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20 Rarely-Seen Muscle Cars For True Auto Fans

Vukasin HerbezFebruary 17, 2020

Classic muscle cars are a large automobile segment full of legendary machinery, chrome, and burnt rubber. They came with fantastic soundtracks, not only from those rumbling V8s but also from their eight-track stereos as well. The period from 1964 to 1971 produced the most significant number of muscle cars. Most of those models, like those GTOs, Chargers, and Torinos, became worldwide sensations that sold in big numbers.

However, there are models that people didn’t notice. They were never popular or particularly desirable, either. Even today, many auto fans don’t even know those cars existed. There are those limited models, forgotten versions, and cars that fell under the muscle car radar.

Many of these cars are impossible to find today because manufacturers didn’t make many of them. Also, some owners just discarded them, turning to the more popular models of the day. Keep reading to learn about some cars you didn’t know existed. Here are 20 of the most obscure and rarely-seen classic muscle cars ever. While you may know a few from this list, some will be a surprise.

20. Oldsmobile Rally 350

To fight the tightening regulations that were destroying muscle cars, Oldsmobile introduced the bright yellow Rally 350. It was a smart way to avoid high insurance premiums with a smaller yet still powerful 350 V8 engine producing 310 HP. This model was basically a 442 muscle car with a smaller engine and price.

The most exciting feature was the bright yellow paint, along with yellow bumpers, spoiler, and wheel inserts. It looked like somebody dropped the Oldsmobile Cutlass in bright yellow paint.

Other manufacturers introduced similar models, but this Oldsmobile stands out due to its unmistakable appearance. However, the Rally 350 wasn’t a big success despite its intelligent engineering, so Oldsmobile only built 3,547 of them in 1970. Although most Oldsmobile performance cars are well-known among car enthusiasts, they forgot the Rally 350 so it’s rare today.

19. Mercury Marauder X-100

Imagined as a luxury coupe, the Marauder had a fresh design with features like concealed headlights, a massive front end, and a sloping rear end with curved rear glass. It was a big, heavy car Mercury built for cruising rather than street racing. However, Mercury needed something to fight the Pontiac Grand Prix and Buick Riviera GS.

They knew they needed to upgrade the Marauder to higher specs if they wanted a piece of the action. So Mercury presented the Marauder X100. Behind the strange name was a regular 1969 Marauder, but with a 429 V8 engine that pumped out 360 HP. On top of all that, they added bucket seats, a heavy-duty suspension, blackout rear trim, and fender skirts.

The performance was respectable, but it was still a large, heavy car, so compared to some smaller muscle models, it was significantly slower. The Marauder line was relatively popular, but the X100 didn’t become a bestseller. In its two years of production, Mercury only built slightly over 8,000 of them.

18. Dodge Charger 500

Most muscle car fans know the Dodge Charger lineup well, including the Charger Daytona from 1969. But the Daytona’s predecessor, the Charger 500 was far less-known and not as successful. In the late ’60s, Dodge was desperate to race at NASCAR, and the Charger was the perfect candidate. However, since NASCAR cars approached high speeds of almost 200 mph on newly-constructed superspeedway tracks, aerodynamics played a role in its performance.

The standard Charger with its deep grille and concave rear glass wasn’t aerodynamic. So despite its powerful engines and skilled drivers, it couldn’t achieve the speeds required for winning. Dodge decided to introduce their limited-edition Charger 500. They named the 500 because they only made that many of them.

It came with a flushed grille, fixed headlights, and regular rear glass to improve the aerodynamics of the car. But then Dodge decided to go even further and presented the Daytona. The Daytona 500 came with two engines, a standard 440 and an optional 426 Hemi. Since the Daytona was more successful and interesting, everyone soon forgot about the Charger 500 except for hardcore Mopar fans.

17. Pontiac GT-37

One of the rarest and most forgotten muscle cars is the Pontiac GT-37. It was not a model of its own but an option package on the 1970 and 1971 Tempest. The inspiration for this model came from Plymouth. In 1968, Plymouth introduced the Roadrunner, a budget-friendly, bare-bones muscle car with wild graphics and few options.

Pontiac intended for the vehicle to be for younger buyers with limited budgets yet a great need for performance. The Roadrunner proved to be a strong seller and influential model. Soon, all the car companies started thinking about inexpensive models to attract younger customers. But for some reason, Pontiac waited until 1970 to introduce such a model in the form of the GT-37.

Behind this strange name was a regular Tempest with a few performance options and an engine from the more popular GTO model. This meant buyers who had $3,000 to spend could get a car from 255 HP all the way up to 345 HP. Pontiac advertised the GT-37 as the “GTO Lite,” but the car lacked any exterior features like the famous Endura bumper and rear spoiler.

For 1971, they offered the famous 455 V8, but it only went in a handful of cars. Simply, the GT-37 had the performance and the hardware, but it lacked the GTO’s appeal, resulting in bad sales. In two years, Pontiac made only around 2,000 of these misunderstood muscle cars. Today, the GT-37 is a rare sight.

16. Chevrolet Chevelle Z16

Everybody knows about the Chevrolet Chevelle. For decades, it was Chevy’s primary mid-size offering they produced in the millions. It was available in many markets not just domestic ones. However, not a lot of people know about the Chevelle Z16. It was a high-performance model Chevy produced for one year only.

Today, it’s an extremely rare and valuable piece of Chevy history. What exactly is the Chevelle Z16? Basically, it’s a fully-loaded regular Chevelle. That includes a 396 V8 engine with a Muncie four-speed gearbox. It also has a heavy-duty suspension and updated equipment.

Even some dealers weren’t aware this option existed. That was because Chevrolet refused to market the Z16, making this Chevelle a secret model. The Z16 was fast, but also expensive for a Chevrolet. That’s probably why they made only 200 of them.

15. Rambler Rebel V8

This car is an interesting early muscle car that was born by chance. Squeezing a 327 V8 engine from the Nash Ambassador into the compact, light Rambler body created one seriously fast yet unassuming muscle machine. The 327 V8 delivered 255 HP, which wasn’t that much. However, in the compact Rambler body, it produced a 0 to 60 mph times of just seven seconds.

To make things even more interesting, only the expensive fuel-injected Chevrolet Corvette could beat this small Rambler in 1957. But, this powerful engine option raised the price of this affordable Rambler. As a result, few buyers were willing to pay extra for the privilege of outrunning anything else on the road. Rambler only produced 1,500 of them.

14. AMC Marlin 343

Back in the mid-60s, AMC was famous for its lineup of economy cars and small sedans. This was before the AMC Javelin and AMX entered the mainstream muscle car class. However, AMC company management wanted an exciting, sporty car, so they turned to their Marlin model. As a result, the Marlin was a mid-size fastback with a design suggesting it was fast and powerful.

The truth was the car only delivered a mediocre performance. But for the 1967 model year, AMC decided to introduce a 343 V8 version of the Marlin with 280 HP on tap. Despite the fact it wasn’t a lot, it was still enough to provide the Marlin with decent performance and driving dynamics.

Today, 343 V8-powered Marlins are rare, but there are even rarer versions. Some had a factory-tuned 343 V8 engine that produced 320 HP, giving the Marlin real power. While it’s unclear how many of those special order cars they made, today, they are nearly impossible to find.

13. Studebaker Avanti R2

In the early ’60s, Studebaker management decided to invest in a luxury coupe to fight their poor sales. They thought a new, fancy upscale model would attract more customers to Studebaker. In 1962, they presented the sleek, modern-looking Avanti. The innovative design, construction, and technology were impressive, and the car received praise from the motoring press.

But the base version wasn’t powerful, so Studebaker introduced its supercharged R2 option delivering 289 HP. The R2 version didn’t come with an automatic transmission or air conditioning. In fact, the Avanti R2 only came with a close-ratio manual gearbox. However, they included some performance upgrades, turning the Avanti into a fast machine.

Interestingly, the R2 broke 28 world speed records by achieving top speeds of 170 mph, which was a big deal in 1963. The R2 could sprint from 0 to 60 mph in just 7.3 seconds. Unfortunately, Studebaker had problems with production, so the Avanti was limited in availability, which affected its popularity.

Sadly, by 1964 they had discontinued this model. Today, most car enthusiasts recognize the Avanti R2 as one of the coolest ’60s cars, as well as an early luxury muscle car. During its short production run, Studebaker produced just over 4,600 Avantis and only a handful were R2s.

12. Chevrolet Chevelle “Heavy Chevy”

In 1971, dark clouds were on the horizon for muscle car enthusiasts. Tight government regulations, high insurance rates, and environmental standards attacked the segment. Manufacturers understood they had to act fast to save the market. So the first thing they did was introduce economy versions of their popular muscle cars.

They gave their cars smaller engines but interesting designs to maintain their appearance and popularity. One of those models is the 1971 Chevelle “Heavy Chevy.” It was an interesting one-year-only muscle car positioned below the Chevelle SS lineup. The Heavy Chevy came with a 200 HP 307 CID V8 engine, but you could opt for a 245 HP 350 CID V8 engine.

The most powerful version was the 300 HP 402 CID V8. However, if you wanted a top of line 454 big-block V8, you had to go the SS route. Although the Heavy Chevy was a popular model and they built over 6,500 of them in one year, it’s rare and obscure today.

11. Pontiac Can-Am

Back in the late ’70s, the American performance car segment was just a shadow of its former glory. Tight ecological and safety standards killed those high compression engines and ruined performance. Although there were a few surviving models, “performance” was just a word people used in magazine ads. But, in 1977, everything changed when Pontiac introduced the Can-Am.

The Can-Am was a one-year-only model and the last real muscle car. It had big block power packed into its unique body style and painted it white. Under the hood scoop they sourced from the Firebird Trans Am, there was a big 455 engine delivering 200 HP. That was more than any other muscle car on the market at the moment. The Can-Am package consisted of special rear window louvers, rear spoilers, and optional extras.

Pontiac introduced the Can-Am in early 1977 and the market responded well. Pontiac received between 5,000 and 10,000 reservations, but only sold 1,377 of them. The problem was that the outside contractor that assembled the Can-Am suffered equipment failure. They needed to wait three months for the new equipment, but Pontiac couldn’t wait, so they canceled all the open orders. This killed the Can-Am, and they didn’t offer this model again until 1978.

10. Plymouth Fury GT

Although it was an economy brand for Chrysler, Plymouth produced many muscle cars during the ’60s and ’70s including numerous special versions. Their luxury muscle car was the GTX; however, in 1970, they offered the Fury GT as their biggest model.

The Fury GT was a two-door coupe version of the Fury sedan. But in the GT guise, it was a full-size muscle car with perfect looks and power. Under the hood was the famous 440 V8 with a three-carburetor setup and 375 HP on tap. Buyers could choose between a 727 Torqueflite automatic or a four-speed manual.

However, if drivers wanted real performance, they could choose the manual. Despite its power and looks, the Fury GT wasn’t a big performer since it was still a heavy car. In combination with the relatively high price tag, it proved to be a slow seller. So, after just one year in production, Plymouth discontinued the GT model.

9. Chevrolet Laguna 454

Even though it was an upscale model in the early ’70s Chevelle lineup, people didn’t notice the Laguna. Today, they’ve totally forgotten it. Back in the day, Chevrolet tried to make the Laguna desirable by giving it several body styles. It also had the 350 V8 as the base engine, although it only had 145 HP.

Unfortunately, nothing helped, so after a few years, they ceased production. One particularly interesting thing is that the Laguna is one of the last classic Chevrolet muscle cars. This was because they offered it in a coupe body style for 1974 with an optional 454 V8. Although the power level wasn’t high, the big 454 still produced enough torque to spin its rear wheels.

8. Oldsmobile W31

Since the muscle car segment exploded in 1970 with big block power, some manufacturers offered smaller, nimbler alternatives to those 427, 455, or 454 engines. One of those forgotten and obscure models is the Oldsmobile W31. You may know about the Olds Rally 350 model only made in 1970.

The W31 was its twin car with less “in-your-face” styling and similar power from its high-revving 350 V8. The vehicle featured lots of speed options, yet it flew under the radar since most customers didn’t know it even existed. In the end, Oldsmobile produced just 116 of these machines for the 1970 model year.

7. Mercury Cougar Boss 302

They conceived the Mercury Cougar as a luxury pony car, building it on a stretched Mustang platform. This meant all the engines they installed in the Mustang could easily fit into the Cougar as well.

In 1969, Ford introduced the Boss 302, and Mercury got its own version too. They called it the Cougar Boss 302. Strangely, Ford didn’t widely advertise this highly-capable pony car, so it remained obscure. Mercury produced just 169 of them, and it’s a mystery how many have survived to this day.

6. 1969 Pontiac Trans Am

In 1969 Pontiac wanted to present a model to homologate for Trans-Am racing. To mask its intentions, Pontiac presented the Firebird Trans Am as a loaded version. It featured big-block power from the famous 400 V8 engine with a Ram Air III or IV intake system.

However, this special version, with its signature white paint, blue stripes, Rally II wheels, and other equipment, proved to be a tough seller. So they sold only 634 Firebird Trans Ams, and among those, only eight were convertibles.

5. 1969 Plymouth Barracuda 440

The biggest news for 1969 was the introduction of the Barracuda 440 V8. It was a monster pony car with the biggest engine ever installed under the hood of a car in that segment. The Barracuda 440 produced 375 HP and 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 enough space for a power steering pump. That meant Barracuda 440 owners had to use their muscles to turn this compact but overly powerful car. Plymouth only made a handful of these models, which makes them rare today.

4. Chevrolet Impala ZL-11

For 1963, Chevrolet introduced the limited but highly influential Z-11 option on the two-door Impala. The idea behind the Z-11 was to introduce the best street/strip technology in one model. The first order was to shed some weight by using aluminum panels, grilles, hoods, and fenders.

The radio and heater were gone, and they stripped the interior of all unnecessary luxuries. Chevrolet built only 50 to 57 Impala Z-11s in 1963, and less than 10 survive today. This was another example of keeping the package secret, so the public didn’t know this model existed.

3. Studebaker Golden Hawk

Studebaker as a brand disappeared in 1966 after years of trying to stay relevant to the American market. However, in the mid-50s, it was still one of the best names in the business with a lineup of interesting models. One of the best Studebakers ever built was elegant and fast ’56 Golden Hawk.

Studebaker conceived the car as a cool personal luxury coupe. The Golden Hawk had a Packard-derived 352 V8 engine producing 275 HP, which was quite impressive for the day. The performance was also significant since the Golden Hawk could accelerate from 0 to 60 in less than nine seconds.

2. Buick Century GS

The Century GS was a Colonnade-styled intermediate coupe, similar to those Pontiac and Oldsmobile intermediates featuring a unique front end design. The GS was primarily an appearance package that only mimicked the looks and style of previous models. The standard engine was the 150 HP 350 V8.

However, if you optioned for the 455 Stage 1 big block, you could get 270 HP with revised brakes and suspension. This version delivered serious performance numbers, and drivers considered it to be the last true Buick muscle car.

Sadly, the number of Century GS Stage 1 cars they produced in 1973 is quite low. Buick produced approximately 700, both with four-speed manuals and three-speed automatic transmissions.

1. Oldsmobile Toronado GT

The GT was a special package for Oldsmobile’s personal luxury cruiser. It was available for a few short years ending in 1970. From the outside, the Toronado GT looked like an ordinary Oldsmobile. Even though the same 455 engine powered it, the devil is in the details.

The GT package upped the power to a magical 400 HP and included various suspension bits. It also got bigger, stronger front disc brakes, and upgraded interior equipment. The GT was a rare option because most people seldom decided to order their Oldsmobiles with this package. That’s precisely why it’s so obscure today.

These 20 obscure and rarely-seen classic muscle cars are for true aficionados. While most of them are nearly impossible to find, they made a clear mark on automotive history.

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