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20 Most Fascinating Muscle Car Concepts You Would Want to Drive

Vukasin HerbezJuly 13, 2018

Most people know the history of muscle cars and how this legendary segment evolved until today. Car fans have always been fascinated with Detroit’s best sellers, muscle car obscurities, flops and unusual cars. Cars are intertwined with the culture, music and even the movies. But, there is also an alternative history of muscle cars most people don’t know about. It is those muscle car concepts and pre-production prototypes that could have changed history but never got the chance.

The American car industry invented concept cars in the late 30’s with the Buick Y Job. It developed it into an interesting trend during the 50’s with events like GM’s famous Motorama show. However, in the 60’s, Detroit calmed down and their concepts were just style exercises they based on regular production models. However, when muscle cars exploded on the scene in the second half of the decade, manufacturers started introducing interesting concept cars that went well beyond the limits of regular production models.

It is interesting to see all the “what if” muscle and sports car concepts from that period. Some cars will surprise you. They may even show you how some brands were innovative and advanced but never had a chance due to various circumstances. Some cars were so close to production and then they canceled them at the last moment. Keep reading to go on an interesting and informative cruise through the alternative history of Detroit’s muscle and sports cars.

  1. AMC AMX/3

Most avid car fans remember the heroic Javelin and other two-seater AMX muscle cars they introduced in 1968. In those days, AMC was famous as an economy car brand with inexpensive models without any special features. When a pair of hot muscle cars hit the streets in the late 60’s, everybody paid attention. Better yet, the AMC executives noticed a significant bump in sales. Encouraged by the success of the Javelin and AMX, AMC management wanted to go further and attack the sports car market.

They had the funds, but didn’t have a starting point. So AMC hired renewed sports car creator and ex Ferrari engineer, Giotto Bizzarrini. They asked him to build them a modern sports car with a rear engine and transaxle, as well as a sleek body. Bizzarrini did that and more, so the AMX/3 prototype was capable of 170 mph. It also had world class handling and sexy Italian styling. The power came from AMC’s 390 V8 engine with 340 HP.

Despite the promising start, AMC realized that the finished product would cost somewhere around $12,000. This was significantly more than the similarly designed De Tomaso Pantera and almost double the price of the Corvette. Unfortunately but understandably, they decided to kill the fantastic AMX/3 after building just six preproduction cars in 1970.

  1. Pontiac Banshee 1964

In the early 60’s, people considered Pontiac a performance brand. And with the newly introduced GTO model, the muscle car and performance markets were booming. However, the management of the company had bigger ambitions. So, they soon introduced a fully operational concept vehicle they called the Banshee.

The Banshee I was the first in a long line of Pontiac concept cars that had influence on production models. The first one to emerge in 1964 was extremely advanced with compact dimensions, a lightweight body and a powerful engine. Pontiac conceived it as a “Mustang killer,” but GM was afraid that a sports coupe from Pontiac could affect Corvette sales, so they cancelled the project.

Most car fans think that’s too bad, since the Banshee I had the potential to be a fantastic car. GM even incorporated several design clues into the next generation Corvette. Today, both prototypes have survived; one silver coupe and one white convertible. Don’t you wonder what would have happened if GM allowed Pontiac to build the Banshee and change sports car history?

  1. Ford Torino King Cobra

Back in the late 60’s when muscle car wars were at their height, most manufacturers went racing in NASCAR. Those races were legendary since the best Dodge, Plymouth, Chevrolet and Ford muscle cars battled each other on superspeedway tracks. NASCAR allowed aerodynamic modifications for the 1969 and 1970 season. It sparked the introduction of those Aero Specials like the Dodge Charger Daytona and Plymouth Road Runner Superbird.

Those cars became famous for their racing success as well as their spikey noses and big back wings. It may have looked ludicrous, but it was effective. Ford wanted to get into the Aero Specials game. So, for the 1970 season, so they prepared a special model they based on their mid-size Torino Cobra muscle car. They called their racing model the Ford Torino King Cobra.

It featured a special front end assembly, hidden headlights and different bumpers and fenders. Ford made two prototypes in red and yellow and was getting ready to start racing. But the company found out that NASCAR was going to ban Aero Specials for 1971 season, so they pulled the plug on the whole project.

They abandoned the King Cobra, making it obsolete overnight. Today, not many enthusiasts know about this car. Who knows, maybe the history of NASCAR and those famous Aero Specials would be different if the King Cobra was able to participate.

  1. Chevrolet Astro II (XP-880)

Although they didn’t call this concept the Corvette, everybody at the 1968 New York Auto Show knew it was a study of the next generation of America’s favorite sports car. In those days, Zora Arkus Duntov, Chevrolet’s engineer and Bill Mitchell, head of GM design lobbied hard for Corvette to go mid-engine to achieve better weight distribution, balance and performance.

The Astro II was one of the first in a long line of mid-engine Corvette concepts. For a while it looked like Chevrolet would produce it. The concept was a fully functional prototype with the engine behind the passengers. It was a 390 HP big block V8 that powered the rear wheels, giving the Astro II a convincing performance.

Ultimately, Chevrolet decided to abandon the mid-engined Corvette and go with a standard drivetrain layout for Corvette’s third generation in 1968. Had Chevrolet decided to greenlight the Astro II, the Ferrari would have had a hard time on the American market. Today, 50 years after the Astro II, some car fans are eagerly expecting Chevy to present the Corvette Zora. Hopefully, it will finally be mid-engined like so many concepts before.

  1. Ford Mustang Sedan

For most of the concepts on this list, it is a big shame they landed on the margins of car history, but not this one. Most car historians and fans are glad Ford didn’t build this car. When Ford developed the Mustang in the early 60’s, they not only made a new model, but also a new class on the market: pony cars. Since there were no pony cars before the Mustang, Ford development team went in several directions.

One of them was the Mustang in a four-door body style. The car was attractive and retained all the classic Mustang lines and proportions. However, Ford realized it would cannibalize the sales of the Falcon since they based the Mustang on the same platform and engines. The reason many people are glad Ford never built this Mustang sedan is because the four-door model would have ruined the sporty appeal of the car.

It also would have affected the success of the original model. A Mustang in two-door coupe or convertible form is an exciting and youthful performance car, but a Mustang in four-door version is just a compact family sedan.

  1. Dodge Charger III

The success of the Charger inspired Chrysler designers to develop a Dodge performance model. The original Charger had power, performance and countless racing wins, but it was still a big, heavy muscle machine. This ruined the aerodynamics. But the 1968 Charger III concept was something different.

The Charger III was no longer a muscle car, but a pure two-seater sports machine. It had compact dimensions and a low profile. It was also lightweight and had several unusual features. There were no conventional doors, but the whole top of the car opened to allow access to the interior. The steering column tilted along with the steering wheel to make entry more comfortable.

On the back of the car, there were massive airbrakes like those on airplanes that deploy under heavy braking. The whole car was extremely futuristic, but that doomed it from any real production. However, the legacy of the advanced Charger III concept never left Chrysler. So, 25 years after the original car, Dodge produced a muscle sports car in the form of the legendary Dodge Viper RT/10.

  1. Chevrolet Aerovette Wankel

The mid-engine layout has been the obsession of Corvette engineers for decades. So between 1960 and 1977, there were around 10 fully functional Corvette prototypes with this drivetrain layout. But, one is a bit more interesting than others: the 1973 Aerovette Wankel concept. The most important feature of this car was the engine, an advanced four-rotor Wankel unit with more than 400 HP from 390 CID.

In the early 70’s, all manufacturers experimented with Wankel rotary engines. They were looking for inexpensive yet more powerful and efficient alternatives to standard piston-type engines. Chevrolet realized they could retain the power level of big-block V8 engines with a Wankel unit, but in a much lighter, higher revving package. So, they gave the green light for the development of the Wankel Corvette.

The presented a functional prototype at the 1973 Paris Motor Show, which met with mixed reviews. The styling was attractive and 420 HP was double the power of a regular 454 Corvette. However, people were reluctant to drive this mid-engined Corvette with a zooming sound instead of a recognizable V8 rumble. After Chevrolet learned about the astronomical costs of introducing such a car, they scrapped the project. But the legend of the Wankel Corvette is still alive among Chevrolet aficionados.

  1. Ford Mustang Station Wagon

When Ford released the Mustang in 1964, it became a worldwide hit. They also sold a million Mustangs in just a year and half after their introduction. As with all popular cars, customizers started presenting their vision of Ford’s popular pony car. But one of the notable custom creations was the Mustang station wagon. Ford noticed the station wagon trend and in 1966, so they presented a prototype of a three-door, shooting brake-style station wagon.

Ford’s managers saw the potential for a roomier version of the Mustang. They thought the long roof didn’t affect the sleek profile and sporty appeal of the original design. The Mustang station wagon also offered much more practicality and comfort. However, Ford never introduced the Mustang Wagon to the public as an official concept. Instead, they decided to stick with low production costs and standard body styles, which is a shame.

  1. Pontiac Banshee 1988

Most of the 80’s car concepts were wedge-shaped cars with angular designs, straight lines and sharp edges. However, the 1988 Pontiac Banshee concept is a prime example of an 80’s concept that still looks aggressive and cool. The 1988 Banshee was the fourth concept car to carry that name, but the first to directly influence production cars afterward. Most design elements of the 1988 Banshee appeared several years later on the 1993 Pontiac Firebird.

However, this concept car was more than a design study for the fourth generation F-body. It was the vision of Pontiac’s sports car future. They powered the car by a 4.0-liter all-aluminum V8 producing 230 HP to the rear wheels over its five-speed manual gearbox. The suspension was fully independent with adjustable dampers. They constructed the body from lightweight materials with a superb aerodynamic coefficient.

All in all, the Banshee was something closer to a Ferrari than to a muscle car. Sadly, Pontiac never built the Banshee but many people think this Pontiac would still around if GM let them produce cars like this.

  1. Ford 427 Concept

The early 2000’s brought the renaissance of American performance cars, bringing many famous muscle cars back from the dead. In 2003, Ford introduced an interesting concept by combining pure muscle car power with the elegance of a European performance sedan. Then they added the legacy of a classic American four-door car. They called it the 427 Concept and it blew the car world away when they presented it.

The 427 Concept was a sleek four-door car with several cool retro-futuristic design features like a front grille. It also came with rear lights reminiscent of the classic Ford Galaxie 7-Litre cars of the 60’s. But the best feature was under the hood. It was a 427 CID V10 engine with 590 HP, delivering brutal performance. With an elegant exterior, futuristic interior and so much power, the 427 Concept was the dream car of all muscle car enthusiasts.

For a while, it looked like Ford was preparing to produce this car to fight the Chrysler 300C, Dodge Charger and Cadillac CTS. However, the recession and a company change of focus like fuel-efficient engines and SUV models canceled the fantastic 427 Concept project.

  1. Dodge Diamante Challenger

Dodge may have arrived late to the pony car segment with the 1970 Challenger, but it immediately showed they were there to stay. The Challenger was a great muscle car with iconic styling and a lineup of powerful engines. However, Dodge wanted to see if they could transform the Challenger into a sports car to rival the Corvette. That is why the Diamante concept car was born. This car started its life as a highly-optioned Hemi convertible they transformed into a Yellow Jacket show car.

But Dodge took it back to their styling department and re-imagined it as the Diamante. The car received a new front and rear end and a two-seat interior. It also had different turbine-style wheels and an interesting Targa top. With a 426 Hemi under the hood, the Diamante was fast. And with a custom side pipes exhaust, it sounded awesome, too.

Dodge abandoned the idea of a Corvette-fighter, but the Diamante attracted lots of attention. The main reason was because it looked like something Dodge could build without a big investment. And since all the main ingredients were there, they could also build them in a short time. Many Mopar fans were probably disappointed when they realized the Diamante was just not going to happen.

  1. Pontiac El Catalina

If you think the ill-fated Pontiac pickup truck is not a part of muscle car or performance car history, think again. If the performance-crazed Pontiac engineers built this car, they would’ve equipped it with a Super Duty, GTO Tri Power or Ram Air IV engine to compete with the El Camino SS or Ranchero GT.

In 1960, Pontiac wanted to expand their portfolio and thought of producing some sort of light delivery vehicle or truck. The closest thing GM had at that point was the popular and usable Chevrolet El Camino they based on a full-size Chevy car platform. Pontiac’s R&D department took the El Camino and mounted its own 1960 Catalina body.

They also chopped and reshaped the El Camino rear glass and truck bed. They named the finished concept the El Catalina. It was more beautiful and elegant than the El Camino. But GM decided the El Catalina wasn’t worth their investment since the market was small and management didn’t want to gamble.

  1. Mercury Messenger

In 2003, Mercury presented an interesting concept that seemed unlikely for such a boring brand that sold rebadged Fords with luxury items. They called the car the Messenger. It was a prototype of a two-door coupe sports car that reminded many people of the classic Mercury Cougar from the 60’s.

They based the Messenger on the Mustang. And just like the Cougar, and it had the same 4.6-liter V8, but they added a modern sequential six-speed gearbox and futuristic interior. As you may know, the Messenger never progressed beyond the concept car stage. Ford recently decided to kill the Mercury brand.

  1. Shelby EXP 500 Green Hornet

During Mustang’s heyday, Ford and Shelby worked hard to explore the possibilities and limits of the platform. As a result, they engineered and produced several interesting prototypes. One of the most popular was the Green Hornet from 1968. Although it wasn’t their only car, the Green Hornet featured the most innovative features like a 390 V8 with fuel injection. It also came with unique disc brakes on all four wheels and an independent rear suspension.

With this layout, the Green Hornet was a capable car that handled and stopped better than any other sports car on the market. Unfortunately, the cost of producing those features was too big, so Ford and Shelby decided to go with more conventional technology. Today the Green Hornet is a rare car that survived the era. It is also one of the most expensive Mustangs since they offered it for sale at $1.8 million, but that wasn’t enough.

The list of alternate history of classic muscle cars – 14 most interesting concepts contains vehicles that never made it to the dealerships. Some of them are long gone, while others could return to the designer’s table.

  1. Chevrolet Corvair Super Spider Concept

Back in the early ’60s, the Corvair was a hot car due to its unique mechanical layout, turbocharged boxer engine and cool looks. Despite the fact it didn’t have the performance numbers to threaten some sports cars, the Corvair still had potential. So, Chevrolet decided to introduce a Super Spider Concept to further explore the Corvair concept.

The Super Spider had a shortened Corvair chassis, a different design, two seats and a slightly upgraded engine. It also had racing wheels, a special paint job and a race style windshield. It looked attracted a lot of comments from motor show visitors, but Chevrolet never put it into serial production.

  1. Chevrolet Camaro Caribe Concept

When Chevrolet introduced the Camaro in 1967, it needed all the publicity it could get, so the company introduced a few new concepts, as well. And one of the most memorable and cool looking was the Caribe. The Caribe was a Camaro roadster pickup truck. It was something between the hot new Camaro and the El Camino.

The car featured a V8 engine, hood scoops, sports wheels with racing tires and a T-Top roof with a truck bed behind. The designers introduced this car as the perfect summer cruiser for the Caribbean islands. It had enough power to cruise at high speeds and enough space for all your stuff and surf boards.

  1. Corvette Rondine

Back in 1963, the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray stunned global automotive audiences with its fantastic design, sharp edges, split window feature and brutal performance. It was the epitome of an American sports car at its finest. However, in Turin, Italy the talented designers at Pininfarina thought they could do it better. So in cooperation with Chevrolet, they got the chance to prove themselves.

The result was the Corvette Rondine, a fully operational and usable concept car from 1963 that debuted at the Paris Motor Show. Since Chevrolet commissioned the car, it graced the General Motors stand. They equipped it with 327/360 V8 engines, a four-speed manual and disc brakes. Despite the pleas for production, this gorgeous car remained a unique example and one of the most beautiful American cars with an Italian design.

  1. Plymouth Barracuda 1975 Concept

As you may know, Plymouth discontinued the Barracuda line after the 1974 model year. The muscle car era passed and the market showed little interest in proper muscle coupes. However, the Mopar engineers tried to present the idea of 1975 Barracuda to the board of directors.

They envisioned the 1975 model as a proper sports car with a 2+2 seating configuration. It would have a sharp and aerodynamic front end, low roofline and silhouette. There were two prototypes, one with a pop up and one with exposed headlights. However, despite the car’s cool looks, Chrysler decided to kill the idea and sent the Barracuda to the history books.

  1. Holden GTR-X

As the prime Australian muscle car with roots linking it to the General Motors Corporation, the Holden GTR-X belongs on this list. It was also one of the most memorable concept cars of the late ’60s and the golden age of muscle cars that, unfortunately never became a production model. The GTR-X was a design and engineering study of the future of muscle cars.

It featured an extremely sleek wedge shaped two door body, an aerodynamic front end and compact dimensions. It was designed to accommodate straight six and V8 engines and with low weights of just over 2,000 pounds, so it could go with either of those powerplants. However, Holden decided it was too expensive for production, so they cancelled the GTR-X project.

  1. Pontiac GTO Concept

Pontiac spent decades producing Firebirds and Trans Am, leaving the GTO to the history books. For such a specific muscle car like the original GTO, the market was gone. However, some car enthusiasts never forgot the timeless style and performance of the original muscle car.

So, at the 1999 Detroit Auto Show, Pontiac surprised everybody with a fantastic concept they called the GTO. It was a modern looking, aggressive muscle car that received a lot of attention from the crowd. And it showed Pontiac many people wanted to see the GTO come back. The GTO Concept was a pure styling exercise, but General Motors realized they had a market niche to fulfill.

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