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The Top 15 Classic Muscle Cars

By Shawn Furman | April 15, 2022

When one starts talking about American muscle cars, the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Charger, and Pontiac Trans Am come to mind. These are certainly iconic muscle cars, but there are many more beyond these that have been forgotten. The late 1960s and early ‘70s saw the peak years of the American muscle car, and there are more than enough models from which to construct a “best of” list.

Most associate muscle cars with high horsepower, tire-smoking torque, and muscular design, but the essence of the muscle car goes deeper than that. The truth is that many normal modern vehicles have just as much power, better handling characteristics, and a better quarter-mile drag strip time if pushed to their limits.

Despite the fact that classic muscle cars are now considered to be ill-handling, not that fast, and incredibly inefficient, those who have experienced them know just how special they are. They have been a huge part of popular culture, they were a sign of freedom for those who bought them in past decades, and some have become hugely collectible. Here is our list of the best and most special ones.


1970 Buick GSX

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Most people think of modern Buicks to be mundane, semi-luxury vehicles produced mainly for older folks – though they have tried to change that image over the past several years. This has not always been the case, and the primary evidence of that is the 1970 Buick GNX. It was made to do battle with the likes of the Chevrolet Chevelle, Pontiac GTO, and Oldsmobile 442.

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1970 was the first year of the GSX, continuing through to 1972 when production numbers dropped drastically. It was based on the Gran Sport 455, the highest performance version of Buick’s Skylark-based car. It featured a 455 cubic inch V8 engine, a supposed output of 350 horsepower, and a mind-blowing 510 ft-lb of torque.

Only helping its performance was the comparatively lightweight of the 455 compared to other General Motors and Mopar offerings, its disc brakes, beefed-up suspension, and other special performance upgrades. GSXs with the Stage 1 performance upgrade is the most desirable, bringing horsepower up to 360 and numbers matching vehicles to well over $100,000 at auction.


1964 Pontiac GTO/1969 Pontiac GTO Judge

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The very first muscle car is a debated topic, but the 1964 GTO is often given credit for kicking off what we know to be the first one. Even if it was not the first, it certainly started the craze that led to some of the most iconic cars in American history.

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The original GTO was actually a package option on Pontiac’s Tempest that skirted GM’s maximum displacement policy. By offering their 6.4-liter V8 as non-standard equipment, they could get around GM’s roadblocks in place. It made 325 horsepower, and it came with dual exhaust tips, a three-speed manual transmission and Hurst shifter, and hood scoops.

Fast forward to 1969 and Pontiac answered slowing sales numbers by offering “The Judge”. It was a GTO package only offered for 1969 models and included the choice of either a Ram Air III engine – 366 horsepower – or the Ram Air IV engine – 370 horsepower. With its four-speed manual, optional coupe or convertible body style, spoiler, and iconic paint schemes with “The Judge” logos, it was not the first GTO, but it became the one everybody remembers.


1968 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

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The Ford Mustang was never really known as a true muscle car, but rather, as a pony car. Along with the Plymouth Barracuda, Chevy Camaro, and AMC Javelin, the pony cars were less muscular, more affordable, and less performance-oriented muscle cars. But, like many of the aforementioned Mustang competitors, its pony car status was soon to be set aside for the desire for performance.

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Carroll Shelby and his company got a hold of the Mustang in 1965 and started making the high-performance GT 350. It was not until 1967 that the GT 500 entered the lineup with the Ford Police Interceptor V8 engine. 1968 was arguably the best year of the Shelby GT 500, even though by now, Ford had taken over the engineering and production from Shelby.

1968 models were graced with aggressive twin hood intakes that looked like nostrils, a large grille, and the Mustang’s now iconic rear sequential turn signals – taken from a 1965 Thunderbird. The first part of ’68 saw the use of Ford’s Police Interceptor V8 from the previous model year, but in April of that year, Ford started using their “Cobra Jet” 428 V8 in the GT 500, good for 335 horsepower. Both engines have been reported to be severely underrated.


1969 Chevrolet COPO Camaro

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Even though the Chevy Corvair was supposed to be the Mustang’s true competition, the Camaro took over that role after General Motors realized Corvair’s design limitations. The Camaro came out in 1967 as a pony car with a base 3.8-liter inline-six engine.

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The 1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS is probably one of the best-known and most recognizable Camaro variants, even today, but the Z/28 has been potentially the most storied model throughout the years. The 1967 Z/28 could easily make our list as it was born to be a “virtually race-ready” model with a 302 cubic-inch V8 engine that reportedly made 290 horsepower.

Handily beating out both the ‘69 SS and Z/28, though, is the 1969 COPO Camaro. It exists as a dealer-installed option since General Motors prohibited Chevrolet from installing engines larger than 6.6 liters in cars as small as the Camaro. COPO Camaros features a 427 cubic-inch Chevy big block that makes either 425 or 430 horsepower in a small number of models designed specifically for drag racing.


1987 Buick GNX

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The 1987 Buick GNX is somewhat of a muscle car anomaly for several reasons. Firstly, it is a much newer model than many other classic muscle cars on our list. Secondly, it features a turbocharged V6 engine rather than a huge V8. Lastly, it lacks the huge power and torque numbers relative to some of the other American muscle cars of the 60s and 70s.

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Despite this, the GNX is one of the most iconic, recognizable, and desirable muscle cars of all time. With a sub-5-second 0-60 time, a reported 276-horsepower output, and 330 ft-lb of torque, it screamed down the quarter-mile dragstrip faster than a Ferrari F40. Of course, its power figures are said to be underrated.

McLaren partnered with Buick to make the GNX what it was. Upgraded parts like a special turbocharger with a ceramic impeller, a large intercooler, a less restrictive dual exhaust system, and a reprogrammed 4-speed automatic transmission over the top-tier Grand National helped make it the “Grand National to end all Grand Nationals.”


1973 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am SD-455/1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

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There have been so many iconic Pontiac Firebird Trans Am models that it is hard to pick one, so we picked two. The ’69 could easily go here for its rarity, its iconic white and baby blue paint scheme, and its potential use of an underrated 345-horsepower Ram Air IV powerplant under the hood. But 1969 already has so many other models that the ’73 SD-455 and ’77 have to get some love.

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1973 saw almost all the muscle evacuate the muscle car industry because of soaring insurance rates and stricter emissions regulations coming down from the government. The Firebird Trans Am SD-455 was a last hurrah for the American Muscle car, though. It was a surprising success with its beefed-up internals, iconic hood scoop, and 310 horsepower. Its grandfathered engine also helped it avoid new engine restrictions that required a 50,000 emissions break-in period.

1977 Trans Am models are not remembered for their stellar performance, as was the case for most cars at the time. Rather, the ’77 Trans Am became iconic for its role in the film Smokey and The Bandit. Despite its measly 200-ish horsepower output from a 6.6-liter V8, its iconic black and gold paint scheme, its snowflake style wheels, and shaker hood scoop – along with its movie fame – helped stall production of the next generation Firebird for several years.


1970 Dodge Challenger R/T

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Not to be outdone by Ford and General Motors, the Chrysler corporation also got into the muscle car game with cars like the Plymouth Road Runner and Dodge Super Bee. Though the Chrysler Saratoga was arguably their first true muscle car offering, the 1969 Dodge Challenger R/T was potentially their best muscle car offering of all time.

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The Challenger R/T had the iconic muscle car shape, audacious color schemes, rear spoiler, racing stripes, shaker hood, double barrel carburetor, and available high-performance engine to make it one of the most feared and desirable muscle cars of all time. Buyers could opt for a 7.0-liter Hemi V8 that put down 425 horsepower and 410 ft-lb of torque and a four-speed manual transmission.

Dodge did also sell a Challenger T/A model that featured a 340 cubic-inch engine and three Holley carburetors to meet homologation requirements for SCCA racing. It had a bigger hood scoop, a fiberglass hood, and it exemplified the look and feel of a classic American muscle car. With more raw power, the R/T is the one that makes the list, but both numbers matching R/T and T/A Challengers can fetch quite the pretty penny at auction.

Browse used 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T listings here.


1971 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda

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The original Plymouth Barracuda was Chrysler’s version of the Ford Mustang. It debuted in 1964 as a fastback version of the Chrysler Valiant. It was not quite as sporty as the Mustang nor was it marketed toward younger buyers like the Mustang. The result was that the Mustang stomped Barracuda’s sales numbers.

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By 1969, Chrysler started adding performance to its pony car, and the following year, it was completely redesigned. Finally separating itself from the Valiant name and taking on the ‘Cuda name in its highest-performance variants, the 1971 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda was fitted with Chrysler’s 426 Hemi engine, producing 425 horsepower and 490 ft-lb of torque.

Not only are these valuable collector’s cars today, but they are also some of the best-looking and best-performing classic muscle cars ever made. A shaker hood scoop, radical paint schemes, a rear spoiler, and a gaping grille all gave the revered car its character. A four-speed manual transmission and convertible body style were both available, but you can only get one of the seven ever made if you fork over some serious cash at auction.


1969 Hurst Oldsmobile 442

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Oldsmobile died in 2004, and similarly to Buick, many younger car enthusiasts have a different modern image of the automaker than what they used to be decades ago. The Oldsmobile 442 lives on in the hearts of muscle car aficionados as an underrated American muscle car, largely overshadowed by the more iconic Dodge Challenger, Shelby GT500, and even the Chevy Corvette.

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Its name comes from the original four-barrel carburetor, four-speed manual transmission, and dual exhaust, even though a 3-speed manual transmission became standard in 1965, only one year after its debut. Like so many other muscle cars, Oldsmobile paired up with an outside company in 1968, Hurst, to create an even bigger muscle monster called the Hurst/Olds 442.

Even though 1968 was the first year of the Hurst/Olds, 1969 featured the iconic white and fire frost gold striping paint scheme, its recognizable dual intake ports at the front of its hood, unique wheels, and a rear spoiler, and a 455 cubic-inch Rocket V8 engine. It was good for 380 horsepower and 500 ft-lb of torque.


1970 Plymouth Superbird/1969 Dodge Charger Daytona

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Both the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona and 1970 Plymouth Superbird were produced specifically for NASCAR. Both feature a distinctive nose cone and a huge wing to help stabilize the cars at high speeds. Both design elements contributed to the cars’ slipperiness, and Buddy Baker was the first to break the 200 miles per hour mark in Daytona.

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Even though both cars came with the choice of more than one V8 engine, both featured the 425-horsepower 426 Hemi V8, a valuable piece of each car that can raise their value by an incredible margin. Unfortunately, both the Daytona’s and Superbird’s NASCAR stints were short-lived. They were too fast and too good, so NASCAR cracked down on both “aero-cars” and changed their regulations to outlaw them for the 1971 season.

The two Mopar cousins look similar at first glance, but there are some differences between them, beyond the car on which each is based. The Superbird’s nose cone is blunter than the Daytona’s, it has a more angled wing than the Daytona’s, the Superbird has a vinyl roof, the Daytona was slightly faster because of the nose cone and wing differences in the Superbird, and both have their own badges and decals distinguishing them from one another.


1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454

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So many of the classic muscle cars on this list have been brutishly powerful icons, but the Chevelle SS 454 is considered by some to be the king of muscle cars. With a 450-horsepower LS6 engine, a 4-barrel 800 CFM Holley carburetor, and 500 ft-lb of torque at its disposal, it was an absolute beast of a car that could hit the 150 miles per hour threshold.

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Though you could also have the Chevelle with a 454 cubic-inch LS5 engine, it made much less horsepower – 360 – and is now far less collectible than a mint condition model with the LS6. But the allure of the Chevelle extends far past its massive power potential. It was a popular model with a comfortable interior and sports car-like handling capability that exceeded other muscle cars of the era.

Of course, when you couple relative comfort, a huge big-block V8, the Chevelle’s iconic coupe body style, racing stripes, cowl hood induction, a four-speed manual transmission, and arguably one of General Motor’s best cars ever, you have a pretty good recipe for a classic muscle car.

Browse used 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 listings here.


1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429

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Unlike the Shelby GT 500, the Boss 429 was not fiddled with outside of Ford. Like so many other muscle cars on this list, it was made as a homologation special to ensure that Ford was compliant with NASCAR regulations. Unfortunately for Ford, the sight of the Dodge Charger Daytona made them scrap their NASCAR plans, only leaving behind a street-legal racer.

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The Boss 429 boasted – you guessed it – a 429 cubic-inch engine that did not initially fit into the Mustang until it was modified. Reported numbers of 375 horsepower and 450 ft-lb of torque were squeezed from the engine’s forged crank, forged connecting rod, aluminum cylinder heads, Holley four-barrel carburetor, and aluminum intake. A four-speed manual came standard in all 1969 models.

In addition to its prominent hood scoop, front spoiler, additional fender decals, and optional rear spoiler, the Boss’s fastback design and “Clydesdale” body made it look truly muscular and characterful. Its looks combined with its performance have helped it fetch well over $100,000 at various auctions over the years.


1969 Chevrolet Corvette ZL1

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There is much debate about whether the Corvette is even a muscle car. If you can get past that, there is even more debate about which one is best. For many, the 1969 Corvette ZL1 sits atop the list, and for good reason. It was designed to replace the L88, another absolute beast of a Corvette. Part of what makes the ZL1 so special is its limited production numbers.

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Officially, records show that 94 ZL1 engines slated to be used in Corvettes were built, but less than five were actually ever sold by Chevy. Part of why it is so rare was its prohibitive cost at the time, but what you got for that cost was phenomenal. The ZL1 produced 430 horsepower from the factory, though that power figure is known to be blatantly understated.

This powerful engine is known to produce well over 500 horsepower, it could power the ZL1 to 60 miles per hour in four seconds, and it could torch the quarter-mile drag strip in 12.1 seconds. To help tame this power, the ZL1 was also treated with brake and suspension upgrades. Only adding to its desirability is its appearance. The C3 Corvette is one of the best-looking Corvettes of all time. Fortunately, the ZL1 was offered before the 1970s slowly created a rift between its styling and the performance car it could no longer be.


1970 Mercury Cougar Eliminator

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The Mercury Cougar Eliminator is another muscle car that started out life like the Mustang. It slowly became more like a muscle car over the years leading up to 1970 but also never really broke into the true muscle car scene. Despite this, the Eliminator was every bit a muscle car as its rivals, including its cousin, the Mustang Boss 429.

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A big reason for this is that you could get the Cougar with the Boss’s 428 Cobra Jet engine. Ram Air or no Ram Air: The choice was yours. It made 335 horsepower, had a standard four-speed manual transmission, and had quite a nice interior since it was never designed to be a hard-core racer or homologation special. Unfortunately, that was part of the problem.

It looked different than competitors like the Pontiac Trans Am, Chevy Camaro, and Barracuda, but it did just about the same thing as those guys, and it never had the recognition that a comparable Mustang would have. Right now, good condition Cougar Eliminators with the CJ 428 engine, Ram Air, and Super Drag Pak options can go at auction for well over $100,000.

Browse used 1970 Mercury Cougar Eliminator listings here.


1968 AMC AMX

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AMC is often forgotten in the modern automotive world. If they are remembered, it is for their Jeep brand that Chrysler wanted and acquired in the late 1980s. AMC was small, innovative, and competed well against Ford, Chevrolet, and Chrysler for many years. They made some great muscle cars like the Javelin, Rebel, and Marlin but are also overshadowed by the typical muscle car contenders of the ’60s and ‘70s.

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One of the best and most interesting AMC muscle cars is the AMX. Part of what makes it special was its position and price within the muscle car segment of the time. It was a two-seater coupe like the Corvette but was offered at a lower price. With a shortened wheelbase from the larger Javelin, an optional 390 cubic-inch V8, 315 horsepower, 425 ft-lb of torque, and a four-barrel carburetor, the little AMX was a rocket ship.

It was lost in the sea of other muscle cars and never met with any huge success, meaning that current values are much lower than some of the bigger names in the classic muscle car segment. If you need to scratch your collectible muscle car itch a little more, you can try to reach for a 1969 AMX Super Stock. These made more power than the regular 390 AMX – factory rated at 340 horsepower but re-rated by the National Hot Rod Association at 420 horsepower – and can bring more at auction if in good condition.