RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Muscle cars of the late 1960s and '70s represent what was probably the last golden era of the American automobile. Think oversized engines, racing stripes, you know, the General Lee kind of thing on the "Dukes Of Hazzard." These cars were symbols of American style, power and masculinity. They were also unreliable, hard-to-handle gas guzzlers. But now, muscle cars are back. NPR's Sonari Glinton went for a joy ride and relived his middle-aged "Dukes Of Hazzard" fantasies.
SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: In the reporter handbook, it says if you're going to do a story about a muscle car, you have to drive muscle car. So to help me drive a muscle car is Micah Muzio, who's with Kelley Blue Book. How's it going, Micah?
MICAH MUZIO: It's going great. And actually, if you want to choose a muscle car, I think you've got the right one.
GLINTON: So it is a Dodge Charger SRT, right? And so we're going to go into it, and you're going to tell me why it's special.
MUZIO: Well, actually it's not just an SRT. This is the HellCat. This is something of a legend, which is amazing because it just hit the market in a big way. This is - it's kind of the ultimate muscle car here.
GLINTON: So what would - how would you describe a muscle car?
MUZIO: Well, I think the key to a muscle car is power, and this has kind of all of it. There's 707 horses under that hood, which is a lot. I mean, like, if you're driving a Honda Civic, you're in the 100 and - you know - 25, 130 range. So this is a lot more than that. It's more power than you've probably ever driven. Not to intimidate you, but this is - it'll do 204 miles per hour, zero to 60 times or under four sections. It's an absolute beast of a car. And it sounds insane.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAR ENGINE)
MUZIO: Yeah, that's the staff. Are you feeling it?
GLINTON: Why do I need that?
MUZIO: What do you mean why do you need that? That's the whole point of the muscle car. You don't need that, but you have it.
OK, we're on a very quiet street, nothing ahead of us, perfect place to try out just a little bit of full-throttle acceleration. We'll make it official - three-two-one countdown, foot off break, flat on gas. And when you feel uncomfortable, you take your foot off. OK?
GLINTON: Zero to uncomfortable in three seconds.
MUZIO: All right.
GLINTON: All right.
MUZIO: Three, two, one, go.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAR REVVING)
MUZIO: There we are.
GLINTON: Holly mackerel.
WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Now, while Micah teaches Sonari how to burn rubber and regain his youth, you folks might be wondering what makes these muscle cars so popular. Got three words for ya - fast and furious.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS")
PAUL WALKER: (As Brian O'Conner) I'm going to get you out of here. You're going to have to jump.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character, screaming).
GOODWYN: Before Sonari went hot-rodding, he talked to Tim Kuniskis of Dodge.
TIM KUNISKIS: Well, the whole "Fast" franchise has been amazing for us. And when it's a perfect fit, that's when you can do things like we're doing a marketing campaign for the movie. Well, why would we spend money to market a movie? Because it has a lot of Dodge products in it, and it's a perfect fit between the movie and our cars. So both help each other.
GLINTON: You know, everyone is running after young people. And you appear to be getting them.
KUNISKIS: If you look at the demos, we're the youngest demo in the entire industry. Industry, I think, is 51 right now on average, and we're 44. So we are attracting a very young demographic, which we're very happy with.
GLINTON: Are we in a new golden age of the muscle car?
KUNISKIS: This is the muscle car era right now. And it's sacrilegious for me to say it 'cause I own one of the historic muscle cars. But this is the modern muscle car era.
GOODWYN: Meanwhile, back in that Dodge HellCat, apparently Sonari chickened out, and Micah Muzio with Kelley Blue Book is in the driver's seat.
GLINTON: Tim Kuniskis says that where we're at right now is actually the golden era of the muscle car. Do you think he's right?
MUZIO: Oh, yeah, 100 percent. You could say that the '60s or '70s was the golden era, but that relies on nostalgia. Objectively, this is a better era for muscle cars. For example, I don't know if you're - are you ready for this?
GLINTON: I think so. Let's do it.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAR REVVING)
MUZIO: We'll do a little hard braking. You smell that? That's tire.
MUZIO: That's tire. It gave its life for our good time.
GLINTON: (Laughter) Oh, my God. Sonari Glinton, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.