Here’s 10 cool muscle cars you haven’t heard of

When talking about muscle cars, we usually think about icons like the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, and Pontiac GTO. These are some of the cars that gained popularity in the 1960s and became part of the muscle car wars that lasted until the early 1970s. However, this short era that stretched from 1964 to 1971 actually spawned tens of performance-oriented cars in America. Also, the following decades gave us a few nameplates that tried to recapture the golden years. Some were successful, and some were not, while others were actually awesome but didn’t get the attention they deserved. This list is about the latter, the forgotten muscle cars that deserve more credit.

1970 Buick Wildcat

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The Wildcat was introduced in 1963 as a full-size vehicle, and Buick's plans didn't include a competitor for the muscle car market.

But as Ford and Chrysler introduced high-powered versions of their big vehicles, the Wildcat started offering bigger and bigger V-8s. By 1970, it was available with Buick’s largest V-8, a 7.5-liter rated at 370 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque. While big and heavy, the Wildcat had enough power to compete with sportier models. Sadly, Buick decided to ax the brand after the 1970s model year, replacing it with the short-lived Centurion. The Wildcat is a solid option if you’re into classic cars that offered plenty of room and packed solid muscle.

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1970 Buick Wildcat specifications
Engine: 7.5-liter V-8
Power: 370 horsepower
Torque: 510 pound-feet
0-60: 6.9 seconds
Quarter-mile: 15 seconds
Years built: 1970

1970 AMC Rebel Machine

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American Motors Corporation struggled to compete with the big companies from Detroit from 1954 until it was purchased by Chrysler in 1987.

Its products weren’t always great, but AMC built a few solid cars over the years, and the Rebel Machine is proof that it doesn’t get enough credit in the muscle car segment. The Rebel was a short-lived midsize offered in a variety of body styles from 1967 to 1970. In the Rebel’s final model year, AMC introduced the Rebel Machine, a proper muscle car developed to go against the industry’s finest. Finished in a flamboyant livery in white, red, and blue, the Rebel Machine came with a 6.4-liter V-8 rated at 340 horsepower and 430 pound-feet of torque. While it’s one of AMC’s most iconic models, it’s overshadowed by a long list of immensely popular muscle cars from the era.

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1970 AMC Rebel Machine specifications
Engine: 6.4-liter V-8
Power: 340 horsepower
Torque: 430 pound-feet
0-60: 6.6 seconds
Quarter-mile: 14.5 seconds
Years built: 1970

1971 AMC Matador Machine

AMC replaced the Rebel with the Matador in 1971, and the Machine badge returned on the revised midsize. Sort of, because the Machine was no longer a stand-alone model, but a bundle of options called the Go Package. AMC no longer offered the white-blue-red livery and the special model identification, but the package included 15-inch slot-styled wheels, a dual exhaust system, a heavy-duty handling package, and power disk brakes. Two engines were available, either a 5.9- or 6.6-liter V-8. The latter generated a solid 330 horsepower and 430 pound-feet of torque, so it was almost as powerful as its predecessor. The package was discontinued after 1971, and only 50 examples were built.

1971 AMC Matador Machine specifications
Engine: 6.6-liter V-8
Power: 330 horsepower
Torque: 430 pound-feet
0-60: 6.6 seconds
Quarter-mile: 14.6 seconds
Years built: 1971

1971 Dodge Dart Demon

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The Chevrolet Nova SS was the muscle car to beat in the smaller segment in the earlier 1970s.

With the Plymouth Valiant 440 no longer on offer, Mopar introduced the Demon, a sportier version of the Dodge Dart.

The smaller pony wasn’t available with the 7.0-liter Hemi and the 7.2-liter V-8 that Dodge offered in the Charger and Challenger, but it could be ordered with a 5.6-liter mill good for 275 horsepower and 340 pound-feet of torque. Because it’s smaller, the Dart Demon is also lighter than Mopar’s famous muscle cars from the era, so it doesn’t fall far behind performance-wise. It’s also a more affordable alternative nowadays when classic muscle car prices are going up.

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1971 Dodge Dart Demon specifications
Engine: 5.6-liter V-8
Power: 275 horsepower
Torque: 340 pound-feet
0-60: 6.9 seconds
Quarter-mile: 14.9 seconds
Years built: 1971-1972

1971 AMC Hornet SC/360

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The third AMC model on our list is based on the Hornet, a compact that American Motors produced from 1969 to 1977.

Although the Hornet wasn't particularly powerful and fast, AMC introduced a high-performance SC/360 model in 1971.

This two-door coupe was powered by a 5.9-liter V-8 rated at 285 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. It featured all the goodies available on other muscle cars from the era, including as unique, sporty wheels and body striping. The SC/360 was impressively quick given the specs, needing 6.7 seconds to hit 60 mph and 14.8 seconds to run the quarter-mile. The SC/360 was also described as one of the best handling muscle cars back in the day. The high insurance premiums for muscle cars killed the Hornet SC/360 after the 1971 model year, with just 784 units built.

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1971 AMC Hornet SC/360 specifications
Engine: 5.9-liter V-8
Power: 285 horsepower
Torque: 390 pound-feet
0-60: 6.7 seconds
Quarter-mile: 14.8 seconds
Years built: 1971

1971 GMC Sprint SP

GMC didn’t build any cars, but it came close with the Sprint, a light-duty, car-based truck. Introduced in 1971, the Sprint was essentially a rebadged Chevrolet El Camino, which shared chassis with the Chevelle. The Sprint arrived when lower-octane, unleaded fuel had become mandatory, and the reduction in engine compression meant that output ratings also dropped. However, the range-topping Sprint SP, fitted with the big 7.4-liter V-8, still came with a healthy 365 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque.

The SP was basically GMC's equivalent to the Chevrolet SS.

Strangely enough; both the El Camino SS and the GMC Sprint SP had slightly better weight distribution than the Chevelle SS. The Sprint SP is one of the rarest vehicles on this list. Only 25 were built in 1971, and an additional 114 were sold in 1972. Many of them were reportedly stripped off their performance parts for use in Chevelles or converted into El Caminos, so only a few survive.

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1971 GMC Sprint SP specifications
Engine: 7.4-liter V-8
Power: 365 horsepower
Torque: 465 pound-feet
0-60: 6 seconds
Quarter-mile: 13.9 seconds
Years built: 1971-1972

1974 Pontiac Ventura GTO

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New emission regulations and the financial crisis had killed the muscle car by 1974, but automakers were still struggling to keep the flame alive through all sorts of appearance packages. Pontiac discontinued the iconic GTO in 1974 but continues to use the badge on the Ventura, its compact equivalent of the Chevy Nova. The GTO package added many cool features to the Ventura, including tri-color decals, Rally wheels, grille-mounted lights, and a shaker-style hood scoop. More importantly, it also included a 5.7-liter V-8 engine rated at 200 horsepower. While this was almost half what the Pontiac GTO produced a few years back, it was one of the most powerful options available in 1974, when the Ford Mustang barely hit the 100-horsepower mark. Only 7,000 GTOs were produced in 1974, and the badge was dropped after that.

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1974 Pontiac Ventura GTO specifications
Engine: 5.7-liter V-8
Power: 200 horsepower
Torque: 295 pound-feet
0-60: 7.7 seconds
Quarter-mile: 16.1 seconds
Years built: 1974

1975 Chevrolet Laguna

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Just like the Ventura, the Laguna was a short-lived nameplate that Chevrolet produced from 1972 to 1976. Although production started with three body styles, only a coupe was offered starting in 1974. In 1975, the Laguna was still available with a 7.4-liter big-block V-8, and even though it wasn’t as powerful as in the good old days, it still generated 215 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque, which wasn’t bad for the era. The Laguna is still overshadowed by the Chevelle and other muscle cars from the early 1970s that you can find well-maintained examples for cheap.

1975 Chevrolet Laguna specifications
Engine: 7.4-liter V-8
Power: 215 horsepower
Torque: 350 pound-feet
0-60: 8.6 seconds
Quarter-mile: 16.6 seconds
Years built: 1975

1980 Buick GNX

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Introduced in 1987, the final year of the second-generation Buick Regal, the GNX was GM's attempt to revive the muscle car with a different recipe.

Instead of using a big V-8, Buick turned to a turbocharged, 3.8-liter V-6 engine. Developed in cooperation with McLaren Performance Technologies from Canada, the GNX hit the streets with an engine underrated at 276 horsepower and 360 pound-feet of torque, while unofficial figures stood at 300 horses and 420 pound-feet. Despite not having a V-8, the GNX outperformed the Mustangs and Camaros of the era. Only 547 units were produced. While the Buick GNX is a bit more famous than other nameplates on our list, its performance is often forgotten simply because it featured turbo V-6 technology rather than the more popular naturally aspirated V-8.

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1980 Buick GNX specifications
Engine: turbocharged 3.8-liter V-6
Power: 276 horsepower
Torque: 360 pound-feet
0-60: 4.6 seconds
Quarter-mile: 12.7 seconds
Years built: 1987

1992 Dodge Daytona IROC R/T

The Daytona was introduced in 1984 as a spiritual successor to the Challenger, but it had nothing in common with the iconic muscle car. Making matters worse, the Daytona was a front-wheel-drive car. Dodge sold the Daytona with a variety of four-cylinder engines, mostly turbocharged, and output did not exceed 200 horsepower. However, towards the end of the Daytona’s life-cycle, Dodge introduced an IROC model with a ground effects kit and a 3.0-liter V-6. In 1992, Dodge added an R/T performance package for the IROC that included a turbo 2.2-liter four-cylinder with Lotus-designed cylinder heads and direct ignition that delivered 224 horsepower. Output was similar to the Mustang GT and Camaro Z28 of the era, but the IROC R/T had a lighter chassis, which resulted in a superior power-to-weight ratio. The IROC R/T was discontinued in 1993 when Dodge ended production of the Daytona.

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1992 Dodge Daytona IROC R/T specifications
Engine: turbocharged 2.2-liter four-cylinder
Power: 224 horsepower
Torque: 217 pound-feet
0-60: 6.6 seconds
Quarter-mile: 14.8 seconds
Years built: 1992-1993

Q&A

What are the best old muscle cars?

The muscle car’s golden era stretches from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s, so any iconic nameplate from this era qualifies, as long as it’s equipped with the proper engines. Muscle cars are usually higher power versions of vehicles available with mundane engines, usually inline-six or V-6.

What are the best American muscle cars?

This is a long list because all brands grouped under General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford competed in this segment. Iconic nameplates include the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, Chevrolet Chevelle, Dodge Challenger, Dodge Charger, Pontiac GTO, Pontiac Firebird, Oldsmobile 442, and the Plymouth Barracuda.

What are the best European muscle cars?

Although the European car market didn’t have a similar period, some vehicles built in the 1960s and 1970s on the Old Continent qualify as muscle cars. Notable examples include the Jensen Interceptor, Ford Capri, and older Aston Martins.

What are the best drag muscle cars?

Most range-topping versions of classic muscle cars are pretty fast on the drag strip. But companies have also built drag-ready production models because back in the day, there was a class that included stock racers that were actually factory stock. Examples include the Chevrolet Z11 Impala 427, Ford Fairlane Thunderbolt, the Dodge 330 Max Wedge, and the Plymouth Belvedere RO23.

Ciprian Florea
Senior Editor and Supercar Expert - ciprian@topspeed.com
Ciprian's passion for everything with four wheels (and more) started back when he was just a little boy, and the Lamborghini Countach was still the coolest car poster you could hang on your wall. Ciprian's career as a journalist began long before earning a Bachelor's degree, but it was only after graduating that his love for cars became a profession.  Read More
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