The 1960s are popularly defined as the golden age of the American automotive industry. Detroit led the way with some amazing machines, putting stunning engines into mid-sized cars to make for some spectacular rides. It set the stage for the muscle car craze with the Pontiac GTO and Ford Mustang, and the trend spread like wildfire from there.
Car manufacturers in the ’60s engaged in what can only be described as a horsepower war, stuffing bigger and meaner engines inside their compact and midsize coupes while paying no attention to their fuel economy or emissions. All the downsides of that aside, this era resulted in some of the coolest, meanest, and most powerful muscle cars that would be produced for the next several decades.
However, with so many options around at the time, it’s not surprising that a few great ’60s muscle cars fell through the cracks. Some were overwhelmed by the more famous models that came afterward but were great muscle cars in their own right. Others were rarer models, so not as many buffs knew about them. However, as time has gone on, collectors have a better appreciation for these machines. These are some of the more underrated muscle cars of the 1960s and why they should be better remembered today.
8 1967 Mercury Cougar XR7
Today, the Mercury Cougar is among the better-appreciated muscle cars, but the 1967 XR7 was something special. It managed the trick of balancing muscle car power with true luxury and even a bit of refinement. Make no mistake, it’s still a serious muscle machine with the base 302 cubic inch engine offering a good 210 hp, but some got a 390 GT for 325 hp.
It was the interiors that got attention, including wooden paneling and leather seating, so it felt great to ride in. It was the upscale cousin to the Mustang and a rare case of a luxury muscle car that worked right.
7 1966 Dodge Coronet 440 R/T
So much attention is rightly put on the Dodge Charger, but the Coronet was nothing to sneeze at either. In terms of performance, the Coronet R/T boasted 375 hp out of its 440 Magnum engine. That meant zero to 60 in 5.7 seconds.
Even better was outfitting one with the 426 Hemi that cranked out 425 hp. The Coronet was a great ride that deserves far more attention among muscle car buffs.
6 1961 Chevrolet Impala SS 409
Of course, the mid-to-late-60s Impala SS is well-regarded to almost iconic status among muscle cars buffs. This is why it’s easier to overlook the 1961 model that set the stage for later success. The mighty 409 V8 became available that year, and it cranked out a strong 360 hp. The following year saw the option of a 490 with dual quads and an impressive 409 hp.
As great as the later Impala SS models were, they wouldn’t exist without the 1961 version.
5 1965-67 Buick Gran Sport 400
With the muscle car genre kicking up, Buick decided to get into the mix with the Gran Sport. It’s still a well-regarded muscle car, if not ranked among the best, which is sad given just how fine a car it can be. The Skylark’s massive body helped house the ample 325 hp 401ci ‘nail head’ V8.
The year 1967 saw a stronger 340-hp engine. It made the Gran Sport 400 one of Buick’s best offerings at the time and deserves better appreciation today for a car paving the way for other fine muscle machines.
4 1963-64 Plymouth Sport Fury 426 ‘Max Wedge’
The Plymouth Fury was always a car tricky for some people to catch onto. Yet the special 426 Max Wedge variant is a different beast. They are notable for the large engine bay, which was needed to hold the massive 426 ci V8 with 425 hp. It enabled the car to run the quarter-mile in just over 12 seconds.
While a regular Fury does get overlooked among the best muscle cars, this version is even better. And while it’s a rare model to find, the search is worth it for one of the best muscle machines of its time.
3 1964 Pontiac Catalina 2+2
Pontiac had a score of great entries in the 1960s, yet the Catalina 2+2 was a somewhat overlooked entry in the ranks. It’s probably because less than eight thousand were produced, yet they did provide some fantastic power. The standard was a 389 cid 283-hp V8, but it could be boosted with options including a 421 V8 with 370 hp.
Throw in a luxury interior with bucket seats alongside a reasonable price, and the 2+2 added up to a fine muscle car.
2 1963 Buick Wildcat
Most will claim the Wildcat didn’t really become a muscle car until 1970. However, looking at the 1963 model, the ingredients were already there to boost the Wildcat to prominence in the future.
That included a 6.6-liter Nailhead V8 engine producing 325 horsepower at 4,400 RPM and 445 lb-ft of torque at 2,800 RPM. The Wildcat also looked like a mean and lean machine that boasted some great chrome alongside the muscular body. While the later models of the Wildcat are better known, the 1963 model should be better remembered as setting the bar for the success to follow.
1 1964 Mercury Marauder 427
Somehow, the Mercury Marauder just doesn’t get the love it deserves. It’s not helped that most automatically associate the name with the 2000s failure of a modern luxury car. The reality is that the original Marauder was as fine a muscle car as one could get in the 1960s.
The Marauder could be had with a 427 ci V8 churning out up to 425 hp that even held its own in NASCAR races. A regular 1963-64 Marauder is a gem, the 427 Super variant is even better, and the name should be recognized as the fine Detroit muscle offering it was.
Sources: hemmings.com, autowise.com
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