The second generation of Ford Mustang debuted in 1974 and was on the market for four years until 1978. Despite the fact it was a subject of so many jokes and bad press, the Mustang II was a fundamental model. The downsizing of the whole Mustang range, the introduction of economical four-cylinder engines, and part sharing with other Ford models helped the model survive the recession of the ’70s and the death of the muscle car movement (via Motor Trend).
The downsized and hideous 1974 model was controversial enough, but the shocking news was that there was no V8 engine available. The 2.3-liter straight-four was the base engine with a 2.8-liter V6 as an optional motor. The V8 arrived a year and a half later in 1975 with low power and compression. But at first, the Mustang II was no faster than an import economy car. This was one of the most controversial decisions in Mustang history and nearly killed the Mustang legacy.
In the late 70s, AMC tried its best to extract all that it could from the little Gremlin by constantly introducing different versions that kept the old platform alive for almost a decade. In 1977, AMC decided to turn the Gremlin into a “muscle car” and installed a 304 V8 engine with 120 HP. The ridiculously low power resulted in terrible performance. But the Gremlin GT was quite a looker with a fresh graphic package, sporty wheels, and new interior equipment (via Motorious).
Realizing that the performance was painfully slow, AMC installed a 4.2-liter inline-six engine which didn’t produce much more power. But it produced more torque, enough for some improvement. However, even this and heavy discounts by dealers didn’t help. The production was low at around 3000 copies and the GT option was discontinued for the 1978 model year.
For almost six decades, the Ford Mustang has been a sports/muscle coupe or convertible powered by gasoline engines and a rear-wheel-drive train. This is the winning formula and shouldn’t be changed. Most Mustang fans agree with that, but Ford didn’t (via Car and Driver).
For the 2021 model year, Ford introduced Mustang Mach E, a fully-electric, five-door SUV model with Mustang-inspired styling but technology straight from the Tesla Model X. To millions of Mustang fans, this was terrifying news and a precise attack on the legacy of the Mustang as a proper muscle car. Some even thought it was a joke. But it isn’t. The Mustang E configuration is up and you can reserve one now. Nobody knows how this will affect the Mustang lineup in the future.
The Chevrolet Monza was introduced in 1975 as the newest GM compact model with modern design, good equipment, and a wide arrange of versions and trim levels. The Chevy contracted an outside company called Michigan Auto Techniques to make a muscle car for 1977. Called the Monza Mirage, this one-year model was produced in a somewhat respectful 4,000 examples and featured a 305 V8 with just 145 HP. The design was quite striking with a white body, front and rear spoilers, and unique wheels (via Hip Rides).
The paint scheme was patriotic, with red, blue, and white stripes. Chevrolet realized that there was still a market for sporty variants and decided to introduce Monza Spyder for 1978, leaving Michigan Auto Techniques without the contract for 1978 and sending the Monza Mirage to the history books. Today, only a handful are known to survive. If you find one, try to buy it and restore it since it is a rare and forgotten muscle car.
This compact, front-wheel drive hatchback produced from 1980 to 1985 had a somewhat powerful V6 engine and a muscle car look. Maybe it would be best to describe this car as the fine line between the American hot hatch and late model muscle car since it features aspects of both segments (via Hemmings).
The Citation was a modern model that Chevrolet needed to fight the import models and came in a wide arrange of models. The X-11 featured a 2.8-liter V6 engine and 135 HP. Despite the fact that it doesn’t sound like much today, it was solid power for the time. The X-11 had a few more tricks up its sleeve, such as a sports-tuned suspension, sharper steering, and better brakes.
The introduction of the third generation Fox-body Mustang also had a significant influence on Mercury since the brand got its version in the form of the Capri in 1979. Since it was a Mercury product, it was more upscale than Ford. But other than a few aesthetical changes, it was identical to the Mustang (via Auto Trader).
Mercury introduced the RS model as the performance version, which featured a 2.3-liter turbocharged engine with a whopping 135 HP. The performance was expectedly bad, but the car looked cool with a large air intake on the hood, big RS badges, and a rear spoiler. Those RS models are rare today, although not very valuable or sought-after by the collectors.
In the early ’80s, Chevrolet introduced a brand-new and fully redesigned third-generation Camaro model, which featured modern styling with improved aerodynamics. The new Camaro was new inside as well, and it had better suspension and new engines. But the improvements didn’t mean performance since the base engine was a pretty anemic 2.3-liter four-cylinder with just 90 HP (via Auto Evolution).
The “Iron Duke” engine was known for its durability and later became the basis for many of GM’s four-cylinder engines. However, in the ’82 Camaro, it was a pretty embarrassing choice since the car had a 20-second 0 to 60 acceleration time. For the muscle car the Camaro has always been, this number was shameful and ridiculous. Fortunately, Chevrolet offered a V8 option so performance lovers had something to look forward to.
You are probably familiar with the original Dodge Charger Daytona from 1969, a big coupe based on Dodge Charger with a pointy nose and massive rear wing, designed for racing in NASCAR and produced in only 500 examples. Less than 10 years after the memorable Daytona, Dodge decided to use this glorious name again in a terrible case of self-reinventing (via Garage Kept Motors).
They did it this time on the Dodge Charger, which was a Chrysler Cordoba, a two-door luxury coupe with no muscle car credentials whatsoever. The move was not well-received since the Cordoba had a lame 145 HP V8 engine and was more focused on luxury than performance and driving dynamics. Fortunately, buyers punished Dodge for using the precious Daytona nameplate.
Between 1970 and 1980, the Chevrolet Corvette was the same car with 10 years between them. The design was the same, although 1980 had a more sculpted front and rear end and less chrome. The technology was the same, and the engines were the same on the outside. But in 1970, the hottest Corvette had 435 HP. In 1980, the hottest Corvette had a modest 180 HP (via Corvette Museum).
So what happened in just 10 years, and where did all those horses go? The recession, emission standards, and safety regulations appeared and killed almost all performances from the legendary Corvette. The 1980 Corvette was kind of a dinosaur with old technology under its plastic skin, lazy engines, and an outdated interior.
Very similar to the Plymouth Volare Road Runner, Aspen R/T was Dodge’s effort to present a muscle car in the period when such vehicles were almost impossible to construct and sell. However, the Dodge Aspen R/T looked like the real deal and even possessed some power to distance itself from similar attempts of other brands with disgraceful power outputs. Under the Ram Air hood of the Aspen R/T was a 360 V8 engine with 170 HP (via Hemmings).
The selling point of this car was the looks. It came fully equipped with all the bells and whistles of the late muscle car era. It’s just too bad that these cars didn’t have the power of their ancestors since they could have easily earned top spots in muscle car history. Of course, similar to the Volare, the Aspen had big problems with rust so there are just a few surviving examples today.
The Ford Thunderbird isn’t a car you would typically consider a muscle car. Still, in the ’80s, Ford introduced a couple of Thunderbirds that could have that designation. They were billed as an exciting addition to the performance car scene in those days. Although the T-bird was available with a V8 engine, the best performing version was the Turbo Coupe introduced in 1987 (via Ford Authority).
The TC received a Mustang SVO, 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with a manual transmission, 190 HP power level, and top speed of whopping 143 mph. The top speed was affected by the relative lightness of the car and the aerodynamic shape of the ninth-generation Thunderbird.
Although the Capri from the ’80s was just a Fox-body Mustang with a different grille, one particular version deserves much more attention. American Sunroof Company (ASC) was known for convertible versions of various production models in those days. They teamed with Ford to produce two-seater roadster variants of the Mustang and Capri (via ASC McLaren).
But Mercury also had a deal with McLaren. In 1984, they introduced a unique model called ASC McLaren Capri. The cars were available as coupe or convertibles with many improvements over standard models. The 5.0-liter V8 had 210 HP, which was a significant increase over other models. There were different details, fog lights, unique wheels, and body kits. The overall production was low and the ASC McLaren line was discontinued in 1986.
The model name Magnum might sound familiar since Dodge used it in a successful line of 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 (via Hemmings).
For the time, it was a cool-looking coupe with all the right ingredients. It had rear-wheel drive, a long hood, a short deck, and a thumping V8 in the front. The biggest engine Dodge could order was a 5.9-liter V8 with 195 HP. The Magnum delivered pathetic performance numbers with its considerable weight, slow automatic transmission, and low power. Also, the high price didn’t help sales. Dodge discontinued the Magnum for the 1980 model year.
Introduced in 1978, AMC Spirit AMX was an actual compact muscle car due to the fact it had an optional 304 V8 engine, rear-wheel drive, and manual transmission. AMC designed it as a performance version of the Spirit compact car (via Silodrome).
On sale for just two years, the Spirit AMX had some success due to the fact it was inexpensive and cool-looking. The AMX package included a body kit, special livery, and wide wheels. Unfortunately, AMC decided to kill the model, and the Spirit AMX did not return for the 1980 model year.
We all know Plymouth Roadrunner as one of the quintessential classic muscle cars that always had performance and power. However, for 1975, Plymouth moved the Roadrunner as an option on the Fury line (via MotorTrend).
The Fury Roadrunner had a 440 V8 option with 260 HP on paper. Despite this being a respectable number for the day’s standards, the 0 to 60 mph times were over eight seconds which is something that today’s cheapest economy cars can match. As a result, sales were pitiful.
When the Javelin AMX was discontinued, AMC was left without any muscle car in their lineup. So they quickly decided to introduce the Matador X. The Matador was redesigned for 1974 and featured a signature coupe body style. The company presented the “X” package, which could be had with 360 V8 or an optional 401 V8 with 235 HP (via Old Cars Weekly).
Regardless of the dress-up kit and big V8, the Matador X wasn’t any faster than the Javelin and the option was killed after only one year as a result.
Domestic car buyers were pretty surprised when Pontiac introduced an attractive 2+2 package for its popular luxury coupe in 1986. It was a muscle car the company had lacked since the late ’60s and an interesting version of the rather dull Grand Prix (via Hemmings).
Very similar to Monte Carlo SS Aerocoupe, the Grand Prix 2+2 used the same platform, rear glass, and rear spoiler intended for NASCAR races. Unfortunately, Pontiac didn’t provide 2+2 with exciting performance since all cars got the 305 V8 with 165 HP. On the other hand, Grand Prix 2+2 handled much better than the Aerocoupe because of its gas-filled shock and stiffer springs. Pontiac produced this model for two years, making only 1225 cars while eventually discontinuing the model.
Even though the Charger from the late ’70s was a slow car that threatened to kill the muscle car reputation of the glorious late ’60s and early ’70s cars, Dodge felt that the name deserved another chance (via Classi Cars).
In those days, the Chrysler Corporation was all about K-platform front-wheel-drive cars. Dodge introduced the Charger as an option on a compact and boring Dodge Omni in 1981. The appearance package proved somewhat popular, enough to convince Dodge to try it as a separate model for 1983. That was how the L-Body Charger was born.
Ford built this exciting car with the help of the well-known McLaren racing team. The whole idea behind the project was to take the 2.3-liter turbo engine from the regular Mustang and transform it into a street racing beast. They added a race-tuned suspension, a lightweight body, and a host of other modifications. McLaren and Ford installed a tuned turbo engine with 190 HP. That was a big number for the day, especially coming from 2.3 liters (via The Drive).
They changed the looks of the Fox Mustang, as well. The updates resulted in a performance level that was good for the standards of the day but is quite embarrassing today. The driving dynamics were excellent, but the car came with a high price tag, making it a sales failure as a result.
The mid-’70s weren’t an especially good period for Olds performance. When the new compact Starfire model was introduced, Olds engineers decided to present the performance version of this car. This model was called the Starfire GT and was an appearance package on a regular Starfire hatchback (via Motor Trend).
With unique body stripes, color, details, wheels, and stabilizer bar, the Starfire GT was more dynamic than the regular model and the closest thing Oldsmobile had to a sports or muscle car in 1976. That still wasn’t enough to make it rank anywhere near the best muscle cars.
The second-generation F-Body Firebird was introduced in 1970, and by the late ’70s, was one of the dominant cars in the segment. Unfortunately, the days of big cube motors and high horsepower ratings were gone, so Pontiac decided to invest in new technology to generate power. That new technology was turbocharging, and in late 1979, it introduced the Trans Am Turbo (via Driving Line).
The engine in question was a 301 V8 with a Garrett turbocharger bolted onto it. The power output was relatively modest at 200 to 210 HP, but the torque number was high at 340 lb.-ft, which resulted in a hint of performance. However, it was miles away from the big-block performance Firebird fans had come to expect from the model.
The 1977 Z/28 Camaro was an essential model for the breed. It marked the return of the Z/28 package and a slight power increase over standard models. The 350 V8 delivered 170 HP, which was respectable in 1977 (via Hemmings).
Of course, the performance was just a shadow of what Camaro was capable of just several years before. But it was the best you could get in the late ’70s. Also, the 1977 Camaro Z/28 will be remembered as a cool-looking car despite its lack of real Camaro performance.
The glorious big-block El Caminos of the late ’60s were long gone in the ’80s. When Chevrolet introduced the SS option on this pickup in 1986, it included a 305 V8 with 150 HP (via GM Heritage Center).
As you expected, this wasn’t a performer as the name and legacy suggested, but only a dressed-up regular El Camino. Production on this model ended in 1987 and the SS option was soon forgotten.
The first year for the modern GTO was 2004. The car met universal praises from buyers and car press. Its design wasn’t exactly new or aggressive, but the new GTO had the muscle car form and street presence. Under the hood was an LS1 5.7-liter V8 with 350 HP. It had enough performance to be one of the hottest American cars for the 2004 model year. The target sales figure was 18,000 and Pontiac sold almost 14,000, which showed that buyers weren’t impressed (via Edmunds).
The 2005 model year saw the introduction of the 400 HP 6.2-liter engine. It had even better performance (0 to 60 mph time of just 4.6 seconds). Sales started to decline and by 2006, the final model year, the GTO was being blamed for singlehandedly causing the downfall of Pontiac as a brand.