The muscle car is a proudly American institution that has been going strong since the late 1940s – even if there has been a recession or two and an oil crisis between then and now. The muscle cars of today still follow the same recipe as they did in the 1960s and 1970s.
The muscle car ethos involves stuffing a big and powerful engine – preferably a V8 – into a relatively small, relatively light body. The only thing left to do would be to figure out a fun and brutish name for the vehicle, something like Mustang, Charger or Barracuda. Classic muscle cars were more imaginative than most of the cars we have today, and the designers had more fun and freedom to produce what they wanted – which is why cars such as the Plymouth Superbird and Buick GNX exists. The closest the auto industry has gotten to such utterly ridiculousness in the last few decades is the Dodge Hellcat engine.
So, while many muscle cars – and most vehicles in general – have gotten quite expensive due to them achieving collector’s status or becoming classics, there are still some pretty awesome muscle cars for not that much money. With that, here are 10 of the best classic American muscle cars regular people can afford to buy.
10 1978 Pontiac Firebird ($10,500)
The Pontiac Firebird is one of the most famous muscle cars of the 1960s and 1970s, thanks to its huge engines, long hood and iconic livery. The first-generation Firebird was nothing more than a slightly redesigned Chevrolet Camaro, but the second generation gained some model-specific design ques and a wider range of engines.
The Firebird range started out with a 3.8-liter V6 or a 4.1-liter straight-6, before gradually rising up to a massive 7.5-liter V8 – with many Chevrolet and Buick V8s in between. The Firebird is an iconic vehicle which can still be bought for relatively little money.
9 1980 Chevrolet Camaro ($16,000)
The Chevrolet Camaro was part of the great American muscle ‘Big Three’, along with the Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger/Charger. The second-generation Camaro was an all-new car, featuring a unibody design and new components. It was longer, lower and wider than the previous model and was in production between 1970 and 1981.
The second-generation saw many changes over its production run – both in styling and engineering – as it was produced during the US oil crisis. This meant many of the engines were detuned in order to achieve better fuel economy, resulting in big V8 muscle cars which barely made 150 hp. As such, the Camaro’s popularity dropped a bit, and these cars are still relatively affordable.
8 1973 Dodge Dart ($15,000)
The Dodge Dart was a smaller muscle car produced by Chrysler and fell in below the Challenger and Charger. It was available in both coupe and sedan body styles, however the most popular was the coupe.
The Dart was updated each year and to comply with new emissions regulations, Dodge added a catalytic converter – as well as other new parts – to the model and called it the Dart Swinger. The model was fitted with a 5.9-liter V8, which produced 245 hp going to the rear wheels via either a 4-speed manual or a 3-speed automatic.
7 1967 Dodge Charger ($28,000)
The original Dodge Charger was launched in 1966 and was only available until 1967, when the second generation – the famous one – was launched. The original Charger was built to take on AMC’s Marlin, and it was similarly priced and specced. The Charger used the same platform as the larger Dodge Coronet.
The Charger was fitted with various engines, with the most powerful being a 425-hp 7.0-liter 426 HEMI V8 fitted with twin 4-barrel carburetors. The more popular version was the larger 375-hp 7.2-liter 440 HEMI, which was mated to either a 4-speed manual or a 3-speed automatic. Despite being the original Charger, it is still less expensive than the second gen, which has now almost become unaffordable.
6 1970 Ford Maverick ($6,000)
The original Ford Maverick was a smaller pony car, instead of the current compact pickup truck. The Maverick was the US equivalent to Ford of Europe’s Capri, with the major difference being that the Maverick was available with a V8 engine from factory.
The Maverick was produced between 1969 and 1977, when it was replaced by the Ford Fairmont. The Maverick is a great little muscle car, even when it is fitted with a 6-cylinder engine which only produced 155 hp. Luckily, the engine bay is large enough to accommodate a big V8, turning the little Maverick into a proper competitor to the Australian Holden Torana.
5 1969 AMC AMX ($29,000)
The AMC AMX – also called the Rambler AMX – was a two-seat GT-style muscle car produced by the American Motors Corporation between 1968 and 1970. Strangely, it was a direct competitor to the Chevrolet Corvette, but cost substantially less.
The AMX was exclusively powered by V8 engines, starting with a 225-hp 4.8-liter and rising up to a 6.4-liter fitted with twin 4-barrel carburetors, which produced 340 hp. All AMXs were fitted as standard with a 4-speed manual transmission, but had the option of a column-mounted 3-speed automatic.
4 1974 AMC Javelin ($12,000)
Another affordable AMC product is the second-generation Javelin. Built between 1970 and 1974, the Javelin saw many updates during the course of production, mostly to do with emissions and fuel economy. Chrysler had discontinued their pony car line-up and Ford had introduced 4-cylinder engines in their Mustang II, but AMC kept their big V8s in production.
As a result, Ford saw increased sales while the AMC Javelin’s production numbers kept decreasing. The Javelin was ultimately discontinued in 1974, in favor of focusing on the new Matador Coupe. Today, the second-generation Javelin is iconic due to its unique design, but remains a relatively inexpensive muscle car.
3 1965 Ford Mustang ($19,000)
The Ford Mustang is one of the most famous – if not the most famous – muscle/pony cars ever made. Introduced in 1964, the Mustang became an instant hit and while it wasn’t the first ‘pony’ car, it defined the segment.
The Mustang was originally powered by a 2.8-liter inline-6 from the Falcon, but this was quickly rectified with a V8 in the form of the 4.7-liter 289. The Mustang went on to dominate the segment, with Chrysler, Chevrolet and AMC taking years to release their own competitors.
2 1966 Plymouth Barracuda ($18,000)
The Plymouth Barracuda was actually the first vehicle in the line of pony cars, and was released in early 1964. Unfortunately, Ford launched their Mustang a few months later and the Barracuda was completely drowned out. Interestingly, the Barracuda was almost named the Panda – which does not quite have the same ring.
The Barracuda was fitted with two inline-6 engines that also featured in the Plymouth Valiant and on which the Barracuda was based. Chrysler also added in a 4.5-liter V8 which produced 180 hp, kicking off one of the most exciting automotive eras in history.
1 1972 Oldsmobile 4-4-2 ($36,000)
The original Oldsmobile 4-4-2 was in production between 1964 and 1980. The 442 was essentially a high-performance version of the Cutlass – like the Pontiac GTO was a more powerful version of the Tempest Le Mans. The naming behind the 442 was reportedly the 400-cui 6.6-liter engine displacement, the 4-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts, although there are different stories.
An interesting aspect of the 442 was that starting in 1970, the standard engine for the 442 was a 455-cui 7.5-liter V8, producing 365 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque. The Oldsmobile 442 is one of the coolest large muscle cars ever made, one which is still available at an affordable price.