Misunderstood Muscle: Underappreciated And Forgotten Muscle Cars
Most gearheads know the Mustangs, Camaros, Chargers and Challengers. These are the quintessential “muscle cars” from the 1960s and 1970s. That time is considered a golden age of muscle cars, as the sky seemed to be the limit in terms of horsepower, performance, and panache.
Most collectors seek out the usual suspects as they’re well-known, well-loved, and iconic. But what about some of the lesser-known muscle cars? In a sea of Mustangs and Camaros, you can stand out from the crowd with a unique and misunderstood model from the era of muscle. Here are big-motor bruisers that will turn heads, burn rubber, and stand out at a car show.
1965 Pontiac 2+2
The Pontiac 2+2 was full-size two-door coupe or convertible based on the Catalina and marketed as the GTO’s “big brother.” In 1965, the 2+2, named after the seating arrangement, with two people up front and two more in the back, came equipped with a 421 cubic-inch V8.
An optional 376-horsepower high-output version of the engine was available, as well as bucket seats, heavy-duty suspension, a limited-slip differential, and Hurst shifter. Yes, the 2+2 is a legit performance machine. The car could hit 60 mph from a standstill in 7.0 seconds and run the quarter-mile in about 15.5 seconds.
1969 Chevrolet Kingswood 427
Station wagons are not usually thought of as muscle-cars, but the Kingswood deserves the label as it is a proper pavement punisher. In 1969, if you were picky with the options packages, you could order the big family truckster with the 427 cubic-inch Turbo-Jet V8, pushing 390-horsepower through a four-speed manual transmission.
With all the kids strapped in, and despite weighing more than all the moons of Jupiter, the Kingswood could achieve a 0-60 mph time of 7.2 seconds and run the quarter-mile in 15.6 seconds. That’s not bad for a wagon the size of Texas designed for family hauling.
1970 Oldsmobile Rallye 350
The legendary Oldsmobile 4-4-2’s get all the hype and attention, but the 1970 Rallye 350 was a bargain performance machine that was no slouch when it came to doing what muscle cars do… drag races and burnouts. The Rallye 350 was designed to slot below the top-tier of the muscle car crowd and compete with the Dodge Dart, Plymouth Road Runner, and Chevrolet Chevelle.
Underneath the banana-yellow bodywork lives a 310-horsepower Rocket 350 V8 fed by dual-intake ram-air hood. The car was flashy, fast and lived up to the muscle-car moniker as it was capable of 15.2-second quarter-mile times.
1969 Ford Torino Talledega
The Torino Talladega was a single-year car that Ford created to be more competitive in NASCAR. At the time, the rules in NASCAR stated that cars had to be production based with a minimum of 500 made. This prevented manufacturers from creating “one-off” specials for racing.
The Torino Talladega was more aerodynamic than the standard Torino and in NASCAR competition went on to win 29 races and two championships. Power came from the 428 Cobra Jet V8 producing 355-horsepower and 440 pound-feet of torque. This was good enough to shove the Torino Talladega to a 130 mph top speed.
1970 Buick Wildcat
The Buick Wildcat is a luxurious muscle car for discerning, upscale owners. While most muscle cars of the time were focused purely on performance and power, the Wildcat showed that you could have comfort, amenities and classy looks without sacrificing speed.
In 1970, the Wildcat came with the 370-horsepower 455 Buick big-block V8. The Buick Wildcat is a hugely underrated performance coupe and convertible that may not have as much cache as some of the more well-established muscle cars of the era. But it is proof that power can be paired with comfort in a classy body style from the muscle car era.
1964 Mercury Comet Cyclone
In 1964, Mercury added the Cyclone option to its Comet Coupe. The Cyclone featured the tried and true Ford 289 V8 with 210-horsepower. The Cyclone option also added a popular “dress-up kit” which added chrome to the engine accessories, wheel covers, and various other trim. The Mercury Comet was initially planned as a model for Edsel Motor Company, but the company folded in 1960 and the Comet was reassigned to Mercury.
Interestingly, in 1964 Ford built 50 special ultra-high performance lightweight Comet Cyclones with a racing 427 cubic-inch V8 under the hood. The car was designed specifically for drag racing and the NHRA A/FX class.
1970 Chrysler Hurst 300
The Chrysler Hurst 300 was a single-year performance version of the Chrysler 300 two-door coupe. Named for Hurst Performance, an aftermarket parts supplier, it’s believed that 501 were built in 1970 including two convertibles that were for promotional use only.
The big coupe, with its impossibly long hood and trunk, is powered by the 440 cubic-inch V8 putting down 375-horsepower. All of the 300 Hursts came in the gold and white paint scheme and featured fiberglass hoods, trunks and a Torque-Flite automatic transmission with a Hurst shifter.
1993 GMC Typhoon
Most muscle car purists may scoff at the GMC Typhoon being on this list, but it deserves to be here based on its crazy performance and under-appreciated nature. Power comes from a non-traditional, for the time, turbocharged V6 producing 280-horsepower and 360 pound-feet of torque, at 14 psi of boost.
That may not sound like much compared to the other cars on this list but it was enough to propel the Typhoon to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds and run the quarter-mile in 14.1 seconds. That’s faster than a Ferrari 348 of the same time period.
1969 Mercury Cyclone CJ
In 1969, Mercury added a new model to the Cyclone line-up, the CJ. CJ stands for Cobra Jet and that name comes from the monster motor that lurks under the hood. That monster was the 428 cubic-inch Cobra Jet V8 from Ford.
Officially, it was rated at 335-horsepower and 440 pound-feet of torque, but this was likely underestimated as the car was capable of running sub-14-second quarter-mile times, under the right circumstances. Sales of the Mercury Cyclone were lackluster, but the performance of the unheralded Cyclone CJ was stellar.
1973 Chevrolet Chevelle Laguna 454
The 1973 Chevrolet Chevelle Laguna 454 was a luxury, more sophisticated version of the Chevelle. You could have the Laguna in two-door, four-door or station wagon bodies, but for ripping around town or at the beach for which the car is named, the two-door coupe is the way to go.
Available with a 454 cubic-inch big block V8, the Chevelle Laguna churned out 235-horsepower. Given the dismal power and performance of most cars at the start of the oil crisis, it’s not too terrible. The Chevelle Laguna was also available with one of the coolest options ever: swing-out front bucket seats. No more climbing into cars, you sat down and pivoted to face front!
1970 AMC Rebel Machine
The AMC Rebel Machine is a thinly disguised factory drag-racer. In fact, it made its debut at the NHRA’s World Championship Drag Race Finals in Texas in 1969. The marketing campaign from American Motors consisted of ten cars that were driven from the factory in Wisconsin, to the drag race in Texas, and run in the condition they were brought.
Powered by a 390 cubic-inch V8, it was rated at 340-horsepower and a tarmac twisting 430 pound-feet of torque. The Machine came with special cylinder heads, valves, camshaft, and a redesigned intake and exhaust manifold. Nothing says “muscle car” like a red, white and blue drag racer!
1971 GMC Sprint SP 454
The GMC Sprint is the almost unknown sibling of the much more famous Chevrolet El Camino. Half car, half pickup truck, the Sprint was a unique vehicle for people who wanted the utility of a pickup with the driving characteristics of a car.
The SP package was GMC’s equivalent of Chevrolet’s “SS” trim and featured the same upgrades. The 454 cubic-inch big-block V8 was the engine of choice for owners corrupted by power, and in 1971 that engine pumped out 365-horsepower. This is a rarely talked about muscle car that can burn rubber and carry a sofa, at the same time.
1990 Chevrolet 454 SS
Can pickup trucks be muscle cars? Maybe we should call this a muscle truck and start a new category. Regardless, the 1990 Chevrolet 454 SS fit the pattern of a muscle car, V8 engine up front, rear wheel drive, two-doors and a focus on straight-line speed.
With a 454 cubic-inch big-block V8 producing a good-for-the-day 230-horsepower, it couldn’t match the Typhoon or Syclone for sheer speed, but it’s got the V8 thunder and a style that’s aged pretty well. You might even say it has a cool, subtle vibe. Something that’s been lacking in this era of over-the-top luxury “look at me” pickup trucks.
1970 Ford Falcon 429 Cobra Jet
The Ford Falcon started out as a compact car in 1960 and survived through three-generations and ten years of production. However, in 1970, the Falcon name was revived for a single year, technically half a year.
The 1970 1/2 Ford Falcon was essentially a Ford Fairlane but offered only as a two-door coupe. An inline six-cylinder engine was available along with the 302 and 351 cubic-inch V8s, but the clever racers knew that you could option the mighty 429 Cobra Jet V8 and when equipped with the ram-air intake and Drag Pack, was rated at 375-horsepower. A truly fitting swan song for the Falcon.
1971 Plymouth Duster 340
The Plymouth Duster was a sales success as the cars were cheap to buy with the performance that punched well above its weight class. The Duster was lighter, more spacious and faster than the Plymouth ‘Cuda 340 and was the only performance car in Plymouth’s line-up that came standard with front disc brakes.
Power was officially rated at 275-horsepower, but a car that’s capable of running a sub-14-second quarter-mile suggested that it was actually producing closer to 325-horsepower. The Duster was a hidden gem among the MOPAR performance cars of the time, and one that’s not yet fully appreciated.
1971 AMC Hornet SC/360
The AMC Hornet was a compact car that could be had in coupe, sedan, and wagon form. It represents a change in the mindset of vehicle manufacturers and consumers at a time when the U.S. was becoming more conscious of emission standards, fuel consumption, and the general size of automobiles.
In 1971, The Hornet SC/360 debuted to fit the then-new philosophy of efficiency and small size but big on fun. The SC/360 was fitted with AMC’s 360 cubic-inch V8 which was rated at 245-horsepower and a road warping 390 pound-feet of torque. If you opted for the “Go” package, you got a ram-air intake and an additional 40-horsepower.
1966 Chevrolet Biscayne 427
The Chevrolet Biscayne was built between 1958 and 1972 and was a full-size low cost car. Being the least expensive full-size car in Chevrolet’s arsenal it meant that the Biscayne was lacking a lot of the creature comforts that the other models had along with all the fancy chrome trim bits.
A savvy enthusiast could make the Biscayne into the perfect performance car by ticking the options boxes for the 427 cubic-inch V8 and the M22 “Rock Crusher” transmission. The result was a 425-horsepower speed-machine that didn’t have all the bells and whistles options that hinder speed.
1964 Mercury Super Marauder
In 1964, Mercury built one of the rarest, most underappreciated muscle cars: the Super Marauder. What makes the Marauder super? The R-Code in the VIN. That single letter signified that it was equipped with the 427 cubic-inch V8 and 425-horsepower. In total, only 42 were built with the R-Code option.
Originally intended as a homologation special for stock-car racing, the elegant marauder paired classic good looks with blistering speed. The legendary race car driver Parnelli Jones drove a 427 powered Mercury Marauder to seven USAC stock-car racing wins in 1964.
Buick Gran Sport 455
To many, this Buick wouldn’t be considered an underappreciated car, but to us it is. While it’s popular with muscle car fanatics, it is not as well remembered as other classics of the same era.
Thanks to being released at the same time as the GTO, 442, and Chevelle, the 445 became lost in the crowd. Now we’re pulling it out of the crowd to try and bring it the respect we know in our hearts it deserves.
1970 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser 442
If the Vista Cruiser looks familiar, you’re probably remembering it as Eric Foreman’s ride in That ’70s Show TV series. Eric’s car was tired, brown, and enormous, but how much more fun would the characters have had if the Vista Cruiser had been the 442 version?
The 442 moniker stands for the four-barrel carburetor, four-speed manual transmission, and dual exhausts. While enormously uncommon on a station wagon at that time, these were all options that could be selected when ordering. When fitted with the 455 cubic-inch V8, the Vista Cruiser laid down 365-horsepower and a face-melting 500 pound-feet of torque.
1987 Buick GNX
In 1987, Buick threw-down with the mighty GNX. Meaning “Grand National Experimental” the car was developed in partnership with McLaren Performance Technologies/ASC and Buick, and together they built 547 GNXs. Powered by a turbocharged V6, the GNX realistically produced around 300-horsepower. A 0-60 mph time of 4.7-seconds was crazy fast in 1987 and it was faster than the V12 Ferrari Testarossa of the same time.
The GNX had a host of other performance modifications but it was its blacked-out look that really caught everyone’s attention. Often called “Darth Vader’s Car” the GNX could match its sinister looks with incredible performance.
1989 Pontiac Turbo Trans Am
The 1989 Pontiac Turbo Trans Am was the car’s third generation body and was widely considered underpowered upon release. While we can’t say that statement is wrong, we can say with confidence that the look of the car is just as stunning as ever.
Knowing they had such a pretty car on their hands, Pontiac worked quickly to add power to the engine. If you can get your hands on one of these bad boys, consider yourself lucky!
Mid-90s Chevy Impala
The mid-90s Chevy Impala SS is not one of the prettiest cars to look at, and when it came out consumers widely rejected it. If only they knew what kind of beauty lurked under the hood.
The car was stuffed with features that would make other muscle cars stall on the freeway. Perhaps if Chvey had gone with a different body the fate of of this Impala would be for wild than tame. We’ll never know.
While the Dodge Magnum might not look like a muscle car, it sure as heck drove like one. Dubbed an American muscle wagon, the Magnum brought power an flare to the roads.
Overall, it was capable of 425 horsepower and had amazing acceleration. The only downfall was that generally consumers don’t like muscle cars that look more like family cars. Still, anyone who was able to get behind the wheel of one can attest to just how awesome they were.
Ford Taurus SHO
On the surface, the Ford Taurus was not a muscle car. It was a family sedan with attitude. Under the hood, when upgrade to the SHO edition, however, the Taurus became the the definition of its name, ready to take on any other car willing to challenge it.
The only downside to the SHO was its size. It was heavy, which limited it to only 365 horsepower. Still, it was hard to beat the power for the price at the time it came out!
At this point you’re probably scratching your head trying to figure out what we’re doing including a truck on this list. Wasn’t a family sedan and a wagon enough? We hate to break it to you, but the Syclone deserves to be mentioned.
This truck was built for speed, and could accelerate from zero to sixty in under six second. It could also tear through a quarter mile in 14 seconds. How many other trucks do you know that can do that?
The British auto industry hasn’t provided many entries on this list, but the Jensen Interceptor is here to change that. Designed with a classic look, the Interceptor prided itself on speed and handling.
The Interceptor was more than just a muscle car. It was an experience. Everything about it was crafted with the comfort of the driver in mind, including the posh leather seats. It might just be the classiest car we’ve shown you yet!
The Firebird 400 by Pontiac may seem like it’s too closely related to the Trans Am to be on this list, but with extra age comes extra beauty. Unfortunately, for as old as this car is, it is still considered too young.
Confused? When Pontiac came out with this amazing muscle car, the consumer desire for them was on the downswing. Still, the company pushed through, releasing one of the most underappreciated muscle cars ever.
After so many years on the road, the Pontiac Firebird became old news. The company chose to replace it in 2002 with the GTO, a muscle car with a more modern look.
To turn this baby car into a full grown beast, Pontiac gace it 6.0 liter V8, manual transmission. The power under the hood separated the GTO from the pack, but like other cars on this list, the modern look wasn’t eye very catching.
1992 Dodge Daytona
This car is not pretty to look at. Coming out in the early ’90s, it used the K chassis that save Chrysler, but has not aged like a fine wine. Still, this car was packed with power and deserves more appreciation than it gets.
For comparison, the Daytona was just powerful as more popular muscle cars like the Mustang. It was also more affordable. With so much right, why would people care so much the car’s outward appearance?
1994 Audi Avant
Not known for muscle cars, Audi turned heads in 1994 with the Avant. Like the Magnum, it was a wagon on the surface, but a beast under the hood, making it perfect for the family looking for an adrenaline rush.
Now, we do have to admit, this car just barely makes the list. While it technically qualifies as a muscle wagon, we’d prefer more features. Then again, with 311 horsepower at its disposal, it’s hard to find a faster car from the era.
The Jaguar S-Type R came around during an era when Ford owned the luxury auto brand. It was one of the best things to come out of the partnership, and one of the most powerful.
The S-Type looked like a Jaguar, but had more power. It was a true muscle car, but one you could sip your tea in while taking a business call. Did we mention it was fast, with 420 horses of power and large brakes for extra safety.
The first Japanese muscle car on our list is also one of the best. We’re looking at the 2003 Inifiniti M45, which showcased a modern look that stood out from the crowd.
With 340 horsepower under that hood and a streamlined body, this car could bolt down the freeway. Just remember to stop for gas. Muscle cars are fun, but they get thirsty quickly! One of the best things about the M45 is that it has aged better than other cars from its era.
Staying with luxury cars, the Mercedes 500E looks like a classic Benz, but hides a powerful secret under the hood. Upgraded witha 5.0 liter V8, the 500E soars on the freeway.
It’s not just a fast car though, it’s also a smooth ride. It can handle with ease, and won’t jolt you forward when you need to slow down for a light. When you’re behind the wheel, you can really just sit back and enjoy the ride. Just keep your eyes on the road.
Pontiac Grand Prix
Try as they might after the Firebird went goodnight, Pontiac could just never replicate its lasting impact. That doesn’t mean the Grand Prix was bad. In fact, it was the opposite.
When it came out, the Grad Prix was one of the best muscle cars on the road. We think the only thing it needed was a visual upgrade. One look at it and you wouldn’t think it was a muscle car, even though that’s what Pontiac was aiming for.
Chevy 454 SS
What’s this? Another truck? Yep, and this one was all muscle. While not as powerful as the Syclone the 454 SS was much more than just a working man’s truck.
The 1991 model is what really turned this into a muscle truck. Chevy packed power in the engine and added a ton of torque for towing. Honestly, this might be a truck, but it feels more like a muscle then some others we’ve included on this list.
1970 Mercury Marauder
The second Marauder on this list is no joke. It was a miracle car when it came, making sure it looked good on the inside and the outside. It was also huge, which may have been it’s downfall.
Big cars are fun for a time, but they become a hassle after too long. The Marauder also didn’t stand out under the hood. It had power, but it didn’t upstage the competition, even if it looked better.
1968 Pontiac Grand Prix
No, this is not the same Grand Prix as the one we previously listed. The 1968 Grand Prix was its own muscle monster, and it was a beauty. It had 390 horsepower that could be upgraded to 428. Try beating that power in a drag race!
The look of the car was also classic, if not to unique. The thing is, when it comes to this era of muscle cars, a lot of them ended up looking alike, so it really did come down to what the car was made of, and this one was made of greatness.
2014 Chevy SS
The 2014 Chevy SS is a muscle car hidden in a Malibu’s body. Trust us when we say it is also one of the best muscle cars on the road. We just wish it looked a little more dangerous.
The SS was released to sagging sales, and we think the body is the reason why. Who wants to drive a muscle car that looks like a sedan? We know we don’t, but when it performs like the SS we’ll force ourselves to.
1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited
If you love the Jeep Grand Cherokee, but wish it had a little more power under the hood, then the 1998 limited edition is the one for you. This upgraded Cherokee turned it from an off road master to a traffic crusher.
The 5.9 liter V8 helped give the limited edition Cherokee 245 horsepower and 345 feet per pounds of torque. Can your non limited edition Cherokee reach those heights? We didn’t think it did.