We take a look through ten of the best muscle cars to leave the USA of all time
American muscle cars are a bit of an acquired taste, especially on the narrow twisty roads of our European shores, but for some they are irresistible. Usually defined by a big V8 engine and masculine styling, we’ve come up with our top ten list of the best muscle cars:
The most iconic? Definitely one of the best looking, the Shelby Mustang was the most hardcore Ford to don the Mustang-tag, with its 4.7-litre V8 and infamous racing stripes. Conceived in 1965, the Shelby was in direct competition with Ford’s own in-house projects, the Boss and the Mach 1, at a time when the blue oval was enjoying a head start in the battle for muscle car supremacy.
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The Charger was Dodge’s headline act when it came to muscle cars, and has been consistently likened to the Mustang since it came about in 1966. The first generation Charger lasted just two years; with the second generation featuring a revamped exterior and interior, although it did still have the 5.2-litre V8 featured in the first model. Put simply, the original was a star on the ovals, yet its sale figures failed to impress, hence the revamp. Later versions were softer and throttled by emissions regulations.
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Released in 1992, the Viper marked Dodge’s return to the muscle car world with what has become the most iconic American car of modern times. Its slippery body and V10 engine helped it go from 0-60 in just 4.5 seconds onto a top speed of 180mph in GTS Coupe-spec. Complete with racing stripes, it stands to be the car that reinstated America as the muscle car capital of the world.
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Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1
In recent times Chevrolet has taken the mantel of muscle car kings and ran with it, thanks to the development of its corvette brand. The basis of its recent success was born with the 1990 ZR-1, with the shape, engine and handling characteristics remaining true to the day. The latter was developed in tandem with Lotus, meaning unlike most muscle cars, it actually went around corners pretty well. The ZR-1 was very much genesis for the modern American muscle car.
Lined up as a competitor to the Ford Mustang, the Camaro was an important car for General Motors as it looked to compete with the cream of American muscle. Its ‘coke bottle’ styling and 325bhp V8 made the Camaro an instant hit, with the SS and Z28 additions to the range proving even more popular. Nowadays they’re also much more expensive, with the standard Camaro holding a £17,000 price tag which is half of the SS and nearly three times less than that of the Z28.
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Plymouth hit gold when it built the Superbird. Released in 1968, the car had genuine Nascar heritage, and was synonymous with the sports then-greatest champion, Richard Petty. The 440ci hemi produced 425bhp with a top speed of 150mph. £100,000 for one in good nick pays testament to its significance. (Image: RM Sotheby's)
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Made famous by its Hollywood roles in Smokey in the Bandit and Hooper, the Pontiac Firebird was the Camaro’s famous brother produced by GM. The Firebird was produced for a lengthy stint of eleven years, with the later models featuring turbocharged V8’s that produced 200bhp. Trans Am editions have gone on to become the most coveted, with a good one priced at £12,250.
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The GSX was Buick’s first attempt at producing a muscle car, with a background at the time rich in luxury saloons. Only 687 GSX’s were ever produced by Buick, with the first leaving the factory in 1970. A sizable rear wing and body striping featured on the car, with a 455-cubic-inch V8 engine under the bonnet helping to produce 360bhp. Its role of introducing Buick to the muscle car clan means the GSX has gone down as a collectors’ favourite.
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Chevrolet Chevelle SS
Two years previous to the launch of the Camaro, Chevrolet launched the Chevelle SS - the marque’s first foray into the muscle car battle. Originally badged as a Malibu SS, the car’s box-shaped stance was complemented by its four-barrel V8 engine, producing 220bhp. The SS has gone down as a legend due to the cars that were produced on the basis of it - the Pontiac Tempest, the Pontiac GTO, and the Oldsmobile Cutlass 442. In essence it helped shaped the next generation of American muscle.
The Challenger was Dodge’s first purpose-built muscle car, following the decline of the pony car market in the late ‘60s. Released in 1970, the Challenger took features from the Charger such as its grille, styling aspects and the turbine originally planned for the Mk1 Charger. It’s the 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T coupe and its 126-cubic inch V8 that has since gone down as the collectors choice, although the car in general remains famous to this day for its role in the 1971 movie, ‘Vanishing Point’.
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Words: Joe Diamond