Let’s debate about who developed the best muscle vehicles now that we have 50 years of hindsight.
Here are several options to consider:
We start here since GM muscle dominates the market. They’re everywhere, which is both good and awful (more on that later). But there’s no denying the General built some stunning muscle cars. Objectively, the 1970 Camaro was a stunning piece of industrial design. Under that lengthy hood is the Z/28’s 360-horsepower solid lifter LT-1. W-30 442 or GS Buicks. We would also be remiss if we did not recognize the 1964 GTO as the originator of the muscle car species.
Not to mention GM’s Corvette. The Corvette may be “America’s Sports Car,” but Chevy has given it plenty of raw muscle throughout the years. From the 2×4 and Fuelie-equipped 283s of the 50s to the monster L88s of the 60s, the Corvette’s options list had plenty of horsepower. A few 69’s even came with the wild ZL1 aluminum 427 under the hood.
On the other hand, the enormous volume of GM muscle produced and kept alive means they’re scattered. I defy you to find a first-gen Camaro at an all-makes car show.00-mile road journey. As a result, I often walk past amazing automobiles since I’ve seen so many that day. The issue with a red Camaro on the cover always sold well, but then they got a slew of furious letters from readers tired of seeing red Camaros on the cover. A GM muscle fan’s blessing and curse
Ford did itself a favor in 1964 by creating the pony car. The Mustang was a smash hit, forcing other automakers to respond. The Mustang would also be the ideal base when the muscle car conflicts heated up.
Many people associate muscle vehicle horsepower with the big block Chevy and the Hemi, but Ford also produced some insane engines. Sculpted valve covers on the Boss 429 or the SOHC “Cammer” are stunning. Even the Boss 302 had 10.5:1 compression and huge valves for the Trans Am fights. 290 hp.
With Shelby on board, it’s impossible not to position Ford towards the top of our “greatest” list. The moniker has become synonymous with Ford’s muscle. He helped Ford beat Ferraris at home. And the 427 Cobra is perhaps the ultimate embodiment of the “big engine, little car” mentality that has driven hot rodding from its inception.
And if we can still call automobiles from the 1980s muscle cars, then the Fox-body Mustang is a must. A new Mustang, freshly rebuilt, was ready to battle as we all awoke from the 70s doldrums. And it fought. The platform spawned a new performance aftermarket, just like the industry embraced the Mustang’s grandfather, the ’32 Ford. Everyone was making parts to improve the Fox. A 5.0 badge denoted a formidable opponent during the Friday night street races. For my generation, the Fox Mustang was the ’32 Ford or ’57 Chevy.
They knew how to advertise muscle automobiles. They had wild cartoon print ads with automobiles ripping up the pavement. Their autos featured powered bees and roadrunners trailing smoke down the side. They had wild stripes, enormous scoops, and big 340 and 440 hp engines. They named their 3×2 induction system a Six-Pack, not just a load of carbs. The color names were also wacky. Sassy Grass? Plum Mad? The Mopar marketing team came up with a formula that works.
1970 Super Bee exemplifies everything Mopar did right with muscle vehicles. Lovely body shape? Check. Hood scoop? Check. Stripes and a V8-powered? Check. Also, Hemi. It’s remarkable in the car industry for one word to mean so much. This engine was so good that it’s still pulling Top Fuel dragsters down the strip. Opening the hood of a Hemi automobile and seeing those enormous black wrinkle valve covers is an adrenaline high unlike any other.
And Mopar’s take their identities seriously. Their passion makes up for their lack of numbers. To own a Chevelle casually, taking the grandkids out for ice cream on Friday nights, and waxing it now and again seems feasible. But Mopar folks are tough. They usually own multiple cars and have garages and sheds full of spare parts.
Even the huge Coronets and Chargers were unibody. While their small weight and insane horsepower made them street racing legends, the rust monster has devoured many of them. Thankfully, aftermarket sheet metal producers have embraced the Mopar market and offer the pieces needed to repair them. Also, compared to GM and even Ford, Mopar parts are more expensive and harder to come by.
Like their quirky public image, Mopars are mechanically unique. Torsion bars and k-members may be unfamiliar to those used to working on Camaros or Galaxies. But that insane Mopar fan community will be right there to assist you to learn the language.
In the grocery store parking lot, you won’t be confused about which red, white, and blue striped AMC muscle car is yours. On a Friday night cruise, one AMC for every 15 Camaros or Mustangs. That’s good. These objects stand out not only because they are scarce nowadays. American Motors similarly overdid the graphics and PR. How awesome is it that they named a car Rebel Machine? Big engines, big stripes, and a big attitude characterized the AMX. To be swallowed by the ravenous 390 beneath the Hurst-modified SC/Rambler, the air needed to be reminded to go into the functional hood scoop. Cool.
In 1970, AMC offered “The Rebel Machine” decal for 25 cents. AMC parts can be hard to come by. In addition to being unique at your next car and coffee, you’ll be in a pickle when you need a hood, bumper, or brake rotor. But, like Mopars, there is a vibrant community of AMC enthusiasts ready to assist.
What is the Best Muscle Car?
There is no right answer.
Adore them all and spend as much time hunting for nice Buick Grand Nationals as I do. Planning a cheap Hemi Dart clone, I hear you Mopar guys laughing).
Muscle cars epitomize a golden age of motoring. When automakers went all out for horsepower, using big-cube engines with huge Holley carbs, solid lifters, and high compression. These are mechanical symphonies. It’s hard not to love them all, regardless of brand.