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20 Muscle Cars That Surprised Drivers In Ways They Never Expected

Cameron Eittreim June 29, 2021

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6: 1969 Pontiac Trans Am

The Pontiac Trans-Am has always been in the shadow of the Camaro, which is its corporate stablemate. Although the Camaro would always get a good deal of the press, the Firebird was the lesser-known car. The Trans-Am offered a 400 V8 engine with a Ram Air III intake, a first for the period. This made the Trans-Am stand out from the Camaro in its initial run and gave Pontiac fans something unique.

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As time went on the Trans-Am would evolve with various trim packages, often differentiating from the Camaro. The two cars were always very similar, but this incarnation of the Trans-Am would propel the Pontiac brand to even higher heights. This also marked the start of the Pontiac partnership with Ram-Air that would last well into the 2000s.

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5: 1969 Plymouth Barracuda 440

There’s no denying that the Plymouth brand was on a roll by the 1970s, thanks to a string of popular performance cars. The Barracuda 440 had something special under the hood that was designed to surprise drivers as well. The look of the car was downright intimidating and the muscle car had the biggest engine installed yet. The V8 produced 375 HP and 480 lb-ft of torque, enough to tear up any dragstrip.

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The engine was so big that the Barracuda 440 didn’t have power steering, and that made some drivers uncomfortable. However, when you had the type of power that the Barracuda 440 had, there are very few cars that can match it. The 1969 Barracuda 440 was a hot-selling model for the brand and has become an icon of the Plymouth brand.

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4: Chevrolet Impala ZL-11

When it comes to performance cars ,the Impala isn’t always the first nameplate that comes to mind. The ZL-11, on the other hand, was meant to change that perception. The ZL-11 had a lot of unique features to it which included a special edition paint job. There are only 57 of the ZL-11 models that were manufactured and rumor has it there are only 10 in existence today.

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The special-edition package had ultimately been kept a secret, which is why there are so few of them left. Performance editions of the Impala were generally relegated to SS models, which made the ZL-11 quite rare. For a great combination of street and sports credentials, the ZL-11 was a standout car in more ways than one.

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3: Studebaker Golden Hawk

The Studebaker brand already had noticeable success with the R2 and the Golden Hawk is another well-known model. The ’56 Golden Hawk was released well before the R2 was even a thought and it did quite well. The 352 V8 was one of the most powerful V8 engines of the time, which made it a blast to drive.

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Coupled with the beautiful styling of the car the Golden Hawk was a marvel of design. It’s interesting to see what the Studebaker brand was at the height of its popularity. Similar to how AMC was popular, the Studebaker brand was a well-known American institution. The Golden Hawk was a notable example of American ingenuity and performance.

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2: Buick Century GS

Buick is another brand that’s well known in the muscle car business and the Century was one of the well-known models. The Century GS had a lot of interesting features to it but the look was different than the average muscle car. The standard 455 Stage 1 big block was a massive engine that offered quite a bit of performance at the time.

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When you think of the muscle car era, the Buick Century GS is not a well-known entity. But the performance is above standard and there were quite a few of these cars manufactured. A lot of drivers consider the Century GS as the last “true” Buick muscle car, although the GNX would come later on down the road.

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1: Oldsmobile Toronado GT

There was a time when Oldsmobile was considered the pinnacle of the muscle car industry. The Toronado nameplate is iconic for several reasons, including later on being the first car with an airbag. But the Toronado GT is highly considered to be one of the most capable muscle cars in the lineup.

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The 455 engine was a high-performance option that offered 400 HP at the wheels. Performance-wise, the Toronado GT could hang with the best of the big boys including the Chevelle SS. It’s also interesting to point out that the Toronado GT came with a fair amount of luxury features. The value of the Toronado GT has steadily risen over the past decade as the muscle car bubble has peaked.

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