Owning a muscle car is one of those things that’s on every gearhead’s bucket list. Muscle cars are adored for their unique designs, beautifully sounding V8 engines, and the fact that they’ve always offered affordable performance. Muscle cars are also the type of vehicle you’d expect the coolest kid in school to be driving, which is why they make great first cars for young enthusiasts.
As the conversation on climate change heats up, the muscle car is increasingly becoming an endangered species, with the Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger, and Chevrolet Camaro being the only surviving traditional muscle car nameplates. Thankfully, there are plenty of superb classic muscle cars that first-time buyers can find in the used car market. These classic cars have stood the test of time and can be great investments for new gearheads who want to experience how muscle cars looked and felt to drive in their golden age. Here are a few of the best.
10 AMC AMX
Let’s start with one of the best cars AMC ever built before it sadly went out of business – the AMX. The decision to build the AMX came out of AMC’s desire to compete with Chevy and its popular Corvette.
As such, the AMX was built on a shortened chassis of the Javelin, fitted with just two seats instead of the Javelin’s four, and equipped with a 325-hp V8 engine. This allowed the AMX to keep up with the fastest muscle cars of the day. As one of the cheapest classic muscle cars in 2023, the AMX is a no-brainer.
9 1974 Dodge Charger
First and second-generation Dodge Chargers are hard to come by these days, and if you can find one in good condition, you probably won’t be able to afford it as they typically cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Thankfully, the third-generation Charger is easier to find and quite affordable.
Introduced in the ’70s, the third-generation Charger has received negative reviews over the years largely because it was the first Charger generation to be affected by the emission restrictions of the ’70s. We think it makes a superb purchase today as it has that classic muscle car aesthetic gearheads love and can be given various performance upgrades if need be. According to Hagerty, you can buy one of these for less than $15,000.
8 1985 Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z
When Chevrolet unveiled the third-generation Camaro in 1982, many gearheads were disappointed. The third-generation Camaro was nowhere near as powerful as gearheads would have wanted for a muscle car, as the base model had a 90-hp Iron Duke engine under its hood.
Three years after the third-generation Camaro’s introduction, Chevy took its time and built a much better iteration – the Camaro IROC-Z. Built in honor of the International Race of Champions, the IROC-Z had an upgraded 5.0-liter V8 with 225 hp on tap, making it a joy to drive.
7 1967-1970 Mercury Cougar
The Mercury Cougar usually doesn’t appear on the list of the best ’60s muscle cars, but we think it should be included. When Mercury introduced the Cougar in 1967, it was so good that Motor Trend chose it as the Car of the Year.
The Cougar had many things going for it, starting with its superb Mustang-based design. It also had similar engine options to the Mustang, giving it great performance. We love the late ’60s Mustangs, but we feel the Cougar is a better option as it’s more unique and rare to find these days.
6 Plymouth GTX
Plymouth doesn’t exist today, but we’ll always remember the awesome muscle cars it produced back in the day, especially the Barracuda and the outrageous Hemi Cuda it spawned. Plymouth also had other great muscle car models in its lineup, and the GTX is arguably the best you can still get for an affordable price.
The GTX was based on the Plymouth Belvedere but had several design and performance upgrades that helped it compete with the big boys. We particularly adore the 1971 GTX, as it had a refreshed design that made it one of the most beautiful muscle cars of its day.
5 1994–96 Chevrolet Impala SS
The Impala SS is one of the most feared muscle car nameplates ever made. However, gearheads who saw the Impala SS for the first time in 1994 were left confused as it didn’t look like a muscle car at all – it was a four-door sedan.
Fortunately, the Impala SS had all the muscle anyone could need under the hood. Powered by a Corvette-sourced 5.7-liter V8 making 260 hp, it’s easy to see why the Impala SS is one of the best classic American sleeper cars.
4 Chevrolet Nova SS
The Nova is a compact car built by Chevy from 1961. The Nova was initially the top model in the popular Chevy II lineup, but it later became an independent model in 1968.
For most gearheads, 1965 is the year the Nova finally turned into a genuine muscle car. That’s because 1965 was the year Chevy equipped the Nova SS with a 5.4-liter V8 making up to 300 hp, putting its performance on par with the Pontiac GTO, Oldsmobile 442, and Ford Mustang.
3 1993 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra
The Fox Body era of the popular Mustang will go down in history as the worst as it spawned the ugliest and slowest Mustang models of all time. However, it did give us one of the coolest special edition Mustangs – the 1993-only Mustang SVT Cobra.
The Mustang SVT Cobra was one of the first vehicles built by Ford’s new Special Vehicle Team in the early ’90s, and it quickly showed everyone they meant business. It was powered by a 4.9-liter V8 engine dishing out 235 hp, giving it a thrilling driving experience.
2 1978-1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans AM
In 1977, the Pontiac Firebird Trans AM earned worldwide fame when it was featured in the popular film Smokey and the Bandit. This role has turned the 1977 Firebird Trans AM into an icon, which is why collectors are willing to pay top dollar for it.
If you want a similar car but don’t want to pay the premium brought about by Hollywood fame, we recommend going for the 1978-1979 Firebird Trans AM. These have the same iconic design as the 1977 Firebird Trans AM and were the last to have high-displacement engines with 220 hp.
1 Dodge Dart Demon
The Dodge Dart enjoyed a long and successful production run, but there was nothing really special about it as it was positioned below the much more popular Charger and Challenger nameplates. That was until the fourth-gen version when Dodge introduced a special version of the Dart known as the Demon.
Introduced in 1971, the Demon was the highest-performance version of the Dart, and it was pretty awesome. Gearheads love the Dart Demon as it has the ideal classic muscle car design featuring a unique blacked-out hood with two vents, superb driving dynamics, and a 275-hp V8 under the hood.