrett-Jackson via Getty Images

Bad brakes, or the lack of safety features in general, are a major disadvantage for old muscle cars. Unfortunately, safety was far from a priority for automakers back then. Instead, their focus was set on exterior styling and, of course, a massive V8 under the hood.

Once you’ve got a powerful muscle car that can accelerate quickly, you’ll need to get large brakes that can bring the automobile to a standstill just as fast. In most cases, stock brakes from the 1960s simply won’t be good enough.

Bad Safety Ratings

'6th Ebreichsdorf-Classic' Oldtimer Ralley
Manfred Schmid/Getty Images
Manfred Schmid/Getty Images

Bad safety ratings are yet another problem with classic muscle cars or any old car for that matter. Back in the 1960s, automakers slowly began adding some basic safety features to their cars. All vehicles sold in the US since 1968 were mandated to have collapsible steering columns and shoulder belts for the front-seat occupants.

Crash testing, on the other hand, wasn’t common until the late 1970s. Many of the greatest classic muscle cars would receive 0-star safety ratings if they were tested today.

They Are Rust Buckets

1965 Pontiac GTO Convertible
Barrett-Jackson via Getty Images
Barrett-Jackson via Getty Images

Many vintage muscle cars may look great at first glance. More often than not, however, there are at least a few patches of rust beneath the great-looking paint. While it is obvious that any 50-year old automobile is bound to pick up some rust over time, some iconic muscle cars are notorious for rust issues.

Patches of rust that occasionally pop up on the bodywork can drive owners crazy, especially those who strive to preserve their vehicles in mint condition. What’s more, frequent visits to the auto body shop will quickly eat up your budget.

Driving Them Is Not Easy

1970 Ford Mustang Boss 302
Barrett-Jackson via Getty Images
Barrett-Jackson via Getty Images

We have all seen classic muscle cars pushed to their limits in different movies and TV shows. Contrary to popular belief, driving a muscle car in real life is nothing like the movies. In fact, it is a challenge that can turn ugly rather quickly.

Muscle cars are not particularly easy to drive, especially for inexperienced drivers who are used to 21st-century cars with modern safety systems. It certainly takes time to get used to driving a heavy, rear-wheel-drive muscle car from the 1960s. Don’t forget that these cars do not have traction control or even ABS!

Manual Transmission

1970 Dodge Challenger RT 440 6 Pack
Barrett-Jackson via Getty Images
Barrett-Jackson via Getty Images

Many petrolheads would argue that a manual transmission is essential for a vintage muscle car. Of course, the majority of old cars come equipped with a stick-shift. Sure, manually changing gears offer a more immersive experience when driving. It isn’t exactly practical in the long run, though.

A manual transmission is yet another reason that makes muscle cars unsuitable for the daily commute. Not to mention the lack of modern safety and comfort features, no A/C, reliability issues, or sticky vinyl seats. We’ll get to all of those in a minute.

Bad Paint Quality

1967 Pontiac GTO
Bob D’Olivo/The Enthusiast Network via Getty Images
Bob D’Olivo/The Enthusiast Network via Getty Images

Naturally, you would want your classic muscle car to be in the best shape possible, looking as if it had just left the assembly line. It is no secret that a classic muscle car requires a lot more care than a modern daily driver. The same applies to its bodywork.

Many cars made throughout the 60s and 70s suffer from bad paint quality, especially if the paint wasn’t taken care of by the previous owner. Restoring the paint back to its former glory can cost thousands of dollars.

More Time In The Shop

1967 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350
Bob D’Olivo/The Enthusiast Network via Getty Images
Bob D’Olivo/The Enthusiast Network via Getty Images

Any new owner who just splashed out on a vintage muscle car can’t wait to get out on the road and drive it. Sadly, it is a lot more likely that said muscle car will quickly need to be taken to a repair shop.

When thinking of owning a muscle car, most enthusiasts falsely believe that they will be able to use these cars on a daily basis. In reality, vintage muscle cars will spend the majority of their life either parked in a garage or at a repair shop, rather than being driven.

Unexpected Noises

1967 Chevrolet Camaro SS
Barrett-Jackson via Getty Images
Barrett-Jackson via Getty Images

The roaring V8 under the hood is the only noise you want to hear when driving around in your shiny muscle car. We all strive for that muscle car experience we have seen in movies. While the engine of a muscle car is certainly loud, it isn’t the only noise coming from the car.

The sad reality is that any old vehicle is bound to make unexpected noises that could ruin the driving experience. It could be anything from a damaged component of the car all the way to knocking sounds that are impossible to get rid of.

Cheap And Dated Interiors

1985 Chevrolet Camaro IROC Z28
Barrett-Jackson via Getty Images
Barrett-Jackson via Getty Images

The lack of modern comfort features is far from the only issue with the interior of a vintage muscle car. In order to keep the price tag down, automakers often cut costs when designing the interior. Muscle car owners should expect to see low-quality materials and all sorts of rattling noises. The design of some of the interiors has aged terribly, too.

The lack of interior quality has continued on to muscle cars of the 21st century. Thankfully, manufacturers are turning away from cheap materials in favor of high-quality ones, all to provide a more upscale experience for the driver.

Low Horsepower Per Liter

Julien's Auctions Previews Richard Petty Items
David J. Becker/Getty Images
David J. Becker/Getty Images

Many petrolheads are unaware that horsepower was measured differently in the 1960s than it is today. Prior to 1971, American automakers measured the power output of a powerplant mounted on a test stand, with no air cleaner assembly, exhaust system, or any accessories connected to it. Ever since the 1970s, manufacturers measure the power of the engine with all the accessories connected to the engine.

What’s more, the horsepower per liter remains very low for classic muscle cars. Modern cars are able to produce more power with just a fraction of the displacement. A 1.0L Ford Fiesta generates 138 horses from its engine. If that same engine had the 7.2L displacement of a Dodge Charger, it’d make nearly 1000hp!

They’re Not As Fast As You Think

1969 Chevrolet Camaro z28
Barrett-Jackson via Getty Images
Barrett-Jackson via Getty Images

Another reason to consider purchasing a classic muscle car is for the performance. While the zero-to-sixty sprint of a Z28 Camaro was nothing short of impressive in the late 1960s, it is not the case anymore. While there are some exceptions like the Shelby Cobra 427, the majority of classic muscle cars could not compete with regular cars made today.

The 1969 Camaro Z28, powered by a 4.9L V8 under the hood, can reach 60 miles per hour in 7.9 seconds. In comparison, a 2020 Toyota Camry CRD powered by a V6 can reach the same speed over 2 seconds quicker.

Vinyl Seats

A 1968 Dodge Coronet R/T HEMi is on disp
ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images
ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

Back in the 1960s, automakers loved covering nearly every element of the interior with vinyl. While the retro design does have some appeal to it, it’s nowhere near as comfortable as the interior of any modern car. The worst elements are perhaps the vinyl seats.

Vinyl seats are far from comfortable to sit in. They also get incredibly sticky after some time in direct sunlight, making sitting in a vinyl seat terrible for a long period of time. Being stuck in a sticky vinyl seat is one of the sacrifices you have to make as a muscle car owner.

No ABS or Traction Control

6th Ebreichsdorf-Classic Oldtimer Ralley
Manfred Schmid/Getty Images
Manfred Schmid/Getty Images

The lack of modern safety features is rather alarming when it comes to classic muscle cars. Automakers haven’t heard of ABS or traction control back in the golden era of muscle cars. In fact, the first car fitted with an ABS system was a 1978 Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The lack of ABS and traction control can make a muscle car challenging to drive, especially for drivers who are used to having such systems.

Theoretically speaking, you could be able to retrofit an ABS system on a classic car. A custom-made ABS system would set you back thousands of dollars. Not to mention that adding modern features will negatively impact the value of the vehicle, too.

Bad For The Planet

Concours d'Elegance Paleis Soestdijk 2019
Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images
Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images

The vast majority of modern cars are environmentally-friendly, at least to some extent. Back in the 1960s, regulating pollution levels was far from a priority. Unfortunately, iconic muscle cars powered by monstrous V8s are also notorious for their negative impact on the planet.

The third generation of the Chevrolet Corvette, among countless others, would not pass modern emission regulations. While the engine note sounds fantastic, its harmful side-effects should not be overlooked. Many muscle cars produced earlier than the mid-1970s are not even fitted with catalytic converters!

Hard To Find A Good Mechanic

Tiny Lund
ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images
ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images

It should be pretty clear by now that classic muscle cars require quite a lot of expensive maintenance. Would you trust your local neighborhood repair shop with fixing a 60-year old muscle car that’s worth tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars?

Don’t forget that its value could drop significantly if anything went wrong, and a shoddy job could lead to even more expenses. Attempting to cut corners and save money on the repair bill is not the best idea. If you’re looking for a car that can be brought to your neighborhood mechanic, you may want to skip vintage muscle cars.

Driving Them Decreases The Value

1970 Laguna Seca - SCCA Trans-Am - Round One
The Enthusiast Network via Getty Images
The Enthusiast Network via Getty Images

An inexperienced classic muscle car owner may be shocked to hear this, especially if they’ve just splashed out on a vehicle as rare as a 1971 Pontiac GTO Judge Convertible with matching numbers and low mileage. Adding miles to any classic car negatively impacts its value, making it nearly impossible to drive them daily.

Classic muscle cars with higher mileage have lower price tags than the ones kept in pristine condition with fewer miles on the clock. Luckily, this is not an issue if you’re not planning to sell the automobile at all.

Hot In The Summer

Corvette
Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The previously mentioned lack of air conditioning does not help in the summer. If you have a classic muscle car from the 1960s or the 1970s, you would have to count on the windows as the only source of refreshing breeze into the cabin.

Don’t forget the vinyl seats that will cause your body to stick to them. The engine could overheat too, resulting in an absolutely dreadful experience. What’s more, fitting an aftermarket air conditioning system is not a good solution either.

Modifications Affect The Value

1970 Dodge Superbee
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images

If a classic muscle car gets unbearably hot in the summer, can’t the owner simply add an air conditioning system? While some companies offer retrofit air conditioning systems for classic cars, fitting one would decrease the value of the automobile. The same goes for any other mod-cons, such as aftermarket radios.

Generally, the rule of thumb is that any accessory in an old muscle car that wasn’t there when the car had left the factory will cause a drop in value. If you’re planning to sell a classic car in the future, you may want to keep it in stock condition.

Driving On The Highway Is Challenging

Dodge Challenger TA 1970
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images
National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Driving a classic muscle car can be an unforgettable experience. As long as you are on a scenic driving road, or down at your local drag strip. A short drive on the highway is enough to realize another major issue with classic muscle cars.

A classic muscle car will struggle to keep up on the highway. A long drive down the freeway can lead to overheating issues, not to mention how loud it is inside the vehicle. Don’t forget the dated suspension system and terrible fuel economy!

Pain To Drive Outside the US

Dodge Coronet Vintage Car
Dünzlullstein bild via Getty Images
Dünzlullstein bild via Getty Images

Despite all of the issues with reliability and comfort of the ride, muscle cars remain fun to drive. As long as you’re in the United States, that is.

Gas prices are through the roof in Europe and most of Asia. Could you imagine filling up a muscle car powered by a monstrous 440 cubic-inch V8 when the fuel price is 3 times higher than in the US? Not to mention the limited part availability, many components would have to be shipped from North America. That certainly is not cheap, either.