We are huge fans of American muscles. We just do it because we can’t help ourselves. Walking out to your garage to see your baby, who is tenderly protected by a decent car cover, is the sweetest feeling in the world. She is seated there. I’m just waiting for someone to notice her and give her the respect she so richly deserves. You go around the car, grazing the car cover with your hand, pondering whether you have time to take her for a little drive before heading to work. We know because we’ve been there.
Maybe you’re looking for a superb American muscle automobile. We intended to compile a list of the top five American muscle cars of all time, but there are simply too many worthy contenders. Instead of limiting ourselves to just five, we decided to make a list and see where it took us. So, without further ado, let’s get right in and take a look at some iconic American muscle vehicles.
One of the best things about owning a muscle car is all of the sweet little numbers you can get. The 1960s and 1970s were a great time for muscle vehicles, especially those with big V8 engines that could deliver a lot of torque. This era produced some of the rarest muscle vehicles, and it’s simple to see why they were so popular. They’re quick! When the 1980s arrived, there were still some terrific cars with plenty of horsepower, but emissions and other laws put a damper on the celebration, and muscle cars had to be tamed a little in comparison to their 1960s and 1970s counterparts.
- The (COPO) or Central Office Production Order system in the 1960 COPO Camaro was geared for fleet sales and included stain-proof upholstery for taxicabs and heavy-duty suspension for cop vehicles. What’s even better is that some dealerships recognized that if they ordered one of these cars using the correct order numbers, they could acquire them with amenities that Chevy didn’t want the typical motorist to have in their Camaro. Chevy placed production order 9561 for a 425 horsepower, V8 rates, 427 big block engine that is essentially a race engine in the Corvette form. This engine was created and developed for the Chaparral racing team to use in the Can Am series. Chevy, on the other hand, is really sly and didn’t place any unique insignia on the engine or anything, so if you open the hood and look at the engine, you won’t know what it is. Instead, you’ll see standard Chevrolet badges. Anyway, there was a COPO 9560 production order for an engine with an additional 5 horsepower rating, but everyone knew it actually delivered close to 550 horsepower. It was a V8 ZL-1 427 engine made entirely of aluminum, and it could move! Only 69 of these ZL-1 Camaros were made, and if you wanted to purchase one at auction, you’d have to pay $400,000 or more.
The Pontiac GTO Judge, which debuted in 1969, has always been a popular muscle vehicle. In fact, until 1968, when it faced a lot more competition, the 1964 version dominated the market. Paul Revere and the Raiders, a rock band, composed a song about it and sung about the ever-popular GTO. The song was featured in the Judge’s first commercial and was one of the first rock music videos to be released. Pontiac decided to develop a less expensive version of the GTO with a 350-cubic-foot ET (elapsed time) engine. However, John DeLorean, the Pontiac CEO at the time, flatly rejected the notion. Instead of giving a GTO with a lesser engine, he thought they should provide a bigger and better GTO that was a step up from the standard one, and that’s exactly what they did. This version included a Ram Air III engine with 360 horsepower as standard equipment. If the buyer desired even more power, the Ram Air IV engine with 370 horsepower was available. The convertible version of the GTO Judge, which came with a Ram AIR IV engine, was the only alternative choice for a GTO Judge. Only five of these were made in 1969, making them extremely uncommon. Many people are curious about the origins of the GTO Judge’s name. According to rumors, John DeLorean was a major admirer of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In on television. It’s a sketch comedy show, and he named the Judge after one of the show’s most successful skits.
- The Chevy of 1970 The Chevelle LS6 was built after General Motors eventually agreed to relax their long-standing rule that engines greater than 400 cubic inches could only be put in medium or larger vehicles. The Corvette had traditionally been Chevy’s best-selling and best-performing automobile, and the company didn’t want its sales to suffer as a result of any car with a greater horsepower rating than the Corvette. That restriction was in existence until 1970, when it was relaxed. A 454 LS5 390 horsepower engine was the most powerful in a 1970 Corvette. That was about to change. The LS6 V8, 454-cubic engine was put in the Chevelle SS, and a slew of other automobiles quickly followed suit. All of the company’s divisions participated, and Oldsmobile received a 455-cubic-inch engine instead of the standard 442. Most people estimated the LS6’s power to be 500 lb-ft of torque and 450 hp. Those estimations, however, were not quite accurate. Because of a massive 780 CFM carb and a high 11.25:1 compression ratio, the real horsepower was closer to 500. In 1970, Car and Driver tested one and discovered that it could travel from 0-60 in 5.4 seconds and a quarter mile in 13.8 seconds. However, keep in mind that the test was conducted on skinny, low-grip tires. The test should be re-run now with current tires, and the automobile would be significantly faster. Another interesting fact about these vehicles is that the LS6 has the greatest factory horsepower rating of all of the muscle cars.
- 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429: In the early 1970s and late 1960s, Nascar was at the pinnacle of its sport. It was a wonderful scenario for carmakers who could concoct the most outrageous designs and specifications for new racecars. Every firm was striving to outdo the next with their unique body shapes and hot tiny engines. If the automaker could see 500 of the automobile in question, it would be possible to race them in Nascar, which was the ultimate goal. One of these cars was the Boss 429 Mustang. The V8, 429-cubic-inch, 375-horsepower engine under the hood was built to crank to 6000 rpms and was specifically designed for racing. This Mustang, on the other hand, never made it to Nascar and performed even worse on the streets; in fact, this Mustang was actually slower than some of the other big-block Mustangs at the time. Mustang would never put up with that. It was time to think beyond the box. This V8 was massive and wouldn’t fit in a stock Mustang’s engine bay. So Ford hired a company named Kar Kraft to do the task, and they installed a smaller brake booster, moved the battery to the trunk, expanded the front end track, and relocated the shock towers all to make way for the monster engine. That worked out well for anyone who bought one of these Boss 429s because they are still enigmatic and unusual, resulting in auction prices exceeding $200,000.
- Pontiac Firebird, 1978 In the late 1970s, when all other vehicle manufacturers were battling with decreasing muscle car sales due to high insurance costs, high gas prices, and pollution laws, the Trans Am became famous in the film Smokey and the Bandit, making it a highly popular choice. All of the other carmakers were lowering their horsepower, but Pontiac was not one of them. In 1978, they actually boosted the highest Trans Am’s horsepower from 200 to 220 horsepower. They also added some wonderful features like quicker steering, fresh tires, bigger 8-inch wheels, and sport-tuned suspension, which made it faster and more maneuverable around a track than the Chevy Corvette. Those who preferred the T-top roof’s close-to-convertible feel had to wait while Pontiac ironed out the wrinkles. Originally, they used a Hurst Hatch built by Hurst in the 1976 models, but they immediately discovered that they would have to design and develop their own because the Hurst Hatch leaked. With the support of GM’s Fisher body division, they designed and developed their own, which they released in mid-year 1978. As a result, you can locate a 1978 model with Fisher units and others with Hurst Hatch. The Hurst Hatch glass roof panels are smaller than the Fisher glass roof panels, thus most people can see the difference. However, unless you have one of each sitting side by side to compare, it may be difficult to tell.
- The 1970 Oldsmobile 442, which was based on the Cutlass and included dual exhausts, a four-speed manual, and a four-barrel carburetor, was one of Oldsmobile’s most popular muscle cars. Most people are unaware that this automobile was built on the same basis as the Pontiac GTO and Chevy Chevelle SS. The automobile began with a 442 but was immediately upgraded to a big-block 455-cubic-inch V8 that produced 360 horsepower and 550 pounds of torque. It was fast for its day, especially given it was an Oldsmobile that could go from zero to sixty in six seconds. James Garner raced one of them in the NORRA Mexico 1000, which was the race before it became the Baja 1000, and finished second in class. Since then, the car has been refurbished and placed up for sale. It will be fascinating to watch how much it sells for.
- After seeing how popular their high-performance GTO variant of Pontiac’s Tempest was, the 1965 Pontiac Catalina 2+2 was built with the purpose of making over the larger cars that Pontiac made. So they introduced the new big-body Catalina, which featured a 421 cubic-inch engine with 338 horsepower. You could even upgrade to the 421 engine, which offered 376 horsepower for a little more money. This car featured unique badging, a Hurst shifter, bucket seats, beefier suspension, and eight-lug hubs. Car and Driver evaluated one of the Catalina 2+2s, which accelerated from 0-60 in 3.8 seconds and completed the quarter mile in 13.8 seconds. It was also faster around the circuit than the Ferrari utilized in the comparison test by the magazine. Because Royal was not only a dealership, but they also supplied Pontiac-approved speed parts, it’s assumed that the automobiles that were heading out to the automotive press arrived first. These cars almost certainly had certain Royal speed items that the factory Catalinas built for the general public did not.
- Dodge Charger, 1969 The Daytona was one of the most distinctive muscle cars of its time. This car was built to race the longest and fastest tracks on the Nascar superspeedways, as the name suggests. The engineers opted to make some aerodynamic changes and take the Charger to the wind tunnel to ensure they had the fastest and best performing car possible. The aerodynamic changes reduced the coefficient drag to 0.28, which was a significant improvement. A taller, slanted nose cone, a flush back window, and an almost two foot tall rear wing were among the changes made. The rear wing was so tall so that the trunk lid on production cars could pass underneath it and fully open. The upgrades were a big success, and the Daytona racing version became the first car in history to reach 200 mph. Nascar, on the other hand, opted to outlaw these vehicles after a while. The production cars, which came with a big block 440 or 426 Hemi and cost $150,000+ at auction, are still hugely sought-after collector cars.
- The fourth generation Chevrolet Corvette debuted in 1984. The third generation lasted from 1968 to 1982, which is quite a long time. As a side note, there is no 1983 Corvette in production. The business opted to hold off on releasing the new model until the 1984 model year. Except for one white prototype, which is on display at the National Corvette Museum in Kentucky, all of the 1983 prototypes were destroyed. According to rumors, the reason they waited until 1984 was due to quality control concerns and harsher emissions restrictions, both of which required additional time to create the automobile, although no one knows for sure. Anyway, there was a lot of discussion regarding the alterations that would be made before the release of 1984. Some speculated that it would employ a rotary engine, similar to Mazda’s, while others speculated that it would have a mid-engine chassis, similar to the Italian exotics. When it was finally released, it was equipped with a small-block V8 Chevy engine that produced only 205 horsepower, which was far from remarkable. It didn’t take long for them to fix the problem, and five years later they released an ultra-high-performance Corvette with a new, calibrated port fuel-injection system that improved performance and speed. With 375 horsepower, it was the ZR-1.
- The 1987 Buick GNX: when the 1960s and 1970s mania had calmed down, everyone was hungry for more V8 powered engines. Buick gladly stepped in to save the day, releasing the Grand National, a hot-rod version of the Regal coupe. It was equipped with a powerful turbocharged V6 engine that increased horsepower from 245 to 276 horsepower. It was one of the fastest automobiles available at the time, going from 0 to 60 in 4.6 seconds. As a fun fact, when Buick ceased building the GNX, which didn’t take long considering only 547 were built and sold as investments for most customers, they had a lot of leftover engines that Pontiac picked up. The turbo V6s were installed in Pontiac’s 20th Anniversary Trans Am, which was released in 1989. It was rated at 250 horsepower, but those who knew better believed it had more power under the hood than that.
We could have included a lot more interesting automobiles on this list, so don’t believe this is a complete list by any means. Muscle cars are still enjoyable to look at, drive, and collect because they transport us to a simpler era of sensual nostalgia and provide us with a peek of some of the most iconic automobiles in history.