American Muscle Cars

How did muscle-car madness start?

Everyone seems to have a list of the best American muscle cars of all time and it is something that many people are passionate about.  I am going to jump in with my list of the top 5 muscle cars of all time.

Many enthusiasts feel that muscle cars got their start with the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88. Others feel that the genre really ran from 1965 to about 1970 before losing out to high gas prices, more stringent exhaust emissions regulations and increasing costs of insurance.

What defines a muscle car? Although there isn’t an official definition, most experts can agree that it’s a smaller, 2-door, 4+ passenger car that is powered by a high-displacement engine typically found in a larger, full-size sedan.

Some purists will argue that pony cars, such as the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro, aren’t really muscle cars at all but I love them and I think they deserve a place in this list.

Car makers engineered muscle cars for straight-line speed, that inspired the occasional Saturday night drag race between traffic lights. Muscle cars were neither built nor sold in huge numbers but they were good bait and lured car buyers onto car lots where they would purchase more ordinary models. Here’s our list in model-year order.

1967 Pontiac GTO


Ignoring General Motors’ ban against putting large engines — anything over 330 cubic inches — into small cars, Pontiac place a 389-cubic-inch V-8 into its Tempest as an option called the GTO in 1964, according to  The response was so tremendous that the car won over GM executives and paved the way for a stable of Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Buick and Pontiac muscle cars.

Because of its historic significance, the 1965 model could represent GTO on my list, but 1967 was the first full model year of availability with ram air through a functional hood scoop on the GTO. It was a 400-cubic-inch V-8, delivering 360 horsepower.

1968 Plymouth Road Runner Hemi

1968-plymouth-road-runnerForget the niceties. Plymouth wanted a bare-knuckle, muscle-car fighter.

With all the subtlety of a jar of nitroglycerin, the Plymouth Road Runner Hemi was pure explosive brawn. It’s one of the all-time great performance-car names. With a 425-horsepower, 426-cubic-inch Hemi V-8 engine, the Road Runner struck fear into the hearts of the Saturday night country-road, drag-racing crowd.

1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429

1969 Mustang Boss 429The Mustang Boss 429 came about when the carmaker had to meet NASCAR regulations and fewer than 1,400 were built between 1969 and 1970.

While it enjoyed a big-dog reputation, the Boss 429 wasn’t a giant threat right out of the box. Its 429-cubic-inch V-8 engine delivered 375-horsepower, not too bad but it was still dwarfed by others at the time.

What makes Mustang Boss 429 truly noteworthy is that it was basically hand-built. The engine wouldn’t fit in a standard Mustang without being extensively modified.  Ford farmed out the assembly to Michigan-based Kar Kraft. By appearance, there was very little distinguishing the Boss 429 other than a hood scoop and rear spoiler.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

1969 Camaro ZL1With less than 70 built, the ’69 ZL1 not only had the most powerful Chevrolet engine available to the public for decades, it’s the rarest production car Chevrolet has ever manufactured.

Based on Chevrolet’s iconic 427 V-8 engine, the ZL had an aluminum block in place of the regular 427’s iron one. Although it was officially rated at the regular 427’s 430 horsepower, most independent testers acknowledged that the output was much higher.

1970 Buick GSX Stage 1

1970 Buick GSXBuick entered the muscle-car market offering some of the most luxurious of the brands along with some of the most powerful.

The GSX package was first available for the 1970 Gran Sport 455 and abandoned the more traditional, dignified branding offering a rear spoiler and body striping.

Gran Sport was first offered as an option on the 1965 Skylark but became a separate nameplate in 1967. By 1970, a 455-cubic-inch V-8 engine powered the Gran Sport. It produced a weighty 510 foot-pounds of torque. Those with Stage 1 tuning along with some engine tweaks were able to deliver 360 HP to the rear wheels. There was faster competition, but the GSX was truly unique.

1970 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda

1970 Hemi CudaThe 1970 Plymouth Barracuda was powered by a dual-carburetor, 426-cubic-inch Hemi that whipped up 425 HP. The Hemi ‘Cuda could certainly go toe to toe with the era’s top-tier muscle cars.

The original Barracuda was based on the Valiant but with a 1970 redesign, the Barracuda took on its own look. Plymouth produced a limited number of the Hemi ‘Cudas and they are highly cherished by collectors today.

1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454

1970 Chevelle SSMany consider 1970 to be the climax of the muscle-car era, and the Chevelle SS 454 is a hefty piece of evidence for that argument. Chevrolet made 2 versions of the 454-cubic-inch V-8. The LS5 generated a very impressive 360 horsepower, while the LS6 produced a staggering 450 HP. It’s the LS6 version, with its Holley 4-barrel carburetor, that put the SS 454 on the list. No other muscle car equaled the horsepower of the 1970 SS 454.

The SS 454 could not only blow the doors off most of the competition, it looked great doing it. Chevelle’s swept-back roofline gave the illusion of speed, even while sitting idle. Some feel that it was the last great gasp of the muscle-car era.

Yep, that’s it.  I know I said I was going to do a top 5 list but I just don’t think you can cut any of these models from the list.  I’m sure that you have your own list and would be happy if you shared it in the coments.

Author: James Super