Before the 1950s, Pontiac wasn’t always known as a manufacturer of high-performance cars, focusing mostly on sensible sedans marketed to American families. However, by the mid-1950s, Pontiac finally fully embraced the V8 engine as the heart of sportier cars that appealed to a more youthful segment of drivers. The brand would achieve success in auto racing before GM’s 1963 ban on using their cars in the motorsport world. Pontiac’s famous engineer John DeLorean found creative ways to circumvent the company’s restrictions on building cars with large and powerful engines, and his efforts led to the Pontiac GTO, widely recognized as the first muscle car.
Pontiac would go on to create some of the most memorable classic cars, appreciated not only for their top speeds and acceleration but also their trend-setting exteriors. Pontiac’s iconic classic muscle cars possess this combination of style and performance that rival anything Ford, Chevrolet, or GM produced in the 1960s through the 1970s. Before meeting its unfortunate demise in 2010, Pontiac would remind drivers of its importance to the golden age of muscle cars, by reintroducing new levels of V8 power into modern machines. The following Pontiac cars represent the best innovation among all muscle cars and with Pontiac’s proven reliability, remain extremely popular for buyers who demand durability and performance in used cars.
10 2009 Pontiac G8 GXP
The short-lived Pontiac G8 is a modern Pontiac muscle car that deserved the attention it received when it debuted in 2008. Based on the Australian Holden Commodore, the G8 was a 4-door RWD sedan that could drive 5 passengers around comfortably at insane speeds.
In 2009, the first G8 GTX hit the market, the most power-packed version of the car, with an LS3 V8 producing 415 horsepower. Despite fairly strong sales, the G8 could not survive the death of the Pontiac brand. However, in 2013, with similar specs as the G8, the Chevrolet SS arrived also based on the Commodore.
9 1977 Pontiac LeMans Can Am
Created during the heart of the malaise era, when manufacturers moved toward more fuel-efficient cars, the 1977 Pontiac LeMans Can Am offered a chance to relive the glory years of the GTO. After the last classic-era GTO sold in 1974, Pontiac still experienced strong sales with its Trans Am but the Le Mans was lagging behind.
Pontiac once again turned to Jim Wanger, the godfather of the original GTO, to create a high-performance version of the 1977 Le Mans. In reality, with its W72 400 cu in V8, the Can Am could not match the performance of the best muscle cars of years before, but it was enough to provide some thrills. After producing only 1377 cars, once the rear spoiler mold broke during the production process, the brief story of the Can Am ended.
8 2002 Pontiac Trans Am WS6
The 2002 Trans Am WS6 was the swan song for Pontiac’s storied muscle car, but it finished with one of the best Firebird muscle cars of the modern era. The WS6 performance package became an option in 1978 after the Smokey and the Bandit movie boosted Trans Am sales. The WS6 package disappeared by the time the Firebird’s fourth generation began in 1992 but returned in 1996 offering four-wheel disc brakes, performance tires, and a suspension upgrade.
The 2002 Trans AM WS6 was a definite upgrade over the base Trans Am models, with a small block 5.7-liter LS1 V8 engine producing 325 horsepower. The last Trans Am came with standard leather seats and removable roof panels, making it an increasingly popular Pontiac muscle car on the used car market.
7 1971 Pontiac GT-37
Earning the title of a sleeper muscle car, the Pontiac GT-37 came onto the market in 1970, as a high-performance version of the budget-friendly T-37. The GT-37 packed some trademark GTO characteristics into a pricetag below what the more famous muscle cars of its era would cost, including the GTO’s dual exhaust, and a floor-mounted three-speed transmission.
The GT-37 lacked the added design features and swag of the GTO Judge, but with an available V8 engine option capable of outputting more than 335 horsepower, it undoubtedly embarrassed some unsuspecting competition in drag and street races.
6 1969 Pontiac Trans Am
Named after the popular North American sports car racing circuit, the Trans Am burst onto the muscle car scene in 1969, as one of the highest-performance Pontiac models and package options for the Firebird. The first Trans Am evolved as a result of John DeLorean’s desire to make a sports car that could compete with the new F-body Chevrolet Camaro.
DeLorean, influenced by the European sports cars of the era, built the Trans Am with a handling edge over many of its muscle car competitors. The 1969 Trans Am shipped with a standard 400 cubic inch L74 Ram Air III engine pumping out 335 horsepower. Only 697 of these cars exist, making it one of the rarest Pontiac cars, but they are instantly recognizable with their hood scoops and blue stripes running across the top of the entire vehicle.
5 1967 Pontiac Firebird 400
When the Pontiac Firebird hit dealerships in 1967, it came in a wide selection of 5 trims, as opposed to one model available with various upgrades. As the king of the 1967 Firebirds, the 400 model appealed to drivers who wanted top-of-the-line performance, and it sported a V8 engine capable of 325 horsepower, with incremental upgrades in 1968.
The Firebird 400 also came with a handling package that included an upgraded anti-roll bar, and stiffer front and rear springs. With its famous coke-bottle styling, the Firebird 400 has both the looks and performance to make it one of the best of all Pontiac muscle cars.
4 1965 Pontiac Catalina 2+2
The 1965 Pontiac Catalina was a full-sized car, and while in the years to follow mid-sized performance cars became more common, the Catalina 2+2 version remains a champion of the 1960s heavyweight muscle car division. Compared to the Pontiac GTO, the 121-inch Catalina 2+2 was heavier, and it needed plenty of raw power to make up for its added girth.
Fortunately, the Catalina’s most potent engine option, the HO Tri-Power 421 cu in V8, produced 376 horsepower and sent the 2+2 speeding down highways at up to 125 mph. Ultimately, the massive Catalina gave way to more reasonably sized muscle cars, and the trim disappeared after 1967.
3 1977 Pontiac Trans Am
It’s debatable whether the 1977 Pontiac Trans Am would enjoy the same level of popularity based on its specs alone if it was not featured so prominently in the 1977 Smokey and the Bandit movie starring Burt Reynolds. The maximum output of the 1977 Trans Am engine was 200 horsepower, but with muscle cars of the day lacking the thump of earlier generations, the Firebird remained a top seller.
The Bandit add-on package cost between $550 and $1150 dollars, and made the Trans Am better resemble the car in Smokey and the Bandit, with gold trim complementing its black exterior and an interior with a gold steering wheel and gold accented dashboard. The 1977 Trans Am also came with T-tops which allowed drivers to remove parts of the car’s roof, a must with its black exterior heating up in the sunlight.
2 1964 Pontiac GTO
Prior to the 1964 GTO, Pontiac’s greatest achievements with high-performance cars were in the world of racing. That all changed when the first GTO hit the market, but initially, the car was an upgraded version of the Pontiac LeMans.
Sales for the first GTO exceeded expectations, which motivated Pontiac to make the GTO its own nameplate by 1965.
The 1964 GTO is widely recognized as the first American muscle car and came equipped with a V8 engine with an output of up to 348 horsepower when combined with Pontiac’s tri-power carburetor. The car succeeded in bringing racetrack performance to American streets and sparked a fierce battle among muscle car manufacturers for years to come.
1 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge
As the golden age of the muscle car began in the mid-1960s, Pontiac had to find ways to keep upgrading the GTO and fend off competition from Ford and GM. While there are many GTOs worth remembering among a large collection of Pontiac’s old muscle cars, the 1969 GTO Judge both in terms of its looks and performance has few rivals among all classic American muscle cars.
Besides its essential “The Judge” decals and stripes on its paint, the GTO Judge offered up to a 370 horsepower Ram Air IV V8 engine, but in some road tests, the car managed to exceed the 400 horsepower mark. Unfortunately, the 1969 GTO Judge was not able to prevent the declining sales of the GTO, and after 1971 the GTO ceased to exist as its own nameplate. The Judge is one of the most sought-after targets on the used car market, but because it is also one of the rarest Pontiac cars, often sells for $75,000 or more.