In high school I drove a 1977 Chevrolet Monte Carlo and a 1976 Chevrolet K5 Blazer. The thing to do back then was to ride the block in a neighboring town in order to see who was there to find a date and to see who was there to race.
Now, I knew who had the “car to beat” and who was just there to put on a show. In the end, I discovered what cars were the real deal straight from the factory.
So, with that said, this list will be about the top 12 best muscle cars from the 1960 and 1970 era.
Taking the number 12 spot is the 1969/1970 Mustang Boss 429. Ford engineers had to modify the firewall of this beast in order to squeeze their most potent engine in the small engine bay of this car. Just about everyone that could afford this particular Mustang had to run open headers due to the fact that the stock manifolds were very restrictive for exhaust flow due to the fact that they were squeezed into the engine bay next to the huge big block 429. There was simply just no room for anything else but the motor. While this car sounded awesome with open headers, it was obnoxious to drive due to the deafening sound of the open exhaust but everyone within ear shot of this car new you were in town as well as the cops.
According to Hemmings Motor News, this particular Boss package cost $1,200 USD (which was a lot of money back then) and gave you a reported 375 horsepower. The reality of it all was that the 429 cubic inch beast in this ‘Stang gave you along the lines of 475 horsepower but Ford minimized the ratings (just like GM and Chrysler) in order to keep the insurance companies happy.
While this Mustang was hard to beat in a straight line, it was extremely nose heavy (due to that huge 429 block) and the factory exhaust had to be removed in order for this car to properly breath. That is why this factory racer starts of in the number 12 position and it would have scored higher if the owner of this car did not have to “tweek” it in order for it to run better.
In its final days as an automaker, Studebaker offered their version of an all metal muscle car otherwise known as the 1963 Super Lark. This small but mighty car came equipped with the 289-ci “R2” engine which was good for 0-60 mph in around seven seconds and a top speed of over 130 mph. Studebaker even offered a supercharged Super Lark that made around 335 horsepower (actual is closer to 400 @ 6,000 rpm), but I do not know how many supercharged “R3” Super Larks were actually built. There is one example that I remember reading about some time ago about a man somewhere in the State of New York who ordered the high performance “R3” package. The kick in the pants here is that even though Studebaker announced that it was closing it’s doors, the company was obligated to produce this extremely limited production automobile (no one knows the exact number of these cars that were built) for the man from New York.
I vaguely remember one of these “R2” cars back when I was a small boy but what I do remember is how that car sounded when it roared past me when I was riding my bike around town. Yes, this little car was somewhat small and ugly but man oh man could it move!
All of the big car companies of the ’60’s and ’70’s fought for bragging rights over whose cars were the fastest. They even made batches of cars specifically for racing, be it on the drag strip or the race track. The segment that had the biggest fans (in my opinion) was the Drag Racers. There was a simple formula that all of the car manufactures followed back then and it was to take the smallest car you offered and shoehorn in the biggest motor you can.
There were only a few muscle cars in this class that were legendary and the ’68 Hurst HEMI Dodge Dart – code L023 – is said to be the fastest muscle car/ drag car of all time. This car differed greatly from the base Dodge Dart produced for 1968, bare Dart bodies were shipped to the Madison Heights, Michigan, Hurst Performance facility for further outfitting.
The L023 Darts arrived to Hurst without an engine or transmission, these cars were also missing their exhaust, shifters, and driveshafts. Also missing were a battery, cables, trays, or stock front bars or fuel lines. The interior of the Darts (and Plymouth sibling Barracudas) also came without seats, brackets and tracks. The window regulators, consoles, carpeting, and all but the drivers’ lap belts were left out too, not to mention radios and heaters. So, I think you get my point here as these cars were as stripped down as possible in order for the person that purchased this car to set it up the way he or she wanted it to be.
Since this car was to have the 426 HEMI under it’s hood, Hurst literally had to sledgehammer the right shock towers for valve cover clearance and trim the rear wheel openings to accommodate for big slicks. Since the manufacturing process was very unique for this MOPAR, the HEMI had to be shipped from Chrysler’s Marine and Industrial Division. These motors were so special that they had been built by hand-picked technicians. The HEMI blocks were iron with a 4.250-inch bore and a 3.750-inch stroke, with a mild street cam, 12.5:1 compression, aluminum heads and a cross-ram eight-barrel intake.
Laughably, the cross-ram HEMI was rated at 425hp, but were more likely closer to 535hp. Hurst equipped the elephants with Hooker headers and either a TorqueFlite automatic or A-833 four-speed manual. In order to trim even more weight from this car, Hurst installed fiberglass fenders, hoods and acid-dipped doors and thin-gauge front bumpers. Chemcor side windows were also added, secured by seatbelt straps replacing the heavier manual cranks. A pair of fixed A-100 van seats replaced the OE buckets and industrial-grade batteries were placed in the trunk.
So, once you received your L023 Dart it was a light weight drag racing machine with the famous Elephant under the hood. This car was raced in Super Stock drag racing where it turned in ETs (estimated times) in the lower 9 second range for a quarter mile jaunt.
Many of us have mixed emotions when we hear the name American Motors (AMC) but the car company that brought us the Pacer, the Matador, and the Gremlin also took a stab at selling a race car and the result was more than most expected.
The 1970 AMC Rebel Machine took American Motors into the midsize muscle car field but it wasn’t quiet the entry it could have been. The good thing here is that the Machine was a pretty good performer because it used the AMX’s ram-air 390-cid V-8 which was rated at 340 horsepower, but all of us know how the ratings were back then. The Machine also gained a big hood scoop that served the engine via a vacuum-controlled butterfly valve and the Hurst-shifted four speed was mandatory and came with a 3.54:1 axle. AMC’s limited-slip differential was a $43 option, with a genuine Detroit Locker and final ratios up to 5.00:1 available.
The Machine was one of Detroit’s most stiffly sprung muscle cars. Its extra-heavy-duty suspension included firm station wagon rear springs, which elevated the tail and helped account for the raked look. The 15 inch wide tires aided with cornering but the rear-axle liked to skip around like a little girl in the playground and this prevented a firm launch off the line which negatively effected it’s ability to properly propel the car into the low-14-second range. The thing here is if you were slightly skilled you could tweak things just a bit so The Rebel Machine would get into the 12 second range on the strip.
The one thing that always made me frown was the looks of anything that AMC made except for the AMX which was a nice looking car back then. The Rebel Machine came in normal colors but there was a dressed up version that came in red, white and blue for the upcoming Bicentennial which was to be 6 years after this car came out. Yes, this car lacked in the looks department but I personally know that it pulled hard in second gear and could run with the best of them back then. So I think the $3,500 that this cost back then was not a bad deal after all.
The classic Ford Mustang just has to be considered as legendary, no other car has really had the same impact over the years; kids had wall posters, adults wanted them and if you were cool enough to own one, you were doing well. This popular car has always been available in many combinations and setups which can make it difficult to name just one variant for my list. With that said, back in 1971, one of the ponies you could buy was the Mach 1 Mustang powered by the 429 cubic inch Super Cobra Jet which was rated at 375 horsepower. HA HA as I still laugh at that rating. Remember that the Big 3 always lowered the ratings on these types of cars in order to keep the insurance companies happy as this MACH was more like 480 to 500 horsepower. Anyway, if you ordered the Drag Pack option the car came with 4.11 gears and a Detroit Locker in the rear (like the Ford 9″ wasn’t strong enough already) and functional Ram Air in order to feed the very hungry Super Cobra Jet under that long hood.
I actually had a chance to purchase this exact car and it was blue in color with a horrible white interior but the seller wanted an exorbitant amount of money for it. Yes, the car was 100 percent original and the date codes matched up (Ford utilized production dates instead of VIN identification like GM and MOPAR) but the car had a ton of rust holes and the floor pan was mostly gone so I had to pass. These particular Mustangs still fetch a premium dollar at an event like Ford Nationals in Carlisle or a Barrett Jackson event as there were only 500 or so of these ponies that prowled the streets back in the day. My advice is if you can find one that is 100 percent original (I mean everything including the sheet metal) then you better grab it quick!
Chevrolet was not going to be left out of the squeezing a big engine into a smaller car game or should I say a pony car game. Yes, the term pony car does not mean a Mustang, it refers to a small coupe that could have a big V-8 installed such as a Mustang, Camaro or ‘Cuda. The Chevrolet Camaro was created as a response to the Mustang and it was a smash hit the moment it was released in 1967. Chevrolet offered the Camaro in a variety of packages with several engine options. One of these engine options could only be ordered via the Central Office Production Orders (COPO) process as this was the only way to special order the potent ZL-1 aluminum block 427 cubic inch beast that was available in the 1969 Camaro. These COPO Camaros were a no thrill car as most of them did not have radios or even a heater but the ZL-1 was all that anyone wanted when they purchased this car. There were only 69 of these insane beasts that were let loose and a Chevrolet Dealer in Pennsylvania (Don Yenko) was able to get most of these so he could add his touches to the car or have it go straight to the drag strip.
This is one of the best, if not the best, sounding car that I have heard in my life and I hope that you have the chance to see and hear one too.
There was a time (a long time ago) when Pontiac absolutely dominated NASCAR and because of that, the engineers at Pontiac decided to put everything they had into the 1962 Catalina Super Duty. This car served as a sporty family car as well as a race car that qualified as “stock” for both NASCAR and NHRA.
The engine most identified with Pontiac’s proud Super Duty label was the 421 cubic inch V-8. It was an incredibly powerful motor and the 1962 Pontiac Catalina Super Duty 421 was proof of that. The motors for this car were hand-built in a special factory tool room and the first Super Duty 421 debuted late in 1961 as a race-only engine. These motors were the largest-displacement blocks offered at the time, and they helped spark Detroit’s cubic-inch war.
The NHRA rules changed in 1962 and required engines as well as body parts for the stock classes to be production pieces. This forced the 421 onto the official equipment sheet as a extremely expensive, limited-run option, as a matter of fact, this Super Duty option cost $1,200 smackers back in 1962! This is why there were fewer than 180 of these motors built for ’62 which was its peak production year. Most went into Catalinas (pictured below) but 16 or so were installed in Pontiac’s new personal-luxury coupe known as the Grand Prix.
The ’62 Super Duty 421 was officially rated at 405 horsepower but the real output was closer to 460. Though street-legal, these again were race-ready engines, with four-bolt mains, forged rods and crank, solid lifters, and NASCAR heads. Stock-car-racing versions used a single four-barrel, but street/strip Super Duty 421s had twin Carter 500-cfm four-barrels and an aluminum intake manifold.
The underneath of the car was also all race car. The front clip was aluminum and the frame rails had holes punched into them in order to remove weight. This particular frame became known as the “Swiss Chees” frame and removed about 110 pounds from the weight of the car. There were other parts of the frame that were reinforced for the versions slated for circle tracks. The Super Duty could run a quarter mile in the mid 12 second range in stock configuration which is a very respectable number for a car of this size.
Chrysler’s 426 Hemi (Elephant) engine found its way into a variety of street and race machines. The sad thing is that by 1970 the end was near for this bad boy motor but racers could still order a Hemi Cuda with a “Super Track Pack.”
The legendary Hemi stood the test of time by this fifth year of street production (1970). It also received some mechanical refinements for ease of operation for the new model year, including a change to hydraulic lifters and a fresh block core casting. The twin Carter AFB carburetors that screamed above 4,000 RPM remained below that Shaker bubble, as did the cross-bolted main caps, forged crankshaft and other parts necessary for the demands of racing competition.
This car, like the others that competed against it, was missing many of the things which would weigh the car down. Yes, this was stripped to the bones and even the passenger side mirror was removed (as shown below). The car had a 4.10 Sure Grip-equipped Dana 60 rear end to get it moving and it was available with an automatic transmission (although I prefer the 4 speed). All you had to do was point the wheels straight and floor it and yes, these cars were only good at going straight as they did not handle very well. Unfortunately, that was why many of them were crashed or totaled.
Now, I admit that the pictures below are of a 1971 Hemi Cuda but I like the profile of the ’71 better than the ’70 version of this Super Track Pack car because the 1970 version did not have the side billboard call outs on the rear quarter which makes the 1971 stand out better.
If you have the inclination to own one of these cars you better get ready to spend some money because they can fetch as high as $500,000 USD if the car is 100% original.
The origins of the 1964 Ford Thunderbolt emerge from the belief of major car manufacturers that winning on Sunday meant selling cars on Monday. In the early 1960’s Ford and Chevrolet were losing ground to Mopar and their ultra lightweight Max Wedge cars. Even the light weight Ford Galaxy with a 427 cubic inch engine was simply too large to be competitive at the drag strip. When Ford decided that it wanted to build a car specially for the drag strip the blue oval guys created an alliance with Tasca Ford in Rhode Island and created an ultra light weight Ford Fairlane and stuffed it with their most powerful motor. The result was Ford’s first true quarter mile supercar – the 427 cid Thunderbolt – and what a car this was!
In the early ’60’s, the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) required a manufacturer to build and sell at least 100 examples of a car for it to be considered “stock”. All 1964 Fairlanes began as a base 500 sedan (yes, that is right, these began as a 4 door!) and were shipped to the Dearborn Steel Tubing Company who were responsible for final assembly. These cars arrived without sound deadner or any unnecessary insulation of any kind. All cars came without window mechanisms, heaters, radios, or even a spare tire and jack. Under conversion the cars saw the addition of plexiglas side windows, fiberglass front fenders and a teardrop scooped hood. All efforts were made to lighten the car and shift weight from the front to the rear to increase traction. The battery was even moved to the rear because it weighed nearly 100 pounds! A fiberglass front bumper was used on the front and a steel bumper remained on the rear. The total weight for the Thunderbolt was 3203 pounds which was about 20 pounds heavier than the minimum weight for NHRA super stock racing in 1964.
The heart of this beast was the 425 horse-powered 427 cubic inch high rise engine but the actual horsepower was more like 500 as this motor rocketed these smaller Fords to the high end of a 11 second quarter mile time. These engines also featured 12.7:1 compression ratios, 2 four barrel carbs as well as a special intake and cam. Special headers also had to be constructed that snaked around the suspension in order for the motor to breathe better.
While the engine did what it had to do the suspension also had to make the car stay glued to the track. So, the Ford engineers made sure that the Thunderbolt received asymmetrical leaf springs as well as a drive shaft loop and large traction bars. The final drive featured 4.44:1 “Granny” gears for the Borg-Warner T10 4-speed cars and 4.58:1 “Grannies” for the cars with a Lincoln automatic transmission that had greater line pressures as well as an upgraded torque converter.
There was to have been around 127 of these particular Fords and about half of them were equipped with a 4-speed transmission. When this car was brand new it sold for around $4,000 USD. Man oh man what I would give for one of these today!
This car was very popular back in it’s day, as a matter of fact, it was so popular that the Beach Boys wrote a song about the famous 409 cubic inch engine under the hood. The link for that Beach Boys song is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKKP_cZuk54
In 1963, a savvy car shopper could ask for the Z-11 option package on the already-popular Impala. If you were wise enough to order that package, then your car would come equipped with a beefy 409 cubic inch engine with dual carbs and a ton of internals which allowed it to crank out the horsepower. The 409-cubic-inch version was Chevrolet’s top regular production engine from 1961 to 1965, with a choice of single or dual four-barrel carburetors. The bore and stroke were both up from the 348 to 4.312 inches by 3.50 inches. On December 17, 1960, the 409 engine was announced along with the Impala SS (Super Sport) model. The initial version of the engine produced 360 horsepower with a single four-barrel Carter AFB carburetor. The same engine was upped to 380 horsepower in 1962. A 409 hp version of this engine was also available, developing 1 horsepower per cubic inch with a dual four-barrel aluminum intake manifold and two Carter AFB carburetors. It had a forged steel crankshaft.
For the 1963 model year (as featured here), the output reached 425 horsepower at 6200 rpm with the 2X4 (two 4 barrel carburetors) setup, 11.25:1 compression and a solid lifter camshaft. The engine was available through mid-1965, when it was replaced by the 396-cubic-inch 375 hp Mark IV big-block engine. In addition, a 340 horsepowered version of the 409 engine was available from 1963–1965, with a single four-barrel cast-iron intake mounting a Rochester 4GC square-bore carburetor, and a hydraulic-lifter camshaft.
Ok, so now that I geeked out about the engine’s history, I also wanted to let you know that Chevy was also shipping this car minus things which were just dead weight such as the radio, front sway bar, heater and sound deadener. The body panels were aluminum in order to add further weight loss to this already fast car. Some of these cars would obtain quarter mile blasts in the low 11 second range as equipped straight from the factory. No more than 60 of these cars were built and very few of them survive today but if you do find an original Impala SS with all the right options as described above and in great shape, then you better have around $100,000 USD on hand in order to make it yours.
The Buick Skylark was a nice looking coupe but the folks at Buick wanted it to be fast as well. So, back in the late ’60’s they initially offered a “GS” version of this car in order to attract younger buyers.
1970 was the most exciting year for Buick muscle cars because General Motors finally lifted the ban upon intermediate sized cars not exceeding a 400 cubic inch engine. Hallelujah!!
Since that ban was lifted Buick decided to stuff a brand new 455 cubic inch beast into its newly restyled GS models. This 455 used a hotter cam with bigger valves and kept the functional hood scoops gulping up plenty of cold air. These motors were intentionally underrated (for insurance purposes) at 350 horsepower but they produced an astonishing 510 lb-ft of torque! The Stage 1 455 engine option (factory installed where as a Stage 2 was dealer installed) was available with an even hotter cam and yes, even bigger valves than the already potent Buick “GS” 455 block. The Stage 1 motor also received a revised carburetor in order to properly mix all that air and gas dumping into it. Buick rated it at 360 horsepower but some experts believe the actual rating to be over 400 horsepower. The GSX engine’s torque made it the Detroit torque champion until 2003. The only car to top the GSX Stage 1’s torque rating is the 10-cylindered Dodge Viper.
The 1970 GSX appearance package offered more than a strong engine as it also offered front and rear spoilers, contrasting body stripes, meaty tires, hood tachometer, and heavy-duty suspension. You also could not get this car in any other color than Saturn Yellow or Apollo White. The GS 350 was still available, but the California GS had been dropped and that is fine with me as I did not care for that particular Buick anyway as it was still somewhat docile.
All that muscle and style ran the GSX Stage 1 down the quarter mile in the low 13 second range and that time was easily beat with some minor tweaking. This was not bad for any car but remember that this Buick had regular sheet metal and a complete interior with full amenities.
Over the years I had many a discussion as to how a Buick GSX Stage 1 could beat any HEMI off the line and, with the right driver, win a race. I know this to be true as I proved it three times and those HEMI guys are still crying over it. It was the torque that got me off the line as well as knowing when to upshift in order to maximize my horsepower range. The bad thing here is that I used about 2 gallons of gas per race. Ha ha.