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Muscle cars rose to prominence in the second half of the ’60s and made such a lasting impact on the industry that this era is now widely considered the golden era. By the late 1970s, however, the oil embargo and new and more stringent emissions regulations had led to a downfall for the American auto industry—this “Malaise era” undermined the entire muscle car push. That led to several once-dominant models being discontinued, many for good. A few had revivals, but it didn’t go very well given the poor treatment of muscle cars in the ’80s and early ’90s.
Some muscle car nameplates are iconic simply because they were of a different time and some would consider a revival almost sacrilegious. Yet, several classic muscle cars are still amazing and instantly remind buyers of the power and magic they had and would be more than worthy of a revival today. Here’s how ten of the best discontinued muscle car names rank and a reminder of how bringing them back today would be terrific.
10 Buick Gran Sport
Most identify Buick with the everyday family cars the brand currently produces, but the Gran Sport was proof it could make muscle cars as well as anyone of the time. There were various models of the Gran Sport from the mid-’60s through the mid-’70s, ranging from the GS 350 to the GS 400 on up to the GS 455. The 1970 GS 455 was available in an even more powerful version called the “Stage 1”, that made it one of the quickest muscle cars of its time with a 13.38 quarter-mile time.
9 Plymouth GTX
Thanks to the Fast and the Furious movies, this once-overlooked car is now getting the respect it deserves. Produced from 1966 to 1971, the GTX was utterly gorgeous, with the sleek nose and extended front hood making it look like it was reaching for high speeds.
That was backed by the 440 c.i. V8 that offered 375 hp, a top speed of 121 mph. One would think the F&F movies would have pushed a revival, but as it is, the GTX remains a classic of its time that would be a fine ride today.
8 Oldsmobile 442
Sadly, the Oldsmobile 442 is more famous for being one of the worst victims of the malaise era. This is a shame because, in its prime, it was one of the best muscle cars on the market. As with other muscle cars, this was a heavy midsize coupe, but after 1964 it was fitted with a 400 c.i, V8 that provided 350 hp, with more available. As with other GM muscle cars, it got a larger engine for 1970, that being a 455 c.i. monster that, with the W-30 package, was rated at 370 hp.
By the late 1970s, the 442 had sunk with weaker engines and bodies that marred its reputation before its end. While engines may have gotten bigger, the 442 could still be a fine muscle car to succeed in today’s world.
7 Ford Torino
Whether just the standard Torino, the Cobra, or the GT, this muscle car was a standout of the era. It still has wide respect, including being used in movies, yet a full revival has oddly never been done. That seems confusing given just how many attractive versions and wide-ranging engine choices were available.
The Cobra was arguably the best of the bunch, featuring a 429 V8 putting out 360 hp, but even the GT Sport convertibles were great cars. Given how well-known the name is, a revival of the Torino would be great for muscle car lovers.
6 Buick Wildcat
A sportier muscle car than other full sizers of the time, the Buick Wildcat was a heavy hitter of the time. The 325-hp V8 engine was placed into a body with some beautiful styling, especially as the ’70s drew closer, making it look more like a luxury car but with some serious muscle.
At its peak in 1970, the Wildcat sported a 455 V8 with 370 hp and looked beautiful. It was also quite reliable as well as satisfying to drive.
5 Pontiac Tempest
The poor attempt at a revival in the late 1980s (in Canada and Israel) contributed to why the Tempest hasn’t gotten a revival today. That’s too bad, given this is a car that kicked off the muscle car revolution in 1964 with the GTO option. The brawny 348 hp V8 was a beast that ignited a revolution with big engines in mid-sized cars.
As time went on, the engines improved and so did the styling, although the original look was hard to beat. This car should have remained a classic, but sadly, the later revival tried to hurt it with a bland body style and a weaker engine. Yet the legacy of the Tempest shouldn’t be ignored given that so many other muscle cars wouldn’t exist without it.
4 Pontiac GTO Judge
The “Judge’s” name has been a respected one for years in the muscle car world and it seems unlikely to fade anytime soon. The body screams out “muscle car” like few others with its sharp styling and head-turning graphics that command respect just like a real judge would.
The fantastic V8 engine put out 370 hp, which could be pushed toward 400 with some modifications, and it could reach speeds way higher than the official 115 mph. While it only ran three years (1969 to 1971), the Judge’s legacy is solidified.
3 Plymouth Roadrunner
The Roadrunner is one of those names so perfect for a fast car, it’s surprising it hasn’t been revived. And the Roadrunner lived up to the name in every way possible.
Then there was the engine selection. The base 383 c.i. V8 could produce 335 hp, but the 426 Hemi models with 425 hp were street terrors. Production of the Roadrunner ended in 1980, by then a decal job on a compact Plymouth Volare and a mere shadow of its former self.
2 Chevelle SS
While the Chevelle went through a few models, it’s the 1970 Chevelle SS 454 that’s the most iconic. Apart from its intimidating looks, the 1970 SS 454 (shown below), when ordered in LS6 form, was capable of 450 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque, which were absolutely remarkable numbers for its era.
Any SS looked the part, with its sleek hood and muscular fenders that seem to bulge with power. This is a classic of the genre that deserves a revival today.
1 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
It’s harder to find a more classic muscle car than the one featured in Smokey and the Bandit. The Pontiac Firebird Trans Am is a masterpiece of muscle car engineering, whether it has the “phoenix” logo covering the hood or not. Under that hood of the 1970 version is a masterful V8 capable of 345 hp, and this is far from just a straight line car thank to its incredible handling.
The iconic black and gold “SE” of the Smokey and the Bandit movies is a favorite color scheme for many, but any color makes for an amazing ride. The car is proof of the kind of incredible machines Pontiac could bring to life, and makes us sad the company went defunct in 2010.
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