Pony car is the name for a class of compact American cars that are priced affordably but have a sporty style and pretty high performance. They usually come in the form of a coupe or convertible.
Among the characteristics of these cars are rear-wheel drive, a short deck lid, a long hood and a variety of options to personalize each vehicle. They also often have parts identical to those of sister models. Pony cars began to rise in popularity following the debut of the 1964 Ford Mustang.
However, the first ever pony car was actually the Plymouth Barracuda, which hit the market on April 1, 1964, or a couple of weeks prior to the Ford Mustang. The Barracuda was essentially a fastback coupe built based on the Valiant platform.
Due to a financial disaster that struck Chrysler, the Barracuda didn’t reach its full development stage, leaving it with a compromised design.
The car was also criticized for being too similar with the Valiant, in addition to having a controversial style that was not so likeable. Consequently, the Barracuda was far inferior to the Mustang in terms of sales.
In 1965, the redesigned Chevrolet Corvair was launched as a small rear-engined car that was meant to rival the Mustang. It was initially believed to be a good-enough Mustang killer, until time said otherwise.
Not so long after its debut, the Corvair proved to be a failure. It was succeeded by the Chevrolet Camaro in 1967, which came as a more conventional compact vehicle based on the Chevy II Nova. It sat on the new GM F-body architecture and used a front-engine layout. Its release was later followed by the Pontiac Firebird.
Generally, pony cars are just like other types of cars. From time to time they increase in size, weight, price and comfort level. The direction of this development was influenced by market trends that largely pointed towards size and comfort. Many people who bought pony cars in the 1960s and 1970s customized their vehicles with additional features that bumped up the price.
Pony cars rose further in popularity in the late 1970s following the appearance of some models in television shows and movies. Examples are the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am in Smokey and the Bandit, the Pontiac Firebird in The Rockford Files and the Ford Mustang II Cobra II in Charlie’s Angels.
The Chevrolet Camaro once had a high-performance variant called the Z28, the production of which came to an end in 1974. But the rise of the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am inspired its resurrection in 1977.
The production of pony cars faced a challenge since the 1980s as automakers had a limited numbers of platforms for the development bases of these vehicles. At the time, a front wheel-drive layout was a mainstream in the automobile industry, and developing an all-new, rear-wheel drive pony car platform was considered a costly move.
Pony cars regained their lost popularity in the 2000s, although this time they became more inclined to the world of racing. This was shown by the introduction of the Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger silhouette racing cars in the 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series.
After that, more pony cars entered racing competitions to unleash their full speed and potentials, as well as proving their valuable existence.