These Classic American Muscle Cars Are Prime for Picking
Old school muscle cars – who doesn’t like them, right?
If I told you that you could have one American muscle car of your choice right now, but only one, what would it be? Of all the cool cars out there, which one would you choose if one was on sale today?
I know, it’s hard to choose just one. Don’t worry, it’s the feeling that every old school muscle car lover has.
Since so many great choices exist on the market, today, we’re counting down 15 of the best old school muscle cars ever built, and there’s not a Chevrolet Corvette in sight. If you’ve got good taste, we’re sure you’ll find at least a few of your favorite old school cars on this list outside of the genre’s obvious staples.
15. 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454
The beginning of the ’70s is considered to be the apex of the muscle-car era. The 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle is proof and true evidence of exactly that, and there were actually two versions of this car offered by Chevrolet – the LS5 and LS6.
While the LS5 version provided 360 horsepower, the LS6 version was able to give out an impressive 450 horsepower. The LS6 with its Holley 4-barrel carburetor definitely deserves a place on our list.
An interesting fact is that no other muscle car was able to equal the horsepower of SS 454 at the time of its manufacture, and that’s why it was one of the best muscle cars of the ’70s era.
The Chevelle SS 454 was able to beat nearly every competitor – and it looked really good doing it. Its line is what really gave the people impression of speed, while the bulged hood made sure people understood that something special is hiding under there.
This old school chevy muscle car is an ideal combination of power, stylish good looks, and comfort. If you want a car that you can hammer down the road late at night and have fun in, this is the classic muscle you’re looking for.
14. 1970 Plymouth Barracuda (Hemi)
1970 was the year when Plymouth finally moved away from Valiant and created their own design, and the result was one of the coolest old muscle cars ever!
There’s a variety of 6 and 8 cylinder engines that powered the Plymouth Barracuda back then, yet the ’70s Barracuda was powered by a dual-carburetor 426 cubic-inch Hemi that could easily whip out 425 horsepower.
Therefore, this roadrunner was able to toe the line with some of the best muscle cars of the ’70s era. One of the main reasons for its great success is the car’s special suspension setup, which was specifically designed and crafted for heavy accelerations.
Unfortunately, Plymouth produced a very limited number of Barracuda Hemi muscle cars which leaves us with a very high modern day market price.
Of course, back then, if you opted to purchase the Hemi V8 engine, the price was higher. Although, what remained the same is its unique design, which featured a split-channel air intake mounted atop the hood. That’s something which made 1970 Plymouth Barracuda recognizable as it was the standard on Barracuda Hemi models.
13. 1969 Dodge Charger
The 1969 Dodge Charger is a true American muscle car which was presented in a great fashion.
The ’69 Charger offered a wide choice of models. There was a base model SE (Special Edition) that offered a bit more luxuries included, an R/T version which offered a greater performance, and then there were two race models introduced to us as the 500 and Daytona.
There was also a wide selection of engines which started with Chrysler’s Slant Six and was accompanied by a range of five different V8 engines that ranged all the way up to the 425 hp “Street Hemi”.
The only thing that always remained the same was the body style, which was a two-door hardtop – even though the 1969 Dodge Charger was an update of a restyled 1968 model. However, there were some new styling touches that were added to the base and R/T Chargers such as a vertical center divider in the grille area and horizontal taillights as well.
Something not many people know is that the Dodge Charger Daytona was specifically designed with a number of aerodynamic testings for NASCAR. The results were amazing. The Daytona was iconically the first car to break 200 mph in NASCAR. However, the NASCAR rulebook changed and these type of cars were (unfortunately) banned.
Fun Fact: Compared to a standard Charger, the aerodynamic modifications done on the Daytona lowered its coefficient of drag to 0.28, which was quite impressive even by the current standards. However, did the rear wing have to be that huge and tall to increase rear end downforce? Not really. Legend has it that the wing was made with an exaggerated height to make it possible for the trunklid on the car to pass underneath while fully open.
12. 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429
The 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429 is an American muscle car that was made to meet NASCAR regulations. Thanks to this exclusivity, there were only about 1,400 Boss 429 cars made which makes it one of the rarest 1969 muscle cars.
What is so special about 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429 is that it was completely hand-built. The Mustang, though young, had a great reputation already, and the Boss 429 was a real beast made especially for racing, although it never got to compete in NASCAR.
It featured a huge 429 cubic-inch V8 engine which delivered only 375 horsepower, however, it was made to be revved up to 6000 rpm. What is even more interesting is that Mustang had to go through numerous modifications to fit the engine inside the car. The only problem was that the motor didn’t perform as well as other Mustang engines on the street. It was a bit slower than other big-block Mustangs in the ’69s.
Despite these setbacks in power, the necessary modifications helped Mustang achieve even better looks and design, such as the hood scoop and trunk-molded spoiler.
Fun Fact: Between 1969 and 1970, there were three different engines fitted in the Boss 429. The first was the S-Code fitted in the first cars, followed by the T-Code that had lighter parts and finally the A-Code that came with the last cars in the 429 line.
11. 1969 Pontiac GTO “The Judge”
Pontiac pretty much owned the muscle car scene in the ’60s. Their 1964 Pontiac GTO was one of the first muscle cars on the scene, but by 1968 it had a huge amount of competition and Pontiac needed something better.
Even though Pontiac wanted to create a cheaper GTO model with a smaller engine, they ended up creating one step larger of a car from the previous GTO model.
The Pontiac GTO Judge featured a Ram Air III, 360 horsepower engine standard, and offered an even more powerful engine for buyers who decided to opt for more. The choice was a more hardcore Ram Air IV, good for 370 horsepower.
Pontiac even produced a convertible version of the GTO Judge Ram Air IV in 1969, however, only 5 of them were made, which makes them one of the rarest convertible American muscle cars of all time.
The 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge had a specific body design which was usually featured in a shiny orange color. It had a good-looking wing mounted on the trunk and featured the iconic split air intakes on the hood that continued even to the latest iteration of the GTO.
Fun Fact: The Judge was so popular that the lead singer of the rock band Paul Revere and the Raiders wrote a song about it. In fact, the first TV commercial for the car featured the band singing about the car. It is one of the first rock music videos made.
10. 1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Not many people know that today’s Chevrolet Camaro Zl1 is named after the 1969 Camaro Zl1. It’s one of many legendary American muscle cars made by Chevrolet, and that’s why it deserves a place on our list of the 15 best old school muscle cars.
The ’69 Camaro ZL1 had the most powerful engine ever offered by Chevrolet to the public while at the same time being one of the rarest cars produced by Chevrolet.
It had one of the most recognized Chevrolet engines, the 427 V8. However, instead of having an iron block, the 1969 Camaro Zl1 was the first car to feature a lighter aluminum engine block.
The 1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 had the regular 427’s output of 430 horsepower, but independent testings have revealed that the output was actually much higher.
It’s almost laughable now to find out that the 1969 Camaro ZL1’s initial price was only $7,200 in 1969. Today, you’ll definitely need to spend a little bit more, especially considering the fact that the 1969 Camaro ZL1 was one of the rarest production cars ever made by Chevrolet.
Fun Fact: The all-aluminum ZL-1 V8 made according to COPO 9560 order is an engine made for racing. Chevy developed the engine originally for the Chaparral team to use in the An Am series. However, you can hardly tell the difference from outside, because the ZL-1 has no specific emblems, just the usual Camaro badge.
9. 1970 Buick GSX
When Buick first appeared in the American muscle-car market, it was one of the most luxurious brands available. At the same time, it was one of the most powerful as well.
Once the GSX was introduced, the difference between the appearance of the traditional Buick and new GSX Buick was huge. The GSX offered better branding with a rear spoiler, body striping, and other visual improvements.
Only 687 GSXs were built, and a surprising 488 of them were ordered with a Stage 1 upgrade.
The 1970 Buick GSX was powered by a 455 cubic inch V8 engine that could produce a surprising 510 lb-ft of torque. Customers who ordered the Stage 1 upgrade made do with 360 horsepower to the rear wheels.
Although the 1970 Buick GSX wasn’t one of the quickest or the most powerful muscle cars at the time, it’s definitely the most unique and luxurious one.
The freshly designed Skylark body was meant to attract more sales and become an icon of ’70s muscle cars. Although the sales started slow, they later improved.
8. 1970 Dodge Challenger
Something not many people know is that the Dodge Challenger was actually based on the Plymouth Barracuda platform, but that would change later with the 1971 model. The wheelbase was stretched by two inches to make more space in the interior.
In case you have noticed this before but didn’t know if you were just imagining it – you were right. The Dodge Challenger is a bit larger than Plymouth Barracuda.
The 1970 Dodge Challenger had a longer wheelbase, larger dimensions, and a luxurious interior. It was meant to be a bigger, more luxurious, and higher priced muscle car in response to earlier muscle cars such as the successful yet simple Ford Mustang.
It was available with a number of trim and option levels such as air conditioning and a rear window defogger. Also, it could come with almost any Chrysler engine they had in their inventory back then. The most interesting model available was definitely the 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T which featured a 426 cubic inch engine.
7. 1968 Plymouth Roadrunner Hemi
Like other muscle car manufacturers of the era, Plymouth was really only focused on delivering the rebel machine that was basically a true muscle car fighter. That’s just one of many reasons we had to put it on our list of 15 best old school muscle cars.
Fortunately, Plymouth achieved what they were aiming for because the Plymouth Roadrunner Hemi really did become one of the greatest performance muscle cars of all time.
It featured a 425 horsepower, 426 cubic-inch Hemi V8 engine, and it quickly became the number one muscle car for drag racing. The car was wildly popular, and while Plymouth expected to sell about 20,000 Roadrunner Hemi’s, they ended up pushing about 40,000 cars.
Even before introducing the 1968 Roadrunner Hemi to the crowd, Plymouth licensed the Road Runner name from Warner Brothers. Everything went a step further where it ended up with the creation of a cartoon character that has a speedy image and a horn sound which imitates the iconic bird. This should really highlight how special the 68′ Plymouth Roadrunner Hemi was, and no doubt still is.
One of the best tricks the Roadrunner had up its sleeve was the fact that it looked just like a regular family car. That is, until you hammered down the accelerator and let the V8 under the hood out to play.
6. 1969 Mercury Cougar Eliminator
When Mercury tried to raise their muscle car profile and finally break into the muscle car world, they introduced the Cougar Eliminator in 1969.
It came with only two engines: one was a 302 cubic-inch small block and the other, a 428 cubic-inch Cobra Jet.
The Cobra Jet was able to produce 355 horsepower and an amazing 440 lb-ft of torque. It also wasn’t uncommon for those unimpressed by even these numbers to install upgraded headers or dual-quad carburetors to up the ante.
The only thing that really differed between the Eliminator and the Mustang was the hood. The Eliminator didn’t use the shaker hood, yet the standard scoop it had was functional only with the Ram Air upgrade.
On the outside, the front grille, side stripe, and spoilers did a lot to help the Eliminator appear more muscular. Needless to say, the looks really did go well with the power it offered. The Eliminator was only offered in four colors – Yellow, White, Bright Blue, and Competition Orange.
5. 1970 Oldsmobile 442
When General Motors decided to get rid of their engine size cap, the Oldsmobile 442 was born with the best performance so far. The 1970 Oldsmobile 442 was considered to be a king of the performance. Wondering why? Here’s the reason.
The standard engine that came with Oldsmobile 442 was 445 CID V8 and although General Motors claimed that the output was 365 horsepower, the actual output was about 400 hp accompanied by a raucous 500 lb-feet torque.
The reason behind that was to make sure that the actual customers don’t get penalized by insurance companies. General Motors wasn’t the only company that used such a trick. By advertising lower output, they would avoid penalizations by insurance companies, while the cars were actually way more powerful than they were advertised. It might have been a smart move back then, but that likely wouldn’t hold up in modern times.
There was also a W-Machine version which featured a fiberglass hood, functional air scoops, a low-restriction air cleaner, aluminum intake manifold, cylinder heads, carburetor, distributor, and special camshaft. However, the W-Machine version was a bit more expensive but worth it by all accounts. It was an ultimate performance package for the most enthusiastic sports car lovers.
Fun Fact: James Garner, the famous actor, took a 1970 Olds 442 to the NORRA Mexico 1000 race, which later became Baja 1000, and won second place. The car, fondly known as Goodyear Grabber, was made by Vic Hickey, the renowned Baja-race car guru, under the sponsorship of Goodyear tires. The car has recently been restored and put up for auction.
4. 1970 Ford Torino Cobra
The Ford Torino had many different models, but the one that still remains one of the favorites for many muscle car enthusiasts is definitely the Cobra. It’s a pure performance model of the Ford Torino which was Motor Trend’s car of the year in 1970.
The SportsRoof was the only model available for the Torino Cobra, and it came with competition suspension, a close-ratio transmission, exposed hood latches, and Cobra emblems.
The additional features available for the 1970 Ford Torino Cobra were 15-inch Magnum wheels and black sports slats made for the rear window.
The 1970 Ford Torino Cobra featured 370 horsepower with the help of a 429 V8 engine. This model was a bit heavier than other Torino models but still performed better thanks to the additional power. This beauty was vailable in a three or four speed manual transmission, or with a three speed automatic gearbox.
The 1970 Ford Torino Cobra was able to reach 60 mph in only 5.8 seconds and could run a quarter-mile at 100 mph in just 14.5 seconds. That might not be the quickest performance in the ’70s, but it was pretty darn respectable and competitive to boot – it’s one of the best old school cars out there.
3. 1968 Shelby Mustang GT500KR
The 1968 Shelby Mustang GT500KR was one of the ultimate Mustangs and in fact, bolstered itself with the reputation of being the baddest car out there. To highlight this over-inflated ego, we’d point out that the KR initials in the model stand for “King of the Road”.
This American muscle car was definitely the king of the road thanks to the 428 engine known as the Cobra Jet. It gave this car a horsepower output of 335 and a total torque of 448 lb-ft.
On the outside, the 1968 Shelby Mustang GT500KR had dual inlet hood scoops for increased air delivery, factory hood pins, and even vents that dissipated heat under the hood. Vents on the side also helped to cool down the brakes when driving at high speeds.
Needless to say, the 1968 Shelby Mustang GT500KR was so powerful straight out of the factory that Shelby had to add a padded rollbar for additional safety. Back in 1968, you could get a Shelby Mustang GT500KR straight out of the factory in both hardtop and convertible models.
By the looks of things, the GT500KR was a real beast hiding its true power under the hood, yet had a hard time doing so. It was also featured in a red metallic color which made it look even more fantastic.
Fun Fact: Though not directly a face about the GT500KR, the ’67 Shelby Mustangs had Mercury Cougar tail lamps but the ’68 models featured lamps modified from the 1966 Ford Thunderbird.
2. 1964 Plymouth Belvedere
If you were looking for a car that looks nothing like a muscle car, yet is powerful, go with the 1964 Plymouth Belvedere.
The 1964 Plymouth Belvedere was a very light car with a very powerful 426 Hemi engine. Needless to say, this muscle car was a real beast on the drag strip. Plymouth did really well by adding a Hemi engine, which actually helped the 1964 Belvedere to win first, second, and third place at NASCAR’s 1964 Daytona race.
The 426 Hemi engine was a real beast of an engine on the street. It was able to put out a wicked 519 horsepower and 540 lb-ft torque. The 1964 Plymouth Belvedere was meant to be a race car and it even came with a disclaimer that said the same. What this realistically translated to was that there was really no warranty at all.
Once you bought the car and drove it off the lot, that was it. The reason behind it was the shorter lifespan of the race cars, so there was no room to blame Plymouth for it. It’s really just a good business move.
1. 1968 Dodge Dart 426 Hemi
One of the best muscle cars ever made? Definitely! In order to satisfy NHRA sanction rules back in 1968, Dodge produced 50 Dart 426 Hemi cars which were sent to get 426 Hemi engines installed.
They featured a fiberglass hood, lightweight steel, thinner glass, and front fenders in an effort to reduce the weight of the car. The 1968 Dodge Dart was meant to be a race car which wouldn’t be driven on the streets which is why the weight reduction and most improvements make more sense for a track environment than for, say, city driving.
Dodge was able to combine the very lightweight Dart with a 426 Hemi engine, which was one of the most powerful Chrysler engines of all time back then. This combination resulted in an extremely rare yet powerful muscle car.
It might not have been legal for the streets, but they were absolute beasts on the track. The 1968 Dodge Dart 426 Hemi needed only 10 seconds to hit quarter-mile runs with almost no modifications.
I believe we all can agree that the 1968 Dodge Dart was one of the fastest factory-made cars from the golden age of old school muscle cars and that’s what’s so special about it. If you want a pure power, that’s what you’ll get with this muscle car.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a muscle car?
A muscle car is considered to be a more compact yet heavy 2-door car which is powered by large-displacement engines and are focused on performance. Generally, muscle cars feature a 2+2 design with a small rear seat in coupe format, but the modern day Dodge Charger would be the sedan exception of the muscle car world.
When did muscle cars start?
Muscle car history can be traced all the way back to the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88. There seems to be great debate over this fact, with many contenders claiming to be the first muscle car. All things considered, the Rocket seemed to be much ahead of its time, as the muscle car era really took off in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Why did muscle cars stop existing?
As time went on and the world experienced a few oil crises and higher gas prices, as well as stricter exhaust emissions regulations and higher insurance premiums for more powerful cars, muscle cars slowly faded away. It wasn’t until the mid-to-late 2000’s that muscle cars really came back in full force.
Why were muscle cars invented at all?
Engineers invented and produced muscle cars for straight-line speed which was suitable for drag racing. They weren’t built to be sold in large numbers, instead, they were actually baits to lure potential buyers into the showrooms where they would purchase dull models.
Where to buy old school muscle cars?
By simply doing a quick search on any search engine, you could find local shops which trade and sell old school muscle cars, private owners looking to sell their muscle car, and sites where muscle car owners and potential buyers meet. If you know any shop that sells old school muscle cars near you, feel free to give them a visit and see if they have what you’re looking for. If not, the internet is your best option.
How to draw old school muscle cars?
Muscle cars are great drawing practice because of their straight and curved lines, yet fantastic looks. You can draw old school muscle cars by either copying the illustration from your screen or follow printed guidelines which will guide you through each step of drawing a muscle car of your wish. Guidelines and templates to draw or trace muscle cars can be easily found online.