Top 10 Muscle Cars

When people think muscle car, a number of images come to mind. So what characterizes a muscle car? And what defines the best of the best? Big engines, powerful styling, aggressive performance and no ability to go gently around that good corner, but what else? The following 10 represent our favorites, but like everything, your mileage may vary. If you’ve got favorites, or think we left something off, let us know!

1. 1967 Pontiac GTO

Image 1 - 1967GTO PictureWhen I think true American muscle, only one big bad boy stands out in my mind. It’s the muscle car that started all muscle cars. It’s big. It’s powerful. It’s scary. It was my screensaver in college, and I’ll be darned if I still don’t want one so bad it hurts.

Yes, I’m talking about the Pontiac GTO, or more specifically the 1967 Pontiac GTO. The GTO really only came with one engine, the 400, but it was available with varying horsepower outputs. The highest output 400 available for the GTO put out a pretty impressive 360hp and 438 lb/ft. This could be ordered with a Turbo-Hydra-Matic Auto trans, or a 4spd manual. The GTO is the car that really started and defined the muscle car era. Muscle car war didn’t truly begin until it rolled off of the production line.

2. 1969 Dodge Charger
1969 Dodge ChargerThe ever-iconic 1969 Dodge Charger is the only car that I know of that looks like it was designed around the idea that you should throw a massive red-circle-vented blower on the top as soon as you get it home from the lot. Remember a couple of good ‘ol boys who never meant any harm, but unfortunately did a whole lot of harm to a cringe-worthy number of beautiful beasts?

For fans, old and young, the ’69 Charger’s popularity has lasted throughout the ages. Dominique Torreto has raced and crashed a number of ’70 Models in the Popular Fast & Furious series, but luckily those were all props. The ’69 Charger is close to my heart because my father used to own one. I never got to see it, but he talks endlessly about his ’69 383 4spd and how he got it up to 120 on some rural Arizona road before the front end became airborne, causing him to loose partial steering control.

3. 1970 Plymouth Barracuda

Image 3 '70 CudaThe meathead in the room: the Plymouth Barracuda. While the original ‘Cuda was released in 1964, it wasn’t until 1970 that it developed its beefy wide stance. It’s also probably the only muscle car I know of that looks manly in bright purple. In 1970, it dropped the bubbly back window of the earlier models and went for a Camaro-ish chopped rear end. I personally think it pulled it off–the front grill still looked like it would eat you and the rest of the joint for lunch.

 4. 1970 Buick GSX.  
1970 Buick GSX
1970 Buick GSX

While Buick has always had trouble shedding it’s image as a “grandma’s car”, when they decide to get serious every few decades or so, Buick can really bring it home. The 1970-1972 Buick GS is a beautiful, powerful, and often overlooked piece of automotive history. In 1970, Buick decided they were done playing around. The 1970 Buick GSX stood toe to toe with the GTO Judge and Olds W-30. Under the hood was a true monstrosity. A 455 cubic inch big block produced 510 lb ft of torque at 2,800 RPMs and 350hp at 4,600 RPMs. It even held the record for the most torque produced by a factory American car until 2003 when the Dodge Viper laid it to rest.

5. Chevrolet Camaro

1969 Chevy Camarao
Photo: Courtesy of Super Chevy

Classic Chevys may be common on the street, but it seems like everyone wants a first gen Camaro, yet not that many people have one. The Camaro was the big block Chevy king. Sure you could have it with a 327 or a 350…but why? In 1969, this bad boy could be ordered with a 425hp 427 big-block. The Camaro was great because, in typical Chevy fashion, you had a plethora of engines and trims available for order. From the bottom of the HP range up the Camaro could be had with a 140hp 230ci Turbo – Thrift Six – Cylinder, 210hp 327, 250hp Six Cylinder, 255hp 350, 300hp 350, or a Turbo Jet 325hp 396. The ZL1 Was Chevy’s first attempt at a full aluminum block and while it claimed 430bhp from the factory it actually spit out close to 500hp. Throw on some headers and slicks, and the ZL1 ran the ¼ mile in 11.6 seconds at 122 mph.

6. Plymouth Roadrunner
Image-6-68RoadrunnerThe Roadrunner is the car that made rudimentary hood scoops and a lime-green paint scheme seem like a work of art, and let’s not forget those side mounted brake vents.

For me, when someone talks about anything having to do with a “Hemi”, the Roadrunner is the only car that comes to mind. The 383ci Hemi that called the 1968 Plymouth Roadrunner home, produced 335hp. The more powerful 426 Hemi threw down an impressive 425hp. The Roadrunner was a true performance car. Having an extensive amount of options for the Roadrunner was not a concern for it’s fans. In it’s “back to the basics” approach to raw performance and power, everything about it was essential to function and performance. Boxy and not too frilly, it was beautiful nonetheless.

7. 1969 Ford Mustang 428i Cobra Jet

Image-7-68 Mustang Cobra Jet 428Now, I think at this time it’s appropriate to give the Mustang its dues. After all, by 1969, the Ford Mustang 428ci Cobra Jet had come a long way from its wheezy little 289ci high-school-prom-queen car. Ford finally brought a decent fight to the big block Chevy and Pontiacs of its time. The Cobra Jet 428 out-engineered the restrictive heads of the small block Ford motors. It also took a little something from Pontiac and adopted the popular ram-air intake system. The Cobra Jet was rated at 335hp, but calculations done independently put the output closer to 410hp. This car is iconic because it rekindled some respect for the Pony Car. Ford finally had a true stake in the muscle car game.

8. 1987 Buick GNX
Image 8 1987 GNXMoving forward in muscle car history, we’ll skip entirely over anything made between 1972 and, well, mostly anywhere in the 80’s. There is, however, one cool cat that deserves to be called out. While the rest of America’s auto market seemed to think that plugged up, hosed, out and decompressed V8’s of the past were acceptable, Buick had something special up its sleeve. Was it a brand, new full-bodied, monster of a big block V8? Nope, not even close.

Buick’s new speed demon child was a V6; a 3.8L turbo charged V6. And thus the Grand National was born. In the early 80’s, the Grand National was cool, but not necessarily a monster. It wasn’t until 1987 that it hit its performance peak. The 1987 GN made 245hp and 355ft lbs of torque. While this is not entirely that impressive, it did put the old adage of “there’s no replacement for displacement” to the test.

In 1987, the Grand National hit the gym and the Grand National-X or GN-X was born. Unfortunately, it’s production was perhaps the most short lived in automotive history as it was also laid to rest that very same year. Only 547 were ever made in 1987, but and they were all beautiful beasts.

The GNX made 276hp and 360lbft of torque. It leaped from 0-60 in just 5.7 seconds and finished the quarter mile in 14 seconds. At least, that’s what Buick claimed. The truth is, many of the GNX’s actually had no problem spitting out 300hp and 400lb ft of torque during independent testing on the dyno. On the drag strip, the GN-X leaped from 0-60 in 4.5 seconds and slammed the quarter mile in just 13.26 seconds. To put this in perspective, the 2013 Porsche Cayman S does 0-60 in just 4.7 seconds. Speculation is that GM actually fudged the GNX’s numbers to keep the image of the Corvette intact.

9. 1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo

1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
Photo: Courtesy of TopSpeed

“It’s just a Chevelle with a longer wheelbase,” they all said. “It’s a luxury car, not a muscle car.” These were all things critics barked at the first generation 1970-72 Chevrolet Monte Carlos. The truth is, I own one and I believe it’s the embodiment of American muscle. The Monte Carlos were indeed intended to be a sort of luxury coupe for Chevrolet. What makes them great is that you can fit just about anything you want under the 6ft hood while still maintaining about 3ft of fan shroud between radiator and crank pulley. The Monte Carlo could be had with a 350ci or 400ci small block, and the SS model came factory with a big block 454. The SS was the only model that offered a 4spd manual transmission, but any of the models could be had with a 12-bolt rear end 350, or 400 and bucket seats.

The car has classic lines, and the single placement headlights separated from the grill are certainly unique. The Monte Carlo is surprisingly light for its seemingly monstrous size and you can easily fit some fat rubber in the back without having to tub it. What also makes the Monte Carlo great is it’s center of gravity. Because the hood measures about 6ft, and the engine sits back closer to the firewall, it has the ability to handle quite well around the track. Many were used, and unfortunately destroyed, in the 80’s and 90’s for circle track and dirt track purposes.

10. 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS

Image-10 1970 ChevelleOur last contender is one of GM’s most widely recognized and collected muscle cars of its time. It even has a 1990’s post-grunge rock band named after it. The 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS has truly iconic lines. It features matching side-by-side headlights and taillights, a mean black chrome outlined grill, and racing stripes never looked so good on any other car. The 454ci big block iron Chevy under the hood put out somewhere between 450 and 500 horsepower and was one of the fastest cars on the street at the time of its release.

  • Dennis Quinter

    You forgot the ’66 Nova SS with a 350 hp 327. It looked good and was fast…

    • Colton Danforth

      You’re right man! I forgot about the Nova! I had a lot of Chevy’s in there and didn’t want to over do it.

      • Debbie Grace

        monte carlo ? great car but what about 442

        • Colton Danforth

          Thought about that as well. There’s way more than 10. These just came to mind For me.

  • Jim L’esperance

    i owned a 1967 mercury comet with a 427-425 hp.1n 1969 i owned a hurst amx which
    was a true muscle car built for dragracing and easily ran in the elevens as delivered.i also built a 1974 baldwin/motion vega after finding a magazine article on these cars and locating the correct parts.these cars had a written guarantee to run 10 seconds at a dragstrip or you could get a refund.these three cars could be on your list.
    jim

  • Cobranut

    The Chrysler 383 was a wedge motor, not a Hemi.

  • Tony Kubik

    1973 & 17 yrs old my ist. muscle car was the 69 chevy SS

    • c p

      which SS?

      • Tony Kubik

        Hi c p It was a 2 door 69 chevelle ss with the 396 motor. did you ever own one?

        • Larry

          I did…drove it to the strip and raced it and drove it home….many times!

        • c p

          No…. I have a ’66 Nova Chevy II SS drag car big-block dual-carb tunnel ram, a 2005 Chevy SS Silverado lowered cammed full exhaust, a ’96 Impala SS with a blown methanol injected LT-4, and a14,000 mile ’87 Monte Carlo SS AeroCoupe. I recently sold the Monte and replaced it with a 1996 LT-4 Corvette

  • Ike Henry

    Lame list! 67 gto?? could not get a pic of a 69 charger? Monte carlo? instead of a 442 w30 or trans am 455 or many others. who’s the idiot that made this list??

    • Dave

      I agree with Ike. What about 65 to 67 Corvette big blocks? They were more muscle than Monte Carlos.

      • Tracy Lambeth

        There’s only one problem Dave, Corvette’s are 2 seat sports cars, not muscle cars. It’s true they were fast, if not faster than a lot of muscle cars but there in a different class. The article is about muscle cars

        • unabashed candor

          who says muscle cars are 4 seaters??

          • Scott

            They were from the begining. The original musclecar’s were large cars with big engines (Impalas, Galaxie 500’s, Coronet’s for example). There are even examples of 4 door musclecar’s. Just because a Corvette is fast doesn’t make them a musclecar, their a sports car

          • unabashed candor

            lol, muscle car means powerful car.

  • jrdplowing

    should not include the pony cars,even though the ones they picked had big blocks,and the earlyer barracudas were also pony cars but the 1970 is a muscle car,how do you define a muscle car,i was brought up on cars in the 70s and i dont think many would know how to properly define one,

    • Colton Danforth

      It’s a broad array of makes that can fit into that category. For most I think it’s rear wheel drive, big V8 power, and 2 doors. Of course the gnx doesn’t fit that exactly.

  • BuckeyeShaker

    The 1965 Corvette (425hp 396) was a beast on the street. The L79 Chevy II (350hp 327) was very quick on the street from light-to-light. At the drag strip in the 60’s it was the Big Block Chevy’s, Mopar’s & Fords doing battle. It still continues to go on today (bragging rights) but the Turbo’s, Procharger’s, etc……play a part in the picture today.

  • JOHNNYb

    As you know, you guys have opened a can of worms here, there are too many great cars of all makes that you haven’t included, most cars on your list belong there, although the Buick GNX has all what is needed to be your requirements, well it’ doesn’t fit with cars of the era, that is the only point. (I Know what a GNX is capable of, but just not period correct…that’s all) and although they came out with 454, the Monte Carlo, (Although a cool model) isn’t and was never a Muscle Car, if you include this model , well why not the 71 Riviera GS w a 455…see where this is going!

    And by the way…if you Post the 1969 Charger…well, don’t use a 1970’s Picture!

    • Colton Danforth

      Unfortunately these are not the original images I sent to my editor. I did in fact have a picture of a 1969 charger but they were changed. All good points, but like I said, their is way more than 10.

  • David A. Downing

    It seems impossible but too many more muscle cars are left out again. Whoever wrote this must have studied some librarians idea of muscle cars from Road and Track.

  • Mr.Mopar

    Never thought of a Monte Carlo as being a muscle car. More like a pig on roller skates. Not the GNX either. Where is the 427 Galaxie? And the ’70 Chevelle belongs closer to the top, certainly above either the Monte Carlo or the GNX. Where is the ’70 Judge? Even the GSX is questionable, and certainly doesn’t belong there if you’re going to ignore the Judge. BUT…. to each their own. My own list wouldn’t include some cars that someone else would think should be there. It’s all subjective. And even though I’m a die hard Mopar guy, I’d put a 7 litre Galaxy or even an Olds 442 on the list before any Buick. Oh well…. no accounting for taste.

    • Evil Larry

      And don’t forget about the “side mounted brake vents” on the 70 RR, a super rare option I’m sure. Whoever wrote this pathetic piece of garbage should be strung up by his nuts, if he has any.

      • Chris

        If your not actually going to contribute to the conversation in a productive manor then why say anything at all? Or at least explain why you think this is garbage. Otherwise take your obsession with the writers male anatomy elsewhere.

        • Evil Larry

          Oh boo fucking hoo. You’re obviously not much of a car guy. If you were you would agree with me and anybody else criticizing this article. When you write an article for the world to see, get your fucking facts straight.
          The side scoops on the 70 Runner, or any side scoops for that matter, were NOT for cooling the brakes. That’s just one reason why this list is pure and total shit. Plus there’s the fact that he said the 383 was a hemi, which it clearly was not. Then there’s another fact that he got wrong by saying the 67 GTO was the first “muscle car”. While many people will debate this as to what brand and model of car started the whole muscle car revolution, it’s still widely accepted as being the 64 GTO and NOT a 67.
          So how’s that for an explanation there fuck face. There were other fuck ups in this article, but none as bad as you. Have a nice day ass hole.

          • Colton Danforth

            1. Nowhere in the article do I refer to the Chrysler 383 as a “Hemi”
            2. I state that the GTO started the muscle car era…not exclusively the ’67 GTO.
            3. Would you like to explain why on earth any type of air induction would be placed on the rear quarter panel for any other reason than brake cooling? Whether it be functional or not.
            4. I clearly state that this list could go in a number of different orders, my goal was variety.
            5. I know I’m probably wasting my time explaining my self to you, attention to an article is good even if it is negative and it is to be expected in this business. It does not bother me that you have a negative opinion of my work, only that you express this opinion in such an immature, profane, and vulgar manner, as if this was facebook or youtube and not a forum for enthusiasts to entertain themselves and acquire knowledge. This is however the internet, I guess it is to be expected.
            Thanks Chris for being a decent human being at least, that much cannot be said for Mr. Evil Larry.

          • Evil Larry

            “The 383ci Hemi that called the 1968 Plymouth Roadrunner home, produced 335hp”. That’s a direct copy and paste quote from the 70 Runner which you rated number six. Maybe you should go back and read what you wrote.
            Again, the “side mounted brake vents” were there strictly for looks, not venting the rear brakes. This statement alone proves you’re an idiot who doesn’t know much about cars.
            And finally (I could continue to pick apart this lame article but I won’t) the Buick GNX was not a muscle car. The “muscle car era” was done in like 72 or 73, depending on who you talk to. Some would argue it was done in 71. But to say an 87 GNX is muscle car is flat out wrong. Although it is a cool car, but it was built roughly fifteen years after muscle cars had stopped being built.
            I’m not going to bother with all the other things that are wrong with this article. With the vast majority of everyone else here criticizing you maybe you’ll learn a thing or two. But likely not.

          • Bubba Kush

            You’re right… the author did reference a “383ci hemi”, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re a complete douche.

          • Evil Larry

            <Oh boy! You called me a douche for being right. I feel so sad right now. When you're going to write something and try to pass it off as historically correct, you might want to get your facts straight. Something the guy who wrote this didn't do. Hence the reason he said the 70 Runner's side scoops were brake vents. If being correct makes me a douche, so be it. Sympathizing with an idiot also makes you an idiot.

          • unabashed candor

            The 383ci Hemi that called the 1968 Plymouth Roadrunner home…really? Don’t quit your day job

  • John Oroski

    You forgot the most important one. 1955 Chrysler 300, first production car built for speed

  • Tom Bryce

    Definition of muscle car, big block four speed. Enough said.

  • Don Ney

    Hey what about the Boss 429..

    • Cali son bound for Idaho

      I grew up in Fremont, CA our Ford Dealer Turner Ford had a white 1970 Boss 429 that sat on the sales floor for a few years before it was sold. The guy that bought it took it to our Drag Strip and with a 3.89 Traction Lock rear end it would only run 15 second 1/4 miles…..that poor guy spent a fortune on that Boss to get it into the 11 second zone. My buddy had a 69 SS396 Nova L89 (aluminum heads…..that’s one rare car!) Swapping on headers, Isky cam, Ansen Ground Grabbers and a 850 double pumper Holley……that Nova was deep into the 11 second zone. The Boss 429 was highly overrated for what it actually produced, maybe if you knew someone at Ford who could steer you in the right direction for performance but, for the average “Joe” on the strip…….even the 429 SCJ was a better weapon to take to the battle.

  • Reno Fickler

    Any of the light-weight, early 60’s Mopars with a nasty 426 Max Wedge and 4-gear would be on my list before the Monte Carlo. Buicks and Oldsmobiles are too often overlooked.

  • jrdplowing

    well, no one has brought it up,so from what i remember and i could be wrong,the years were 1964 and up,slightly bulging fenders and or quarters to actually look muscular,able to seat 4 people and go to a movie or grocery store during the week and race on the weekend,also able to qualify in nascar, and nhra,and most can cross over to legal road racing class,never a 2 seater,or a pony car,but people have changed that over the years to suit there own interests,and never before 1964 because nobody ever called a car a musclecar,

  • Cali son bound for Idaho

    This author is obviously a young kid……..he could have made such a better list by using terms like Chrysler B body (there are 2 in his picks) GM A body (there are 3 in his list but, I will allow the exception for the GTO as it is the starting point of GM muscle.) To overlook cars like the Shelby Cobra, Corvette, AMC Rebel Machine/SC Rambler (both Nash’s were highly respected around these parts) Mopar A bodies……..I don’t think that it’s possible to do the Musclecar era justice with such a limited list.

    I’m glad I reached driving age in the mid 70’s when the gas crisis had brought the prices of these great machines to rock bottom, we could buy a nice GTO or Road Runner for around $1000 when I was 16, my 1st car was a Boss 302 Eliminator, my brothers 67 GTA 390 Mustang was faster than my Cougar but, I looked far cooler in my ride.

    • Colton Danforth

      Unfortunately I was not around in this era to truly experience, but I do have an undying passion for these cars. I take in as much information as I can and learn as much as I can from the old timers, do I make mistakes occasionally? Yes, Do I consider this one of them…no not really. I’m getting paid to write about my opinion on muscle cars, it’s going to take a lot more than negative feedback from computer screen worriers to smother my passion.

      • Randy Ballard

        Colton,
        your opinion is fine by me just keep the passion for these cars and write more about them. I would own 100’s of them if could afford it and I have owned quit a few. Having fun is to be up late nights arguing with my brother over Mopar versus Chevy and you know that argument stills goes on. One of the best treasures I ever got was from helping my neighbor move and he gave me a heavy box that was taped up, When I got home and opened it there was Hot Rod magazines all 12 issues for 1964-1975 I couldn’t get enough of them. Someone had to write all that information and I don’t care who you are or what you know you still don’t know it all.

        • Colton Danforth

          Thanks for sharing. I just sold my dad’s ’67 XR7 for him. It had it was on its second 289 in 2 years with piston slap unfortunately. That’s what he got for buying used engines.

  • Chris

    I don’t understand why he’s getting so much shit this is just his opinion of his top 10 of course everyone is going to have a different top 10. I personally would have put some different cars on here myself but it’s still a good articles.

  • Randy Ballard

    If you grew up in this era the car or cars you grew up in is probably gonna be the one’s you pick first. At 10 years of age in 1970 I was hanging on for dear life in the back seat of a 67 SS Chevelle going sideways on a dirt road with my Aunt driving. Yes no. 1 for me would be the 70 LS6 Chevelle, My brother Ken likes a 70 Hemi Challenger because he agrees with our Grandfather on Mopar. I know bang verse buck nothing beats a BB chevy just check your local drag strip. Here is some pics of what I drive now

    • Colton Danforth

      I lovin’ the old school paint theme. My favorite Chevy engine is the 400sb. Big block esque power in a small block package. I had one in my ’70 monte carlo and it was a torque monster. The perfect motor for that car. I’m trying to save for a rebuild now.

  • Emilio Barzini

    There is no definitive list but this one is pretty damn good.

  • Daddy Ray

    For all you guys down this column, the FIRST “MUSCLE CAR, in my opinion, was the Pontiac Tempest 2 dr coupe. It came with the venerable 421 Super Duty engine, and while there are many claims, I never really knew the true power of that car!

    For my own cars, went from a 1960 big window 389 Bonnie w/ the four spd Hydramatic, to a 1966 GTO, only a four barrel and four speed, to my first real hot rod, a L89 1968 Camaro SS, 4 spd, 410 posi new. Only an AM radio, no extra’s. The car ran 12.98 at the ORIGINAL Irwindale Raceway, and in “stock form” to, (turbo mufflers and L-70×15 rear tires). I got crazy and went to the 2nd design L-88, M-22 and the 5.13’s out back in 1969. 11.5×28.5×15’s M&H’s on wide Corvette Rallye wheels.The car ran 10.89 at OCIR in Mar.70′ and was still street legal. Afterwards, I enlisted the help of one of the really good guys in Steve Bovan from Blairs Speed and he helped put the engine in great tune, ran 9.82 at 139.90 in the end of 1971 running in D/Gas. I know, slow but still street legal!

    Your choice of cars is interesting and does show that you might not have lived in the day, but I think you did a good job AND you choose YOUR PICKS for the list. Sorry about the little “I know it all” potty mouth “Evil and Fairy”. I think everyone brings something to the forum, (except E&F), and its all good! Rapid Rickshaw Raymond. :<}

  • unabashed candor

    the 1964 GTO started the muscle car craze, and 383 hemi??

  • unabashed candor

    409??

  • unabashed candor

    428 was a dud, never heard of the Boss 9??

  • unabashed candor

    1968 Hemi Dart, 1969 ZL1 Camaro, 1969 Boss 302 Mustang, Shelby 500KR Mustang, 1966 GT40, AC Cobra, Plymouth Superbird, Dodge Daytona, Ford Thunderbolt, 1962 Pontiac Catalina 421 SD, 1969 Firebird TA, 1969 Z28, etc

  • unabashed candor

    …1970 AAR Cuda/Challenger T/A, Pontiac Acadian Canso SD, Chevy II…

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