Muscle cars ushered in a new era in automotive history in the late 1960s. It brought about a classic formula that has survived the test of time, rear-wheel drive and a massive V8. These cars were often affordable, such that everyday blue-collar workers were able to purchase their dream cars. In time, their children would take up the mantle and continue the tradition of ogling over big power V8s.
Updated May 2022: Muscle cars are part of a dying breed, but luckily we have some truly badass classic muscle cars to reminisce about…and a few we’d rather forget. We’ve updated this list to remind you what the muscle car world still has on offer while we still have the chance to drive these hardcore V8-powered pieces of history.
That is not to say muscle cars were not without their issues and controversies, as is evident when you take one look at cars produced in the late 1970s and 1980s. The emergence of fuel economy restrictions helped guarantee that cost-saving and gut-less motors became the salient characteristics of muscle cars during this period. As well as this, this era also has the dubious distinction of having produced the majority of the worst-looking muscle cars of all time. There were some gems, to be sure, but the best looking were definitely products of the late 1960s. Not to say the era is dead, far from it actually, with the release of ridiculously high-powered, supercharged animals, the muscle car is alive and well. Good-looking to boot!
So with all this being said, the following are 9 of the worst-looking muscle cars, followed by 11 of their best-looking counterparts.
18 Worst: 2005 Pontiac GTO
Here we are yet again, another modern reincarnation of what once was a stellar muscle car back in the ’60s and ’70s. What once was a competitive muscle car now transformed into a reskinned Holden, and instead of looking menacing, the modern GTO adopted a sleeper design. Sure, performance-wise, the newer GTO was rather respectable as it had a naturally aspirated 6.0-liter V8 under its hood that produced 400 hp and 395 lb-ft of torque, but other than that there’s nothing to write home about. So, if you were looking for an affordable sleeper, the 2000s GTO is the way to go. But there is light at the end of this dark tunnel… our very own Rostislav Prokop created what he thinks a modern Pontiac GTO should look like, and we can’t imagine anything better than it.
17 Worst: 1998 SN95 Ford Mustang
The fourth generation of Mustangs was doomed from the beginning. Coming off the heels of the now-beloved Fox Body, the SN95 was an underpowered and underwhelming mess produced from 1994 to 2004. Needless to say, this was not a good decade in the history of the Mustang.
Think that is being a little harsh? Just take one look at the car. It screams mid-1990s design. From the overly rounded aesthetics that seem to have been an intentional addition to draw a contrast to the previous generation Mustang’s square exterior, nothing about this car looks good, not the front, not the side, and not the back.
The interior of the SN95 is also pretty bad, though not on the same level as the exterior. To be perfectly fair, the interior is par for the course for cars of that era. Plastic laden and poor in quality, it still did not do this car any favors. But hey, on the bright side, it’s dirt cheap now, but we still recommend buying another generation Mustang. So if you are in the market and want to punch your eyeballs every time you look at your car, look no further.
16 Worst: 2001 F-Body Chevy Camaro
Suffering from the same disease of stagnant mid-1990s design, the F-body Camaro was a weird-looking, oddly shaped, and poorly built car. Just like the SN95, this model Camaro also represents its fourth generation, being released between 1993 and 2002.
The car almost looks as if you took a car with traditional proportions, and then stretched by the front and rear end, resulting in this weird, point thing. If that is your preferred aesthetic, more power to you.
Today, it is now an extremely affordable way of getting into a massive V8 with plenty of after-market potential. While we are talking positives, this car’s interior is a high point for the car. Given what was typical for the period, it is actually not bad.
Still, positivity aside, this thing is not a shining monument to beauty. It was a bad-looking car 25 years ago when it was first released, and it is still a bad-looking car now. And just like the Mustang, we wouldn’t recommend buying one of these used as there are tons of better Camaros on the used market we’d rather have.
15 Worst: 1975 Ford Mustang II
The Mustang II is a legend. Every hardcore Mustang Enthusiast is aware of the fraught history of this strange, quirky steed. Many argue that if not for the Mustang II, the Mustang would have gone the way of the Camaro and Challenger, and been discontinued at some point. So we are eternally grateful for the Mustang II’s existence, otherwise, we wouldn’t have got the chance to see some of these cool Mustangs. The question you have to ask yourself is, was it worth it? Was having five decades of uninterrupted production worth the design and performance disaster that was the Mustang II?
Not only was this thing basically a Ford Pinto, itself one of the worst cars ever made period, but performance-wise, it too sucked. Really sucked. Created amid a crackdown on fuel consumption in the 1970s, which itself was spurred on by the oil crises in the United States at the time, the Mustang II did something previously thought unthinkable to the Mustang lineup. Sacrilegiously, the executives at the Blue Oval decided on putting a four-cylinder engine into a Mustang, and they unabashedly welcomed controversy. Again, not only was this car gutless, shared a platform with the worst car in automotive history, but it was just plain hideous.
14 Worst: 1968 AMC AMX
The AMC AMX was released at the end of the 1960s and was marketed as a 2-seater sports GT. Coming equipped exclusively with a V8, the AMC AMX had all the makings of a classic muscle car, even its design (at least on paper). With its short deck lid, long hood, and meaty tires, the AMX had all the traditional muscle car proportions. Sadly, however, as you can see, things always seem to look better on paper. The AMC AMX’s wedge-like design seemingly runs counter to the muscle car heritage AMC was famous for. Perhaps it was the window design or semi-fastback sweeping roof, but the AMX did not look good.
Seriously, if you squint, you would swear you are looking at a Ford Pinto from some angles. That is possibly the most insulting thing you can say about any car, by the way. Naturally, the AMC AMX was a short affair, lasting only a brief, 3 model years. Despite this, the infamy of its looks has lived on, forever to make future lists of unappealing, aesthetically fraught cars.
13 Worst: 1978 Ford Mustang King Cobra
While technically still the Mustang II, the Mustang King Cobra deserves its own entry in this list. Meant as a celebration of 8 cylinders’ return to the Mustang lineup in the mid-1970s, the King Cobra was an aesthetic package that turned an ugly blob, into a weird ugly blob.
This car did do some things right, however, because the King Cobra was the first Mustang to receive the “5.0” badge. This badge now carries clout among Mustang enthusiasts and the greater automotive community as a whole. So, taken as a whole, the King Cobra is still an awful-looking car. Even the name does not quite sit right, there is just something unsettling about it.
On Top of all this, the car was pricey. In the 1978 model year (also the only model year), the King Cobra would run you nearly $7,000, and in today’s used market, it still costs roughly the same regardless of inflation. Ford ended up moving less than 5,000 units. Look on the bright side, however, at least it didn’t come with a gutless four-cylinder engine, right?
12 Worst: 2019 Chevy Camaro
Too soon? We think not! When Ford decided to refresh Mustang’s look in 2018, the decision to update the Camaro was hardly surprising. Unlike the Mustang, however, the 2019 Camaro has received almost universal criticism for doing something Ford has also done. That is, homogenizing the brand’s aesthetic. For instance, look at a post-2015 Mustang, and you immediately see subtle cues that are present in other vehicles in Ford’s lineup. That move also brought its share of criticism, but GM seems to have taken this a step further.
Whether the rear tail lights jive with you is almost irrelevant, the real issue is the front end. Maybe the redesign truly is being overblown as it was with the newest generation Mustang, but we’re genuinely uncertain that is the case. Perhaps it would be prudent to reserve judgment until you spot one in the wild, but until then, you can’t help wondering what GM was thinking.
11 Best: 2007 Dodge Magnum
The Dodge Magnum was always going to be a polarizing vehicle. A modern station wagon boasting rear-wheel drive and a V8, it seemed like a car enthusiast’s dream. Essentially, the Magnum was a stretched-out version of the Dodge Charger, and it also came offered in an SRT8 version which was equipped with a 6.1-liter V8 engine that spat out 425 hp to the rear wheels. We all lust over fast wagons, and the Magnum is one of those that went under most of our radars because of the Cadillac CTS-V Wagon’s appearance. For some reason, many people consider the Magnum to look somewhat cheap, and unrefined, almost like a child’s plaything, but we wholeheartedly disagree – just look at how menacing it is, especially in black.
10 Best: 1967 Ford Mustang “Eleanor”
The Eleanor is still quite possibly the most famous muscle car in the world. The car was Nicholas Cage’s love interest in the film Gone in 60 Seconds. Just to be clear, we are talking about the 2000 remake of Gone in 60 Seconds, not the original which featured an infinitely less attractive “Eleanor”. No, we’re talking of the multiple scoop-having, hood vent-sporting, beast that also had signature side dump exhausts which are just plain awesome.
For the 2000 remake, the Mustang to be was a modified 1967 Shelby GT500. In itself, the 1967 GT500 was an especially beautiful car, with its aggressive and innovative design.
The movie car took it into another echelon of appeal. From the louvers to the hood pins, and not to mention the bodywork, “Eleanor” was a gift to the eyes. It is no wonder why countless replicas are floating around at any given time. Companies have recently popped up claiming to be selling “new” versions of the car for the low, low price of $190,000. This car is definitely one of the best-looking muscle cars of all time.
9 Best: 1969 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird
The Plymouth Road Runner was a beautiful car. It is almost a bit ordinary-looking, however. What we mean, is that it seems to typify exactly what comes to mind when someone says, “classic muscle car”. Not necessarily a bad thing, just a reminder that a car that looks good could still be forgettable. What makes this car unforgettable you ask? A giant, ridiculous, utterly useless wing! Enter the Plymouth Road Runner Superbird. Quite easily the most outrageous-looking car to come out of a company as typically conservative as Plymouth.
The Superbird was at the top of the Road Runner lineup, released during the 1969 model year. The car came equipped with either a big V8 or an even bigger V8. The car was truly ahead of its time, unfortunately, because sales were not nearly what Plymouth had hoped for them to be. As a result, many sat on dealer lots, and ultimately, Plymouth only sold less than 2,000 units. Time has been enlightening, however, because the Superbird is now regularly commanding prices well into the six-figures, and is recognized as one of the best looking designs ever to make it into production.
8 Best: 2015 Equus Bass 770
The Equus Bass 770 is a polarizing car. On the one hand, the car is a luxurious ode to all the classic muscle cars of the past, from the Charger to the Mustang. On the other hand, the company took cars that were fundamentally designed to bring affordable enjoyment to the common folk and used their exterior designs to sell a car for $500,000.
The company has also come under criticism for something many boutique car companies have been criticized for, overpromising and underdelivering. Negativity aside, one thing that cannot be argued, however, is the car’s looks. It is absolutely stunning.
Naturally, that comes as a result of the lineage upon which Equus was drawing, but still, the car is a beauty. Packing, you guessed it, NOT 770 horsepower, but instead 640 horsepower from a supercharged Chevy LS9 engine. This car is also a major performance stud, that would compete on a level appropriate for the price tag it commands. So while most will not be able to afford it, those fortunate enough will be able to enjoy what is a mix of high-end luxury, and raw muscle.
7 Best: 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429
With a name like the Boss 429, you know this Mustang meant business. The 429 comes as you can imagine, from the engine’s displacement in cubic inches. This monster motor made 375 horsepower, and ridiculous 450-pound feet of torque. Many have claimed, however, that these power figures provided by Ford were very conservative, and that the true figures are significantly higher. The Boss 429’s origins always had the making of a legend, being produced as a result of Ford’s efforts to succeed in NASCAR. So, essentially what you have in the Boss 429, is a beautiful car with a race car engine. That, my friends, is a wonderful thing.
From a look’s perspective, you just cannot go wrong with this car. It might be the meanest, most aggressive-looking Mustang ever to be produced to date. Not only that, it was only available for two years, 1969 and 1970. This means the Boss 429 is an exceedingly rare car to see on the road today, which also means it is an exceedingly expensive car to own today. Still, the Boss 429 is arguably one of the best-looking Mustangs ever created, with the performance to back those looks up.
6 Best: 1971 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda
The second feature on this list from Plymouth, the Hemi ‘Cuda was a special edition variant of the Barracuda. Special in the sense that Plymouth stuffed a massive Hemi V8, in an otherwise already well-performing car. This is the recipe that has always succeeded, both in the past and even today.
Take the engine out of a race car, in this case, NASCAR derived, and put it in the meanest looking car in your line-up. It worked with Ford, Dodge, Chevy, and countless other car companies who realized how much of a winning formula homologation was.
Today, the Hemi ‘Cuda is actually one of the most valuable cars on the planet, commanding exuberant prices at auction, thanks in large part to the scarcity of supply. This is because only a small fraction of the Barracudas produced in the 1971 model year were fitted with the Hemi engine. The Hemi ‘Cuda actually came in 2 body styles, coupe, and convertible. If you are looking for a convertible, you are going to be paying well into the millions for one of these, not just because of the extra drop-top appeal either, as they are far rarer than their fixed-roof counterparts.
5 Best: 1969 Chevy Yenko Camaro
You remember the Yenko Camaro right? Piloted by smack-talking goons in the film 2 Fast 2 Furious? Exactly! Despite how the outcome of that most improbable of races (though not in the Fast and the Furious world), the Yenko Camaro is a crowning achievement in the automotive world. The car’s namesake comes from a famous Chevy dealership called you guessed it, Yenko Chevy. It was this dealership that made these custom Camaros for customers, creating what today are considered some of the most coveted muscle cars in the world.
Styling-wise, the Yenko Camaro was beautiful in that the design language can almost be considered conservative, even by 1960s standards. This does not detract from the car, however, because it has proven to be a timeless design that has more than withstood the test of time. Not only that, the car came outfitted with a 7.0-liter V8, producing an astounding 450 horsepower. That is an insane number, even today for a muscle car. There are many other special variant classic Camaros out there, but the Yenko is easily the standout. So if you are looking for the perfect mix of beauty and brawn, you have a winner with the Yenko Camaro.
4 Best: 1963 Chevy Impala Z11
The third generation Chevy Impala was a pretty car from the very beginning. Being marketed as a sports coupe meant that Chevy afforded the Impala many performance options from which customers can choose. None of these options were as consequential as the Z11, however.
This package turned what was an otherwise average performer, into a beast for the streets. The Z11 package meant that the Impala would now receive an impressive 409 cubic inch engine, that made well over 400 horsepower.
Already one of the most popular cars in America at the time (1961 to 1964), the addition of the Z11 package ensured that the Impala would live on as a folk hero to future generations. It is interesting to note, however, that few people have ever heard of the Impala Z11, more than likely because the Impala SS is far more famous and commands much more of the public’s attention than its more powerful sibling.
3 Best: 1963 Chevy Corvette
We’re just going to say it, the 1963 Chevy Corvette is the best-looking muscle car ever made… ever. We realize the inherent subjectivity laden in our previous statement, and you can argue with us if you like, but we only ask that you look at this piece of art from every angle, and then try to deny its supremacy from a purely aesthetic perspective. This model year was actually the first year of the Corvette’s second generation (C2) and was a substantial overhaul from the still quite beautiful first-generation Corvette.
The coupe especially stands out as a feature of automotive design. The now-famous split window is a particular characteristic that has captivated the eyes of collectors and enthusiasts alike. 1963 was also the birth of an unforgettable icon for the Corvette line, the Stingray. If you are interested in buying one of these today, you are guaranteed to have to spend a pretty penny. So, please do yourself a favor and just drink it all in, and if you have the opportunity, try to see one in person, because it only gets better in three dimensions.
2 Best: 2016 Ford Shelby Mustang GT350R
The Mustang GT350 took the automotive world by storm. It completely revolutionized what it meant to be an “affordable” sports car, let alone a muscle car. That is because the GT350 boasted a host of goodies that typically only came in six-figure supercars. This is especially true for the vaunted R variant of the GT350. Being the track-focused version of the traditional Shelby lineup, the GT350R takes the race car heritage of the GT350 to an entirely new level. Essentially, it is the track version of the Mustang. What more do you want?
The R comes standard with carbon wheels, something previously unheard of outside the world of multi-million dollar hypercars. Not only that, the GT350 came with a flat-plane crank V8, something atypical of traditional muscle car V8s.
This meant that the GT350 has possibly the greatest exhaust note ever to grace an American automaker. Being the functional performer that it is, the GT350R still manages to be one of the most aggressive-looking cars on the market today. From the crazy front splitter to the huge carbon wing, the GT350R nailed both form and function.
1 Best: 2019 Dodge Challenger Hellcat Widebody
Think of the absurdity that is currently coming out of Detroit from Dodge. Not only did it recently just release the insane Demon, but it took something popular in the aftermarket, and made it a production option. The Hellcat Widebody is intimidation manifest. The most menacing stance on the market today, by far. Getting one may be tricky, however, because just like when the original Hellcat was first released, dealers are already asking for over sticker for the Hellcat Widebody.
Still producing the insane 707 horsepower from its narrow-bodied counterpart, the Hellcat Widebody maintains the performance it has been renowned for but packages it in an even more attractive exterior. Sure, having a widebody car isn’t exactly practical, nor is it really functional in any way, but that was never the point. For that matter, is there any point to having over 700 horsepower in a rear-wheel-drive car? Yes, there is. It is because it is awesome, that’s why. The Hellcat Widebody is the embodiment of everything that is right in the world. It makes no sense, it’s completely outrageous, but it couldn’t be more perfect. More widebody, please.
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