Top 10 Classic Muscle Cars

Here’s a list of 10 cool muscle cars that didn’t get the attention they deserved

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The American auto industry is best described by the muscle car which was birthed in Detroit at the peak of the American auto revolution. Since the 60s, classic muscle cars like the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, and Pontiac GTO have helped reshape the American performance car industry as we know it today.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term "Muscle car" came into mainstream use in 1966 and has now become a mainstay in the current automotive landscape. So, let’s celebrate the glorious years of muscle cars by taking a look at some of the biggest, most powerful examples of American muscle cars from the 70s and 80s that are long gone but not forgotten.

1970 Buick Wildcat

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The Wildcat was introduced in 1963 as a full-size vehicle but in fact, it started life as a Buick Invicta subseries. All major rivals like Ford and Chrysler were engaged in a power war with each brand trying to outperform, and more importantly, out-displace each other by fitting the biggest engine they can lay their hands on into the biggest, most flamboyant vehicle they make.

As a result, In 1970, Buick plopped the largest V-8 they made, which was a 7.5-liter monster producing 360 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque. The Wildcat shared its body with the Buick LaSabre and over its production run that spanned seven years, it was available with multiple engines starting with the base 325 horsepower 6.5-liter V-8 all the way up to the aforementioned 7.5-liter behemoth and it was available in every imaginable body style which included two-door, four-door, and even convertible versions. To dial things up further, Buick made the Grand Sport trim, which was in production for just a year and came with an uprated motor, dual exhausts, and heavy-duty suspension and was capable of hitting 60 mph in just 6.5-seconds. But reports suggest that GM will most likely revive the Wildcat name as a luxury EV.

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1970 Buick Wildcat specifications
Engine: 7.5-liter V-8
Power: 360 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. AMC was trying to compete with the big guns with less than half their resources, as a result, their products weren’t always great, but AMC did get some things right and the AMC Rebel from 1970 is proof of AMC’s technical prowess. The Rebel was a short-lived midsize offered in a variety of body styles from 1967 to 1970 and for the Rebel’s final year in production, AMC introduced the world to the 1970 Rebel Machine.

This was a proper muscle car designed to take on the biggest and most established names in the industry like the Dodge Charger and Chevrolet Nova SS. 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, which meant it was one of the quickest cars of its day with 0-60 mph time of just 6.8-seconds. 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 but its rarity has led to sky-high valuation in the used car market where pristine, low-mileage examples can fetch between $80,000 to $100,000.

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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 was reintroduced as a range-topping performance version. The 1971 AMC Matador Machine shares the same fate as the AMC brand where it disappeared without a trace. Introduced as a one-year package, reports suggest that only 60 odd cars were ever made and the reason for its sudden death can be attributed to stricter government safety regulations and emissions regulations along with higher insurance rates that killed the gas-guzzling, big-displacement, high-performance muscle car segment in the early 70s.

The Machine was no longer a stand-alone model, but a bundle of options called the Go Package. AMC did not offer the signature white-blue-red livery that was perhaps the most recognizable element of the Rebel Machine. The package was well equipped and 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. This rarity and tragic legacy have resulted in AMC Matador Machines fetching top dollar at auction blocks.

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 70s was an interesting era for American cars and the landscape was dominated by red blooded muscle cars like the Chevrolet Nova SS and Ford Falcon. In the 70s, alongside the Plymouth Valiant 440, Mopar introduced the Demon, a sportier version of the Dodge Dart in 1971. The smaller pony car with big power was a tried and tested formula for success, and Dodge’s take on this idea was the Dart Demon.

It was available with the choice of a 7.0-liter Hemi or the 7.2-liter V-8 that Dodge also offered in the bigger Charger and Challenger models, but the Demon 340 trim was the one to have, which came with a 275-horsepower V-8, a three-speed manual transmission, heavy-duty brakes, and upgraded Rallye suspension. The Dart Demon 340 is significantly lighter than the conventional high-octane muscle cars from the era, which is why it was often regarded as a budget supercar. The Dart Demon now represents a good entry point into classic muscle cars courtesy of its affordable prices in the used car market with prices for high-mileage examples hovering at the $20,000 mark while show quality, low mileage examples can fetch over $80,000.

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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 a Hornet, but not just any Hornet, it’s the SC/360, a compact muscle car with big power produced between 1969 and 1977. The original AMC Hornet had humble beginnings as a cheap and cheerful family car like the Ford Maverick and Chevy Nova.

But, all that changed when AMC introduced the high-performance Hornet 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 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 examples 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

General Motors GMC division was dedicated solely to trucks but it real close with the Sprint, a light-duty, car-based truck. Introduced in 1971, the Sprint was a clever marketing exercise by GM to sell a rebadged version of the quirky but utilitarian 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 were plummeting across the board. But, the saving grace for all the performance fans came dressed as the range-topping Sprint SP.

This range-topping performance version was powered by a 7.4-liter V-8 that made a healthy 365 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque in spite of the subpar fuel. The SP was basically GMC’s equivalent to Chevrolet’s SS performance trim. Strangely enough, both the El Camino SS and the GMC Sprint SP had slightly better weight distribution than the Chevelle SS. The Sprint SP, unlike its Chevy counterpart, is a lot rarer, but it’s not exactly considered a sought-after model which is why expect to pay around $15,000 for decent examples. However, the SP-454s are a lot harder to come by and can cost significantly higher.

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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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The 70s proved to be a brutal era for high-displacement performance cars which were dying due to stricter emissions regulations and new fuel. Pontiac’s halo car, the iconic GTO was also discontinued in 1974 but the GTO name lived on as a package for the Ventura, which was the brand’s compact coupe designed to rival the Chevy Nova.

The GTO package for the Ventura came with a whole host of upgrades, including tri-color decals, Rally wheels, grille-mounted lights, and a shaker-style hood scoop. In addition to these cosmetic updates, the GTO pack also introduced the 5.7-liter V-8 engine to the Ventura range which was 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, after which the prestigious badge was laid to rest, and to take its place, Pontiac introduced the Ventura SJ in 1975.

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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. The Chevy Laguna did sell in good numbers, but back in 1972, there were some interesting options out there like the Mustangs and the Laguna was just too vanilla to make an impact in the car scene.

Although production started with three body styles after 1974, all models except for the coupe were discontinued. But, what we are interested in is the fact that between 1973 and 1975, the Laguna was 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 yet to turn into a triple-figure classic like the Chevelle and other muscle cars from the early 1970s which is why it represents a great entry point into the world of a rare muscle car with prices starting at under $10,000 for fully functioning examples with well-kept, low-mileage examples fetching upwards of $18,000.

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

1987 Buick GNX

1982 - 1987 Buick Grand National Exterior Wallpaper quality
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The second-generation Buick Regal, launched in 1978, was a downsized version and less flamboyant version of its former self. It was introduced at a time when top automakers had started tinkering with the idea of forced induction and GM was one of them which gave rise to the 1987 Buick GNX.

Introduced in 1987, which was the final year of production for the second-generation Buick Regal, the GNX was GM’s attempt to revive the muscle car by adding forced induction to the mix. Instead of plonking a big V-8, Buick turned to a turbocharged, 3.8-liter V-6 engine that was developed in cooperation with McLaren Performance Technologies from Canada. The GNX was the successor to the Grand National (GNX stands for Grand National Xperimental) with the same turbocharged V-6, which according to Buick, made 276 horsepower and 360 pound-feet of torque. However, unofficial test figures tell a different story with stock cars recorded making 300 horses and 420 pound-feet of torque.

Along with the old-school turbo V-6 came a lot of old-fashioned lag and the boost used to hit like a sledgehammer to the face, as result GNXs have been reported to have a 0-60 mph time of 4.6 seconds which was not only significantly faster than its competitors like the Mustangs and Camaros of the era, it managed to outperform cars like the Ferrari F40 which made it quite a sensation. But, because it was introduced at the end of the production cycle, only 547 copies were produced. And, since the Buick GNX is notably more famous than some of the other entries on our list, prices for these in the auction block are equally ridiculous with prices ranging between $80,000 and $150,000.

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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

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The Dodge Daytona, introduced in 1983, was a front-wheel-drive hatchback based on the Chrysler G Platform which it shared with cars like the Chrysler Laser. Though this new-age, sporty car was supposed to be the spiritual successor to the Challenger, it was anything but, and to make matters worse, instead of a big V-8 or even a V-6, the Daytona came with a tax-friendly 2.2-liter inline-four from Chrysler that was available in both naturally aspirated and turbo guise and made between 93 and 142 horsepower. Due to these drastic changes, the Daytona received backlash from the enthusiast community. So, in a bid to redeem the iconic nameplate towards the end of 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.

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 muscle cars?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a Muscle car is "a group of American-made two-door sports coupes with powerful gas-powered engines designed for high-performance driving."

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.

Why are muscle cars called muscle cars?

According to popular lore, the term "Muscle car" was used for cars that offer a lot of performance at affordable prices, which loosely translates to regular cars fitted with very powerful engines.

What are the 3 main muscle cars?

The three most popular and globally recognizable muscle cars are the Ford Mustang, the Chevrolet Camaro, and the Dodge Challenger.

Which is the best muscle car?

There are multiple solutions to this controversial but the most common answers include Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro

Bhavik Sreenath
Bhavik Sreenath
A keen automotive enthusiast with a love for anything with engines. He loves discovering the world of cars and technology to explore new boundaries in the field of modern-day journalism.  Read full bio
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