People will always have their own opinion over what the ‘best’ of whatever topic we are discussing. It is that way from everything from best way to cook a steak to the best Disney movie; so when I ask what is the greatest American Muscle Car, there will always be varying opinions. Some people will have brand loyalty while others will have their favorites based purely on aesthetics. Even if you have a Mustang tattoo on your arm; you can’t deny that the 60s and early 70s produced some of the greatest cars in history. The quality of cars coming from the different companies drove (no pun intended) the automotive rivals to create bigger and better cars; and we the consumer reaped the benefits.
Though the 1979 oil crisis, government regulations, and many emissions issues in the late 70s/early 1980s caused a taming of the cars that followed; this only fueled (sorry maybe I am meaning to put all of these puns after all) our love for those classic muscle cars. While cars aren’t always and don’t have to be a torque-rich, pavement pounding V-8 to be a great car; during that time looks and power were king. With influential breath coming in from NASCAR and the ever increasing popularity of drag racing; the muscle cars of yesteryear are still revered as they were back then. So since I visited car shows and drag strips before I could even walk with car crazy parents, I figured that I (just as good as anyone else) should be qualified to throw my hat into the proverbial ring and present my list of the Top 10 Classic Muscle Cars. In my creation of this top ten, I have tried to keep my personal opinion to a minimum and present a top ten that will be numbered according to popularity, hype throughout the years, and statistics from credible sources. The information (sourced from Popular Mechanics along with sales statistics and information listed on their webpages). So as to not take up anymore of your time (because I know you’re here for the cars and not my rambling); I present to you Top Cat’s Top 10: Classic Muscle Cars –
10. 1967 Chevrolet Corvette L88 –
I know a lot of you are probably thinking that it is quite audacious to put the ‘Corvette’ at number 10; but it literally only made the list by the skin of its teeth. There are some redeeming factors. One of which is that the extremely rare (only 20 were produced) 1967 L88 Corvette (which sold for $3.85 million at the 2014 Scottsdale Barrett-Jackson auto auction) boasted 580 hp. Though I (along with many others) don’t consider the Corvette to be a ‘Muscle Car’ those two factors warrant it enough to make my list.
9. 1970 Oldsmobile 442 –
What is arguably one of the most beautiful muscle cars (and one of my absolute favorites), the 442 gets its name from the original car’s four-barrel carburetor, four-speed transmission, and its ‘dual’ exhaust. The 442 (or originally 4-4-2) was an upgrade package for the Cutlass until 1968 when it became its own model. The car sat around the mid point until 1970 when Oldsmobile reached the pinnacle of performance and dropped in the Olds 455 V8. The 365 hp engine put out a whooping 500 lb ft of torque. The new engine and innovative new-body style got the attention of everyone. The car was even award pace car duties at the Indianapolis 500 race in 1970.
8. 1969 Plymouth Road Runner –
It took $10,000 for Plymouth to develop a car-horn that sounded like Road Runner’s patented “beep, beep.” After an additional $50,000 paid to Warner Bros for rights to use the likeness of the Looney Tunes character on their car, one of the most memorable cars was born. In an effort to concentrate on performance in the 1960s, Plymouth didn’t just make their Road Runner look good; but the Road Runner was made to move! The Road Runner which housed a 330 horsepower 383 cu in engine (except for 10 which received a 426 7.0 L Hemi!); or later in the year the 440 Six Pack option which had a bare bones exterior and interior but the engine was topped with 3 Holley 2 barrel carburetors. The car made memorable body additions to compete on the NASCAR circuit. 1969 was the beginning of the ‘aero wars’ and found the cars (specifically the Road Runner and Dodge Charger) equipped with a HUGE elevated rear wing (which was 2 feet high), airplane-style flaps on the top/side and an aerodynamic nose cone on the front (which added almost 2 feet to the front of the car) which Plymouth would call ‘the Superbird’.
7. 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle 454 SS –
The May 1970 issue of Hot Rod Magazine said, “(t)he past is gone. The future may never see a car like this. It is one of the brutes, and all it needs is a way of staying in contact with terra firma;” in their review of the 1970 LS6 SS454 Chevelle. In 1970, the LS6 Chevelle and Mopar’s Hemi were the predators running the streets and destroying the competition. The LS6 engine was the most powerful engine being produced in 1970 and offered a pavement blistering 450 horsepower with 500 ft pounds of torque. From the cowl induction hood with cooling system to the 112-inch wheelbase, this 1970 Chevelle had all the show and the go needed to make it one of the greatest muscle cars (and memorable cars) of all time.
6. 1978 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am –
The first thing you think of when you think of a black Trans Am is the Bandit (Okay maybe KITT from Knight Rider too). It is hard to believe that it has been over 40 years since my parents went to see Smokey and the Bandit three times at the drive-in movies (and subsequently re-watched with me dozens of times). A movie which may have thrown Burt Reynolds into superstardom; but the true superstar of the movie was the Starlight Black Special Edition Package Pontiac Firebird complete with a fire breathing gold bird decal on the hood. A package which not only added gold pin-striping to the car, black and gold snowflake wheels, and every gold accent that you can image; the W72 Handling Package added 20 more horsepower to the V8. And by the end of the 70s, anything over 200 hp was crazy fast! Thanks to the Smokey and the Bandit movie, the ‘Screaming Chicken’ car was the car that we all wanted. Thanks to Hal Needham’s use of the Trans Am in the movie allowed it to become the greatest product placement of all time. Trans Am sales almost doubled in the two years after the movies release which cemented its legacy as one of the greatest muscle cars of all time and became one of my dream cars.
5. 1970 Hemi Plymouth Barracuda –
The Barracuda shared many similarities with the Valiant (which it shared the A-body platform with) and moved on to become a car that if packaged right, was the ultimate muscle car. The 425 horse power Hemi (called ‘hemi’ due to its hemispherical cylinder head) could be placed in a newly designed ‘Cuda with a variety of colorful paint options (Bahama Yellow or Sassy Grass to name a few). The Hemi ‘Cuda has become one of the most desired muscle cars and it is rightfully so.
4. 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge –
The year after the GTO was named Motor Trend Car of the Year, the car which had been just an optional package for the Pontiac Lemans in the early 1960s had an optional upgrade ($332 for the options package and $390 for the Ram Air IV engine upgrade) called “The Judge”. Many other companies had upgrades that would become almost as famous as the car itself (Pontiac’s Firebird Trans Am, Plymouth’s Road Runner, Ford’s Mustang GT500). Due to Pontiac’s genius marketing, classic styling and powerful options; the GTO Judge will always be one of the greatest Muscle Cars of all time.
3. 1967 Chevrolet Camaro SS –
1967 was the first model year for the car that is arguably one of the greatest muscle cars of all time (and possibly one of the most recognizable). The Camaro was Chevrolet’s gun in the fight for muscle car supremacy that was at that time being dominated by Ford, Dodge and Pontiac (who they say was the one that started it all). The Chevrolet Camaro SS was one of the many options that Chevrolet offered for the Camaro. The SS model, which would go on to be the official Pace Car for the Indianapolis 500 in 1967, included the 5.7 L 350 cu in V8 with a almost 300 horsepower but it was the optional L78 with the 396 cu in 6.5 L engine that produced a thundering 375 horsepower. The special badging, accessories and striping just added to the cars ‘like-ability’. Despite the race-ready Z28 being the more powerful option out of the bag, the SS/RS seemed to be the more desirable car (where you could order both the RS and SS package together). The car has continued to grow in collect-ability and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of stopping.
2. 1969 Boss 429 Ford Mustang –
After the April 17th, 1964 introduction of the Ford Mustang (a mere 16 days after the Plymouth Barracuda) caused the 1965 Mustang to be Ford’s most successful automobile launch since the debut of the Model A in 1927. The originator of the term ‘pony car’, the Mustang would lead the pack of ‘affordable sporty coupes with long hoods and short rear decks’. Despite the mind-boggling number of over 10 million Mustangs being produced in the US since that 64 1/2 dropped into our laps there have been many styles of Mustangs. With V6’s and 4 Cylinders and big V8s with everything from a Mach 1 to the GT350 and the GT500 models; the Boss 429 Mustang is the baddest of them all. Its the baddest of them all and without a doubt is one of the greatest Muscle Cars ever. A car whose engine was born in order for Ford to dominate NASCAR. No the Mustang didn’t compete in NASCAR but regulations at the time stated that at least 500 cars be fitted with a motor and sold to the public before it could be used in a car. So a Ford 385 engine was modified and thus the 429 Boss was born. A real 429 Boss is one of the rarest and most valuable muscle cars. There were only 1358 true Boss 429s made.
- 1969 Dodge Charger RT-SE/Daytona
It hurts my heart to not put the Mustang as the greatest Muscle Car of all time; because they are my personal favorite BUT I told you guys that I would be impartial and try to limit the influences of my personal opinions. In regards to sales, lasting popularity, pop culture influence, desirability/collectibility, and overall influence on the car world; I can’t deny how much impact that the 1969 Charger has had. While the current Dodge Charger is a four door sedan, the first generation Charger that went into in 1966 was slow burner and sales weren’t as great as Dodge would like; but it was the redesign for 1968 that brought about a design and car that would bring the muscle car world to its knees. The demand for the 1968 charger was so high that the originally slated 35,000 units had to be tripled to well over 96,000. The cosmetic changes to the exterior was the most drastic because the engine and drivetrain were the same. In April the design team had to work extra hard to compete in the NASCAR realm and after the Dodge Charger 500 lacking aerodynamically (as was with the aforementioned Plymouth Superbird); the Charger was fitted with an extended nose cone and rear wing. While the radical looking design was nabbed by the 1,000 customers that ordered the Dodge Charger Daytona.
There were more The factory options than just big wings and long noses. Your regular 1969 Chargers had even more exterior changes from the 1968 while the RT package from the 1968 Charger was still the same. The RT package came with the 440 Magnum (a massive 7.2 L, 440 cu in engine and was rated at 375 horsepower) but in 1969 you could also add on the SE package added an exterior and interior trim package which made this car boom in popularity. The 1969 Charger was popular enough but it was an orange 1969 Dodge Charger named the General Lee that would skyrocket the cars popularity into otherworldly realms. The General Lee was the star of The Dukes of Hazard TV show and is now a Pop Culture icon.
Featured Image – Shelby Mustang GT500 by Tadekptaku – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10757242
Two Hot Rod Eliminator cars lining up on the drag strip at Wisconsin International Raceway by original uploader Royalbroil – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18036908
1967 Chevrolet Corvette L88 image accredited to Barrett Jackson Auto Auction, https://www.barrett-jackson.com/Events/Event/Details/1967-CHEVROLET-CORVETTE-L88-2-DOOR-COUPE-161046
1970 Oldsmobile 442 by Greg Gjerdingen from Willmar, USA – 1970 Oldsmobile 442, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69250274
1969 Plymouth Road Runner by Sicnag – CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17234889
1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS454 by Sicnag, 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40645241
1978 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am by Spanish Coches – 1978 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38113198
1970 Plymouth Barracuda by Bull-Doser – Own work., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16424219
1969 Pontiac GTO Judge Hardtop by Sicnag – Own work, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23227624
1967 Chevrolet Camaro SS by Jeremy from Sydney, Australia – 1967 Chevrolet Camaro SS, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37779751
1969 Dodge Charger RT by Sicnag – 1969 Dodge Charger RT, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40645050
1969 Dodge Charger Daytona by Sicnag – 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40645882
1969 Dodge Charger in the Dukes of Hazzard by Bull-Doser – Own work., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11520663