It doesn’t quite rank up there with Confucian riddles but the question remains: which came first, the American muscle car or the smoky burnout? Sure enough, the two have been inexorably linked ever since U.S. automakers began making large numbers of popularly priced sporty coupes with large-displacement engines in the 1960s.
The muscle part came from putting the engine from a larger, heavier car into a smaller, lighter one; the smoky one from the fact that in most cases less than 40 percent of the car’s weight was over the rear driving wheels. Stickier tires helped. But anyone who spent much time in a 1960s or 1970s-vintage muscle car knows they could be a handful in wet or snowy weather. Many a Mustang or Camaro ended up in a ditch by the side of the road—or worse.
Yet the ability to lay a pair of black stripes on the pavement with a squeeze of the throttle can be an irresistible allure. In modern-day muscle cars, the standard stability control system helps mitigate traction loss in most cases—as long as the driver doesn’t switch it off. And that’s just it: Many of these systems apply the brakes or cut power to prevent wheelspin, slowing the car. That’s buzzkill for a driver looking to spin doughnuts in a parking lot or grab a little tail-out fun on a favorite back road.