Puget Sound area shows a chance to celebrate muscle cars

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While most new cars are made to be leaner and greener, the American muscle car is enjoying a high-revving, tire-smoking resurgence.

Whether it’s a vintage Pontiac GTO, Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Camaro, or a brand-new model with retro styling and high-tech features, muscle cars are hot — and perhaps more attainable due to stable gas prices and a recovering economy.

“I think nostalgia is a big part of it,” says Scot Keller, curator of exhibitory at LeMay — America’s Car Museum, which will open its “American Muscle — Rivals to the End” exhibit on July 11.

“Guys and gals who were growing up in the ’60s and ’70s now have a little more disposable income and a little bit more free time,” Keller says.

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Mike Glance, an engine-room mechanic at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, has owned several muscle cars, among them a 1966 Chevelle SS 396.

He recently bought a 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, the latest factory hot rod to tap into the enduring appeal of the American muscle car. It has a 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V-8, rated at 707 horsepower.

Shortly after buying it, Glance put the pedal to the metal to experience the car’s acceleration and braking. “I felt as though I had to reach out and grab my stomach,” he says.

The Hellcat has exceeded his expectations.

“I think this new car is the fastest, safest car I’ve ever owned or driven in my life,” he says. “You can be doing 130 miles an hour and romp down on the brakes and it will come to a complete stop in a straight line. And when you use the paddle shifts, it’s unreal what this car will do.”

Glance’s passion for muscle cars is shared by many in the Seattle area.

“The muscle-car genre is alive and well in the Northwest,” says Wally Santella, secretary of the Northwest GTO Legends car club and a professional restorer of vintage Pontiac GTOs. “It’s an active, vibrant hobby.”

Santella owns a 1964 GTO he inherited from his dad. “With me, it’s an emotional thing,” he says. “It passed from my father to me, and it will go to my son, and then from him to his two sons.”

Though Santella is concerned about age-related attrition in the hobby, Ryan Janzen, of Seattle, sees renewed interest in muscle cars among today’s kids.

Janzen — who owns a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T — says his 9-year-old son, Sam, loves “The Fast and the Furious” movies.

“I’m getting the 8- and 9-year-old perspective, because all his buddies downloaded a free game where they can race all the cars from the movie,” Janzen says.

Among the 20 cars featured in the “American Muscle” exhibit at LeMay will be Jim and Laura Scharf’s 1967 Chevrolet Camaro SS 350.

“The Camaro brings back memories of when we were growing up and dating,” says Jim Scharf, of Granite Falls. “It keeps us young at heart.”

Though the history of muscle cars is often traced to the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88, the exhibit will feature a specific era, from the mid-’60s to the early ’70s.

“We’re telling the history of a particular time,” Keller says. “That’s not to say this is the entire story of the quote-unquote muscle car. Because it’s still going on today.”