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12 Rare Classic Muscle Cars You Probably Never Saw Before

Vukasin Herbez December 21, 2017

Muscle cars are one of the most interesting car classes in automotive history. Born in the early 60’s, muscle cars still captivate the imagination of car enthusiasts. With their fantastic designs, powerful engines and fantastic soundtracks, they are still popular more than 50 years after their heyday. Despite starting as a car class, muscle cars soon became a cultural phenomenon, influencing generations of American youth along with its own music, movies and slang.

The glorious classic period of muscle cars started in 1964 with the introduction of the Pontiac GTO. But it ended in the early 70’s when safety and environmental standards killed the power and appeal of the cars. Up until then, almost all American car brands had its own contender in the segment. Some companies like Chevrolet, Plymouth or Dodge even had multiple muscle car models in their lineup at the same time. Even the conservative manufacturers like Buick, Mercury or Oldsmobile had a few memorable muscle cars.

All this meant muscle car production numbers were high. For example, they produced the 66′ Pontiac GTO in 96,000 copies for that model year alone. Most popular models had similarly lofty production numbers. This means those models are still plentiful today.

However, there were a few models that were significantly rarer, which makes them more interesting to collectors. Most car fans know about those super rare muscle cars they produced in single digits and are more of a myth than an actual model. However, this list contains some rare, yet still obtainable muscle cars from the fantastic 1964 to 1972 period.

1. Plymouth GTX

The Grand Turismo Exterminator or GTX isn’t exactly a forgotten model, but it hasn’t had the attention it deserves in muscle car history. Plymouth based this model on the same platform as the Coronet or the Roadrunner, but it was much more luxurious. It had 375 HP as standard. Plymouth wanted the GTX to compete with other luxury cars, so they installed almost all the possible creature comforts. They added special trim on the outside to distinguish the GTX from the rest of the model lineup.

The GTX was a gentleman’s hot rod with all the options, nice interior and exterior details, and only one optional engine choice – the mighty 426 Hemi. The 440 Magnum was the standard engine, but if you wanted the ultimate Plymouth muscle luxury, you had to go for the hemi. Although it was significantly more expensive than the rest of the Mopar muscle car lineup, the GTX was unpopular and it is rare today.

The early 70’s came, and muscle cars started to lose power and torque figures, so Plymouth discontinued the GTX in 1971. This kept it from being a disgrace to its fire-breathing predecessors. This is why the 71′ GTX is the last of its breed and a fantastic muscle car that deserves better recognition and more respect.

2. Mercury Cyclone Cobra Jet

Even though the Cyclone is not the first muscle car name that pops into car fans’ heads when they think of late 60’s muscle cars, this Mercury was popular back in the day. However, today it is forgotten along with the brand itself, which Ford discontinued a few years ago. Along with the compact-size Mustang-based Cougar, Mercury had the Cyclone, an intermediate muscle car built on the Ford Fairlane/Torino platform. Since Mercury was an upscale brand, the Cyclone was better appointed than comparable products from Ford. But the engine choices and performance were the same.

Mercury introduced the Cyclone in 1964 and it stayed on the market until 1971. However, the best version, which is the most interesting to collectors is the Cyclone CJ. Those two letters marked the famed 428 Cobra Jet engine, which was the first street-muscle engine Ford built. With 7.0-liters displacement and an advertised 335 HP, the Cobra Jet produced 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. The Cyclone CJ played its part in racing efforts. However, they produced less than 3,500 Cyclones CJ in 1969, while the regular Cyclones without the Cobra Jet option were more popular.

3. AMC AMX

The American Motors Company or AMC started in 1954 as a merger between two big independent names in the car industry, Nash-Kelvinator Corporation and Hudson Motor Car Company. These two companies formed an alliance since Detroit’s Big Three, Chrysler, GM and Ford, were threatening to conquer the whole market. AMC was an economy car manufacturer from the beginning all the way to the end. To survive in the market, it was active in producing new models and exploring new concepts.

One of those interesting and innovative models was the AMC AMX. In 1968, AMC decided to enter the muscle market by introducing two new performance models. One was the Javelin and the other was the AMX. Despite being similar in technology and design, the AMX was a two-seater model. This made it the only two-seater on the U.S. market other than the Corvette. With a shorter wheelbase, 390 V8 engine with 360 HP, lots of go-fast options at 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 became obsolete. It lasted on the market for just two years. Although it was successful in drag racing championships, the AMX is a forgotten and obscure muscle car today.

4. Pontiac Trans Am 455

The GTO was Pontiac’s prime muscle car for most of the 60’s, but the smaller Firebird started to emerge as a more affordable, faster option. Traditional muscle cars were losing ground due to tightening regulations. So, pony cars such as the Pontiac Trans Am gained respect on the streets, mostly due to looks and performance. In 1972, those engines still had some power left and Pontiac tried the best it could in this situation.

The 1972 Trans am with its 455 big block engine and 300 HP was the hottest offering. It offered acceleration times from 0 to 60 mph times of 6.4 seconds. Also, those F-Body cars had competent handling packages and good brakes, transforming them into proper sports cars. Who knows how fast or capable muscle cars could be if it weren’t for the fuel shortages and emissions regulations.

Despite being one of the last classic muscle cars, the early 70’s Trans Am was not a strong seller. In fact, they are quite rare and valuable cars today.

5. Dodge Challenger R/T 440

Even though Plymouth had the Barracuda, introducing this first pony car model two weeks before the Ford Mustang, Dodge didn’t enter the segment until 1970. Some muscle car historians said Dodge was late for the party, but the Challenger was so good, it left its mark and reserved a place in car history.

Mopar’s E-Body models, the Barracuda and Challenger, were brand new for 1970. They featured new designs and better construction, as well as a wider, longer body. There were no significant mechanical differences between the Barracuda and the Challenger. The design was different although the two cars had some interchangeable bodywork parts.

They presented Challenger with the full firepower of Mopar engines. Buyers could get a powerful 383 V8, a big 440 or the famous 426 Hemi. The best performers were 440 and the Hemi, depending on the specifications, differential ratio and gearboxes. Challengers with those engines could accelerate to 60 mph in the 5.5 to 5.7 seconds range.

This was quite fast for 1970. However, Challengers with 440 engines were more expensive than regular models. That is why Dodge produced less than 4,000 examples for the 1970 model year.

6. Ford Mustang Boss 302

The third redesign of the Mustang appeared for the 1969 model year and the car grew again. Ford changed the engine choices because they wanted to concentrate on the equipment list, taking the Mustang lineup in two main directions. One was creating luxury with the new Grande notchback model and the other was making pure muscle with three new models, the Mach I, Boss 429 and Boss 302.

Also, Ford introduced the legendary 428 Cobra Jet engine as a regular production option. This placed the Mustang among the fastest muscle cars of the era. But for most car fans, the Boss 302 is the most important model. Ford produced it for only two years, 1969 and 1970. The Boss 302 featured 302 V8 engine, which they conservatively rated at 290 HP.

The real output was closer to the 350 HP mark. The Boss 302 was a model Ford intended for racing in Trans-Am championship. The Boss had a blackout hood, spoiler on the trunk and other details. It also featured a stiff, track-tuned suspension, close ratio gearbox and high-revving engine. The car was light and without any unnecessary luxuries.

This model is on the list because it was a perfectly balanced car with great performance and driving dynamics. It was a muscle car, but its handling characteristics, high-revving engine and overall feel made it a sports car with racing success. Basically, it’s the best of both worlds and a unique model in Mustang’s long history. During the two-year production run, they produced the Boss 302 in less than 10,000 examples.

7. Mercury Cougar XR-7

When Ford introduced the Mustang in 1964, it became a global hit and started a revolution among Detroit’s major players. Three years later, almost everybody had a pony car in their lineup. Chevrolet introduced the Camaro, Pontiac presented the Firebird, and Mercury had the new Cougar.

Since Mercury was a luxury division of the Ford Motor Company, it was obvious the Mustang and Cougar would have a lot in common. However, Mercury tried its best to hide its plebian roots and introduced a luxury GT model. They built the Cougar on the Mustang platform but stretched it a couple of inches to add comfort and achieve a quality ride. Also, the Mercury Cougar was available with V8 engines, while the small six cylinders were for entry-level Mustangs.

The body panels were unique, as well as the front fascia with its hidden headlights. In the interior, Mercury offered a wood-trimmed dash, leather seats and all kinds of creature comforts. Some could say the Cougar was just a luxury Mustang. But in reality, it was an independent model and a successful car in its own right. Until 1969, Ford didn’t offer any Mustang convertibles, just coupes. The ultimate version that combined muscle car power and luxury was the mighty Cougar XR-7.

This model had the 390 V8 engine with 320 HP. Buyers could also opt for the GT package, which included a beefed-up suspension, and stronger brakes and steering. The XR-7 was a popular model with Mercury producing over 27,000 in 1967. However, only a little over 2,600 came with the GT package. Over the years, the Mercury Cougar was in the shadow of the Mustang. But in recent years, prices started to come up for this piece of the luxury muscle segment.

8. Buick Riviera GS

In the early 60’s, Detroit was aware of luxury Gran Turismo European coupes coming to America and selling in significant numbers. The performance-oriented buyers didn’t want those big, heavy domestic-made coupes. They had the power but didn’t provide the handling or the feel of a sports car. So, instead, they turned to Ferraris, Maseratis and Jaguars for performance car excitement and prestige. GM decided to capitalize on this trend by introducing a fresh new luxury model with great styling, a cool name and enough power to put those European coupes to shame.

So, in 1963, they presented the Buick Riviera and it immediately became one of the most interesting cars on the American market. The combination of sleek and elegant styling, modern interior and a powerful Buick Nailhead engine made the Riviera an instant best seller. It became the first real competitor to the famous Ford Thunderbird. But Buick wanted more, so the company introduced the legendary Riviera Grand Sport or GS, in 1965.

The car featured a revised suspension, a bigger 425 engine, and a host of other performance upgrades. In this version, the Rivera was a true world-class automobile with 360 HP and acceleration times of 7.9 seconds. This was better than most sports cars of the period. The Riviera nameplate stayed in production until 1993. However, the first three generations, especially the GS models, remained the most sought after and some of the best luxury muscle cars Detroit ever produced.

Although the Riviera was a strong seller, the GS versions were more expensive than the standard models, so they were also quite rare. The production of the GS model was never more than a couple of thousand examples per year.

9. Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS

Back in the late 60’s, Chevrolet product planners had an 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 fresh designs, names and powerful engines. So, in 1970, they introduced the Chevrolet Monte Carlo. They built it on the modified Chevelle platform.

The Monte Carlo was a handsome coupe-only car with a V8 engine, an attractive interior and decent performance. Even though most people who wanted luxury bought the Monte Carlo with the smaller V8 engine, there was one muscle option in the SS 454 package. This version was a true luxury beast with a monstrous 7.4-liter V8 engine. It pumped 360 HP and propelled the heavy Monte Carlo to an amazing 0 to 60 mph time.

And for just $420 above the base price, buyers could get this trim level. It transformed this coupe from a somewhat lazy cruiser to a quarter-mile beast. However, only around 3,800 people decided to buy it, so the Monte Carlo SS 454 remains one of the rarest luxury muscle cars ever. The reason for such a low number is obvious.

At the time, Chevrolet had a few muscle cars in their model lineup, so most car enthusiasts turned to Chevelle, Camaro or Corvette for performance and looks. On the other hand, the typical Monte Carlo buyers preferred comfort and luxury. This left the SS 454 option somewhere in the middle, contributing to the poor sales numbers.

10. Ford Mustang 289 HiPo

Car enthusiasts were fascinated when they first saw the Mustang in 1964. The compact, sporty looks, long hood and short deck at an affordable price seemed unreal. But there was a small portion of knowledgeable car enthusiasts who were disappointed. The reason was the technology and engine choices. The Mustang shared modest underpinnings with the economy Falcon.

Its engine lineup also included mild versions of six and small V8 units. The power output was nothing special and the performance was below expectations. Ford responded by hiring Carroll Shelby and producing an almost racing-ready GT 350 in 1965. But for those who could not live with a screaming 306 HP 289 V8 engine in the GT 350, Ford prepared an interesting engine they called the K-Code. The K-Code was a 289 V8 but with a milder, more street-friendly tune.

It delivered 271 HP, which was more than enough for the decent performance Ford Mustang fans wanted. The optional GT package included a stiffer suspension, better equipment and lots of exterior details, the 289 HiPo or High Power was the choice of real car guys. Ford introduced it in 1965 and made it available until 1967. The 289 HiPo was the first Mustang that ran as well as it looked, especially if you ordered the gorgeous Fastback body style.

The production numbers for this version were modest compared to the over one million regular Mustangs Ford produced between 1964 and 1967. In that period, only around 17,000 Mustangs received the famous HiPo engine option, making those cars rare today.

11. Pontiac Catalina 2+2

In the mid-60’s, the Pontiac GTO was the car to have since it was at the forefront of the exciting new muscle car movement. With its performance, powerful engine and great Pontiac styling, the GTO was the perfect car for the moment. But, it wasn’t the only stellar performance machine coming from Pontiac. In 1965, there was another pure muscle car icon in form of the Catalina 2+2.

Behind this strange name hides a full-size Catalina model, available as a coupe or a convertible, but with a performance twist. The regular Catalina was a great-looking and decent-selling model. But in 2+2 form, it transformed into a true Gran Turismo with a luxury interior and fire-breathing engine. Since the Catalina was a full-size model, it was eligible for engines over 400 CID, according to GM rules of the time.

This meant the Catalina 2+2 came with the famous 421 V8. And if you wanted, you could get the Tri-Power intake system, which was the same as the GTO. It could boost Catalina’s power to 376 HP. Buyers could also order limited-slip differentials, heavy-duty steering and brakes and a lot more. This made the Catalina 2+2 well-appointed, but unfortunately, expensive, too.

The top-of-the-line 2+2 cost over $4,000, which was a hefty sum and much more than the similarly equipped GTO, for example. However, Pontiac produced around 11,000 of these fine machines in 1965 and only around 200 convertibles.

12. Pontiac GTO Judge

Muscle cars started as affordable performance machines with lots of power and reasonable prices. However, due to the high demand, some models became more expensive. Soon there was a need for an affordable muscle car aimed at the youth market who wanted a fast car but couldn’t pay a lot.

The Plymouth Roadrunner was the perfect example of such a model. It was inexpensive, fun and fast. Pontiac wanted a similar car and in 1969, the company presented the GTO Judge. The Judge became a legend. First, it took the name from a popular TV comedy show, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In. Second, it was a bright red muscle car with a big spoiler and The Judge graphics all over it.

The GTO Judge wasn’t slow with its 366 HP and four-speed transmission. One of the most interesting things about the Judge it was responsible for the first true music video. Back in the late 60’s, one of the most famous domestic rock bands in America was Paul Revere and the Raiders. Pontiac hired them to make a song about the new GTO Judge and then they made a commercial featuring the car and the song.

The commercial was so successful, and the song was so catchy, that it became a hit on the charts. In fact, the commercial was in a full-length music video. This just shows the perfect and everlasting connection between rock music and muscle cars.

These are the top rare classic muscle cars in history. If you see one of them at your local car dealership, you may want to snap it up. These beauties will only become rarer and more expensive with time.

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