In the late ’60s, Chevrolet helped racing teams through its “backdoor” programs where they developed special engines and components. In the late ’60s, the Can-Am was a popular racing series featuring prototype class cars with V8 engines. But Chevrolet wanted to purpose-build a power plant for this championship. So in 1969, they produced an all-aluminum 427 big block called the ZL-1. It was a high-revving, 7.0-liter V8 delivering up to 550 HP in mild. This monster of an engine was far more powerful than anything Mopar or Ford had in production at that time. Chevrolet produced approximately 200 of those engines. While most of them went to their Can-Am racing teams, Chevrolet also built around 12 test Corvettes with the big-block engine in late 1968.
Although the performance potential was unbelievable, Chevrolet didn’t want to offer this racing engine to the public. So they never mentioned the ZL-1 option in the press or their official brochures. However, wealthy drivers close to the factory knew about its existence and could purchase the ZL-1. That is why only two Corvette ZL-1s are known to exist, a yellow and a white one. But Chevrolet destroyed the rest because they were just pre-production prototypes. Only two went to private owners, where they have preserved them as the most valuable, interesting pieces of Corvette history. The ZL-1 model cost $4,000 over the base price of the big block Corvette C3, which was a price few people could pay. And today, the estimated value is over $1 million.
One of the rarest, most sought-after muscle cars is the Plymouth Hemi âCuda. However, the Plymouth brand no longer exists. The 1971 Barracuda, or “‘Cuda,” is the second and last generation of this model. They redesigned it for 1970, featuring a new body and interior and a lineup of powerful engines. Since the Hemi option was extremely rare, this âCuda had a 425, underrated horsepower motor that delivered a brutal performance. The convertible body style was also rare, so only seven Hemi Cuda convertibles came out in 1971.
The reason this was such a rare car was simple. Back in the day, a convertible with the most powerful engine wasn’t as desirable today. The Hemi engine was the favorite of the street racing crowd who wanted performance. So they installed this engine into the lightest body, which was a coupe. But Plymouth built this convertible for cruising, and for that, you don’t need a 425-thumping horsepower motor. This is why Plymouth only built seven of them. Since they are rare, the Hemi Cuda drop-top is one of the most expensive muscle cars ever. In fact, a mint 1971 âCuda sold for $4.1 million dollars back in 2008. Although Plymouth offered the Barracuda or âCuda until 1974, they discontinued the Hemi engine and convertible body.
27. 1969 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am 400 Ram Air Convertible
This is an interesting muscle car since it was largely forgotten for many years. In fact, not many people were aware of its existence. It all started in 1967 when Pontiac introduced the Firebird as a competitor to the Mustang and the Plymouth Barracuda. Interestingly, the Firebird and Chevy Camaro were basically the same cars. They built them on the same platform but with different engines and designs. Fast-forward to 1969 and Pontiac wanted to present a model they could homologate for Trans-Am racing. But the factory, as a part of GM, was still under the racing ban. However, some fans and private teams used many Pontiac products.
So the factory wanted to introduce a version they could easily modify for racing. That’s how the Firebird Trans Am came to be. To mask its intentions, Pontiac introduced 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. But the difference between those engines was significant since the Ram Air IV featured a lot of improved engine internals and components. However, they both had a 366 HP rating, which was an understatement. This special version with its signature white paint, blue stripes, Rally II wheels, and other equipment proved to be a tough sell. As a result, they only sold 634 Firebird Trans Am. Among those, only eight were convertibles.
26. 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 LS-6 Convertible
The Chevrolet Chevelle was a popular muscle car due to its affordable price, gorgeous design, and powerful engine. In the 1960s, customers could order the Chevelle with a 396-big block V8 engine. It was the biggest, most powerful unit rated at 325 or 375 HP. That was more than enough to be a significant player in the muscle car segment. In 1970, when they lifted the GM ban on displacement for intermediate models, the Chevelle got the biggest, most powerful engines GM had to offer. With the new design for 1970, improved mechanics, and the new big-block unit, the Chevelle was ready to conquer the drag strips. The mighty new option was the legendary 454 V8 engine. In standard trim, it had a 360 HP rating.
However, that was much lower than the true number. There was an even more powerful version called the LS-6. The LS-6 was rated as having 450 HP, yet it actually produced around 500 HP. Although the SS option was quite popular in 1970, only around 3,700 cars received the mighty 454 V8. But the LS-6 cars were even rarer. They only produced 20 convertibles, making it one of the rarest in the world.
The American Motors Company eventually folded in the mid-’80s. But AMC was always known for its selection of compact, affordable cars, interesting concepts, and dependable mechanics. In the late ’60s, AMC decided to enter the muscle car market, hoping a muscle model would excite their lineup. This was a good decision because today, people remember AMC mostly for its muscle cars. In fact, most people forget their basic, low-optioned family sedans, which were the majority of their production line. AMC presented two models, a four-seat coupe called the Javelin and a two-seat coupe called AMX. The AMX was the only American two-seater model besides the Corvette during that day. They built the AMX on a shortened Javelin chassis featuring better equipment, more powerful engines, and lots of options.
Although the Javelin and AMX enjoyed considerable success, one rare, special version was the AMX SS 390. AMC built this car in cooperation with Hurst, a famous company from the era. It featured lots of modifications and AMC’s biggest engine, the 390 V8 with 340 HP. This may not sound as powerful as some other muscle cars of the period, but the AMX SS 390 was light, compact, and brutally fast. Interestingly, they only made 52 of them. Most of those were in red, white, and blue. These speed machines went to drag strips where they beat much more powerful cars with ease.
Although the Pontiac GTO takes all the credit for being the first modern muscle car, not many people know the Oldsmobile 442 started the same year as the Pontiac. From the beginning, they marketed the Olds 442 as a “gentleman’s hot rod.” It was an elegant, well-equipped muscle car with luxury appointments and reserved styling. Yet it delivered strikingly high performance. The name, “442,” caused many controversies back in the day, the meaning was simple. It had a 400 CID engine, a four-speed manual transmission, and a dual exhaust. Customers could order it with an automatic transmission, but if they wanted to get the most out of their 442, they got the manual.
In 1966, Oldsmobile prepared an interesting special version for the 442y called the W-30. The model came with a special ram air induction system with tubes going from the front bumper to the carburetors and a hotter cam. Being a little conservative, Oldsmobile didn’t put any wild graphics or emblems on the car, so the W-30, which was significantly faster than the regular model, still looked the same. Even though the price of the W-30 package wasn’t high, people overlooked this model, so they only made 54 of them.
The Mustang exploded onto the car scene in 1964, introducing a new concept to the market in the pony car. It was a compact, sporty, and good-looking coupe with enough power for a lively performance. The concept was successful; Ford built the millionth example just a year-and-a-half after its introduction. Despite the Shelby GT350, the Mustang didn’t have a proper muscle car engine to offer to the general public. They knew they needed one that could compare to those mighty Hemis or Chevy 427s. In other words, Ford and its Mustang didn’t have much street cred. But all of that changed in 1968 when Ford introduced the new 428 Cobra Jet V8 engine. With a conservative rating of 335 HP, it was clear that the new engine could easily deliver around 400 HP. But Ford wasn’t satisfied, so they presented an even more extreme version named the Super Cobra Jet.
It was an upgraded 428 with around 450 HP with conquering a drag strip in mind. Ford planned to win the Super Stock championship in 1968, and eventually, they did as Mustangs with this engine were unstoppable that year. To homologate the Super Cobra Jet engine for track use, Ford had to build some streetcars. They built only 57 cars with these upgraded engines and approximately 2,000 with the regular Cobra Jet engine. Those 57 SCJ Mustangs were not exclusively Fastbacks. Today, all those Cobra Jets are valuable, and the Super Cobra Jets are extremely pricey.
By 1971, the end of the muscle car segment was in sight. Tightening of government regulations regarding safety and environmental issues were killing the cars’ power. It was destroying the market since power was the main selling point of muscle cars. Also, the muscle car market was full by 1970 and 1971. Never before or since that time have there been so many models to offer. The GTO Judge is one of the rarest muscle cars Pontiac ever made. The Pontiac GTO was always a popular and strong seller, but with so many competitors in the early ’70s, sales were down. So they introduced the popular Judge in 1969 and continued it for 1971.
The Judge featured a big-block 455 V8 engine, wild graphics, and a big spoiler for the 1971 model year. Since the displacement limit was raised, intermediate cars from GM could have the biggest engines available. So they gave the GTO a 455-big block V8 they rated at 335 HP. That was a modest number compared to the earlier GTOs. In 1971, Detroit moved from DIN to SAE horsepower ratings, which lowered the numbers. Because the Judge version was relatively expensive, it didn’t sell as well as before. The convertible was $4,000 over the base price, a lot of money back then. As a result, they made only 17 GTO Judge 455 convertibles that year. And that made it one of the rarest GTOs and muscle cars they ever created.
Chevrolet produced the second-generation Corvette (C2) from 1963 to 1967. It was one of the most beautiful and aggressive-looking cars of the muscle car era. In fact, the Corvette caused quite a sensation when it came out because it was modern-looking. However, Chevy replaced it with the third-generation Corvette in 1968. The Corvette C2 introduced many important things to the Corvette lineup. It offered big-block power, independent rear suspension, and disc brakes. It was also a popular and successful racing car in the hands of many private racing teams. Corvettes equipped with the L-88 engine were in a class by themselves since the aluminum head produced close to 600 HP.
Also, the L-88 had a mandatory heavy-duty suspension, brakes, and handling package. Chevy developed this option for racers. But it was expensive, almost doubling the price of the base ’67 Corvette. And that’s why it is one of the rarest, with only 20 in coupe and convertible form.
In the late ’60s, Can-Am was a popular racing series featuring prototype class cars with V8 engines. Chevrolet wanted to purpose-build a power plant for this championship, so they produced an all-aluminum 427 big block called ZL-1 in 1969. It was a high revving, 7.0-liter V8 with around 550 HP in mild tune. Chevrolet produced around 200 of those engines. While most of them went to Can-Am racing teams, they installed 69 of those ZL-1 in C.O.P.O Camaros, selling them to drag racing teams. And even though the Camaro ZL-1 looked the same as the regular 1969 Camaro on the outside, it was so fast; it was barely street legal.
Interestingly, the official 1969 Chevrolet literature doesn’t mention the ZL-1 option for the Camaro. But if you were a successful drag racer or a dealer, you knew about this expensive option. That’s why Chevy built only 69 Camaro ZL-1s.
In 1971, Mustang received another restyle that would be the final one for the first generation. Once again, the car was bigger in size and weight. Also, it featured a new sharper look with a much wider track. Unfortunately, the Boss 302 and Boss 429 versions were gone. However, the Grande and Mach I stayed, albeit with lower power ratings.
But there was one interesting model introduced in 1971 called the Boss 351. Available for only one year, the ’71 Mustang Boss 351 was one of the rarest Mustangs Ford produced because Ford made only 1,800 of them. It was powered by a highly-tuned version of the 351 V8 engine with around 330 HP. The Boss 351 was fast, good looking, and more expensive than the Mach 1 version of the same model year. Today, it is a truly high-priced collector’s item.
The Yenko family started a Chevrolet dealership in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1949. In the late â50s, when Don Yenko managed the business, the company turned to the performance car market. They started with a series of race-prepared Corvettes Don raced himself and then moved to full conversion jobs based on various Chevrolet models.
With the Camaro’s introduction in 1967, Yenko started converting it to 427 V8 power, selling them as Yenko Super Cars. In addition to more power, wild graphics, and a long list of options, Yenko even offered a factory warranty, heavily promoting his models. That’s why those Yenko Camaros were the most popular choice in a custom 427 V8 conversion on the regular SS. But they only produced those 427 Camaros for just a few years. The total production number was around 600 with just a handful left.
The GSX debuted in 1970 with an aggressive graphics package that was unusual for Buicks. Also, it was available in two bright colors, Saturn Yellow and Apollo White. The GSX came with a front and rear spoiler, functioning hood scoops, side stripes, and Rally wheels. The power output was the same at 345 HP/510 lb-ft. However, because the Buick 455 was significantly lighter than the Chevelle 454 and the Plymouth Hemi 426, the GSX was a winner in street races across America.
Despite the qualities of the GSX and numerous accolades from the motoring press, Buick built less than 700 of them. The GSX package added $1,100 over the price of a regular GS 455. So the price tag proved to be too expensive for most buyers. Although the GSX option was available in 1971 and 1972, they produced those models in even smaller numbers.
By the early â70s, Ford had numerous performance versions of the Mustang and Shelby models, but they became outdated. So their cars’ demand was not as much as before and production numbers were even smaller.
However, the 1970 Shelby GT500 was still a fabulous classic muscle car that came as coupe and convertible. Under the hood was the 428 V8 engine, which they conservatively rated at 335 HP. But it really produced more than 400 real-life horsepower. In the end, Ford only built 789 1970 models.
The GTX was a gentleman’s hot rod with all the top options including nice interior and exterior details. But it only had one optional engine choice, the mighty 426 Hemi. The 440 Magnum was the standard engine, yet if you wanted the ultimate Plymouth muscle luxury, you had to go for the Hemi. However, because it was significantly more expensive than the rest of the Mopar muscle car lineup, the GTX wasn’t popular, so it is very rare today.
In the early â70s, when all muscle cars started to lose power and torque figures, Plymouth discontinued the GTX. So in 1971, they ceased production to keep it from being a disgrace to its fire-breathing predecessors. And that’s why the â71 GTX is the last of its breed as well as a fantastic muscle car.
Ford wanted to beat Mopar in drag racing, so they needed a proper weapon for the Super Stock class. It had to be something that was compact and light but big enough to accommodate the large R Code 427 V8 engine. Ford found their solution in the Fairlane lineup of cars. In 1967, Ford debuted the specially-prepared 427 Fairlane.
It looked stock from the outside but hid lots of secrets. The main feature was the highly-tuned 427 V8 engine rated at 425 HP. It also came with lightweight body parts and a performance drivetrain. Although the Fairlane 427 proved to be successful on the track, Ford built only 57 of them. Today, it is a highly sought-after piece of muscle car history.
You may be wondering exactly what the Chevelle Z16 is. Basically, it’s a fully-loaded regular Chevelle with all the necessary options. They include a 396 V8 engine with a Muncie four-speed gearbox and a heavy-duty suspension and equipment.
Yet even some Chevy dealers weren’t aware this option existed. In fact, Chevrolet refused to market the Z16 for some reason. That made this Chevelle kind of a secret model. The Z16 was fast, but it was also expensive for a Chevrolet, so they made only 200 of them.
The Marauder was a car they imagined as a luxury coupe and had a fresh design with some interesting features. Mercury included concealed headlights and a massive front end. Also, it had a sloping rear end with concave rear glass. The Marauder was a big, heavy car intended 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.
So they introduced the Marauder X100. Behind the strange name was a regular 1969 Marauder with a 429 V8 engine with 360 HP. Also, it had bucket seats, a heavy-duty suspension and blackout rear trim, and fender skirts. The performance was respectable, but it was still a big, heavy car, so compared to some barebones smaller and lighter muscle models, it was significantly slower. The Marauder line was relatively popular, but the X100 wasn’t a best-seller. In its two years of production, Mercury made just over 8,000 of them.
As you already know, Carroll Shelby started building Mustangs in 1965 as fire-breathing machines. He brought Ford some much-needed recognition and performance credentials. The cars responsible for his racing success were those 34 “R” models Ford produced only in 1965. Ford sold them to privateers and racing teams all over America and the world. But those cars were not street legal and were purely for racing purposes, something that they did extremely well. The GT350 R underwent numerous modifications, so it was lighter, faster, and sharper than the regular GT350.
However, the R version was powered by the same 289 V8 as the regular Shelby GT350, yet it produced close to 400 HP. The car was light and well-balanced, winning races in America, Europe, and South America. Because each GT350 had so many wins under its belt, every R model is considered to be a precious piece of Mustang history.
By 1974, almost all muscle cars were extinct from the market. Those that remained lacked both power and style. However, one model managed to survive and offer as much of both as possible. That model was the 1974 Trans Am Super Duty 455. The year marked the first restyling of the whole Firebird range with a new front and rear end and improved interior and details. The SD 455 model carried over from 1973 but featured an updated suspension and brakes in a new package.
The standard 455 V8 had only 215 HP and 290 HP in SD trim, fantastic for 1974. In fact, with 290 HP, a host of performance upgrades, and a four-speed manual transmission, the 1974 Trans Am SD 455 was faster than the Corvette. This made it the fastest American production car of the period.
To fight the tightening regulations that were destroying muscle cars, Oldsmobile introduced the bright yellow Rally 350. It was smart 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 bright yellow paint was the most exciting feature, 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 very rare today.
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.
One of the rarest and most forgotten muscle cars is the Pontiac GT-37. It wasn’t 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 the vehicle to be for younger buyers with limited budgets yet a need for performance. The Roadrunner proved to be a strong seller. Soon, all 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 more 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 to 345 HP. Pontiac advertised the GT-37 as the “GTO Lite,” but the car lacked 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 put, 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.
Back in the mid-1960s, 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 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.
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, it only came with a close-ratio manual gearbox. However, they included some performance upgrades, turning the Avanti into a fast machine.
Incredibly, the R2 broke 28 world speed records by achieving top speeds of 170 mph, 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, affecting its popularity. Sadly, by 1964 they 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.
In 1971, dark clouds were on the horizon for muscle car enthusiasts. Tightening 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 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, and you could also opt for a 245 HP 350 CID V8 engine. The most powerful version was the 300 HP 402 CID V8. If you wanted a top-of-the-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 quite rare today.
Back in the late ’70s, the American performance car segment was 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. Under the hood scoop sourced from the Firebird Trans Am, a big 455 engine was 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 had to wait three months for the new equipment, but Pontiac couldn’t wait, so they canceled all orders. This killed the Can-Am, and they didn’t offer this model again until 1978.
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.
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 engine’s tight fit, 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 very rare today.