NEWS/PRESS

What Are The Best Classic American Muscle Cars?

by Kelli Murrow

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Why We Love Muscle Cars

Muscle Cars resonate with us because they have that classic American look with their sleek shapes, wide tires, and nostalgic colors - Hugger Orange, Sub-Lime, Black Velvet, Lemon Twist, and the list goes on. Many enthusiasts hold fond memories of being at the races as a young kid surrounded by the roar of engines and power so intense you can feel it in your chest, eyes a blunder as the machines speed down long straightaways tires smoking as they race towards victory lane.

The Classic American Muscle Car

Traditionally, a classic car is an American automobile that has been admired and lasts in the car lover’s mind for at least 40 years. Cars from the 1908 Ford Model T, which, for the first time, set the price of car ownership in almost everyone’s budget changed the course of history. Before the Model T, the minimum price for an internal combustion engine vehicle was $1,000 (over $29,000 in 2021 dollars), and that was the absolute lowest price one could pay. With the Model T, the price dropped to $825 (less than $24,000 in 2021 dollars). While not everyone could immediately afford $825 in 1907, the fact that prices were coming down instead of rising was a breakthrough in affordability.

 Iconic Muscle Cars

 Some of the iconic makes and models that speed around in our dreams include:

  • 1966 Pontiac GTO Coupe with 360 (hp)
  • 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 with 290 hp
  • 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 with 450 hp
  • 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 302 with 290 hp
  • 1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda with 425 hp

With many more options for older classic American muscle cars, these are just 5 examples of exceptional muscle cars to you’ll see around the nation at car shows and cruise nights. Not only do they provide impressive power and performance, but each maintains a classic look that will live on in our minds. 

60s Best Muscle Cars

The 1960’ss were the prime decade for muscle cars, and anyone who enjoys muscle cars will want to spend considerable time devoted to the classic American muscle cars of the 1960s. That is when they truly came into their prime, even if the term “muscle car” would not be used for the first time until much later in the 1970s. Any list of the 1960s classic American muscle cars should include the following truly classic examples:

  • 1964 Pontiac GTO Tri-Power with 325 hp
  • 1965 Ford Shelby Mustang GT350 with 306 hp
  • 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado with 385 hp
  • 1966 Buick Riviera GS with 370 hp
  • 1968 Plymouth Road Runner 426 Hemi with 335 hp

The 1965 Pontiac GTO Tri-Power with 360 hp and 424 ft-lb torque is widely considered the fastest car produced in the 1960s. It can go from 0 to 60 mph in just 6.6 seconds and reach top speeds of 100 mph. This was quite an impressive feat for 1965.

70s Best Muscle Cars

By the 1970s, the popularity of classic American muscle cars had exploded with dramatically increased interest in these older, powerful cars. But the oil embargo of the mid-1970s quickly put an end to the manufacturing of high power, high-performance, and high gasoline consumption vehicles. American car manufacturers recognized the need to focus on smaller engines with better fuel economy. In the end, this likely led to even greater enthusiasm for the classic American muscle cars that had been built before the 1974 embargo.

Despite this setback, the first 4 - 5 years of the 1970s still saw some of the best American muscle cars being built, especially to compete with other manufacturer’s best muscle cars. This competition led to some of the best muscle cars of the 1970s including:

  • 1970 Buick Gran Sport 455 with 350 hp
  • 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 302 with 290 hp
  • 1970 Monte Carlo SS with 360 hp
  • 1970 Oldsmobile 442 with 350 hp
  • 1971 AMC Hornet SC/360 with 245 hp

By the beginning of the 1980s, the oil situation had eased considerably, and the demand for American car manufacturers to restart their design and production of muscle cars resumed. However, the manufacturers had learned a valuable lesson in automobile design and fuel economy which many people appreciated.

Never again would they devote quite as much time or energy into developing new, competitive muscle cars. Not that this meant they would abandon it entirely, but R&D took a different stance in the 80s which in retrospect makes the early models even more sacred.

80s Best Muscle Cars

With the return to creating classic American muscle cars, the manufacturers took their knowledge from the past and combined it with knowledge gained during the oil crisis to create some of the best muscle cars in the late 1980s and 1990s. Some examples include:

  • 1988 Chevrolet Camaro IROC Z with 230 hp
  • 1987 Monte Carlo Aerocoupe with 180 hp
  • 1987 Buick Grand National GNX with 276 hp
  • 1992 Dodge Viper RT/10 with 400 hp
  • 1996 Ford SVT Mustang Cobra couple with 385 hp

The return of the classic American muscle cars was just not quite the same. The car manufacturers tried to make some interesting and powerful, high-performance vehicles, and perhaps in 20 or 30 years, they, too, will be as admired as those from the 1960s and 1970s. For now, new muscle cars are being produced, just not with the same zealous competitive drive as in the past. 

Best Classic Muscle Car

Determining the best classic American muscle car is subjective. It is an opinion, and knowledgeable people will have different opinions and that is to be expected. It’s a playful debate! However, the contenders for the best classic American muscle car are the:

  • 1964 Pontiac GTO
  • 1968 Dodge Charger
  • 1969 Chevrolet Camaro

 And the best classic American muscle car is the 1964 Pontiac GTO. With a water-cooled V-8, 348 hp 

@ 4900 rpm, torque of 428 ft-lb @ 3600 rpm, and 0 - 60 mph in 4.6 seconds, its performance is excellent. In addition, the look of the car screams classic American muscle car. Simply, nothing looks or drives like a 1964 Pontiac GTO – it has a song!

With so many classic American muscle cars to be seen at the hundreds of car shows scheduled for the remainder of 2021, this is an exciting time for muscle car lovers. And to give your car a boost in performance, try an ignition power package or an ignition box and coil specially paired by PerTronix. They studied the options and assembled the perfect combinations. To find any part for your car, truck, or motorcycle, whether classic, brand new, muscle, or traditional, there is only one place you should look, PerTronix Performance Brands.