The heart and soul of any good muscle car are what lies underneath the hood. A big, powerful, and reliable V8 engine typically comes to mind when someone thinks of their favorite classic muscle car. Some engines stood out among the rest; be it for their reliability, insane power output, or impressive displacement.
We found it difficult to thin down the list of our favorite classic muscle car engines, but after some research and serious thought, we picked our top 11. So if you’re looking for your next engine swap or just want to learn more about your favorite classic car, keep reading. Here are the greatest classic muscle car engines.
12 Ford 289 HiPo V8
Fast revving, small displacement, and reasonable fuel economy typically aren’t features of American V8s, unless it’s a Ford 289 V8. The HiPo version of the 289 makes a respectable 271 horsepower and around 315 lb-ft of torque.
The 289 HiPo can be found in legendary Ford muscle cars like the 1st generation Mustang, A/C Cobra, and the Shelby GT350H.
11 Chrysler LA 340
Classic Mopar’s are mostly known for their massive big blocks, but Chrysler was no stranger to the small block market. The performance-oriented 340 V8 required premium gas but made 290 horsepower and a whopping 345lb-ft of Torque if equipped with a six-pack carburetor setup.
340s can be found on all classic Mopars but was most famously used on the Trans-Am spec Plymouth ‘Cuda AAR and Dodge Challenger T/A.
10 Ford Boss 302
The Boss 302 name is synonymous with high-performance Mustangs, being named after the Boss 302 V8 that lies under the hood. The Boss 302 V8 is good for 290 horsepower and about equal torque.
The 302 V8 is found under the hood of cars like the Cougar, Torino, and even Fox-Body Mustang, but the rare Boss edition is only found under the hood of the 1969-1970 Ford Mustang Boss 302 and Mercury Cougar Eliminators.
9 AMC 401
AMC is typically looked at as the odd-ball brand of the Muscle Car Era, but they packed a serious punch thanks to a durable 401 cubic-inch V8. The 401 is good for 330 horsepower and a stump-pulling 430lb-ft of torque.
The 401 is typically found in AMC muscle cars like the Javelin AMX and Matador. Thanks to its durable construction and high torque output the 401 was also installed in International pickups and Jeep pickups.
8 Pontiac 400
The Pontiac 400 has found its way under most Pontiac muscle cars during its 11-year run from 1967 to 1978. At its peak, the Pontiac 400 with Ram-Air IV equipment is good for 345 horsepower and an impressive 430lb-ft of torque.
Cars like the 1969 GTO Judge and 1970 Trans-Am Ram-Air IV host a Pontiac 400 V8. The Trans-Am featured in Smokey And The Bandit even used a 400 V8 (6.6 Liter).
7 Chevrolet 396
First introduced in 1965 for the Chevrolet Corvette, the 396 V8 was born with going fast in mind. The engine hit its peak in 1970, making 375 horsepower and 415lb-ft of torque.
Corvettes, Impalas, and Camaros all hosted the 396 V8, but its greatest application was in the 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS396. The SS396 is generally considered to be one of the greatest Chevrolet muscle cars of the era.
6 Cadillac 500
The biggest factory V8 of the muscle car era belongs to Cadillac, measuring in at a massive 500 cubic inches. The 1970 edition is good for 400 horsepower and 550lb-ft of torque.
The 500 powered most of Cadillac’s models throughout the 1970s, including cars like the Deville, Fleetwood, and the El Dorado.
5 Chrysler RB 440
What do the General Lee, the Blues Mobile, and the Vanishing Point Challenger have in common? The massively powerful 440 cubic-inch V8. The 440 was first introduced in 1965 and at its peak made 390 horsepower and pavement-pounding 490 lb-ft of torque.
Reliability, power, and simplicity made it the perfect V8 for almost every application that it could fit. Chrysler cop cars, muscle cars, RVs, and pick-up trucks all hosted the 440 V8.
4 Chevrolet 454 LS6
Quite possibly the greatest big-block produced by GM was first introduced in 1970 and powered Chevrolet’s performance cars and heavy-duty trucks with dependability and speed. The LS6 version is good for 450 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque.
The 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 is the most iconic car to host the 454 LS6, but it could also be found under the hood of Chevrolet legends like the 1971 Corvette Stingray and the 1970 Chevrolet El Camino SS.
3 Ford 427-FE
Ford needed a big block V8 with enough power to win at the NASCAR ovals, yet reliable enough to run flat out for 24 hours straight. Their solution was the now famed 427-FE, making 425 horsepower and 485 lb-ft of torque in its SOHC street version. The race version made over 400 horsepower and was even banned by NASCAR.
The 427 can be found under the hood of classic muscle cars like the Galaxie 500 R-Code, Shelby GT500, and even the Ford GT40. The SOHC version was ahead of its time, earning it a podium spot on our list.
2 Chevrolet Small Block 350
When someone refers to the “small-block Chevy” or even just a “small-block V8”, they likely have the Chevrolet 350 in mind. The 350-powered Chevrolet trucks and muscle cars for decades, peaking at 350 horsepower and about equal torque in 1970.
Horsepower and torque aren’t what makes the 350 V8 so legendary though, but its reliability and massive aftermarket support. Gearheads still swap the 350 V8 into their favorite project cars, and the 350 laid the groundwork for the modern LS V8.
1 Chrysler 426 HEMI
No surprise here, the 426 HEMI changed the way V8 engines and Motorsports are approached forever. The hemispherical head design allows this massive V8 to breathe better, making almost 500 horsepower from the factory.
The HEMI is most famously used in NASCAR and NHRA drag racing; and is still used today in the ladder. Most Dodge and Plymouth muscle cars of the era sported a HEMI V8, with some of the most famous being the Superbird, Daytona, and the ‘Cuda.