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10 Obscure Models From the Muscle Car Glory Days

Vukasin HerbezNovember 14, 2017

During the muscle car heyday, Detroit shelled out more than a dozen models and version that car enthusiasts considered muscle cars. Their mantra was simple: put a big, powerful engine into a pony or intermediate body and add a cool name. Some manufacturers went a step further with unique body styles, graphics and color options. They all shared the purpose of creating octane legends and attracting more buyers.

Fast forward to a half century and people still praise the classic muscle car era. Those glorious asphalt burning machines with their powerful engines and style are the stuff of legends. Even today, they are highly-sought after pieces in any car collection. However, out of the many muscle cars to emerge during that era, there are some models that flew under the radar. They just didn’t get the global recognition of those infamous Mustangs, Chargers, Camaros and other well-known muscle car models.

Read on to go for a fascinating ride with those lesser known but equally great models. Some of these you may know and some you may not.

  1. Studebaker Avanti R2

The Studebaker was a once successful and popular car that is now a long forgotten American brand. Studebaker closed its doors in 1966 after suffering poor sales numbers for over a decade. They lost ground to Detroit’s Big Three: Ford, General Motors and Chrysler. But just before this legendary brand left the market, it produced an interesting, highly-desirable luxury model with muscle car credentials – the Studebaker Avanti R2. In the early 60’s, Studebaker management decided to invest in a luxury coupe to fight their poor sales.

They thought a new, fancy upscale model would attract customers and turn the automotive public’s attention back to Studebaker. So, in 1962, they introduced a sleek, modern looking Avanti. The innovative design, construction, and technology were something new, so the car received praises from the motoring press. The base version was not powerful but soon Studebaker introduced a supercharged R2 option that delivered 289 HP.

The R2 version didn’t come with an automatic transmission. It was only available with a close ratio manual gearbox. Also, air conditioning was not available. Besides that, lots of performance upgrades were included, turning the Avanti into a fast machine. The R2 model broke 28 world speed records, achieving top speeds of 170 mph, which was a big deal in 1963.

The acceleration numbers were also impressive since the R2 could sprint to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds. Unfortunately, Studebaker had problems with production, so the Avanti was limited in availability, which affected its popularity. So, by 1964, they discontinued this model. Today, car fans recognize the Avanti R2 as one of the coolest 60’s cars and an early luxury muscle car. During its short production run, they made just over 4,600 Studebaker Avantis, but only a handful of those were R2s.

  1. Ford 7-Litre

With Mustangs and Thunderbirds being the most famous and recognizable Fords of the 60’s, the Ford 7-Litre is a forgotten luxury muscle model. In fact, most people are not even aware of its existence. But this is an interesting, powerful car with an unfortunately short history. It started in the mid-60’s when Ford introduced a new engine with 428 CID or 7.0-liters, which was an evolution of their venerable FE block.

They designed this engine to be a powerful street engine with lots of horsepower and torque. At the same time, Chevrolet had a successful Impala SS model that featured a 427 V8 engine. Ford wanted to compete with it, but they had a different vision. If Chevrolet produced the Impala SS as a mundane car, Ford would produce its model as an upscale coupe or convertible with an emphasis on luxury and exclusivity.

So, using a full-size Galaxie two door hardtop or convertible platform, Ford introduced a new model for 1966, which they called the 7-Litre. The “7” stood for displacement and the liter spelling gave more charm to the otherwise ordinary Galaxie. Under the hood was a 428 V8 engine pumping out a respectable 345 HP that delivered a convincing performance.

However, the 7-Litre’s equipment was also interesting because Ford put everything they could into this car. The buyers could get A/C and bucket seats were standard. There was also a heavy-duty suspension, power everything and the choice of special colors. It also came with some fancy 7-Litre badges on the sides, which helped identify this model.

This was a one year only model, so in 1967, the 428 was back but only as an option on the Galaxie, not as a standalone model. In muscle car history, people forgot the Ford 7-Litre for quite a while. But, in recent years, its popularity has grown, so these big coupes and convertibles have increasing value on the classic car market. In 1966, Ford produced a little over 11,000 7-Litres, so it is hard to find one.

  1. Ford Falcon Sprint

Ford introduced the Falcon in 1960 as their first compact model. It was an instant bestseller with its modern looking body and a wide selection of economical six-cylinder engines. The Falcon was an inexpensive yet high-quality product that appealed to consumers. Soon, Ford introduced more powerful versions, V8 engines and convertible body styles, which made the Falcon even more popular. However, in 1964, with the introduction of the Mustang, the Falcon’s appeal started to fade.

The main reason was the Mustang and Falcon shared the same platform and engines, so people turned to the better-looking Mustang. The Mustang went on to become one of the world’s most popular classic cars. People soon forgot about the Falcon, so Ford ceased production in 1970. Today, the Mustang is expensive, but you can find a pristine Falcons for half the price. You can get a powerful 260 or 289 engine with decent power and performance.

And you can find Falcons in cool looking sedans, coupes, two-door models, wagons and even convertibles. The parts are affordable, as well. The Falcon is the ideal canvas for modifications since you can use everything from the Mustang on the Falcon, as well. Ford made over two million Falcons in various versions and body styles, so it’s no problem finding one in decent condition for an affordable price.

  1. Plymouth GTX

Most car enthusiasts know about Roadrunners or Barracudas, but only a few remember the GTX. They based this model on the same platform as the Coronet or the Roadrunner, but it was much more luxurious. It also produced 375 HP as standard. Plymouth wanted the GTX to compete with the luxury cars of the period.

Ford decided to install all the possible creature comforts, along with a special trim on the outside. They wanted to distinguish the GTX from the rest of the model lineup. The GTX was a gentleman’s hot rod with all the options and an attractive interior. It had several exterior details, but only one optional engine choice: the mighty 426 Hemi.

The 440 Magnum was standard, but if you wanted the ultimate Plymouth muscle luxury car, you had to go for the Hemi. Because it was significantly more expensive than the rest of the Mopar muscle car lineup, the GTX was unpopular, so it is rare today.

When the early 70’s arrived and muscle cars started to lose power and torque figures, Plymouth discontinued the GTX. They stopped production in 1971 to keep it from being a disgrace to its fire-breathing predecessors. The 1971 model went out with a bang, though. When they added a standard 440 V8 engine, it could do 0 to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, which was a respectable figure for the time.

  1. Chrysler 300 Hurst

Everybody knows about the legendary Chrysler 300 “Letter Cars,” a series of high-powered coupes and convertibles they built from 1955 to 1965. They called them “Letter Cars” since they marked each model year with a letter. Naturally, Chrysler started with a “C,” finishing with an “L” in 1965. With low production numbers, bespoke interiors, leather upholstery and powerful engines, the “Letter Cars” were true Gran Turismo coupes of their era.

When the production stopped in 1965, everybody thought they would never see a true 300 Series car again. However, in 1970, they presented a special limited edition 300 Hurst. Chrysler built it in limited numbers of around 500 with the help of Hurst, a famous transmission company. It featured special white and gold paint job, a similarly styled interior and a rear spoiler integrated into the rear deck lid.

Under the hood, there was a mighty 440 V8 engine delivering 395 HP. It could propel the two-ton beast to respectful acceleration times. They only offered this model for one year, so people soon forgot it. However, true Mopar aficionados will always remember those gold and white behemoths with Hurst emblems. But those dedicated Chrysler historians place this special version as a continuation of the classic Chrysler “Letter Cars” lineup.

  1. Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS

Back in the late 60’s, Chevrolet product planners had the idea to enter the personal luxury segment with a new model. Since Chevrolet was a mid-priced car brand, moving up the ladder was a big deal. Chevy knew they needed a fresh design, cool name and powerful engine. So, in 1970, they introduced the Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Built on a modified Chevelle platform, the Monte Carlo was a handsome coupe-only car.

They gave it a V8 engine, updated interior and decent performance. Most Monte Carlos came with a smaller V8 engine since most drivers wanted on the luxury aspects of this model. However, there was one crazy muscle option in form of the SS 454 package.

The SS 454 version was a luxury beast with a monstrous 7.4-liter V8 engine that pumped 360 HP. It could propel the heavy Monte Carlo to amazing 0 to 60 mph times. For just $420 above the base price, buyers could get this trim level. It transformed this coupe from a somewhat lazy cruiser into a quarter mile beast.

However, only around 3,800 people decided to go for the muscle package, so the Monte Carlo SS 454 is one of the rarest luxury muscle cars ever. The reason for such a low number is obvious. At that time Chevrolet had a few muscle cars in their model lineup, so enthusiasts turned to the Chevelle, Camaro or Corvette for performance. The typical Monte Carlo buyers preferred comfort and luxury, and the SS 454 option fell in the middle, contributing to low sales numbers.

  1. Mercury Cyclone CJ

Although the Cyclone is not the first car that pops into most people’s mind when thinking of late 60’s muscle cars, it was popular back in the day. However, today, people have forgotten it, along with the brand Ford discontinued a few years ago. Mercury had the compact-sized and Mustang-based Cougar. But they also had the Cyclone, an intermediate muscle car they built on the Ford Fairlane/Torino platform.

Since Mercury was an upscale brand, the Cyclone was better than comparable products from Ford. However, the engine choices and performance were the same. They presented the Cyclone in 1964 and stayed on the market until 1971. But the best version that is the most interesting to collectors is the Cyclone CJ.

Those two letters marked the presence of the famed 428 Cobra Jet engine, which was the first true street muscle engine Ford built. With 7.0-liters displacement and advertised 335 HP, the Cobra Jet made over 400 horses in real life. The Cyclone CJ was a serious street racing contender and this new engine significantly upped the performance.

Along with Ford, Mercury was active in NASCAR racing during the late 60’s, and the Cyclone CJ played a part in its racing efforts. However, they made less than 3,500 Cyclone CJs in 1969, while the regular Cyclones without the Cobra Jet option were more popular.

  1. Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser 455

How could a family station wagon be a muscle car? The answer is when consumers could order the 1970 Vista Cruiser with a 455 V8 monster of an engine. It was basically the same powerplant from the famed Oldsmobile 442 muscle car. This transformed an ordinary 70’s American suburban wagon into a fire-breathing muscle car disguised as practical family transport.

But the performance of the Vista Cruiser 455 was no match for the regular Oldsmobile 442. The reason was the weight of the wagon, but the Vista was still quick with 0 to 60 mph times of around six seconds. Unfortunately, not many people knew about this option in 1970 because Oldsmobile installed the 455 in only a handful of Vista Cruisers. That is why those cars are so rare today.

  1. AMC AMX

The American Motors Company began in 1954. It was a merger between two big, independent names in the car industry, the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation and the Hudson Motor Car Company. The two companies had to form an alliance since Detroit`s Big Three – Chrysler, GM, and Ford – were threatening to conquer the entire car market.

AMC was an economy car manufacturer from the beginning all the way to the end. However, to survive the market, it considered producing new models and exploring new concepts in the automotive industry. One of those interesting and innovative models was AMC AMX. In 1968, AMC decided to enter the muscle market by introducing two new performance models. One was the Javelin and other was the AMX.

Despite being similar in technology and design, the AMX was a two-seater model. In fact, it was the only two-seater on the U.S. market other than the Corvette. It had a shorter wheelbase, a 390 V8 engine with 360 HP and lots of go-fast options. With a reasonable price, the AMC AMX was an interesting, capable muscle car.

The Javelin proved to be a sales success, but the AMX was tough to sell. People wanted more room in their muscle cars, so a two-seater AMX was becoming obsolete. It lasted on the market for two years. Despite the fact it was successful in drag racing championships, most people have forgotten the AMX, so it is an obscure muscle car today.

  1. AMC Hornet 360

The early 70’s marked the beginning of the end for muscle cars with downsizing and tightening emissions and safety standards. However, AMC was one of the first companies to realize a new breed of muscle cars could keep power-hungry customers happy. So, in 1971 AMC introduced the Hornet 360.

They based it on the regular economy car they called the Hornet. But, they equipped it with an updated suspension, sharper steering, a graphics package and a 360 V8. This transformed the Hornet from an ordinary compact into a proper muscle car. The power was not that big at 245 HP, but those horses could make the lightweight Hornet fly.

The rest of the muscle cars offerings in 1971 had problems with big sizes and weights. Those engines didn’t produce much power anymore, so the Hornet 360 was one of the fastest cars at that time.

Unfortunately, car buyers didn’t understand the forward thinking of AMC. AMC sold less than 800 Hornets in 1971, making them rare, obscure muscle cars today.

Did you find a favorite classic muscle car on this list? If you did, you’d better hurry up and find it before it is too rare or expensive to buy. These street monsters are sure to become increasingly obscure as time goes by.

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