If there was an era in American car making that could be defined as the greatest, it would have to be the 60’s and 70’s. There’s something about those vehicles that is just so special, that they still hold great value today.
What collectors and automobile aficionados love about them is the high performing engines, masculine lines, and a feeling of the American Dream it gives them. There are a few of those makes and models that even today are very sought after, and are worth a pretty penny. Well, for the car lovers, at least.
Considered true classics, owning one of those babies will immediately increase your status whether you were hoping to or not.
What Exactly Qualifies as a Muscle Car?
Derived from drag racing and hot rod culture, the originally lightweight car is shoehorned with an oversized engine, and upgraded with fortified brakes and suspension.
They are usually two-doored cars, powered by V-8 engines (6.0-7.0L), and very performance focused. In other words, a true man’s toy.
Muscle Cars History
American Muscle cars were first named so by automotive journalist Brock Yates in 1964. While attempting to applaud the qualities of the Pontiac GTO’s car of the year for the magazine he was writing for, he called it a ¨muscle car¨, and the rest is literally history.
Unknowingly, he started what became a worldwide automotive phenomenon. Even some manufacturers from Europe followed suit with the likes of Aston Martin V8 Vantage, for example.
Now that we gave you a brief introduction as to how this whole cultural automotive revolution started, let’s see which cars qualify as the 20 best American muscle cars of all time.
1964 Pontiac GTO
Without being certain at 100%, there is speculation that the Pontiac GTO is the first ever American muscle car. The strong engine and affordable price made this an attractive model, one that started a whole revolution in American-made car history.
The name GTO was actually taken from Ferrari, and it stands for ¨Gran Turismo Omolgato¨, or street legal cars that can also race. The original 1964 version came with a 389 ci V8 engine and 348 hp, and it was in production for a whole decade.
1965 Pontiac Catalina 2+2
Boasting one of the largest engines out, the ‘65 version of the Pontiac Catalina came with three different engine specs. The large performance driven vehicle comes with a HO version of the Triple Power 421 ci V8 engine.
The upgraded high-lift cams and exhaust components helped this model reach 376 hp. Built around a B-body chassis, its boxy design is not as appreciated as others on this list, hence our lower rating.
1967 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28
This special edition of the mighty Camaro had a 290 hp engine, power disk brakes, and an upgraded suspension. A powerful engine and a lightweight body made this one of the fastest and longest-running cars in history.
The aggressive grille design and squared off headlights, along the wide fenders that welcomed wider tires, made this a powerful vehicle that came equipped with a 427 ci V8 engine.
1967 Mercury Cougar GT
Motor Trend’s car of the year for 1967, the legendary Mercury Cougar is the definition of a true muscle car classic. It included a Ford 390 ci V8 engine and 325 hp, an end-to-end grille that was made possible thanks to the flip-up headlights, which gave this model an aggressive aesthetic.
Other impressive specs include a powerful suspension, a revised brake system, brakes, and tires. All these factors resulted in Cougar’s great sales success, and it gained its spot for one of the best American muscle cars of all time.
1968 Chevrolet Nova
One of the most classic looking of all the muscle cars, the Nova became a buffed up muscle car after years of being a compact family car. The upgraded version of the engine gave the car the much needed power to classify in this category.
With a 327 ci V-8 engine and 200hp, as well as a four-barrel carburetor, made this a popular and well appreciated model. The wheelbase length increased with the redesign the car underwent in 1968.
1968 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500
No list of American made cars is complete without Ford. The classic Ford Mustang first made its appearance in 1964-65, and quite frankly, it is a make that will never go out of style. Due to its lighter weight, the Mustang can outrun other cars on this list even though its engine is not as powerful.
Coming with an engine of about 302-351 ci, it is considered small by muscle car standards. This particular year’s production is one of their most popular models, and within the first 18 months of its release it sold more than a million units.
1969 Dodge Charger Daytona
Boasting a powerful 440ci V8 engine and power of 425hp, the Daytona is a high performance vehicle that is still very popular today. Dodge did well with the ‘69 model, after having a bit of a struggle with the previous year’s race car efforts.
The pointed nose and the massive rear wing distinguishes this model that carries the iconic Florida race track’s name. The unique bodywork and powerful specs gave Dodge its legendary reputation that still holds true up to today.
1969 AMC AMX/3
One of the most unusual and maybe the least popular of this list, this American designed and Italian manufactured supercar was first unveiled at the Chicago 1970 Auto Show. A sleek make, the 1969 AMC AMX/3 boasts a 390ci V8 engine with power capabilities of 340hp.
Due to some US government safety regulations, the limited production led to the whole project abandonment. Unfortunately, only five proto-specimens were produced in total, so it is quasi-impossible to get your hands on one. It is still worth a mention, because the design and power could have made it a real gem.
1969 Pontiac GTO Judge
A special car that is similar in make to the Pontiac Plymouth Road Runner, the GTO Judge is an accessible and performant muscle car. Car lovers responded well to the Canary orange color Pontiac picked, which separated this model from their competition.
With impressive specs such as beefy tires, a Hurst shifter, Rally ll wheels, and a ram-air hood, the 400ci V8 Ram Air lV engine is not too shabby, as it produces 370 hp.
1969 Chevrolet Camaro Copo ZL1
Just in case you didn’t know, Copo stands for ¨Central Office Production Order¨, and it is one of the rarest muscle cars ever released. With only 69 units produced, it was one of the only American pony cars that was super powerful.
With a 427ci engine and 500+ hp, it is considered a beast on the road. It offers a wide range of cool specs, which is why the model is so popular with the car aficionados from around the world. And it remains one of the longest running vehicles ever produced.
1969-1971 Baldwin-Motion Phase III GT Corvette
This joint effort between Baldwin Chevrolet, a Long Island car dealer, and Motion Performance resulted in this beautiful piece of machinery. Their ultra-elite Corvettes were only produced between 1969 and 1971, when the US Justice department put a stop to them.
But during those two years, customers got to customize the ten specimens to their heart’s desires. The standard model featured a 427ci V8 engine with 500hp, flared fenders, Edelbrock intake manifolds, special rims, just to name a few of their specs.
1970 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda
One of the most celebrated cars in the history of muscle cars, the Plymouth Barracuda was in production from 1964 all the way to 1974. The 1970 model saw a major overhaul to its original design.
The body style got an upgrade, which made it one of their most attractive models to be produced. Its super powerful engine (426ci V8) is capable of 425 hp, making it one of the most popular models with club racers.
1970 Buick Skylark GSX Stage 1
Higher specs than its cousin GS 455, the GSX has some pretty impressive features. The huge 455ci V8 engine and 350 hp ranks amongst one of the most powerful muscle cars ever made. Until 2013, when it was surpassed, this make and model held the record for the most mind blowing torque at 510lb-ft, and at a low 2,800 RPM.
Although it only produced 687 models, the all around cool specs of the internals under the hood, some aerodynamic adjustments and a dedicated graphics package make it very special.
1970 Plymouth RoadRunner Superbird
Performance meets luxury in this popular pick for muscle car enthusiasts. Featuring a 426 Hemi V8 engine, twin superchargers, and four-speed manual transmission, this car became famous after actor James Garner drove it in the movie “Gone in 60 Seconds“.
The all-metal body also makes this car special, because it is a rare thing to see in muscle cars. Another aesthetic detail that gave this car its fame is the dual tailpipes at the back, and the large rear wings.
1970 Ford Torino Cobra
This model is so popular, a major motion picture was even named after it. The race designation version of the Torino GT is more powerful, packed with an extra ten ponies. The high-lift cams and upgraded heads, among other improvements, brought this machine the popularity it gained.
To top it all off, the factory ¨Drag Pack¨ that includes forged aluminum pistons gave the car an extra 5hp, for a total output of 375hp. Not too shabby, which allowed the 429ci V8 engine to do its magic.
1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454
The peak of the muscle car movement really happened in the 70s. One of the most lauded models of this decade is the 1970 Chevy Chevelle. With less than 4,500 models ever manufactured, this powerful car boasts a 454ci V8 engine and 450 hp, and it retains its status of one of the most celebrated muscle cars ever made.
Today, it is still a very sought after model, and there are a few versions of it. The specs vary somewhat from one to the next, and the distinct slightly slanted back and a powerful hood give it the ideal muscle car look.
1970 Ford Mustang Boss 429
Probably the most special Ford ever made, it is not called the Boss for no reason. This iconic powerful machine boasts a 429ci engine, and it has 375hp, a four barrel carburetor, aluminum intake manifolds, as well as a four speed manual transmission.
Featuring a sleek and aggressive bodywork, it gives the car a unique look that is truly iconic. Production from 1969 and 1970 only brought us 1359 examples, which makes it one of the rarest Mustangs ever made. That also makes it so much more desirable.
1970 Oldsmobile 442 W-30 Convertible
The golden era of the American muscle car wouldn’t be complete without its most powerful offering. Boasting the largest engine ever seen in this category, at 455 ci and 370 hp, it makes the 1970 version one of the most sought after muscle cars.
Included with the W-30 package is the aluminum intakes and F cylinder heads, a dual exhaust setup, a four-speed gearbox, and a four-barrel carburetor. A heavily track focused performance car, even the inner fenders are adorned with the ¨Rally Red¨ color options.
1973 AMC Javelin
Dick Teague, legendary automotive designer, is the name behind this classic. More known are his Jeep Cherokee XJ, among other watershed models that he is famous for. The car started to become popular in the 1971 and 1972 Trans-Am race series, but the 1973 model came with some improvements that really made it the sought after car still talked about today.
The engine is a 401ci V8, and the 330hp makes it a powerful car. So much so, that law enforcement agencies and the American highway patrol used this car as their corporate vehicles.
1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Special Edition
Referred to as “The Bandit Package”, this bad boy is one of the most visually distinct muscle cars ever produced. It was featured in the 1977 movie “Smokey and the Bandit¨, which popularized it even more. So what is it about this car that is so special?
Featuring gold-colored bezels and steering wheel, a big gold bird on its hood, and T-top roofs, are just some of the details that stand out in this special edition model. With a 400 ci V8 engine that produces 200 hp, it is also a pretty powerful vehicle, not just visually pleasing.
There you have the list of the 20 best American muscle cars of all time. If you happen to be a car enthusiast, do you agree with our picks?
- What Exactly Qualifies as a Muscle Car?
- Muscle Cars History
- 1964 Pontiac GTO
- 1965 Pontiac Catalina 2+2
- 1967 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28
- 1967 Mercury Cougar GT
- 1968 Chevrolet Nova
- 1968 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500
- 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona
- 1969 AMC AMX/3
- 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge
- 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Copo ZL1
- 1969-1971 Baldwin-Motion Phase III GT Corvette
- 1970 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda
- 1970 Buick Skylark GSX Stage 1
- 1970 Plymouth RoadRunner Superbird
- 1970 Ford Torino Cobra
- 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454
- 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 429
- 1970 Oldsmobile 442 W-30 Convertible
- 1973 AMC Javelin
- 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Special Edition