Somewhere along the line, American car making just went all wrong. All of a sudden, people wanted cars that were practical — family vehicles that were reliable and wouldn’t consume approximately half the annual oil production of Kuwait to drive the grocery store. It’s a tragedy. There was a time when a car wasn’t about utility, it was about raw power. Insane levels of torque serving no earthly purpose other than to win hypothetical future drag races, roaring engines so loud they would change the migratory patterns of local birds — these were more than just cars, they were muscle cars.
So, here’s a quick trip down memory lane to see some of the classic muscle cars that have come to define the term.
1966 Shelby GT350
The Shelby is named for its designer, Carroll Shelby, who Ford had hired as part of its effort to beat out Ferrari in designing sports cars. The 1966 Shelby, its second year, saw the car drop the Mustang from its title and add rear quarter windows and brake scoops, and these iconic rides are still considered to be among the best muscle cars.
1965 Pontiac Catalina 2+2
The 1965 Catalina coupe was a full-sized car that still had the oomph to get moving. If you opted for the 421HO option, you had 376 horses waiting under that hood for you to punch it.
1970 Oldsmobile 442
The 1970 Oldsmobile 442 is one of (many) muscle cars with the famed Olds 350 “Rocket” V-8 engine. However, this particular model might be best remembered for its appearance in 1993’s “Demolition Man.”
1968 Dodge Charger
The 1968 Steve McQueen vehicle (pun intended) “Bullitt” has been obsessively watched by muscle car fans for decades, with its key scene being the iconic car chase between McQueen’s Bullitt in a ’68 Mustang running down the villains in a jet black Dodge Charger. The film helped add to the Charger’s legacy as one of the great American muscle cars.
1968 Ford Mustang GT
And, of course, you have the other car from “Bullitt.” McQueen’s effortless, stoic cool is probably the blueprint a majority of muscle car owners are working off of, so driving the same car as him in one of his most iconic films is going to keep the 1968 Mustang GT in collections for a long time.
1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
A classic trans am is a car that just screams ’70s. And while there are other famous examples, the moment that really helped cement the iconic status of the 1977 version was its appearance as the “blocker” in “Smokey and the Bandit.”
1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454
The 1970 Chevy Chevelle was among the fastest cars of its time, with a 450-horsepower LS6 engine that was the most powerful on the market. It was also among the first cars to include an emissions-reducing air injection reactor… that most Chevelle owners promptly removed as soon as they bought it.
1969 1/2 Dodge Super Bee A12
The Super Bee was originally part of Dodge’s Coronet 440 line, only to have the name move over to the B-body family that’s since become legendary. However, it was the 1969 A12 option that launched midway through 1969 that’s really remembered for offering a lot of speed for a car buyer on a budget.
1971 Ford Mustang Sportsroof
The 1971 Ford Mustang Sportsroof has the honor of being the first car to receive starring credit in a film — as “Eleanor” in the original 1974 version of “Gone in 60 Seconds.” The 1971 version included a 7.0-liter engine that could churn out 375 horsepower.
1967 Shelby GT350
The Shelby GT350 is back! This time, though, it’s the next model year. Interestingly enough, it’s also the car that played “Eleanor” in the Nicholas Cage remake of “Gone in 60 Seconds.” One of the cars used in the 2000 version — which was actually a replica built for the film — sold at auction for $1 million in 2013.
1969 Dodge Charger
If you want to talk iconic muscle cars, it’s hard to top the 1969 Dodge Charger — better known as the General Lee in the show “The Dukes of Hazzard.” Obviously, a lot of things about that show haven’t aged quite as well — like, say, the Confederate battle flag on the car’s roof or the name “General Lee” — but the car itself remains a classic, regardless.
1969 Pontiac GTO Judge
The Judge is one of the classic Pontiac muscle cars designed when John Delorean was at Pontiac. Delorean reputedly saw the initial designs and scoffed at the idea of using an engine that was 350 cubic inches. He sent them back to the drawing board to make room for 400 cubic inches and the rest is history.
1970 Chevrolet Nova
The 1970 Chevy Nova is one of the two cars driven by “Stunt Man Mike” in the Quentin Tarantino homage to grindhouse cinema, “Death Proof.” The other is a 1969 Dodge Charger, the same model they used for “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
1973 Ford Falcon XB GT Coupe 'V8 Interceptor'
If you don’t immediately recognize this car, maybe it’s because it isn’t racing across a post-apocalyptic hellscape being chased by armed warriors. That’s right, if you want to own the same model of car as Mad Max, you’ll want to get the classic 1973 Ford Falcon.
1964 Pontiac GTO Tri-Power
Pontiac introduced “tri-power” — it’s new carbureted induction system — in 1956 and the results were much loved by muscle car fans. The 1964 GTO was among the leaders for flat-out acceleration in its day, and it’s still among the most loved of its generation.
1971 Buick GSX
The GSX is among the fastest production cars on offer in the early 1970s, with 350 horsepower driving over 500 foot-pounds of torque. Not to mention, the snazzy black stripe down each side helps give it that classic muscle car look.
1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
The ZL1 Camaro gave buyers the chance to customize cars in a way General Motors customers previously couldn’t. One end result is the ZL1 — a muscle car driver’s dream — of which a mere 69 were produced.
1970 Plymouth Road Runner
The Road Runner was a part of the product line Plymouth advertised as its “rapid transit system.” Ads dubbed the car the “loved bird,” though there likely weren’t a lot of birds hanging around after you revved the engine.
1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda
Speaking of Plymouth’s “rapid transit system,” the Hemi Cuda — short for barracuda — is another early 1970s classic. There were five different options for your V-8 engine, with outputs ranging from 275 horsepower to 425 horsepower.
1970 Plymouth Superbird
OK, so this futuristic-looking ride (even now) is technically just a highly-modified version of the Road Runner, but this short-lived car makes it anyway. Legend has it that this is the car that lured famous driver Richard Petty back to the Plymouth racing team.
1966 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray 427
The 1966 Corvette has some 425 horsepower under the hood, and it put it all to good use. An early review of the vehicle by Car and Driver raved about the engine’s power, insisting that the manufacturer specifications were understating the horsepower.
1968 Mercury Cyclone GT Cobra Jet
The 428 Cobra Jet engine in the 1968 Mercury Cyclone helped give Mercury a boost to its reputation, which had been that its cars just couldn’t hold up in a drag race. However, with the Cobra Jet generating tons of torque even at lower revolutions per minute, this is one car that helped Mercury stay in the muscle car game.
1970 Ford Torino Super Cobra Jet 429
Ford sold about 7,600 of the Torino with the full Super Cobra Jet 429 with the Drag Pack option, with the Torino GT proving the more popular option. However, muscle car fanatics now view this as being one of the quintessential Torinos for any collection.
1966 Plymouth Satellite
Perhaps the inspiration for the name “Satellite” was that this car felt like it would put you into orbit when you hit the gas. The car had benefitted from Plymouth’s shift to the 426-cid Hemi V-8 for the 1966 model year.
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