10. Dodge Omni GLH/GLHS
While Europe was embracing the hot hatch class and developing it in the mid-1980s, America seemed quite uninterested. The Golf GTI sold well in the states, but domestic manufacturers weren’t producing any hot hatches. That was, not until the legendary Carroll Shelby teamed up with Dodge to introduce his version of the compact Omni model. Dodge called it the Omni GLH, which meant, “Goes Like Hell.”
It was a proper hot hatch and one of the best affordable performance models money could buy. Nobody expected Dodge could produce a hot hatch that could beat the European competitors. But with Shelby’s help, it did just that. Shelby took the 2.2-liter four-cylinder and added a turbocharger.
This gave the Omni GLH a total output of 175 HP and a 0 to 60 mph time of less than seven seconds. Dodge gave the GLH some suspension modifications and other upgrades so it could handle all that power. Interestingly, Shelby and Dodge produced an improved version they called the GLHS for “Goes Like Hell S’More.” Dodge only produced 500 of those rare models.
9. 1983-88 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS
Chevrolet introduced the Monte Carlo in 1970. The SS version was the perfect blend of performance and luxury in an affordable package. But they discontinued the option in 1974 and customers soon forgot it. In 1983, Chevrolet decided to reintroduce it with the 1983 model year, continuing the option until 1988 successfully.
The mid-1980s Monte Carlo was one of the coolest two-door coupes of the period. Its performance wasn’t exhilarating, however. Under the hood was a 305 V8 with 180 HP linked to a slow automatic transmission. What the SS lacked in performance, it contributed with looks and reputation. In its five-year production run, Chevrolet built over 180,000 of these sleek coupes.
8. Dodge Shelby Charger
Dodge combined two of the greatest names in the American performance portfolio in the 1980s – Shelby and Charger. With front-wheel drive, a Dodge Omni platform, and a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the Shelby Charger wasn’t your typical muscle car. However, it provided strong performance as well as decent power and acceleration times.
Based on the Dodge Omni GHL, the Shelby Charger shared the drivetrain and 2.2-liter turbo engine which pumped 175 HP. For such a small, light car this was loads of power. The Shelby Charger could accelerate to 60 mph in just 7.5 seconds, making it one of the fastest accelerating American production cars for 1987.
Despite the famous name and good performance, this edition of Chargers aren’t that collectible, but they deserve recognition and respect. After all, they are a part of the American performance portfolio from the ’80s as well as a budget-friendly way to obtain a genuine Shelby car.
7. Pontiac Trans Am GTA
The Trans Am was the hottest version of the third generation Pontiac F-body. Pontiac introduced it in 1987 as their top-of-the-range Firebird offering. The package was available until 1992 in limited numbers. The secret weapons of the GTA were its engine and WS6 handling package.
The engine was a 350 V8 with 210 HP in early models and up to 245 HP in later versions. The rumor was the engine was the same as the Corvette. They used the same TPI fuel injection system and displacement, but not similar motors. The Corvette had aluminum heads while Pontiac used iron cast ones.
However, power and performance were similar. The WS6 package offered unmatched road holding and braking capabilities. It consisted of four disk brakes and a stiffer suspension. The WS6 also came with special wheels and performance tires.
6. Shelby Dakota
The Dakota was a compact pickup truck sold between 1987 and 1996. It was dependable, tough-looking, and came with a wide arrange of engines and trim levels. But Dodge wanted more, so in the late ’80s, the company conceived a performance version made by the legendary Carroll Shelby.
Shelby took the regular production Dakota and installed a 5.2-liter V8 engine with 175 HP. Despite the fact the power output was relatively small, the Dakota was light and had lots of torque. This meant this compact truck delivered a convincing performance. Shelby also dressed up the Dakota with special paint, trim, a rollbar, and wheels, which made this compact muscle truck stand out on the streets.
5. Pontiac Trans Am SE
The late ’70s were sad times for muscle cars. All the available models had diminutive horsepower ratings and heavy bodies that made their performance embarrassingly slow. The Firebird/Trans Am range could not escape this as well. However, Pontiac still managed to produce some memorable cars through its Special Edition models that dressed up the Trans Am and turned it into a street icon.
The main model was the Trans Am, which came with either the 4.9-liter turbo engine or 400 NA V8. However, neither of those powerplants delivered more than 220 HP during its 1977 to 1981 production run. However, the main aspect was the design with signature graphics and appearance package.
Affectionately called the “Screaming Chicken,” this was a highly stylized flaming bird logo on the hood of the car. This classic muscle car was extraordinarily modern and hip by the standards of the day.
4. Buick Century GS
After 1970, the classic muscle car segment began to decline. In just a few short years, those glorious muscle cars disappeared from the scene. Buick tried their best to deliver great performance in a luxury package. But after slow sales of their 1971 and 1972 models, they decided to kill the GSX package.
However, in 1973, they renamed their Skylark line the Century. That meant the engineers at Buick managed to sneak one more proper classic muscle car model – the Century GS. The Century GS was a Colonnade-style intermediate coupe. In fact, it was similar to those Pontiac and Oldsmobile intermediates with the characteristic front-end design. But the GS was just an appearance package that mimicked the looks 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 suspensions. This version delivered some performance, so car fans consider it the last true Buick classic muscle car.
3. Dodge Magnum
The model name, Magnum, might sound familiar since Dodge used it in a successful line of aggressive station wagons from 2005 to 2008. However, the Magnum dates as far back as 1978. The original Dodge Magnum was a luxury muscle car coupe Dodge produced for two years, in 1978 and 1979. For the time, it was a cool-looking coupe with all the right ingredients.
It had a rear-wheel drive, a long hood, a short deck, and a heart-thumping V8 in the front. Dodge added the biggest engine they could order, which was a 5.9-liter V8 with 195 HP. With its big weight, slow automatic transmission, and low power, the Magnum delivered pathetic performance numbers. Also, the high price didn’t help the sales, so Dodge discontinued the Magnum for the 1980 model year.
2. 1977 Chevrolet Camaro
Like all muscle cars in the ’70s, the Camaro was faced with tightening emissions and safety regulations. This resulted in a loss of power and performance. The early second-generation models looked promising, but just a few years after, they discontinued the Z/28. It was the most powerful V8 model with approximately 165 HP. But it was just a pale shadow of its former glory.
However, the 1977 model is important for two reasons. First, it marked the return of the Z/28 option after a few years of absence. The 1977 Z/28 had just 185 horses but came with a special body kit, wild graphics package, and spoiler. However, the second reason is much more interesting. In 1977, Chevrolet Camaro finally outsold the Ford Mustang for the first time since 1967.
The mid 70’s Mustang was a slow, ugly car while the Camaro looked much better with its proper muscle car styling and stance. That is just the reason why Chevy sold over 200,000 Camaros that year while Ford only sold 153,000 Mustangs.
1. Chevrolet Corvette C4 ZR1
Chevy introduced the C4 Corvette in 1984, so it is a true 80’s classic muscle car. Its wedge-shaped body, pop up headlights, rear hatch and bright colors make this generation a true pop culture icon. However, there is much more about this car than funny stereotypes and GTA Vice City games. In fact, the Corvette C4 was the car that singlehandedly saved the Corvette from its demise caused by the recession and a lack of popularity.
In 1984, everything changed with the arrival of the C4. The car was new from the ground up, with a new chassis, engine, and design. It also had a crazy digital dash in the interior. At first, it wasn’t perfect but over the years, Chevrolet managed to turn it into a world-class sports car. They improved the performance and road holding so it could rival those European exotics that were far more expensive.
Called the ‘King of the Hill’ Corvette, the ZR1 was exactly that. When the C4 generation of America’s favorite sports car saw the light of day in 1984, it was obvious that Chevrolet hit a home run. Under the hood, there was LT4, a Lotus-engineered V8 engine with 375 HP, later 400 HP, quad-cam heads, and 32 valves. The engine was an engineering marvel and performed exceptionally well.
With a beefed-up suspension, gearbox, and pair of extra-wide rear tires, the 1989 Corvette ZR1 could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, making it one of the fastest cars of the era and a true modern classic today. In 1990, they introduced the mighty ZR-1 with 400 HP and performance that could beat any Ferrari at the moment. Be sure to look for those perfectly-preserved ZR1 versions since they will be the first to spike in value.