The Rarest American Muscle Cars in Existence
10 muscle cars that could set you back more than $1 millionby Ciprian Florea, on LISTEN 15:02
Sports cars and supercars may be the most popular performance vehicles nowadays, but back in the 1960s and early 1970s America was hooked on muscle cars. Usually defined as two-door sports coupes powered by big, powerful V-8 engines, classic muscle cars are highly sought after as some of the most beautiful and powerful vehicles ever built.
While some iconic muscle cars were built in big numbers and are easier to find and buy 50 years later, others were released in very limited numbers and are not only tough to find, but very expensive to buy. Here’s a list of the rarest muscle cars ever built.
1966 Ford Fairlane 500 R-Code
The Fairlane was born as full-size model in 1955, but Ford redesigned it into a midsize in 1962. By 1966, Ford had moved the Fairlane closer to muscle car territory and it eventually became the base for the Torino and Cobra lines. The Fairlane had already spawned a high-performance model in 1964 called the Thunderbolt, but the factory drag car was built in 100 units.
The Fairlane 500 R-Code wasn’t as aggressive, but only 57 examples left the assembly line. It featured a race-ready package that included dual Holley carburetors, front disc brakes, a lift-off hood, and a radio delete. It was also fitted with Ford’s most powerful engine at the time, the 7.0-liter Cobra V-8. This engine was rated at 425 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque.
|Most recent auction price:||$275,000|
1963 Chevrolet Impala Z11
Launched in 1958, the Chevrolet Impala was already in its third generation in 1963. And that’s the year when Chevy introduced the first high-performance version of the sedan. Available under Regular Production Option (RPO) Z11, this Impala was based on the Sport Coupe model, so it was available as a two-door hard-top only.
The big deal about it was the 7.0-liter V-8 engine under the hood. Derived from the 6.7-liter Turbo Thrust V-8, the Z11 was the largest engine fitted in the Impala at the time and remained exclusive for this version only.
Upgrades to the engine included a a cowl-induction air intake system, a two-piece aluminum intake manifold, dual Carter AFB carburetors, and a revised compression ratio. The Z11 looked a lot like the regular Impala on the outside, but it featured aluminum body parts. In order to cut weight, Chevy removed the radio, the front sway bar, heater, and sound-deadening material. The 7.0-liter V-8 was reportedly capable of 430 horsepower and 575 pound-feet of torque, although the official rating was lower than that. Created for gearheads who liked to take their big sedan at the drag strip on Sundays, the Impala Z11 was built in just 57 units and only a few of them survived.
|Most recent auction price:||$432,500|
1967 Dodge Coronet WO23 / Plymouth Belvedere RO23
General Motors and Ford weren’t the only Detroit carmakers that were selling factory-prepped race cars in the 1960s. Mopar did the same and in 1967 it released a pair of road-legal dragsters. The Dodge Coronet WO23 and Plymouth Belvedere RO23 were basically identical aside from badges and small details. These cars had their batteries moved in the trunk and were devoid of unnecessary features such as a radio and the heater. Many of them came with a rear-seat delete too. Both Super Stock category cars were powered by Mopar’s then new 7.0-liter Hemi V-8 engine, rated at 425 horsepower. Dodge and Plymouth built 55 units each in order to meet the NHRA’s minimum for drag strip homologation.
|Most recent auction price:||$130,000|
Unlike the previous cars on this list, the Hemi Cuda Convertible isn't a race-spec or homologation model. Granted, the 7.0-liter Hemi V-8 engine under the hood makes it a comparable option in terms of power and performance, but it wasn't really suited for the drag strip.
The detail that brings it into this list is the convertible layout. You see, Plymouth didn’t make many drop-top versions of the Cuda back then. In both 1970 and 1971, only 21 examples of the Hemi-fitted Cuda left the assembly line. That’s only 10 per year and a serious contender for the rarest American muscle cars list. The low production was also due to the car’s expensive price tag, which matched that of the Ford Mustang Boss 429 or Shelby GT350, both full-fledged performance cars of the era.
|Most recent auction price:||$130,000|
Read our full review on the 1970-1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda Convertible
1970 Chevrolet Chevelle 454 SS LS6
The Chevelle is often overlooked because Chevy sold some cool Corvettes and Camaros in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but the 454 SS LS6 is one of the meanest and rarest classic car you can buy.
Assuming you find one of course, because this beast was built in just 20 units. The Chevelle was already a solid muscle car in the late 1960s, when it was available with a range of small- and big-block V-8 engines. But 1970 saw the introduction of the LS6 upgrade for the 7.4-liter V-8 mill. The package added a single four-barrel Holley carburetor that increased power to 450 horses and 500 pound-feet of torque. Like many muscle cars from the era, the LS6 came with an underrated power rating to keep insurance costs down, so actual output was in excess of 500 horsepower.
|Units produced:||about 20|
|Most recent auction price:||$225,500|
1971 Pontiac GTO Judge Convertible
The second convertible on our list is the highly coveted Pontiac GTO Judge of the early 1970s. A popular nameplate back in the day in coupe trim, the GTO Judge didn’t get that much attention in drop-top.
Pontiac produced less than 200 units from 1969 to 1970 and just 17 for the 1971 model year.
The Judge was discontinued after 1971 and the coupes aren’t exactly easy to find either at 340 examples. The Judge came with Pontiac’s most powerful engine at the time, a 7.5-liter V-8 rated at 335 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque. The mill was part of the Mountain Performance package that was standard on the GTO Judge.
|Most recent auction price:||$220,000|
1969 Chevrolet Corvette ZL-1
Chevrolet redesigned the Corvette in 1968 and turned it into a meaner looking car. Based on the coke bottle shape design, which was becoming popular at the time, the C3 Corvette was backed by powerful V-8 engines and impressive performance credentials. At launch, the L71 was the most powerful engine at 435 horsepower, but Chevy also offered the L88 option. A race-spec engine, this V-8 packed 430 horses officially, but it featured unique performance upgrades such as a high-capacity four-barrel carburetor, aluminum heads, and an ultra-high compression ratio.
In 1969, Chevy took things up a notch with the ZL-1, which replaced the L88 engine with an all-aluminum, 7.0-liter V-8 designed specifically for racing. The ZL-1 option was quite expensive at around $4,700, which matched the sticker of a 1969 Corvette. The package also required other mandatory options of around $550.
If no other options were ordered, the 1969 Corvette ZL-1 came in at a whopping $10,050.
As a result, only three cars were sold to the public. The Camaro ZL-1 with the same engine, for instance, was built in 69 units. Rated at almost 500 horsepower, the Corvette ZL-1 was the fastest production car at the time. It’s also considered the Holy Grail of Corvettes among collectors and enthusiasts. None of these cars showed up for auction, but experts claims the 1969 Corvette ZL1 is worth at least $2 million.
|Current value estimate:||$2 million|
1967 / 1970 Dodge Coronet R/T 426 Hemi Convertible
I bet you didn’t expect to find the Dodge Coronet for the second time on this list, but it seems that the WO23 isn’t the only rare incarnation of the nameplate. Aside from creating the drag-ready WO23 in 1967, Dodge also introduced the R/T (Road and Track) package for the Coronet.
This trim was produced for four years until 1970s, with almost 30,000 units built. However, most of these cars were coupes.
The R/T was available with the then-new 7.0-liter Hemi V-8 engine, but only a few were made in 1967, of which just two were convertibles. The same happened in 1970, when the Coronet R/T was fitted with an updated Hemi engine. Although Dodge built quite a few R/T models, only two featured a drop-top body style. So if you’re into rare muscle car convertibles, the 1967 and 1970 Coronet R/T Hemi are the rarest you can buy.
Except that you can’t really buy them since they don’t pop up for sale too often. And when they do, they cost in excess of $300,000, while the 1970 models are estimated at more than $1 million. If you like rare classic cars, this is among the vehicles you should be looking for.
|Year:||1967 and 1970|
|Units produced:||2 for each year|
|Original price:||around $5,000|
|Current value estimate:||$300,000 to $1 million|
The Shelby Cobra is one of the most iconic American cars ever built, but it was rather short-lived. Carroll Shelby began importing bodies of the AC Ace from the U.K. in 1962 and production ended only five years later, in 1967. But Carroll sent the Cobra into the history books with a big bang by creating the Super Snake.
Based on the already fast and powerful S/C model, the Super Snake was designed as the Cobra to end all Cobras.
It was fitted with mufflers, a windshield and bumpers in order to make it street legal (the S/C wasn’t), but it retained many race-spec components. The biggest modification was the addition of a pair of Paxton superchargers, which increased the power of the 7.0-liter V-8 engine to a whopping 800 horsepower.
With a power-to-weight ratio similar to a modern supercar, the Super Snake needed a little over three seconds to hit 60 mph from a standing start, while top speed was close to 200 mph. Carroll built just two cars, one for him and one for comedian Bill Cosby, his close friend. Cosby found the car too difficult to keep under control, an experience he recounted on his stand-up comedy bit 200 M.P.H. and returned the car to Shelby.
The Super Snake was shipped to a dealer in San Francisco which sold it to a customer. Legend has it that he lost control of the car and drove it off a cliff into the Pacific Ocean. Shelby drove his Super Snake for many years. In 2007, the only remaining Super Snake was auctioned off for $5 million, a record for a vehicle made in the U.S. at the time. Needless to say, no rare American muscle cars would be complete without this beast.
|Current value estimate:||$5 million|
Read our full review on the 1967 Shelby Cobra Super Snake
In 1965, just one year after Ford had introduced the Mustang, Carroll Shelby started rolling out beefed-up versions of the pony car. By 1967, Shelby had rolled out both the GT350 and GT500. While the former was a lightweight, track-prepped model, the latter featured a larger V-8 and more of a road-going monster.
Also in 1967 Shelby built a special GT500 for Goodyear to help the company promote a new line of tires. So Carroll dropped a 7.0-liter V-8 engine from the Ford GT40 MkII race car and created the Super Snake. Also fitted with an upgraded transmission and rear end, the Super Snake was capable of reaching 170 mph, an impressive benchmark for the era. Originally, Shelby planned on building 50 examples, but the project was shelved when Ford found out that it would cost twice as much as a normal GT500.
The remaining car was restored recently and auctioned off for $2.2 million in 2019. This sticker makes it the most valuable Mustang ever built. Good luck on buying it anytime soon because it’s the rarest muscle car ever!
|Original price:||around $10,000|
|Current value estimate:||$2.2 million|
Check out more details on the 1967 Shelby Mustang GT500 Super Snake
Rare Muscle Cars Q&A
What are the rarest muscle cars?
The Shelby Cobra Super Snake and the Shelby Mustang GT500 Super Snake are the rarest muscle cars ever built. Both were launched in 1967, both are made by Shelby, and both carry the Super Snake moniker. Sure, the Cobra Super Snake was actually built in two examples, but one was destroyed so there’s just one in existence. Both are among the most valuable American cars. While the Mustang GT500 Super Snake is worth more than $2 million, the Cobra Super Snake was sold for $5 million.
How hard is it to find a rare muscle car?
Rare muscle cars are generally hard to find. Especially the cars listed here, since most of them were built in less than 30 units. The chances of finding one depends on the number of cars that survived, the state they’re in, and whether their current owners are willing to sell. But even if they’re available, they won’t be cheap.
What makes a rare muscle car so expensive?
Scarcity is the key factor here. The fewer examples available, the higher the price. Of course, the fact that they’re fitted with powerful engines and performance upgrades also raises the price. No one would care to pay millions of dollars for a six-cylinder pony, even if it was built in a handful of units. The muscle cars equipped with Hemi and race-spec engines built for either NASCAR or drag racing are usually the most expensive.