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In the United States, lightweight cars featuring high-performance engines were termed "supercar" before the classification of muscle car became popular. For example, the 1957 Rebel's "potent mill turned the lightweight Rambler into a veritable supercar."
"From the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies, what we now think of as muscle cars were more commonly called 'Supercars,' often (though not always) spelled with a capital S." This term described the "dragstrip bred" affordable mid-size cars of the 1960s and early 1970s that were equipped with large, powerful V8 engines and rear-wheel-drive. "In 1966, the supercar became an official industry trend" as the four domestic automakers "needed to cash in on the supercar market" with eye-catching, heart-stopping cars. Examples of the use of the supercar description for the early muscle models include the May 1965 Car Life road test of the Pontiac GTO along with how "Hurst puts American Motors into the Supercar club with the 390 Rogue" (the SC/Rambler) to fight in "the Supercar street racer gang" market segment. Moreover, the "SC" in the model name stood for "SuperCar".
The supercar market segment in the U.S. at the time included special versions of regular production models that were positioned in several sizes and market segments (such as the "economy supercar"), as well as limited edition, documented dealer-converted vehicles. However, the supercar term by that time "had been diluted and branded with a meaning that did not respect the unique qualities of the 'muscle car'."
Ford built 200 lightweight Ford Galaxies for drag racing in 1963. All non-essential equipment was omitted. Modifications included fiberglass panels, aluminum bumpers, traction bars, and a competition-specification 427 cu in (7.0 L) engine factory rated at a conservative 425 hp (317 kW; 431 PS). This full-size car could run the quarter mile in a little over 12 seconds. Also built in 1963 were 5,000 road-legal versions that could be used as every day drivers (Ford claimed 0-60 in less than 6 seconds for the similarly powered 1966 Galaxie 500XL 427).
In 1963, General Motors' Chevrolet division produced 57 full-size Impala coupes equipped with option package RPOZ-11, which added $1237.40 to the vehicle base price. They were the only automobiles the division ever built expressly for drag racing. The package included a specially modified W series 409 engine, now displacing 427 cubic inches, and was officially rated at 430 bhp (321 kW). With a compression ratio of 13.5:1, the engine required high-octane fuel. The RPOZ-11 package had numerous modifications to reduce weight, including aluminum hood, fenders, fan shroud, and bumpers. Sound-deadening material was removed, as were non-essentials such as heater and radio. Other racing features included a two-piece intake manifold, special exhaust manifolds, cylinder heads and pistons, a deep-sump oil pan, and cowl-induction air cleaner. The RPOZ-11 package was discontinued when General Motors ceased involvement in racing in 1964.
The 1964 Dodge 426 Hemi Lightweight produced over 500 bhp (373 kW). This "top drag racer" had an aluminium hood, lightweight front bumpers, fenders, doors and lower valance, magnesium front wheels, lightweight Dodge van seat, Lexan side windows, one windshield wiper, and no sun visors or sound deadening. Like other lightweights of the era, it came with a factory disclaimer: Designed for supervised acceleration trials. Not recommended for general everyday driving because of the compromises in the all-round characteristics which must be made for this type of vehicle.
Also too "high-strung" for the street was Chrysler’s small-volume-production 1965 drag racer, the 550 bhp (410 kW) Plymouth Satellite 426 Hemi. Although the detuned 1966 version (the factory rating underestimated it at 425 bhp (317 kW)) has been criticized for poor brakes and cornering, Car and Driver described it as "the best combination of brute performance and tractable street manners we've ever driven." The car's understated appearance belied its performance: it could run a 13.8-second quarter mile at 104 mph (167 km/h). Base price was $3,850.
Likewise, Chevrolet eschewed flamboyant stripes for their 1969 Chevelle COPO 427. The car could run a 13.3 sec. quarter-mile at108 mph (174 km/h). Chevrolet rated the engine at 425 hp (317 kW), but the NHRA claimed a truer450 hp (340 kW). The 1969 COPO Chevelles were "among the most feared muscle cars of any day. And they didn't need any badges." Base price was US$3,800.
For 1970, Chevrolet offered the Chevelle SS 454, also at a base price of US$3,800. Its 454 cu in (7.4 L) engine was rated at 450 hp (336 kW), the highest factory rating at that time. Car Life magazine wrote: "It's fair to say that the Supercar as we know it may have gone as far as it's going."