According to one definition, a muscle car is a two-door sports coupe with a powerful engine designed for high-performance driving. High-performance driving, in this context, is code for straight-line driving or drag-racing. It would seem that the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 holds the distinction of being the first muscle car. The Rocket 88 had a 303 cubic inch high-compression V-8 with overhead valves that churned out an eye-popping 135 horsepower. Nowadays motorcycles have more horsepower, but back then that was considered cooking with gas.
In 1955, Chrysler produced the C-300, advertising the new model as “America’s Most Powerful Car.” Rated at 300 horsepower, the Chrysler C-300 accelerated from 0 to 60 in 9.8 seconds, and had a top speed of 130 mph. The Rambler Rebel came out in 1957, becoming the fastest stock American car. During the early 1960’s, every domestic car maker jumped on the muscle car bandwagon. Mopar unveiled its 426 cubic inch hemi in 1964; General Motors responded with the Pontiac GTO, developed by John DeLorean. Ford’s entries in the muscle car arena included the Mustang and Galaxie 500. The 1966 Galaxie 500XL 427 shot from 0 to 60 in less than six seconds.
Muscle car sales were modest by Detroit’s standards, but they appealed to younger buyers and were ballyhooed in the press, which was good for Detroit’s image. Then in the early 1970’s, social attitudes, outlandish insurance premiums, and the Clean Air Act sucked the life out of the muscle car phenomenon. 100-octane gas became a thing of the past. Car & Driver Magazine called Pontiac’s Firebird Trans Am SD455 “the last of the fast ones.”
During the 1980’s, muscle cars reappeared. Ford produced its Mustang Cobra and Chevy had the Camaro SS. Both the Mustang and the Camaro were available during the 1990’s, along with Chevy’s Impala SS from 1996 to 1998. In 2005, Chrysler resurrected the C-300 designation, while Ford introduced the “new” Mustang, which harked back to the 1964 model. Chrysler reintroduced the Dodge Challenger in 2008. Chevy followed with a revamped, stylish Camaro in 2009. The so-called “modern muscle cars” exhibit strong body lines and robust front ends just like their predecessors.
The original “tire burners,” the 1960-era muscle cars, are now collectors items. A well-restored, pristine model carries a hefty price tag. Still, the muscle car mystique refuses to vanish. The big American car makers continue to crank out models targeting muscle car aficionados. For example, there’s an exclusive boutique car company in Rochester Hills, Michigan, that performs automotive alchemy.
Known as Equus Automotive, Inc., the company turns out a handful of cars that combine cutting-edge automotive technology with classic design. Admittedly, the name Equus sounds like they might build horse trailers or manufacture custom saddles rather than high-performance cars. To some, the name might conjure up mental images of Hyundai’s luxury vehicles. Regardless, there is no similarity in either case. Etymologically, Equus is from the Latin word for “horse.”
The car Equus Automotive produces is called the Equus Bass 770. No, it’s not Bass like the fish that fishermen in high-powered boats race across lakes to catch. It’s Bass like the instrument played by musicians.
Equus Automotive employs twenty-five highly-skilled engineers and technicians. They are the crème de la crème. If need be, they can build one-hundred cars per year. So far, they have orders for twenty cars. All the orders are from overseas buyers, but since the Bass 770 was just introduced at the 2014 Auto Show in Detroit that translates to twenty orders in one month. That means business is good.
The Bass 770 is an beautiful machine. Billed as the “quintessential American Luxury GT,” the Bass 770 resembles the 1969 Ford Mustang Fastback, the 1970’s Plymouth Roadrunner and the latest Chevy Camaro. The overall line of the Bass 770 looks as if the design team at BMW or Mercedes took a Ford Mustang and added European flair to it. The front end reminds one of a Plymouth Roadrunner bred with Bumblebee from the Transformers movie. The rear end smacks of a BMW 750 amalgamated with a 1969 Dodge Charger.
In other words, the Bass 770 has a little bit of everything. Eclectic is probably the best word to describe it, but no matter how one describes it, the description fails abysmally. This car has to be seen to be believed. As Robin Williams would say, “You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” The designers at Equus certainly did not lose theirs.
Inside and Out
The Bass 770 wasn’t simply conceived and then slapped together in a backyard garage. Six years of development are invested in the car. To keep the weight down, while simultaneously maintaining rigidity, the chassis is constructed of aluminum. The body of the Bass 770 is composed of aluminum lined with carbon fiber. A smorgasbord of contemporary safety features includes airbags, monster disc brakes on all four wheels, and a tire pressure monitoring system.
Inside the Bass 770, the instrumentation resembles that of a 1970 muscle car. Old fashioned round gauges deliver speed, engine rpm, and oil pressure. There are, however, a number of conveniences the old muscle cars never contemplated, primarily because they didn’t exist at the time. Console mounted touch screen, GPS, stereo with CD and DVD capability, cruise control and a USB port. The seats and dash are made of pillow-soft leather, while the ceiling is Alcantara. Traces of chrome here and there provide glinting, eye-catching contrast. A three-spoke retro steering wheel enhances the 1970-era look.
The fulcrum of the Bass 770, the all-important power plant, provides the car with steroid-induced muscularity. Open the hood and take a gander at what Mr. Olympia would look like if he was a cyborg. There it sits, just waiting to be let off the leash. A 6.2 liter supercharged aluminum V-8, producing 640 horsepower and 605 foot pounds of torque. Note well the term supercharged; not turbocharged. That means there’s no pause until the turbocharger kicks in. The six-speed dual-clutch manual transmission translates all that power into forward motion. Yes, that’s correct: a dual disc manual transmission. To counter-balance the weight of the engine, the transmission is mounted at the rear transaxle.
How does it drive? Like Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell! Zero to 60 in 3.4 seconds, with a top speed of 200 mph. Pretty impressive numbers for an American muscle car. Not equivalent to the Bugatti Veyron, but hey, the Veyron is almost five times as pricey.
Make no mistake the Bass 770 is not simply another modified version of an existing car, like the Saleen Mustang. Equus builds the car by hand from the ground up. The Bass 770 is the real deal. It meets or surpasses U.S. automotive safety regulations and is compliant in fifty states. More importantly, it’s docile enough that Mr. Mom can drive it to drop the kids off at soccer practice. Still, the Bass 770 faces the same problems any limited production company confronts: design costs, a narrow niche market, and profitability.
The Essence of Cool
You must love the passion behind the Equus 770, as well as the car’s aesthetics, and the performance isn’t bad either. If Steve McQueen was still around, this is the car he would drive – in British racing green, of course. Just imagine the chase scene through the streets of San Francisco. With a price tag ranging from $250,000 to $290,000 this is a reasonable car to invest in if you want a powerful vehicle as well as transportation that dripping with style.