The world of muscle cars is a fascinating, unique, and quite a big world, filled with drag races, summer nights, crazy fun, wide-open American roads, and a kind of camaraderie you can’t find very many places. Classic muscle cars are iconic, they embody the freedom and thrill all cars should possess. They’re works of art, and there’s so much passion and character behind classic muscle cars and so much passion from the people that own them. Muscle cars really began in 1949, with a sudden demand for faster cars. Cue the Oldsmobile Rocket 88, a car that fit and defined the very definition of a muscle car: a car with a powerful engine and a light body. From that point forward, they took America by storm, creating a movement, a brand-new kind of car, a car that came to represent the American car industry, and really the spirit of America at the time.
Updated May 2022: The end of overpowered naturally-aspirated V8-powered cars is upon us, and buying a classic muscle car is probably the best way to relive the past. So, we’ve now updated this list with more muscle cars to guide you in your next purchase.
Through the 1950s all kinds of muscle cars came into existence, and their popularity only grew. And so did the popularity of drag racing, because muscle cars had lots of power, but poor handling. After a brief pause in the growth due to racing bans, there came the golden age of muscle cars, the era everyone remembers best. This article is going to look at 10 muscle cars worth owning, and 10 not worth your time.
23 Worth It: 1968 Shelby Mustang GT500
If anyone were to ask us what is the best classic muscle car if the price was no determining factor, it’s hard to imagine answering anything other than the first-generation Mustang GT500. The new GT500 is a true force to reckoned with, even around a track, but there’s just something immeasurably special about the original that we can’t put our finger on. Perhaps it’s the 355 hp 7.0-liter V8, maybe the sheer design of its fastback shape, or even its iconic stripes – whatever it is, we would highly recommend picking up one of these pieces of history on wheels… that is of course if you happen to have $200,000 to spend.
22 Worth It: 1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird
If you thought Japanese tuning culture invented oversized rear wings, we have some news for you. Back in the ’70s, Plymouth added what seems like a whole other car squished together that acted as a rear wing to the Road Runner and called it the Superbird, but that’s not all. Its 426 Hemi V8 engine spat out a ludicrous 425 hp to the rear wheels, and all that would keep you from spinning out was proper throttle control, and we guess the downforce of that massive box attached to the Plymouth’s rear end.
21 Worth It: 1987 Buick GNX
The term sleeper isn’t often associated with muscle cars since they’re wide, aggressively designed, and make one hell of a noise, but the Buick GNX exceeded everyone’s expectations. Underneath its hood wasn’t a gas-guzzling V8, but rather a turbocharged 3.8-liter V6 engine good for more than 275 hp, and as a whole, the GNX weighed 3,500 lbs—but things get even crazier. The Buick GNX could dash down a quarter-mile in 13 seconds, and reach 60 mph from a standstill in under 5 seconds, which was unheard of in terms of muscle cars, and it still holds up to current sports car performance figures. Unfortunately only 547 examples were ever made, so if you happen to see for sale, sell everything you have and take ownership.
20 Worth It: 1965 Pontiac GTO
Meet the Pontiac GTO. This is the 1965 model. Straight out of the golden age of muscle cars. This car was one of many in its class, but this one had some of the most class, with that big front end that looked fast yet stylish and the double headlights that make it look like an instant classic.
This Pontiac GTO had somewhere in the neighborhood of 360 horsepower, in a car that is light and designed to showcase the engine in the most impressive way possible. If you’re looking to buy a muscle car, the Pontiac GTO is a great option, especially one from the mid-sixties.
19 Worth It: 1968 Chevrolet Camaro
The Chevrolet Camaro is one of the few muscle cars to come back into existence in recent years with true success. And the reason is because of how much of a success and classic the original became. An icon for the ages, one of the true heavyweights of the muscle car world.
The Camaro is one of the best muscle cars money can buy, in any of its golden age incarnations. Especially valuable are the special models, like the Z28, a buyable upgrade package that turned the Camaro into a true racing car, and a true muscle car.
18 Skip It: 1969 AMC AMX
The biggest downfall for muscle cars was the implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules regarding emission standards and regulations, also paired with the first oil crisis, one of a series that affected a lot of the motor industry’s development in America.
The AMC AMX was a muscle car that tried to keep that muscle spirit while still fitting in with emission regulations, and it flopped. It’s all the car and none of the muscle, which we’ll find is the case with a lot of muscle cars, especially at the end of their golden age.
17 Skip It: 1972 Mercury Montego GT
The Mercury Montego GT even had power and performance in its name: GT. But, disappointingly, this car lacked all of those things, and if you’re looking for a classic American muscle car to buy, this one isn’t worth your time. Stay away! It won’t be a good investment, and it wasn’t that popular of a car at the time either.
It came with under 200 horsepower, and due to regulations was a lot heavier and bulkier than the best kinds of muscle cars. It all added up to a car that looked like a muscle car, but was heavier, more expensive, less practical, and had a lot less power. It just fell short.
16 Worth It: 1969 Dodge Charger R/T
The Dodge Charger is arguably the most iconic American muscle car out there. It may not be the first, or the most original, or the truest to its roots, but by popularity, this car will try to take first place, every time. And it’s no wonder when you start to dismantle why.
The Hemi engine that was put in the R/T Challenger models harnessed a massive 375 horses underneath that gracefully styled hood. It was an instant classic, and it not only embodied the spirit of muscle cars, but the spirit of the people at the time, and it did it with more power and performance than a lot of others.
15 Worth It: 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS
The Chevrolet Chevelle remains a classic down to this day, a kind of secondary standby. It’s not the most iconic name in the muscle car world, and it may not be a name or car recognized by people who aren’t into muscle cars (for example, Camaro or Charger).
But that doesn’t mean this beautiful machine from the golden ages of muscle cars isn’t worth your time or isn’t a great car. Rather, it’s a vastly popular classic muscle car, and a worthwhile investment if you’re looking to buy a golden age muscle car.
14 Skip It: 1975 Chevrolet Camaro Rally Spor
This muscle car was made in the mid to late seventies and despite it having the Camaro name, it wasn’t enough to make it a car worth your time or money.
The biggest drawback for these kinds of muscle cars, made when regulations forced manufacturers to adulterate their balanced, perfected powerhouse cars, is their lack of power and performance. We’re talking severe shortage of power—just 145 hp. Plus the implementation of safety measures, things like bigger bumper regulations which led to a huge increase in weight, became a one-two punch for muscle cars. And no matter how big the name, it didn’t change that fact.
13 Skip It: 1976 Ford Mustang Stallion
This Mustang looks a lot more like a typical Sedan of its day, rather than a muscle car. And not even just any muscle car, it’s supposed to be one of the greatest of its time, the Ford Mustang, a serious champion and icon, a true classic muscle car. That was in its heyday though, in its golden years.
This is several years after that sunset, and what was left, with regulations and fading buyers, is a sad echo of those times. With a puny 88 horsepower four-engine to move this giant bucket of steel, all magic was lost on this Mustang Stallion and most from this era.
12 Worth It: 1968 Plymouth Barracuda
One of the more cool-looking muscle cars of the day, the Plymouth Barracuda is a mad machine worth your time, and your money. Especially in red, I mean just look at that color, it’s gorgeous. And those red wheels too, it just screams danger
This car had a massive 300 horsepower V8 to power it, which made it fit right into the pack, as it were when it came to being a muscle car. But its looks and performance made this Plymouth a bit extra special, which is why it’s worth so much more today.
11 Worth It: 1970 Chevrolet C3 Corvette Stingray
Depending on the condition of the Corvette, these classic muscle cars can sell for phenomenal amounts of money. So if you have the money to buy a restored or mint version, do it, it’s worth it. Or if you want to fix one up, the return will be more than worth it.
The Corvette is a total icon of America, not just in the car world, but for everyone. And the golden age for the Corvette may people say was during the golden age of muscle cars. The car pictured above is the legendary Corvette Stingray, the best of the best Corvettes. Fun fact, after the Stingray name was put to rest for almost 40 years, Chevy decided to revive the name with the brand-spanking-new C8 Corvette Stingray.
10 Skip It: 1974 Pontiac GTO
Another great car with a spectacular pedigree and a name that everyone equates with the perfect muscle car. But sometimes the model year is more important than you might think. If you want to buy a muscle car, or more specifically a Pontiac GTO, make sure you buy a model from the 60s.
It’s not worth the price difference to buy one of these. It’s not a good investment, and the car itself is a sad reflection of its forefathers. It barely scraped 200 horsepower, and regulations made this car much heavier, meaning it didn’t hit that fiery spark muscle cars should inspire inside consumers.
9 Skip It: 1977 Dodge Charger Daytona
A lot of the muscle cars not worth your time or money are still styled in a way that makes them at least look cool, evoking the spirit of the times, calling to mind that energy of endless possibility and freedom. This is why it can be tricky choosing a good classic muscle car worth your time. This Charger Daytona, though, doesn’t exactly look like a muscle car.
It kind of just looks like a giant behemoth boat of a car. We see it, and we don’t think “fast,” or “powerful,” instead we think of a comfortable sedan like the other kinds built at the time. Skip it!
8 Worth It: 1971 Plymouth Road Runner
This Plymouth will always have a place in the hall of fame of muscle cars. It’s a true classic, a simple, straightforward, affordable version of a muscle car. In fact, not just a version, but really the best embodiment of what a muscle car should be.
The original Plymouth Road Runner was designed to be more affordable than other muscle cars, but not sacrifice power or performance. This is why people loved it so much, and why it became so popular. With 335 horsepower and a respectable 1/4 mile time, it fit the bill, for not so big of a bill. Of course, nowadays, buying one will cost you anywhere from 25-90 thousand dollars.
7 Worth It: 1973 AMC Javelin
The AMC Javelin is kind of a cult classic when it comes to classic muscle cars. It’s much less popular than the heavyweight giants like Challenger, Corvette, or Camaro, but it’s no less capable, some might argue it’s more of a classic than the others.
So if you’re looking for a less known, more unique-looking muscle car, this is a great starting place. It’s got loads of style, and loads of power too, in the neighborhood of 330 horsepower. It’s got the kind of styling that isn’t dated at all, like some muscle cars, it just has a certain retro timeless quality that we like a lot. If we were going to have a muscle car, it would probably be one like this.
6 Skip It: 1976 Plymouth Volare Roadrunner
This is another example of a really good muscle car, the Plymouth Roadrunner, gone bad. Not because manufacturers messed up, but again because of the changing market, the lack of consumers, the oil crises, the vast changes in regulations and safety rules, along with efficiency standards always in flux.
All that didn’t stop Plymouth from trying, or from a lot of other car brands to keep trying. It’s clear that while muscle cars had their glory days, those days didn’t last very far into the 70s, and only in the past fifteen or so years, have they started to come back in a big way.
5 Skip It: 1980 California Corvette
This is probably the worst of the worst when it comes to iconic muscle cars becoming absolute garbage as they leave their golden age. Many think of the Corvette as the truest icon and embodiment of the American muscle car, and you can’t exactly say that they’re wrong.
The Corvette was an incredible machine in its day, the poster child for power, speed, and freedom. Alas, this California model falls well short of the mark, with only 180 horsepower and a curb weight of 3500 pounds. It all adds up to a mediocre muscle car without any muscle.
4 Worth It: 1974 Dodge Challenger
Welcome to a true icon. The Dodge Challenger was truly in its glory days during the height of muscle cars. It was born into a market where the sky was the limit with muscle cars, and everyone loved them, wanted them, and was buying them.
Car manufacturers cared about the cars they were making intensely, and people were excited and eager to buy them. They fed off each other, which led to an almost camaraderie between manufacturer and buyer, which is kind of unheard of. The results were spectacular cars made with genuine care and craftsmanship. Like this Dodge Challenger.
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