How much do you know about your muscle car? Everybody knows the basics: year, model, engine size, and official color. But what do you know beyond that? How wide are your wheels? What was the factory exhaust pipe size? What is the airflow rate (cfm) for your OE carb? What options were available for your car? What about dealer accessories? What are the ratios of your transmission’s forward gears? What’s your rocker arm ratio? Do you know the cam’s lift and duration? Spring rates? Bore and stroke?
Don’t feel bad if you don’t. That kind of data is pretty intense, so if you don’t know the next-level details about your car, that doesn’t make you a slacker. The point is that there are volumes of information about this unique generation of cars that are not common knowledge, stuff that goes beyond the casual bench-racing conversation. We’re talking serious specifications.
Specs are the DNA of your car. Before there were parts, there were specifications. Specs determine how the parts will work. Specs are the “why” of your car’s soul. The high-achievers of the Pure Stock and F.A.S.T. drag races embrace specs. Specs are your friend.
As a writer, researcher, enthusiast, and mechanically curious person, I value specifications. They’ll tell you why a Boss 302 handles, why an LS6 Chevelle has a screaming top-end charge, and why a Stage 1 Buick comes out of the hole like an F-18. I have several bookcases full of books, manuals, and brochures that have info about American muscle cars. It’s enough to get me by; but frankly, I think there’s a hole in this hobby that needs filled.
There is no central archive for muscle car info. We need an automotive Smithsonian where muscle car info would be stored, a library of specs, info, and history. The big manufacturers have little interest in warehousing this stuff for the ages. I hate to think how much valuable historical information has already hit the dumpster.
The deep specifications about our cars, like SAE reports, AMA specifications, and Manufacturer’s Engineering Reports, were never intended for public consumption. They stayed in dealership service departments, engineering labs, or in the archives of racing organizations like the NHRA and NASCAR. As the years rolled on, enthusiast interest in muscle cars grew, while dealer interest declined. Once these cars were viewed as relics from a bygone era, dealers didn’t mind cleaning out their shelves and passing along the “obsolete” literature to the few dedicated souls who asked for it. These people became the gurus who could answer the tough questions about the muscle cars they specialized in.
As the hobby grew, a few dug deep and uncovered these hidden sources, though rank-and-file hobbyists weren’t really interested. But each community—Chevelle guys, Road Runner guys, and so on—knew who to ask if they had a really tough question. So the deep technical info about our cars remained in the hands of a few archivists scattered among the clubs. So far so good, but as the first wave of muscle car people, the generation that grew up with them, reaches old age, what will become of their knowledge and research?
Where should the muscle car Smithsonian exist? The Smithsonian comes to mind, but that might literally require an act of Congress. Maybe the Detroit Public Library on Woodward Avenue? It already has an extensive automotive collection. The problem there, in my experience, is that the material is not readily accessible to the man on the street, and that should be a priority. The whole idea is to promote the free flow of accurate information so that error does not gain a foothold. There’s already enough misinformation floating around.
Ever been to the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green? I’d sure like to see something on that level for muscle cars. The American Muscle Car Institute, maybe housed in an old dealership building, with a big wing to archive irreplaceable muscle car documents, literature, and history. Need some info about your car? Pick up the phone and ask the reference desk. For a small fee, a copy of the page will be sent or scanned and emailed. Sounds like a great job to me.
Also, MCR contributor Geoff Stunkard has purchased Tom Shaw’s research library. While Geoff absorbed some of it into his own collection, he is selling what he doesn’t need. Geoff does not have a detailed inventory of the documents, which encompass many cubic feet of shelf space, but they include GM and Ford marketing material that he will sell (in complete groupings only). Serious inquiries can be made via his Facebook page, Track 77 at Antiques on Elk, where some of the material is also pictured.
Where will rare, not-for-public-consumption documents like these—AMA specs for the 1969 ZL1, rare dealer albums, SAE reports on the 427 Cammer, model announcements to dealers for the 1970 Challenger T/A—live in the future? Can we form a muscle car library to make it available to all?