The muscle car is an institution within the motoring world, usually featuring a big engine up front and drive going to the rear. There are some muscle cars that differ in this basic recipe, but most tend to stick with tradition.
The US is the leader in the muscle car market, producing all the Big Three muscle cars – the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and Dodge Challenger. The American muscle car war has been raging since the 1960s, and it is still going to this day. The models have changed dramatically over the years – especially with the current generations – but they still follow the same philosophy. Along with these cars, the muscle car world has seen some of the weirdest and greatest muscle car concepts – all in an effort to outdo each other. Some concepts consisted of a re-imagining of existing cars, while others broke the traditional layout to become something else entirely.
Regardless if they were built according to the classic muscle car formula or not – here are 10 muscle car concepts that we wish had made it to the streets.
10 Shelby GR-1
The Shelby GR-1 was a high-performance concept shown off at the 2004 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and then officially unveiled at the 2005 North American Motor Show. The GR-1 takes a lot of inspiration from the Shelby Daytona race car.
The GR-1 used a new 6.4-liter all-aluminum V10, with many bits taken from the Ford GT. The engine was rated at 604 hp and 501 lb-ft of torque, and the engine was mated to a 6-speed manual transmission powering the rear wheels. The GR-1 was capable of 190 mph and had a 0-60 mph time of 3.9 seconds.
9 Ford Torino King Cobra
The Ford Torino King Cobra was a planned homologation car for use in NASCAR in 1970. Unfortunately, due to the NASCAR rules changing, the Torino King Cobra was never put into production, with only three prototypes being made for testing purposes.
The Torino King Cobra had a sloped front – which resembled the Nissan 240Z – and a large intake below the front bumper. Of the three Torino King Cobras which were made, only one of them was fitted with the Boss 429 engine – which popped up for sale in 2014 for an eye-watering price of $599,999.
8 Dodge Charger III
The 1968 Dodge Charger III was a fascinating exercise in automotive design. It looked almost like a 1972 Chevrolet C3 Corvette – if it was made by Chrysler. It featured a flip-up canopy, opening the single roof piece – with the steering wheel and instrument cluster swinging out of the way, to allow for better entry.
The car had a mighty airbrake at the back to aid high-speed braking. The engine bay was designed to fit any of Dodge’s V8s, including the 426, allowing for some powerful drivetrain options. It never made full-scale production, but Matchbox mass-produced the car – 64 times smaller for all motoring enthusiasts to enjoy.
7 Ford 427 Concept
The Ford 472 Concept was an interesting blend of American muscle car and European sports sedan. It had a retro-futuristic design reminiscent of the era, but the best part of the concept was under the hood. The 472 Concept was fitted with a 7-liter naturally aspirated V10.
The V10 produced a mighty 590 hp, enough to out-power any sports sedan of the era. Ford was planning to put the car into series production to rival the Chrysler 300C, Dodge Charger SRT8, and Cadillac CTS. Then, the recession happened, and Ford canned the whole project. Oh, what could have been!
6 Chevrolet Corvair Super Spyder Concept
In the 1960s, the Chevrolet Corvair was a popular car thanks to its unique engineering and layout with the engine in the back – just like a Porsche 911. Unfortunately, the Corvair didn’t really have enough performance to rival other sports cars and the interesting driving dynamics didn’t do the car any favors either.
Chevrolet wanted to explore the Corvair further, so they made the Corvair Super Spyder Concept. The concept had a shorter wheelbase, uprated engine, two seats, and no roof. It looked like something out of Speed Racer! Despite lots of attention, Chevrolet never planned to mass-produce it.
5 Dodge Diamante Challenger
Dodge had great success with the Challenger in the 1970s – even if they were a little late. With the good sales, they went ahead and built the Diamante Challenger – a sports-muscle car to compete with the Chevrolet Corvette. The Diamante shared many parts with the Challenger, but it had a redesigned body and interior.
Dodge also changed the car to be a Targa-top – like the Corvette – and fitted the massive 426 HEMI engine and some classy turbine-style wheels. As we know, the Diamante was never produced, despite a large amount of interest. It is a shame – maybe it could have sparked a Corvette versus Diamante war in the 70s.
4 Ford Shelby Cobra Concept
The Ford Shelby Cobra Concept was a prototype vehicle built by Shelby American for the 2004 Detroit International Motor Show. It was a modernized version of the original Shelby Cobra, sharing design cues and elements. The Cobra Concept was built within five months and was based on the Ford Mustang GT chassis.
Like the Shelby GR-1 Concept, the Cobra Concept was powered by a 6.4-liter naturally aspirated V10, which in this application produced 645 hp and 501 lb-ft of torque. Ford claimed the car was capable of 207 mph, however, the prototype is only limited to 100 mph for safety reasons. The Shelby Cobra Concept is one of the coolest muscle car concepts ever made.
3 Chevrolet Camaro Caribe Concept
The Chevy Camaro Caribe Concept is essentially a Camaro that has been turned into an El Camino. The Caribe was introduced alongside the normal Camaro in 1967 and could be seen as a roadster pickup truck – something between the performance Camaro and utilitarian El Camino.
The pickup/muscle car had a big V8 engine, a targa-top roof, and a bed large enough to fit surfboards and other beach-related items. The designers imagined the Caribe Concept as the perfect vehicle to cruise the Caribbean islands in the summer. How cool is that?
2 AMC AMX/3
The AMC AMX/3 was an interesting take on the traditional muscle car recipe. Encouraged by the success of the Javelin and AMX, AMC management next set its sights on the sports car market. AMC had the funds but did not have the expertise, so they hired ex-Ferrari engineer, Giotto Bizzarrini.
Bizzarrini created a rear-engine and transaxle sports car – all in a sleek body – capable of 170 miles per hour. It also had world-class handling and Italian styling, with 340 hp coming from AMC’s 390 V8. Unfortunately, AMC’s management realized that the production version would cost significantly more than the equivalent Chevy Corvette or De Tomaso Pantera, so they binned the project after six pre-production prototypes were made.
1 Shelby EXP 500 Green Hornet
The Shelby EXP 500 Green Hornet may just look like a normal Mustang, but it is what was underneath the skin that counted. Ford and Shelby created many concepts and prototypes of the Mustang in the 1960 and 1970s, but the Green Hornet is one that stands out.
In the engine bay, the EXP 500 had fuel injection rather than carburetors, and it was the first Mustang to feature independent rear suspension – 47 years before the production Mustang got it. The car also had disc brakes all around instead of drums. Unfortunately, the EXP 500 Green Hornet was too expensive to sell back then, but now a prototype can sell for more than $1.8 million. Still, it must have been quite the driver’s car back then.
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