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20 Best Classic Pony Cars Detroit Has Ever Made

Vukasin HerbezOctober 13, 2018

Even if you are not a muscle car fanatic you are probably familiar with the term, “pony cars.” They coined this term in the mid-60s after the enormous success of the original Ford Mustang. It marked the new class of sporty looking performance coupes and convertibles. Pony cars were smaller than intermediate models such as the Chevelle, GTO or Road Runner. But they were still slightly bigger than compact cars from the era.

Due to the smaller price, vivid performance and unmistakable street presence, pony cars become famous as well as a crucial part of the muscle car culture. Pony cars started as sporty versions of small cars like the Ford Falcon or Plymouth Valiant. The car companies dressed them in better-looking coupe bodies. But they came without any major improvements in the suspension or drivetrain.

Basically, they were born as a clever marketing trick to attract buyers with nothing but a fancy body style. However, after just a few years on the market, pony cars became much more than that. In fact, most of them gained some serious performance and racing credentials. Interestingly, the Mustang wasn’t the first pony car they ever made, despite the fact they named the whole segment after it.

Today you will learn about the first and best classic pony cars Detroit ever made. It is a strong probability that at least one of those cool cars is on your dream car list. And these pony cars are still popular, thanks to their everlasting style and performance. As a result, their names are a big part of automotive history.

  1. 1964 Plymouth Barracuda

They introduced the Barracuda in April 1964, just two weeks before the Mustang. So, it was the first Pony car Detroit ever made. They based it on the standard Valiant platform. Since the automotive world was anticipating the Mustang due to reports coming from Ford, Chrysler decided to introduce a car in the same segment. The Barracuda had modest underpinnings with three engines available, two sixes and one V8.

So, the designers had to come up with an interesting design to attract car buyers. And they gave the 1964 Barracuda a big panoramic rear glass window. Also, it had a sleek fastback body line that was advanced for the period. The Mustang introduction overshadowed the Barracuda. However, it sold in promising numbers, so along with Ford, it led the pony car revolution on the American market.

  1. 1965 Ford Mustang 289 HiPo

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

Also, the engine lineup included mild versions of V6 and small V8 units. The power output was nothing special and the performance was below car fan’s 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 289 V8 but with a milder, more street-friendly tune and 271 HP. But that was more than enough for the performance Mustang fans wanted. With the optional GT package that included a stiffer suspension, updated equipment and lots of exterior details, the 289 HiPo or High Power was a popular choice.

Ford introduced the 289 HiPo in 1965 and offered it up to 1967. The 289 HiPo was the first Mustang that ran as well as it looked, especially in the Fastback body style.

  1. 1965 Shelby GT 350 R

The infamously talented Carroll Shelby started building Mustangs in 1965. They were fire-breathing machines that brought Ford recognition and performance credentials. But, the cars that were responsible for his racing success were the 34 “R” models. Ford only produced them in 1965 and sold it to privateers and racing teams all over the world.

Those cars were purely for racing purposes, which was something that they did extremely well. The GT350 R had numerous modifications. Also, it was lighter, faster and sharper than the regular GT350. The R version had the same 289 V8 as the regular Shelby GT350. But it had close to 400 HP and numerous racing modifications.

The car was light and well-balanced, so it proved extremely fast. It won multiple races in America, Europe and South America, as well. Each car had numerous wins under its belt. So, every R model is an extremely valuable piece of Mustang and racing history.

  1. 1967 Chevrolet Camaro

On 22st of September 1967, Chevrolet introduced the Camaro in front of an eager audience. The motoring journalist and automotive public had the chance to see a brand new and very elegant coupe and convertible with modern design, classic long hood and short deck proportions, sporty stance and nicely executed details and trim. Chevrolet chose to abandon the third body style like Mustang or Barracuda, and from this standpoint, it was a good decision.

The new Camaro came with a selection of straight six and V8 engines, starting from a small 230 six cylinder and going all the way to the mighty 396 V8 with 325 HP. The idea was to offer a wider arrange and more powerful engines than Ford in order to attract sporty buyers. That is why Chevrolet offered SS, RS and Z/28 models, three performance versions.

The 1967 Camaro could be called a success since it was sold in over 220,000 examples and performance versions were well received by the enthusiasts. However, it was not enough to catch the Mustang with 400,000 examples sold in 1967.

  1. 1967 Shelby GT 500

The Mustang had performance versions like the GT with a 289 HiPo V8 engine and the Shelby GT 350 in 1965. But the first true performance Mustang with a big block engine and respectable 0 to 60 mph times was the 1967 Shelby GT 500. Bigger and more powerful, the 1967 GT 500 featured a new design. Also, it had a modified front and rear end.

But the main feature was the big 427 V8 engine with 335 HP and 420 lb-ft of torque. In those days, Ford was notorious for underrating the power output of their engines. So, 335 HP sounded too wimpy for the big 427. In fact, most car experts claim the real power was closer to the 400 HP range.

And the performance figures back that claim. The 0 to 60 mph acceleration time was 6.5 seconds, which was good for the day. And thanks to suspension modifications, the GT 500 could handle the curves well, too.

  1. 1968 Pontiac Firebird 400

When Pontiac unveiled the Firebird, it caused quite a stir among the American performance-loving car buyers. It was a coupe with a wide arrange of optional extras. Also, it had one of the biggest engines in a pony car, the Pontiac 400 CID V8. Back in the late ‘60s, GM had a rule forbidding the car manufacturers from producing cars with more than one HP for every 10 pounds of weight.

The aim of this rule was to stop them from producing insanely overpowered models. And all GM products and brands had to follow this. But the only exception was the Corvette. So, in 1968, Pontiac introduced the new Firebird with a 400 V8 engine with ratings of 320 HP. Immediately after the introduction, car fans were asking why the new 400 V8 engine in the Firebird delivered 320 HP while the same engine in the GTO produced 366 HP.

However, Pontiac didn’t reply and soon the answer came from factory insiders. The new Firebird 400 weighed 3,300 pounds. So, to make it eligible under the GM one HP per 10-pound rule, Pontiac had to rate the 400 V8 engine at 320 HP. Despite the underrating, the new Firebird 400 was fast, especially with the optional Ram Air induction system.

  1. 1969 Plymouth Barracuda 440

Pony cars wars were getting more serious as the Mustang defended its position as the bestselling model in its class. And the Camaro/Firebird duo was busy attacking it with everything GM had at the moment. But Chrysler was also a formidable competitor since the restyled Barracuda had more muscle with the optional 383 engine.

Best yet, it had two more body styles, the convertible and the notchback coupe. However, the biggest news for 1969 was the presentation of the Barracuda 440 V8. It was a monster pony car with the biggest engine they ever installed under the hood of a car in that segment. Plymouth wanted to be a dominant force in the stock class of drag racing championships. So, they needed a proper weapon equipped with a big block and tons of torque.

And the Barracuda 440 was exactly what they needed, even if it was a handful to drive. In fact, it required a complicated production process. Because the big 440 didn’t fit in the small engine bay of the Barracuda engine bay, it required extensive modifications. But, the Barracuda 440 produced 375 HP and had a massive 480 lb-ft of torque.

This made it fast but also hard to launch due to loads of wheel spin. Due to the tight fit of the engine, there wasn’t space for a power steering pump. And that meant drivers had to use their muscles to turn this compact but overly powerful car. Plymouth only made a handful of these models, which makes them highly-desirable today.

  1. AMC Javelin/AMX

AMC was an economy car manufacturer from the beginning all the way to the end. But to survive on the market, they stayed active in producing new models. AMC always explored the new concepts on the American market. And one of those interesting, innovative models was the AMC AMX.

In 1968, AMC decided to enter the muscle market and introduce two new performance models. One was the Javelin and the other was the AMX. The AMC Javelin was a handsome pony car with a modern design. Also, it came with some impressive engine choices and performance. As all other Pony cars on the market, Javelin started with the straight six.

However, they went all the way up to the 390 V8 with a considerable grunt. 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. With a shorter wheelbase, 390 V8 engine with 360 HP, go-fast options and a reasonable price, the AMX was a capable muscle car.

The Javelin proved to be a sales success. But the AMX was tough to sell because people wanted more room, so the two-seater AMX was obsolete. So, it lasted on the market for two years. And although it was successful in drag racing championships, the AMX is a forgotten, obscure muscle car today.

  1. 1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS 350

In the late ‘60s, the horsepower wars were in full swing. So Chevrolet prepared the Camaro for battle with the new Z/28 and SS models. The SS 396 was top of the line muscle model with 325 HP in earlier versions and up to 375 HP for 1969. But the most balanced and almost equally fast was the SS 350 model.

The SS 350 was a popular model with all Chevrolet’s “go fast” goodies. Also, it came with the venerable 350 CID V8 engine producing 300 HP. With racing stripes and a cool graphics package, optional vinyl roof and lots of extras, the SS 350 was one of the best pony cars.

It delivered a lively performance with great handling. With its perfect looks, the SS 350 is one of the most desirable classic Camaros. Even today, it is a highly-sought after piece of Chevrolet history.

  1. 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 302

The third redesign of the Mustang appeared for the 1969 model year and the car grew again. Ford changed engine choices, as well as equipment list. Also, they concentrated the Mustang lineup in two main directions. One was a luxury car in the new Grande notchback model. But the other was a pure muscle car with three brand new models, the Mach I, Boss 429 and Boss 302.

But Ford also introduced the legendary 428 Cobra Jet engine as a regular production option. And that engine put the Mustang among the fastest muscle cars of the era. But for most, the Boss 302 is the most important Mustang model. Ford produced it for only two years, 1969 and 1970. And the Boss 302 featured the 302 V8 engine which Ford conservatively rated at 290 HP. In fact, the real output was closer to the 350 HP mark.

But the Boss 302 was a model Ford intended for racing in the Trans-Am championship. So apart from the blackout hood and trunk spoiler, it featured a stiff, track-tuned suspension. The car also had a close ratio gearbox and a high revving engine. Best yet, it was light because it was without any unnecessary luxuries.

This model belongs on this list because it is a perfectly balanced car with great performance and driving dynamics. It is a muscle car, but its handling characteristics, high revving engine and overall feel make it a sports car with racing success. Basically, it’s the best of both worlds and a unique model in Mustang’s long history.

  1. 1969 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

In 1969, Pontiac wanted to present a model they could homologate for Trans Am racing. As a part of GM, the factory was still under the racing ban, but many car fans and private teams used Pontiac products. So the factory wanted to introduce a version they could easily modify for racing. And that is how the Firebird Trans Am came to be.

To mask their intentions, Pontiac introduced the Firebird Trans Am as a loaded version. It featured big block power from the famous 400 V8 engine with the Ram Air III or IV intake system. But the difference between those engines was significant since the Ram Air IV featured improved engine internals and components.

However, both engine options received ratings of 366 HP, which they underrated. And this special version came with its signature white paint and blue stripes. Also, it had Rally II wheels and other updated equipment. But it wasn’t as popular as Pontiac hoped, so they only sold 634 Firebird Trans Ams. And among those, only eight were convertibles.

The significance of the 1969 Trans Am is that this limited production model encouraged Pontiac to produce the Trans Am for almost all model years after that. And today, it is famous as the top of the line version of the regular Firebird.

  1. 1970 Plymouth AAR ‘Cuda

The 1970 model year was the pinnacle year for classic muscle cars. Never has there been so many muscle cars and memorable machines. The pony car wars were at full swing with the new Firebird, Camaro, Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Barracuda. But one of the most interesting 1970 Barracudas was the rare AAR ‘Cuda. The AAR ‘Cuda was a limited production model to commemorate Dan Gurney’s All American Racing team.

They used ‘Cudas in the Trans Am championship. The AAR version came with a 340 V8 small block engine and a special plastic hood in matte black paint with a scoop. Also, the ‘Cuda had a rear spoiler and side graphics with the big AAR logo. But this version was more expensive than the regular 340 ‘Cuda, so that is why they only made 2,724 of them.

  1. 1970 Dodge Challenger 440

Plymouth had the Barracuda, the first pony car model they introduced two weeks before the Ford Mustang. But its stablemate, the Dodge Challenger didn’t enter the segment until 1970. Although some muscle car historians say Dodge was too late for the party, the Challenger left its mark and reserved a place in history. Mopar’s E-Body models, the Barracuda and Challenger were new for 1970.

They featured a new design and better construction, as well as a wider and longer body. There were no significant mechanical differences between the Barracuda and the Challenger, except the design. However, these two cars had some interchangeable bodywork parts, as well. Dodge revealed the Challenger with the full firepower of a Mopar engine. Also, buyers could get a powerful 383 V8, as well as the big 440 and the famous 426 Hemi.

But the best performers were the 440 and the Hemi. And depending on the specifications, differential ratio and gearboxes, Challengers equipped with those engines could accelerate to 60 mph in 5.5 to 5.7 seconds. Drivers considered that extremely quick by the standards in 1970.

  1. 1970/1 Plymouth Barracuda 426 Hemi

Two of the biggest Chrysler legends from the classic days of muscle cars are the Barracuda and the 426 Hemi engine. All throughout the 1960s, those icons of the industry didn’t mix. However, in 1970, Plymouth offered this legendary engine in the Barracuda body style.

And this move immediately created one of the fastest, most desirable muscle cars ever made. The mighty Hemi engine was an expensive, top of the line option for 1970 and 1971. But it was available in a coupe or convertible form. And it cost around $900 over the price of the standard Barracuda.

Plymouth installed it in approximately 600 coupes and only 17 convertibles during its two-year production run. They rated the power at 425 HP. However, everybody knew the orange monster delivered more than 500 HP straight from the box.

  1. Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

GM had a notorious corporate ban on engines bigger than 400 cubic inches. That meant that Ford and Chrysler with the Mustang and Barracuda had more power than the Camaro. So, a team of witty Chevrolet engineers thought of a way of producing big block Camaros. And in 1969, they built exactly 69 ZL1 COPO Camaros.

Those cars were drag strip monsters with over 500 HP from an all-aluminum 427 ZL1 V8. Despite being a racing car, the Camaro ZL1 made its mark on the muscle car market. In fact, it is still one of the most famous Camaros from the 1960s.

  1. Ford Mustang GT 390

The Mustang got its first redesign in 1967 when Ford presented a slightly bigger, more luxurious model. The design was even better and more elegant, and the options list was longer than ever. The performance lovers finally got a big block option in the 390 FE V8 engine producing 325 HP.

The legendary Steve McQueen immortalized the 390 GT Mustang when it appeared as a co-star in the famous detective flick, Bullitt, in 1968. The Highland Green 390 Fastback made history with one of the best car chases ever. And that famous movie scene promoted the 390 engine to legendary status.

  1. Plymouth Barracuda 440

Although the 440 will always be in the shadow of the all-mighty Hemi, it is a better engine for everyday use. In the Barracuda, it was available in 1969 as a limited production model. But in 1970 it was a regular production option.

With 375 HP on tap, it was less powerful than the Hemi. But in real life conditions, it was just as fast. The 440 was better suited for normal driving and easier to maintain. Yet the Hemi was rarer and more expensive. But if most drivers had to choose, the 440 would be the best choice.

  1. Shelby GT500 KR

In 1968, Ford and Shelby presented a special one year only model they called the GT500 KR. The “KR” was short for “King of the Road.” And this 1968 Shelby was exactly that. With 428 Cobra Jet under the hood they conservatively rated at 335 HP, this pony car was lightning fast.

The GT500 KR also had several special features and external add-ons. But it also came with a higher price tag. So, they built just over 1,500 examples of them in 1968.

  1. 1970 Chevrolet Camaro Z28

The 1970 model year marked the arrival of a new, second-generation Camaro that featured a radical restyle. The modern semi-fastback roofline was the main feature, as well as the new platform. There was also the absence of convertible option. But the early 1970s Camaros were proper muscle coupes with power and style to back this claim.

With a revised suspension, braking and four-speed manual transmission, the Z/28 was once again a sharp and precise sports car. And it could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.8 seconds. Better yet, it handled like an expensive European exotic.

  1. Pontiac Trans Am 455

The 1971 Firebird and Trans Am were practically identical to the 1970 models. But they still represented one of the best muscle cars on the rapidly changing market. And sadly, 1971 was the last true muscle car model year when buyers could get those high powered. legendary engines.

The 455 V8 delivered 335 HP. However, most muscle car enthusiasts argue they underrated the engine, so the numbers were conservative. In fact, even with higher compression in the Trans Am H.O. version, that 455 V8 had the same horsepower figure. So, the real output was closer to 400 HP with a powerful performance and top speeds.

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