IRVINE, CA-July 3, 2013: Autobytel Editor-in-Chief Michelle Naranjo's love of cars started at an early age as the daughter of auto enthusiast parents who painted the front door of her childhood home to match the color of her dad's orange 1975 Ford Bronco. Through the years, she's test driven and reviewed hundreds of vehicles but nothing comes close to eliciting the glint in her eye like the one she gets when talking about an American classic with a throaty engine under the hood.
“I told my husband I would own that car some day and now I do. I take care of it almost to the point of obsession and I'm always looking for cool new ways to customize it.”
Naranjo isn't alone. She and a host of other Autobytel staffers share their passion for American muscle, along with their favorite photos, in a special July 4th feature entitled American Muscle Cars & Autobytel: Vintage or Modern, We Love Muscle.
"Hands down, the American muscle car era was Detroit's heyday and it's been virtually impossible to replicate," said Naranjo. "Back then, cars made people really feel something--that raw emotion of American spirit, of pride of ownership. There's nothing like being behind the wheel of a classic--the way it jumps off the line, the way it rules the road, right down to that distinct smell of raw gas and rich exhaust. For me, it's about as American as you can get."
Naranjo says that while not entirely the same experience (citing, in particular, the missing heavy-on-the-choke aroma with that glint in her eye), Detroit's present day versions of American muscle--the Ford Mustang, the Chevy Camaro and Corvette, and the Dodge Challenger, Charger and Viper--certainly come close to resurrecting automotive yesteryear.
"We've driven and written about all of them and they're exactly what you'd expect from the automakers that are American car culture--built on iconic design and performance cues with completely modern materials and technologies," she said.
Autobytel's Rose Mayer, Product Manager of Dealer Operations, says her lifelong love of muscle cars is the reason she bought the new Challenger when it debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
"I literally pushed people out of the way so I could sit in it," Mayer said. "I told my husband I would own that car some day and now I do. I take care of it almost to the point of obsession and I'm always looking for cool new ways to customize it."
In her pre-Challenger days, Mayer's long work commute earned her the nickname "Rose Rage" -- which she says is her "alter ego" and the moniker she uses to write about her driving adventures today, and to share her experiences with Facebook fans and car club members.
"I'm a member of West Coast Challengers and Ralph Gilles recently signed my car," she said. "My commute is much more bearable post-Challenger. I couldn't imagine life without it."
Autobytel writer, Chris Wardlow, shares the story of his Uncle Al's Chevy Nova SS, bought in the early 70s when Chris was a kindergartener and at a time, he says, "before parents knew to strap children into seat belts, and before they knew not to allow their kids to ride with hooligans like Uncle Al."
"It was a deep purple color, with a black vinyl interior, a "4-on-the-floor" shifter, and those chrome dented dog-dish hubcaps with the bow-tie logo stamped into the middle.
He offered to take my mom and I for a ride one warm summer day, and I still remember the scent of new vinyl warming in the hot summer sun, the sound of the rumbling V-8 engine, and the stench of burning rubber as he tore around corner after corner in our Detroit suburb, melting what surely must have been Goodyear Polyglas white-lettered tires to the pavement.
I never forgot that day, sliding around in the back seat of that screaming Nova SS, giggling and laughing the entire time. For a while, Uncle Al was something of a personal hero. But then, after he got married and had kids, he bought a tan Renault Alliance and the hero worship evaporated, just like that."
Writer Jeff Glucker reflects on his 1970 Plymouth Roadrunner.
"I drove it through the back roads of West Virginia. It may not be a delight on the twisty stuff, but the noise and power easily made the journey an exciting one.
It's the ultimate cruiser, and it got serious stares everywhere we went. Plus, the meep-meep horn always gets a thumbs up."