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Let’s Learn About Muscle Cars, & How Tesla Could Build An Actual Old-School Muscle Car

The recent Stellantis EV Day event stirred up a lot of discussion on social media, which was probably one of their goals. While there was a lot to talk about, one of the things I kept seeing was people giving them crap about the following slide, from about a minute into this video:

The most common one I kept seeing: “Tesla already sells American Muscle.” Tesla owners and fans think Dodge is being silly, because Tesla already owns “American eMuscle,” and has owned that space for years. After all, Tesla’s cars are American (often more American than other American brands), have scads of power, and have tons of low-end torque. Many of the brand’s cars have no problem roasting more traditional muscle cars on the track or at the traffic light.

While this video obviously wasn’t made to impress the stereotypical Tesla fan, I think it’s important that Tesla fandom, as part of the wider automotive enthusiast community, learn more about this topic so we can all better relate to that wider community and not be seen as out of touch.

Before anyone says I’m trashing the community, I want to assert again that they’re not necessarily wrong on this. Everyone just isn’t on the same page. By some definitions, Tesla fans are correct in this assertion, but we often aren’t speaking the same language as the rest of car culture on this one. To even get what Dodge and Stellantis are talking about, one must learn a little history and then put Dodge’s video into historical perspective.

What Is A Muscle Car?

Much of the disconnect and misunderstanding about this comes from this question. If “muscle car” means a medium-sized car with a lot of torque, then yes, Tesla owns the hell out of that space and has for years. If it means something else, then Tesla does not.

Historically, bargeloads of torque weren’t all it took to meet the definition of a muscle car. To understand what else a car must be to meet the historical definition, we have to look at the car that is widely considered to be the first muscle car: the Oldsmobile Rocket 88. Prior to that time, the best engines were always reserved for a brand’s top luxury car, and this was usually the largest vehicle the company had to offer. That way, the rich could pay for the new engine technology along with the other bells and whistles, and later the engine tech would trickle down to the average buyer and later the economy car.

Tesla followed this same formula. It first introduced electric vehicles at the top of the luxury segment where people could afford them, and only after years of battery cell price drops offered anything remotely close to affordable for the average person in the form of the Model 3.

In 1949, Oldsmobile decided to shake this all up. The company took its highest performing V8 engine, the 303 cubic inch Rocket V8, and put it in a basic version of Oldsmobile’s smaller vehicle. This vehicle, called the 88, wasn’t a luxury car or particularly high priced, and only spent extra where it really mattered to performance enthusiasts.

This is the essence of what many people consider to be a muscle car: a basic smaller vehicle without a bunch of luxury features that focuses only on having the most badass engine the manufacturer can stuff in it. Other automakers followed this same formula, and came out with the iconic cars we all consider to be muscle cars today.

Tesla Can Build An Old-School Muscle Car

The fact of the matter is that Tesla’s vehicles are fast, sometimes damned scary fast, but they’re still luxury cars, and that alone excludes them from the traditional definition of a muscle car. The good news? Tesla could build an old-school muscle car, and it would probably be a major hit. I’d definitely buy one.

What they’d need to do first is take the Model 3 platform and start “adding lightness” in any way possible. Do away with the big screen in the middle, and instead put in a small cheap gauge-cluster screen in front of the driver (no, a self-driving car can’t be a muscle car, sorry nerds). Maybe keep a small center display for infotainment and settings. Delete the FSD computer. Delete the cameras. Delete the ultrasonic sensors, ADAS features, and Autopilot. Put in manual door handles (no buttons), and put in a proper (and cheap) floor shifter on the center console with P-R-N-D-L. [Editor’s note: I’d just like to note here that, as much as Jennifer is having fun dreaming about this, it is never going to happen. 😀 This is not the Tesla way — tech and ADAS/FSD are the core of Tesla. Nevertheless, let’s proceed. …]

Rip out the leather seats and replace them with four lightweight racing seats. Get rid of the heavy panoramic roof, and replace it with light sheet metal. Put on cheaper 15–17″ wheels, perhaps steelies, and mount some performance tires. And, for the gods’ sakes, get rid of all the soundproofing!

In short, everything that drives up cost has to go, with the possible exception of power windows, power door locks, and air conditioning. Offer a version without those things if a buyer requests it.

Next, take the drive units from the Model S Plaid and rework them with lower gears. Do whatever it is that Saleen did with the driveline gearing to get that awesome RC car-like sound that it got. Hell, work with Saleen to make it happen.

Then, do whatever you need to do to make sure the new stripped-down Model 3’s battery pack can supply electrons fast enough. Will the range on this vehicle meet Tesla’s usual standards? Probably not, but who gives a shit? The whole point of the Tesla Model 3M would be raw power and performance at a relatively low price point. A 150–200 mile highway range is fine for such a car.

Chances this ever happens? Basically zero. The good news is, if you work at Tesla and are looking for a quick way to get on unemployment, suggest this to the boss man. Security will escort you out while the EMS crews come in to transport Elon to the hospital for the aneurysm this is sure to give him.

Somebody is going to build a car like this, though, and it’ll sell like hotcakes.

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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.


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