3. 1971 AMC Hornet 360
The early ’70s marked the beginning of the end for muscle cars with downsizing, tightening emission controls, and heightened safety standards. AMC was one of the first companies to realize they needed a new breed of muscle cars to keep power-hungry customers happy. So in 1971, they introduced the Hornet 360.
Even though the Hornet arrived just before the Malaise Era, it fits the profile. The Malaise Era was from 1973 to 1983 when most U.S. cars offered poor performance numbers. AMC based the Hornet 360 on the regular economy car called the Hornet, equipping it with an improved suspension and sharper steering. To that, they added a graphics package and a 360 V8, transforming this hot Hornet from an ordinary compact to a proper muscle car. Power wasn’t big at 245 HP, but in a lightweight body, those horses could make the Hornet fly.
The rest of the muscle car offerings in 1971 had problems with big sizes and weights, as well as engines that didn’t make power anymore. But the Hornet 360 was one of the fastest cars available. This is the only time that a Malaise or pre-Malaise Era car possessed real performance.
Unfortunately, most buyers didn’t understand the forward-thinking of AMC, so they sold less than 800 Hornets in 1971. That made the Hornet 360 a rare and obscure muscle car. In an era when bigger was always better, the Hornet 360 was unusual for its compact size and strong engine. Unfortunately, people failed to realize how good the idea behind it really was and it became one of AMC’s many flops.