Here at Hemmings, we’re nothing if not steeped in history. Comes along with the territory, right? Because of what we do, our collective, tribal knowledge reaches back nearly 120 years. Yeah, cars have been around that long, now. And while we’ve got experts on just about every major genre of car — stateside and beyond — we do give pause once in awhile when a certain topic comes up and there’s no definitive, concrete explanation or documented history written.And so it was, a few weeks ago, when the topic of “stance” came up. Specifically around muscle cars. And even more specifically, around the “Day 2” approach to muscle cars: what new owners did to their factory showroom race cars the day after they brought them home.
Now, when we talk about stance, we’re referencing the classic “big-n-little” wheel, tire and suspension combination that gives a modified muscle car that classic rake. Lifted rearend to accommodate a larger wheel and tire at the back, lowered nose with a narrower (and sometimes smaller) wheel and tire up front.
Where did that stance come from? We all know that, for the most part, form follows function when we’re on the trail of the history of automotive performance. But that classic Day 2 muscle car stance? We have a theory…
By the late Fifties, quarter-mile drag racing had become somewhat regulated. We owe much of that to Wally Parks’ efforts to organize what was, up till then, a Wild West of dry lakes, street, orange grove, beach and salt flats straightaway racing.
And with his NHRA rulebook, came some standardization of race car build, look, and stance. By the end of that decade, cars still looked like tractors, but hey — they were working through that early, homegrown technology.
But the wheel-and-tire combination of a big drag slick in the rear to gain traction and gear ratio, with a smaller and narrower wheel and tire up front to reduce surface area drag had ushered in the Sixties.
By the mid-Sixties, dragsters had become beautiful machines and had evolved into distinct classes. FEDs (front engine dragsters), fuel-altereds, stock full-body cars, and gassers had all developed their own looks and styles.
But as the late Sixties turned into the early Seventies, the muscle car era had added an additional denomination to the faith. And with it, came that classic Day 2 stance: up in the rear, low in the front and very, very cool.
By the time the Eighties rolled around, 1st-gen muscle cars were still cheap enough to own in high school and that stance was just what was done. Nobody questioned it. There was really not much thinking that went into it, other than which specific wheels and tires would be chosen.
So, it’s with all this that we submit a theory, more than stating fact: We’d submit that the classic Day 2 stance was born of form-following-function that developed on the dragstrip about the same time the first factory muscle cars were hitting showrooms.
See, up through the early Sixties, we have evidence of cars being built specifically to transfer weight from the front to the rear as quickly as possible to gain traction. In those days, tire technology really hadn’t made any great strides, so hooking up on launch was always a concern.
Matter of fact, the FEDs of the era smoked the tires the entire trip down the track so’s to not only prevent stuff from breaking, but also because tires just weren’t keeping up with the performance leaps being made. Straight-axle gas coupes were built with their noses in the air to transfer that weight to the rear wheels. Fuel-Altereds had high noses, too, but they were also defined by their motors perched like a Bob Seger song — way up firm and high. Super Stocks and Stock Eliminators were factory-bodied race cars (mostly) that typically sat in stock stance, or maybe a little lower in the rear, as we’ve seen in old photos.
Now, the Funny Car era is where things got interesting, when we dig into the history of Day 2 stance. By the time the Atereds were being replaced by what we now consider a Funny Car (we’ll save the early altered-wheelbase, factory-bodied Funnies for another conversation) in the very late Sixties, the factory muscle car era was in full-tilt.
Those Funny Cars were basically FEDs with a dash of Fuel-Altered, under a fiberglass body that looked like a stretched, factory make/model. So, these were full-bodied cars that were recognizable as a Mustang or a Camaro or a Charger, but they were purpose-built dragsters underneath: giant rear wheel/slick and pizza-cutter frontrunner combination that just looked so very bad-ass.
And sandwiched somewhere between the first factory muscle cars of the mid-Sixties and the Funny Car era of the late Sixties were truly full-bodied drag cars that were pure dragster underneath, while maintaining original factory proportions up top. This is where we think the Day 2 muscle car stance actually came from. Cars like the Peanuts Service Center Galaxie, the Jenkins & Rettig Bros. Dart, the AMX-1 and our personal favorite, the kick-ass ’63 Galaxie in that early American Racing Equipment magazine ad, touting its magnesium Torq-Thrust 4×15 frontrunner. Have mercy!
Ah, that stance. That Day 2, quarter-mile warrior, form-follows-function, battle-ready, parking-lot-ruler stance. Can you get behind our theory on its origins? Does all this make sense? Let’s dig into it…