Article by Max Gerson. Photography by Corey Davis.
Complete this sentence: "America the ______________!”
What was your answer? America the beautiful? America the free? Or was it America the bloated and insolent? When the task of defining America is presented, why is it that we are so quickly drawn to either defend the virtues or point out the flaws in our own culture? Whatever your opinion of American ambition or American excess, there is no mistaking the essence of Americana—freedom and the pursuit of happiness.
Welcome to the first installment in a series of Revvolution articles where we reflect on the global nationalistic genres (or scenes) that define OUR enthusiast landscape. Domestic, Euro, and Japanese are just some of the dominant cliques that we all identify with. But here at Revvolution, beaming our signal straight from the heart of the Rockies, we present the first chapter in this series: The American Dream.
Big-bore V8s. Devil-may-care fuel economy. Straight-line speed. Rear-wheel drive. Huge-lifted trucks. Did we miss anything? What is beautiful and romantic about this type of excess is that not only is it unchanged since its inception, but also that it seems to identify a (illusory) reality of American optimism. Underlying American passion and appreciation for domestic performance is a not so subtle theme of patriotism. Perhaps to help solidify this concept is David Hobb's 6.2L Whipple-Supercharged 2010 Camaro perched below a massive sign of Uncle Sam. Buildt with pride for speed and show—do these ideas define the American Dream? Some may argue that this is a narrow characterization of a broad concept, but automotive excess certainly has its place in the American Dream.
Those who love American performance revel in its excess, while critics may quickly attack domestic engineering as unsophisticated. These same metaphors can be extended to American culture at large.
"America is the only country that went from Barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.” –Oscar Wilde
"There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.” –Bill Clinton
These quotes illustrate how easily people can underscore both the good and the bad of American culture as a whole in a single breath. Let's not focus on these facts however. Rather, we aim to celebrate the roots and the essence of American performance. Let us establish the patriotic nature of our muscle-car culture by illustrating the roots of our automotive excess in order to rationalize such an exuberant art form.
The racing heritage of Carroll Shelby is one that is as rich as that of Enzo Ferrari. Derek Venable's mostly stock GT500 Mustang was born on the track and embodies the fruits of freedom—steady progression through innovative thinking.
Freedom is our past, our present, and our future. Freedom (or the lack thereof) fueled colonists to leave England and settle a new continent. Freedom has defined our role in every world war. And freedom continues to be the lighthouse that shines to all corners of the globe. Throughout the years, the effort required to sustain such freedom has defined us as innovators, and America is a world power despite our relatively young age.
"America is the greatest engine of innovation that has ever existed…because it is the product of a multitude of factors; extreme freedom of thought, an emphasis on independent thinking, a steady immigration, of new minds, a risk taking culture with no stigma attached to trying and failing… a venture capital system that is unrivaled at taking new ideas and turning them into global products.” –Thomas L. Friedman
While it's easy to understand how freedom has bred innovation, it still does not explain our tradition of automotive excess. But American automotive excess can be traced to a single word—whiskey.
The roots of American motorsports and innovation are indeed tied to moonshine. In the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee, illegal stills began operating during prohibition. Though prohibition ended in 1933, these illegal distilleries were still very much in business. The late-night moonshiners needed someone to help move their product into the hands of the consumer. Big-bore sedans and coupes were outfitted with stiffer springs to help carry the weight of the heavy cases of moonshine. With a constant need to outrun the local police, a concrete need for high-performance tuning was soon born on American soil.
This Cadillac is a prime example of how American Luxury has blurred the line into American Performance—a true testament to American excess, why not have it all? Joey Tamburin's 2012 CTS-V pushes 760whp with no Nitrous Oxide or Methanol injection and posted 196.2 mph at the Texas Mile.
Bootleg drivers soon evolved into dirt-track racers, and NASCAR was born. If you think these connections are tenuous, consider this fact: in 1949, the first NASCAR race was held in Charlotte, NC. A gentleman by the name of Hubert Westmoreland crossed the finish line first ahead of Jim Roper. After the race, Westmoreland's car was examined by the Chief NASCAR inspector. He found that Westmoreland had shored up his chassis by spreading his springs, an old bootleggers' trick to enhance traction and cornering, and his car was disqualified, giving the first NASCAR victory to Jim Roper, driving a 1949 Lincoln, which may or may not have been transporting moonshine earlier that week.
Since the early days of NASCAR, American muscle cars have not strayed far from these performance roots. Today, hot rods still celebrate large-bore 8-cylinder engines, rear-wheel drive, and straight-line performance.
Beyond a consistency in performance trends, domestic performance cars have also remained uncomplicated machines (the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Stingray not withstanding). The equation for speed has been simple: displacement, displacement, displacement. With abundant access to moonshine, bootleggers needed to be able to easily modify their cars for speed. Compared with some of their European and Japanese counterparts, domestic car power trains have remained accessible to even the novice mechanic. We celebrate that America has now bred three generations of enthusiasts who have grown up learning to wrench in their own garage, under the guidance of family and friends.
It was not difficult for hot-rodders to find a venue for testing their mettle. Drag racing was invented as a formal way for enthusiasts to line up and test their machines side-by-side.
This purpose-built drag-prepped Viper, the brainchild of Late Model Racecraft, is currently gunning for the quickest Dodge Viper in the world, with upward of 2,750 hp. Keep an eye out for a full feature coming soon.
As the pages of history have been written, America has survived the social and economic impact of two world wars. These events further solidified appreciation for American brands. No longer was choosing to buy an American car a decision about personal automotive preference; it was a decision to support your neighbors and countrymen.
In the 80 years since the end of prohibition, we can still see these same trends among American automotive enthusiasts. While the technology that supports our passion and need for straight-line speed has evolved, the objectives have not. Big engines, top speed, and patriotism define the American automotive enthusiast.
Do not dwell on the imperfections inherent in American performance. Instead, reflect on the impact that this tradition has had on our current enthusiast backdrop. The excess inherent in American performance parallels the optimism and possibility inherent in the American Dream. Appreciating how the roots of American history have intertwined with the progression of the American hot rod, we must allow for the American Dream to encourage each of us to pursue our automotive passion with decided conviction.