10 Cool Muscle Cars You Can Buy For Less Than $20,000
Both classic and modernby Ciprian Florea, on
Buying a brand-new muscle car can be quite expensive, especially if you’re going for the V-8-powered versions of the Ford Mustang, Chevy Camaro, or Dodge Challenger. The same goes if you want a mint-condition classic that stands out of the pack through limited-edition packages or a rare version built in only a handful of examples. However, buying a cool muscle car on the used car market can be more affordable than you think, even if you want an iconic model from the past. Also, opting for a modern, previous-generation model can help if you don’t want to break the bank for a Mustang or a Camaro.
We did a bit of research and came up with ten cool muscle cars that you can buy for $20,000 or less. We rounded up seven classics, including some from the golden era of muscle cars, as well as a few options from the modern era. Check them out below and tell us which one you would buy (and why) in the comments section.
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1967 Mercury Cougar GT
For around $19,000 can get a Cougar with the GT package
Granted, muscle cars from the golden era are pretty expensive nowadays, but unless you want a top-notch, high-spec or rare model, you can find a few for under $20,000. One such model is the Cougar, essentially a redesigned Ford Mustang. While Mustang prices kept and keep soaring, the Cougar isn’t as desirable unless it’s a really special or limited-edition model.
For around $19,000, not only you can get a Cougar from 1967, its first year on the market, but you also get one with the GT package. The bundle added a lot of cool extras, starting with a 6.4-liter V-8 engine rated at 270 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque. It also added improved suspension, brakes, exhaust, and better tires. The GT also features sequential taillights and an exclusive chrome grille with vertical slats with hidden headlamps. It’s powerful, it looks mean, and costs as much as a base Toyota Corolla. What more could you want?
1970 Ford Torino GT
You can snap one of these for $15,000 to $18,000, which is quite alright given that the GT was just one step below the range-topping Cobra
Another gold-era muscle car you can buy without robbing a bank is a 1970 or 1971 Ford Torino GT. Based on the Fairlane, the Torino was already in its second generation in 1970 and had a decidedly more aggressive look. Bigger than its predecessor, the Torino had a unique design among muscle cars of the era and was inspired by supersonic aircraft. It had bulging fenders that extend far in front of the nose, a fastback rear end and a racy look. Not surprisingly, Ford used the Torino as the base of its NASCAR race cars. The coupe was also featured in the "Gran Torino" movie, which makes it highly recognizable even now.
You can snap one of these for $15,000 to $18,000, which is quite alright given that the GT was just one step below the range-topping Cobra. Under the hood, the Torino GT had a 4.9-liter V-8 Windsor engine rated at 220 horsepower and 300 pound-feet before emission regulations kicked in for the 1972 model year. Standard features included a non-functional hood scoop, "GT" emblems, body-colored mirrors, full width tail lights with a honeycomb effect, black decklid appliques, and hubcaps with wheel trim rings. If you’re lucky enough to find a Torino GT with the optional 429 Cobra Jet engine, you’ll enjoy 370 horsepower and a 0-to-60 mph sprint of only six seconds.
1964 Studebaker Lark Daytona
The good news is that you can score a mint-condition Lark Daytona with a V-8 for as low as $11,000
Okay, the Studebaker Lark is far from famous compared to other pony cars from the era, but it’s a cool little gem that you can buy for significantly less than $20,000. Introduced in 1964, the third-gen Lark gained a massive redesign and grew bigger. Studebaker also moved production from South Bend, Indiana to Ontario, Canada. Studebaker worked very hard to establish a high-performance image for the 1964 lineup, sending a number cars, including Larks, to the Bonneville Salt Flats to set new production-car speed records. However, the car wasn’t exactly impressive under the hood, where two of the three available engines were inline-sixes.
But the Lark Daytona did get a 4.6-liter V-8 that delivered a solid 195 horsepower. Granted, it was nowhere near as powerful as other V-8 cars from the late 1960s, but for 1964, the Lark Daytona was no slouch. Sure, it doesn’t have a Ford or Chevy badge, but it’s a good choice if you’re looking for something different. There aren’t too many of these around, as production lasted for only three years before Studebaker went bankrupt in 1967. The good news is that you can score a mint-condition Lark Daytona with a V-8 for as low as $11,000.
1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
Given that the value of these cars keeps growing, a $20K sticker might be a smart investment
As you may already know, the muscle car segment entered a rather dark era starting 1972. That was when new emission regulations almost put an end to big-displacement engines, and the V-8s lost the oomph that made them famous. However, most nameplates survived, and some even spawned iconic versions that are considered classics and continue to gain value. One such car is the 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am.
Updated in 1977 with a slant-nose design and square headlamps, the Firebird also gained a Trans Am special edition with a t-top roof and a custom decal on the engine hood. This version became famous after it was driven by Burt Reynolds in "Smokey and the Bandit." Although its massive 6.6-liter V-8 delivers only 200 horsepower, the Trans Am is a proper muscle car given the era it comes from and it’s a full-blown collectors item. Well-maintained examples are valued at around $20,000 nowadays, so it might be a bit of a stretch for the budget. But given that the value has been steadily growing in recent years, a $20K sticker might be a smart investment.
1979 Pontiac Firebird Formula 400 WS6
This thing is hard to find nowadays and only a few had both the 6.6-liter V-8 engine and the WS6 package
It’s hard to be a fan of the Firebird and not like Burt Reynolds, but in case you aren’t, there’s another cool Firebird you can buy. The Formula 400 WS6 is a limited-edition based on the 1979 Firebird, which had a new front fascia with single headlamps on each side and a dual-bulge layout for the engine hood. By 1979, output of the 6.6-liter V-8 had increased to 220 horsepower, but it’s the WS6 handling package that makes it special.
The bundle added "snowflake" wheels, rear anti-roll bars with harder bushings, retuned spring and shock rates, and four-wheel disc brakes. The $324 package proved quite popular with Pontiac enthusiasts and kept the Firebird breathing in the late 1970s. This thing is hard to find nowadays, and only a few had both the 6.6-liter V-8 engine and the WS6 package, but buying one won’t set you back more than $18,000.
1985 Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z
Powered by a 5.0-liter V-8, the IROC-Z hit the streets with 215 horsepower
Needless to say, the Camaro was no longer a very powerful muscle car in the 1980s, but the third-generation model, which was launched in 1981, spawned a few iconic versions. One of them was the IROC-Z. A package named after the International Race of Champions, the IROC-Z was an optional upgrade for the Z28 and featured a retuned suspension, lowered ride height, Delco-Bilstein shocks, larger sway bars, and an injection system from the Corvette.
Powered by a 5.0-liter V-8, the IROC-Z hit the streets with 215 horsepower and an automatic transmission. The car made it on Car and Driver’s Ten Best list for 1985, which helped it become one of the most iconic iterations of the third-generation Camaro. Despite this, the IROC-Z is the most affordable car on our list, with good examples available for under $10,000.
1993 Ford SVT Mustang Cobra
The SVT Cobra is a tight fit here, so you'd better hurry if you want one
In case you were wondering where are the Mustangs on this list, the answer is simple. The first-generation models are fairly expensive even in base trim, while the special-edition versions cost significantly more than the proposed budged of this list. Some can even fetch in excess of $500,000. So instead of going with a really cheap, beat-up, first-gen Mustang, we looked for models that are more affordable, but still appealing. The SVT Cobra from 1993 seems to be the best bet.
Introduced as the third-gen Mustang was being prepared for retirement, the SVT Cobra is essentially a track-ready version of the fastback. It sports aggressive bumpers and rear spoiler, unique wheels and badges, and a 5.0-liter V-8 rated at 235 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. It’s not overly powerful, but this was the norm for V-8 muscle cars back then. A sportier Cobra R model was also produced, but the limited run makes it impossible to find with a $20K budget. The SVT Cobra is a tight fit here, so you’d better hurry if you want one, prices are going up as we speak.
Here’s Something Modern Too
A base model with the V-6 will set you back between $7,000 and $8,000
If classic cars and old technology aren’t your thing, you can always look at the previous-generation muscle cars. The fifth-gen Mustang is a solid choice, especially if you pick a facelifted model, like the one from 2010. Not only did it have better results in safety tests, but it also had the more modern cabin and a fairly big trunk for its class.
The base V-6 engine came with 210 horsepower that year, but the 4.6-liter V-8 delivered a more appealing 315 horses. Finding one is rather easy and prices vary depending on engine and equipment. While a base model with the V-6 will set you back around $7,000 to $8,000, a GT model with the Premium package won’t cost more than $17,000.
Read our full review on the 2010 Ford Mustang.
SS trims usually go for at least $15,000
The Camaro returned in 2009 after a long hiatus and the fifth-gen model remained in production until 2015. A car from 2013 is a good choice if you want to get all the new features introduced with the facelift, including the better materials inside the cabin and the more powerful engines. 2013 is also the year that the SS gained a dual-mode exhaust system and the 1LE package. The Camaro is a lot more powerful in base trim, with the 3.6-liter V-6 generating 323 horsepower.
The V-8 model delivered up to 426 horses when equipped with the manual transmission. The fifth-gen Camaro was also praised for its precise steering, good reliability, and numerous packages available. However, the cabin looked a bit cheaper than the Mustang. The 2013 Camaro is a bit more expensive though, with basic models fetching close to $10,000, while SS trims usually go for at least $15,000.
Read our full review on the 2013 Chevrolet Camaro.
Choose the R/T trim and be prepared to pay between $15,000 to $20,000
Although the Challenger is the oldest of the modern American muscle cars, it’s worth considering given its powerful engines, spacious interior (it’s bigger than the competition), and numerous available packages. The 2011 model year version offers a good blend of performance, price, and features. Just like the Camaro, it has a powerful base engine, in the form of a 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 rated at 305 horsepower.
But you can go higher with the Hemi V-8, which delivers 376 horses. You can also go with the 470-horsepower SRT8 model, but this will require extra cash over our budget. Stick with a V-6 model and you’ll take one home for $10,000 to $13,000 depending on how many options and packages it has. Choose the R/T trim and be prepared to pay between $15,000 to $20,000.
Read our full review on the 2011 Dodge Challenger.