It is hard for anyone, car buff or young child, to not smile like a fool, maybe even let a little drool run down their chin, when a classic muscle car cruises past. These are overpowered, loud, nearly obnoxious vehicles built in America during the 1960s and 1970s. They beg to burn rubber the instant you start them, but can’t handle a turn to save your life. Big, brash…they are as American as baseball and apple pie. Every automaker made, or attempted to make, a muscle car. With so many made, how do you narrow a list to just ten? Well, a lot of coffee, conversation with owners, and attending plenty of car shows, not that you would mind any of it. Then there are the considerations for speed, aesthetics, popularity, etc. If some of these quarter mile and 0-60 times aren’t as impressive as you expected, keep in mind that tire technology was worlds behind what it is today. Traction was often the limiting factor, and many of these cars could cut their drag times down into the 12’s with the addition of slicks and little else.
1966 Shelby Cobra 427
Carroll Shelby was the mad scientist of the automotive engineering world. His ability to improve on a vehicle made him a legend in his time. His name is still whispered in awe when you speak of muscle cars anywhere in the world. This car was more of a British/American hybrid. The car was built using a lightweight British AC Ace roadster, but Shelby used a shoehorn or, perhaps, some sort of magic to fit a Ford 427 cu-in engine under the hood. The car was fast enough to frighten some drivers, but it was a hit on the track, winning innumerable races. Rated for 425 hp and a top speed of 118 mph, the lightweight car made drivers feel as if they were moving at the speed of light, and the numbers confirmed it: the 427 Cobra had a quarter mile time of 12.2 seconds at 118 mph, according to Car and Driver. These cars are so popular among car enthusiasts that they sell for around $1 million each, when they even come up for auction. The average car buff is able to buy one as a kit, that is probably as close as most of us will ever get to muscle car nirvana.
1969 Plymouth Road Runner
By 1968 many muscle cars were moving away from their original purpose: low cost sports car options for the average buyer. As options were added, the cars were slowing due to added weight and price tags were going up-up-up. For 1969, the engineers at Plymouth decided to return to the muscle car’s roots, the result being the 1969 Plymouth Road Runner. The ’69 Road Runners had a standard 383 cu in engine, but by mid-year the A12 engine upgrade was offered. The A12 is a 440 cu in engine with three Holley 2 barrel carburetors. The set-up was also called the ”440 Six Pack” when it was installed in the 1969 Super Bee. Additionally, all 440 6-bbl Road Runners had ”H” stamped steel wheels and chrome lug nuts, an organosol black fiberglass lift-off hood with a large functional hood scoop. The scoop was stickered in red denoting the ”440 6BBL” set-up. Each Road Runner had a Dana 60 rear axle with 4:10 gear ratio. The A12 engine package had an original factory rating of 390 hp and 490 pound-feet of torque. Top speed was rated at 111 mph with a drag time of 12.91 seconds.
1969 Camaro ZL1
In 1969, buyers began getting hold of Camaros with 427 cubic-inch, aluminum block V8s. Chevy had a 400 cubic-inch limit on engines in the Camaro, but these were cars were ordered via Central Office Production Order, or the now-venerable acronym COPO. This was originally intended for special paint and body orders on commercial and fleet vehicles, but it put GM’s most powerful engine, producing a real by-God 500 horsepower stock, in the lightweight Camaro chassis. On stock tires it could run a 13.16 second quarter mile, and with slight modifications and drag slicks times in the high 11’s were rumored. It had the 396SS body with F41 sport suspension, and at $7200+, cost nearly twice as much as a standard iron-block V8 Camaro.
1970 Plymouth Hemi Barracuda
Plymouth began production of the Barracuda in 1964, basing it on Chrysler’s A-body Plymouth Valiant. The originals were fastback, compact sports cars that featured an amazing 14.4 ft rear window. 1970 saw a complete redesign of the ‘Cuda that featured four engine options. All four where strong performers, but the most iconic is the 426 Hemi with a ground pounding 425 horsepower to play with. The ’70 Hemi ‘Cuda had a rated top speed of 107 mph and a 13.1 second time in the quarter. Never meant to negotiate oval tracks, the ‘Cuda was nose-heavy and hard to handle at speed, but it was, and still is, a head-turner where ever it goes.
1970 Chevelle 454 SS
The Chevy Chevelle makes its way into nearly every conversation about classic muscle. The Chevelle was a fairly popular car, but in 1970 Chevy decided to step it up by putting a 454 cu-in engine under the hood. The base engine offered 360 hp and a decent top speed, but with an LS6 upgrade the 454 offered 450 ponies that wanted to ride. The LS6 version featured a rated top speed of 107 mph and a quarter mile time of 13.44 seconds at 108 mph, but many owners found ways to improve on that. Perhaps the most iconic version of the SS is the drop top. Imagine riding with the top down and 450 hp under the hood. Wow!
1970 Buick GSX Stage 1
Buick decided to design an answer to Pontiac’s GTO Judge and Oldsmobile’s 442 W-30. The result was the 1970 Buick Gran Sport GSX Stage 1. Buick produced a scant 400 of these beautiful cars in 1970. The 455 Stage 1 engine produced 360 hp and 510 lb/ft of torque. It was more capable than a Chevrolet 454 because it was 150 lbs lighter. It offered a top speed of 109 mph and a quarter time of 13.41 seconds. An additional draw to the GSX Stage 1 is that all Buick vehicles were more luxurious than other standard muscle cars, so it was actually a luxury sport car.
1968 Chevrolet Corvette L71 427
Just when you though that the Chevy Corvette wouldn’t make the list, here it is. Every model year of the Corvette is distinctive, even the bland stylings of the ’80s. Perhaps one of the best Corvettes ever produced is the 1968 with the 427 big block engine. Just for comparison, a 427 equates to a 7.0L engine in today’s jargon. TheL71 427 produced 435 hp when it was paired with the Tri-Power set-up(a Holley triple pack of 2-barrel carbs). This pairing gave the ’68 Vette a top speed of 109 mph and a quarter mile time of 13.41 seconds.
1967 Shelby Mustang GT500
Carroll Shelby at work again! For the 1967 model year, he turned his golden touch upon a Ford Mustang. The result was the Shelby Mustang GT500. The Shelby GT500 Mustang featured a 428 cu-in Police Interceptor engine rated at 355 hp. Most owners say the 355 is a laughably conservative rating. Estimates of the Shelby’s top speed vary between 135 mph and 150 mph. That may seem low, but you have to remember this is a heavy car that lacked many of the aerodynamic refinements of modern cars, just as all pony cars of the era did. It had a quarter mile time of 13.6 seconds at 106 mph.
1969 Dodge Charger
The 1969 Dodge Charger is probably best known through its staring role in the television series The Dukes Of Hazzard. It is hard to imagine the Charger as anything other than the General Lee. Each rendition of the Charger was a great muscle car, but the two that really standout are the R/T and the 426 Hemi. The R/T had a standard 440 Magnum power plant that was capable of 375 hp. The 426 Hemi produced 425 hp and had 490lb/ft of torque. With that much power, you would expect blazing top speeds and awesome quarter times, but the Hemi weighed so much that it actually lowered the car’s potential. The Hemi Charger was good for a quarter mile of 14.1 seconds.
1965 Pontiac GTO
The GTO earned the unfortunate moniker of the ”Goat”. No one seems to know exactly why. Guesses include that consumers did not want to be troubled by saying GTO, so they just said goat. My guess is that it is because the Pontiac GTO would eat up any road you drove it on. When a buyer opted to pair the 389 cu in engine with the Tri-Power option, the ’65 Goat was rated at 360 hp. With a limited slip differential, it had a top speed of 114 mph, a 0-60 of 5.8 seconds, and a quarter mile time of 14.5 seconds.
After reading this list, I am sure there are car enthusiast chomping at the bit to ask where is the…insert your favorite muscle car here. Arguments can be made for Pontiac Trans-Ams, the Boss 302 Mustang, and many more. Humbly, I submit that this list is not all inclusive and I would encourage you to leave your opinion in the comment section, especially if you can cite stats for hp, torque, and any other relevant information about your dream muscle car.
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