The ZL1 package was one of the best-kept secrets in the late â60s muscle car world. In fact, not many people even knew about the existence of this car. And that is why they only made two. Chevrolet made around 12 test Corvettes with the high revving ZL-1 427 HP all-aluminum engine in 1969.
The performance potential was unbelievable, so Chevrolet didn’t want to offer this wild racing engine to the public. And for that reason, they never mentioned the ZL-1 option in the press or in their official brochures. However, those wealthy individuals close to the factory knew about its existence so they could purchase the ZL-1.
In 1968, Ford introduced the 428 Cobra Jet engine, so Carroll Shelby was about to use it in his line of Mustangs. Shelby wanted to do something special, and the result was the GT 500 KR. “KR” stands for King of the Road. They rated the 428 Cobra Jet at 335 HP.
But everybody knew that the engine delivered more than 400 HP and 400 lb-ft of torque. Production was highly limited. Also, they loaded the GT500 KR with lots of special interior trimmings and luxuries. Unfortunately, they only produced the GT 500 KR for the 1968 model year, dropping the version for 1969.
The original Charger Super Bee was a one-year-only model for 1971, which was an entry-level muscle car. It sold at lower prices but came with updated equipment, wild graphics, and a 440 engine as standard. And all that made the Super Bee popular with people looking for a classic performance machine in vivid colors with a tire-shredding performance.
The base 440 delivered 370 HP and in the Six Pack option, it was capable of 385 HP. The Hemi was the only engine option, but rare because only 22 cars received that engine.
What exactly is the Chevelle Z16? Basically, it’s a fully loaded regular Chevelle with all the go-fast options. They added a 396 V8 engine with a Muncie four-speed gearbox and a heavy-duty suspension and other equipment. Some dealers weren’t aware this option even existed since Chevrolet refused to market the Z16 for some reason.
All of that made this Chevelle a secret model. The Z16 was fast but it was also expensive for a Chevrolet. That is why they made only 200 of them. They offered the car for the 1965 model year only. In fact, most Chevy dealers didn’t even know Chevy built it.
The modest success of the 1969 AMC SC/Rambler encouraged the company to produce another special, one-year-only muscle car in the form of the Rebel Machine. AMC presented the Machine in 1970 with the same mechanics, but with more power at 345 HP and performance-oriented options.
It had a cool name, patriotic color scheme, and a Ram Air induction hood. Also, it had a 0 to 60 acceleration time of fewer than six seconds, which made it a reasonable choice for any street racer.
The AAR âCuda was a limited production model Plymouth built to commemorate Dan Gurney’s All American Racing team, which used âCudas in the Trans-Am championship. It came with a 340 V8 small block and a special plastic hood in matte black paint with a hood scoop.
Plymouth added a rear spoiler and interesting side graphics, which included a big AAR logo. This version was somewhat more expensive than the regular 340 âCuda and that’s why they offered 2,724 of them.
In the late â60s, Dodge was desperate to go racing at NASCAR, so the Charger was the perfect candidate. However, since NASCAR cars already approached high speeds of almost 200 mph on newly-constructed superspeedway tracks, aerodynamics played a key role in the car’s performance and results.
So Dodge decided to go all out and create a racing car with a special front end, flush rear glass, and a big rear spoiler. The Charger Daytona was one of the first cars they developed in a wind tunnel, using new materials in construction. The Charger Daytona was a one-year-only model for 1969 and they only produced 504 of them.
Since the muscle car segment exploded in 1970 with big block power, some manufacturers offered smaller, nimbler alternatives to the 427, 455, and 454 engines. And one of those forgotten, obscure models was the Oldsmobile W31. You may know about the Olds Rally 350 they made just for 1970, but this W31 was its twin car with less “in-your-face” styling.
Also, it got similar power from its high-revving 350 V8. The car featured lots of “go fast” options, too. However, 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.
Although you can buy a Corvette Stingray with the Z06 package today, they presented this model in 1963 as a special-order version. But Chevrolet didn’t use that nameplate for decades. The 1963 Stingray Z06 was a one-year model with several distinct features, making it highly sought-after today.
They built the Stingray Z06 with racing in mind. It came with a special suspension, more powerful engines, less weight and a big 36-gallon fuel tank for endurance racing. So, if you wanted to race a new Corvette in 1963, this was a perfect choice.
In 1971, the Mustang received another thorough restyle that would be the final one for the first generation. Again, the car grew in size and weight and featured a new sharper look with a much wider track. Unfortunately, the Boss 302 and Boss 429 versions were gone, but the Grande and Mach I stayed, albeit with lower power ratings. However, there was one interesting model Ford introduced in 1971, and that was the Boss 351.
Because they made it for one year only, the ’71 Mustang Boss 351 was one of the rarest Mustangs Ford produced at only 1,800. It was powered by a highly tuned version of the 351 V8 engine delivering around 330 HP. It was fast, good looking and more expensive than the Mach 1 version of the same model year. And today, it is a true collector’s item.
The Camaro ZL-1 was the same as the regular 1969 Camaro on the outside, but it was so fast, it was barely street legal. 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 know about this expensive option. That is why they only built 69 Camaros ZL-1s.
The secret of the Camaro ZL-1 was its engine. 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 ZL-1 in those C.O.P.O Camaros they sold to drag racing teams.
Ford produced the Mustang Cobra for one year only, in 1993. Importantly, it marked the end of the Fox-body Mustang generation. Under the hood was an SVT-prepared 5.0-liter HO engine with trick GT40 heads and various other upgrades. The 0 to 60 mph time was well under six seconds.
Also, the 1993 Cobra handled perfectly thanks to its revised suspension. And although it looks like just another Fox-body Mustang, the 1993 Cobra is a rare muscle car. In fact, Ford only built 4,993 of them. Best yet, it was capable of outrunning its famous counterparts from the ’60s.
In 1969, Pontiac wanted to present a model they could homologate for Trans Am racing. However, as a part of GM, the factory was still under the racing ban. So, 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 and the Ram Air III or IV intake system.
However, this special version with its signature white paint, blue stripes and Rally II wheels proved to be a tough sell, so they only sold 634 Firebird Trans Ams. And among those, only eight were convertibles. As you probably know, the Trans Am later became a full-fledged member of the Firebird range. But for the first generation of this legendary muscle car, the Trans Am was a one-year-only model.
The 1969 Barracuda featured a classic body style before the Plymouth E-Body muscle car got a thorough restyle for the 1970 model year. But the biggest news was the new 440 model with the biggest engine they ever installed under the hood of a car in that segment. The Barracuda 440 was a one-year-only model with 375 HP and a massive 480 lb-ft of torque.
Although that made it pretty fast, it was hard to launch due to too much wheel spin. Due to the tight fit of the engine, there wasn’t space for the power steering pump. And that means you had to use your muscles to turn this compact, overly powerful car. Plymouth only made a handful of these models, which makes them highly desirable today.
Introduced in 1970, the special limited edition 300 Hurst was a special model they based on the new full-size Chrysler platform. They built it in limited numbers, at around 500, with the help of the famous transmission company, Hurst. It featured a special white and gold paint job, a similarly styled interior and a rear spoiler integrated into the rear deck lid.
Under the hood, there was a mighty 440 V8 engine with 395 HP that could propel the two-ton beast to quite respectful acceleration times. However, they only offered this model for one year only and soon people forgot it. However, those true Mopar aficionados will always remember those gold and white behemoths.
In contrast to some models from this list, they produced for 12 months or so, they only built the Torino Talladega for a couple of weeks in early 1969. But this car was Ford’s answer to the Dodge Daytona as well as Mopar’s effort to win in NASCAR.
The idea behind the Talladega, which they named after the NASCAR track, was to take a standard Torino and give it a unique front end. Next, they added a few slippery details and homologated it for the superspeedway. Ford built a total of 754 Talladega in such a short time, using many of them for racing.
They produced this cool-looking, rare AMC in cooperation with the transmission manufacturer Hurst. Basically, it was a budget Rambler, but with a powerful 390 engine and lots of “go fast” options from Hurst.
Since it was light and small, it was fast. Also, it was eye-catching because it only came in a red, white and blue color scheme. AMC made only around 1,500 of these great cars back in 1969.
In 1989, Pontiac was celebrating the 20th anniversary of its favorite muscle car – the Trans Am. What was a better way than to introduce a very limited run of 1500 cars to commemorate the occasion? But, the anniversary editions have to have a twist and not to be just another decal and paint job, Pontiac decided to install Buick’s 3.8-liter turbo V6 from the GNX and create the fastest Trans Am of the decade.
The white commemorative edition could accelerate 0.1 seconds faster from 0 to 60 mph than the GNX, at 4.6 seconds. The reason was pretty simple, better weight distribution and gearing from the Pontiac gearbox.
Steve Saleen was called Carroll Shelby of the ’80s due to his connection with the Ford Mustang, racing success, and a string of tuned Mustangs released to buyers. In 1993, he presented one of the best Fox-body cars in the Saleen Mustang SC form.
The 5.0-liter V8 was given a supercharger and delivered mighty 325 HP. Of course, Saleen Mustang SC was equipped with bigger brakes, beefed-up transmission, new suspension, unique wheels, and rubber along with characteristic body kit and exterior trim.
Back in the late ’70s, the American performance car segment was just a pale shadow of its former glory. But, in 1977, Pontiac introduced the Can Am, the one-year-only model that was the last true muscle car with big block power and as much power it could produce packed in a unique body style and white color.
Under the hood scoop from the Firebird Trans Am, there was a big 455 engine with 200 hp, more than any other muscle car on the market at the moment. The Can Am package consisted of special rear window louvers, a rear spoiler, and a long list of special optional extras. The car was introduced early in 1977, and the market responded very well, Pontiac received between 5,000 and 10,000 reservations, but in the end, it only sold 1377 examples.
This one is an exciting early AMC muscle car that was born by chance. Squeezing a 327 V8 engine from Nash Ambassador into a small, compact, and light Rambler body created one seriously fast yet unassuming muscle machine.
The 327 V8 delivered 255 HP, which wasn’t that much, but it was enough for 0 to 60 mph time of just 7 seconds in compact Rambler’s body. To make things even more interesting, only the expensive fuel-injected Chevrolet Corvette could beat the small Rambler in 1957. However, the powerful engine option raised the price of an affordable Rambler. There were just a few buyers ready to pay extra for the privilege of outrunning anything else on the road, so only 1500 were made.
Ford’s Special Vehicle Team (SVT) department was responsible for some of the fastest muscle cars of the last 25 years, and in 1995, they presented another Cobra R. This time, it was produced in 250 examples and sold only to the individuals with a racing license or private teams.
Under the hood was a tuned 5.8-liter V8 engine, which delivered 300 hp and 356 lb-ft of torque. Even though this kind of power is not pretty impressive today, it was a significant number for 1995, and since the Cobra R was a fairly light car, the performance was outstanding. The 0 to 60 mph time took 5.2 seconds, which made it the fastest accelerating American production model at the time. The Cobra R was available only in white, and this model was just the start of the SVT division, turning ordinary Mustangs into land rockets.
This special version was one of the most famous and is sought after by Mustang collectors. The California Special was introduced in 1968 as a special model for dealers in California to boost sales of the Mustang in that state. Ford decided to make the California Special a more upscale model and invested a lot into this version.
First, the CS could be had only with V8 engines, and the equipment level was pretty high. Second, the California Special featured a totally different rear end, which was Carroll Shelby’s work with rear deck spoiler Cougar tail lights and CS badges. Third, all CS had a vinyl roof, side decals, and fake side scoops. Despite the fact that California Special sold in 4,325 examples, it failed to meet the sales goal. In fact, at the end of the 1968 model year, lots of CS models were still on the dealer’s lots unsold. The California dealers had a problem and contacted Ford dealers from Colorado with the request to take over those unsold cars. This is how the ’68 High Country Special Mustang model was born, and 251 ex California Specials became the Colorado cars.
Based on a regular economy car called Hornet, but equipped with better suspension, sharper steering, graphics package and a 360 V8, this hot Hornet was turned from an ordinary compact into a proper muscle car. The power was not that big at 245 HP, but those horses could really make the Hornet fly in a lightweight body. The rest of the muscle cars offerings in 1971 all had problems with big size and weight as well as engines that didn’t make power anymore, but the Hornet 360 was one of the fastest cars on sale.
Unfortunately, buyers didn’t understand the forward-thinking of AMC, and less than 800 Hornets were sold in 1971, making them pretty rare and totally obscure muscle cars. In an era when bigger was always better, the Hornet 360 was unusual for its compact size and strong engine, and people failed to realize how genial was the idea behind it.
In 1984, Mustang celebrated its 20th birthday, and Ford introduced a special edition called GT350. The car was available as a coupe or a convertible with all engines but with several unique features, a new white color and stripes identical to those on `65/66 Shelby GT350. The production was limited to only 5,260 copies, which were sold fast.
However, this car proved to be problematic for Ford since immediately after its release, Carroll Shelby, the man behind the legendary Shelby Mustangs, sued Ford for unauthorized use of the “GT350” name. Apparently, the matter was settled out of the court, and Ford didn’t use the GT350 name until the 2015 model year.
The famous AMC Rebel Machine was discontinued for 1971, but the package lived on Matador coupe. However, there was no signature red-white-and-blue color scheme, and the Machine package included steel wheels with performance rubber, heavy-duty suspension, dual exhaust, and 360 or 401 V8 engine with up to 330 HP.
Technically, you could order a Machine package for a station wagon, too but there are no records of somebody did that. The Matador Machine was a very rare car with 50 examples known to be produced.
The early 2000s saw the fourth-generation Mustang redesign and the introduction of some incredibly exciting and powerful versions. One of those is the Mach I, which featured a retro-inspired graphics package, new colors, and upgraded engine and exhaust. Clearly, the Mach I from 2003 was a loving homage to the fire breathing Mach I from the late ’60s and early ’70s.
The 4.6-liter V8 engine was tuned to deliver 305 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque, which was sent to rear wheels over a six-speed manual gearbox. The 0 to 60 time was pretty swift at 5.6 seconds, and the coolest details were those gorgeous retro-inspired five-spoke wheels. The ’03 Mach I was a one-year model produced from 2003 to 2004, and the total production number was exactly 6500 cars, which makes it a collector’s item and quite possibly a very valuable Mustang in the future.
By 1974, almost all muscle cars were extinct from the market, and those who were left were robbed of their power and style. However, there was one model that managed to survive and to offer as much performance and power as possible, and that model was the ’74 Trans Am Super Duty 455.
The year 1974 marked the first restyling of the whole Firebird range, and with new front and the rear end came the improved interior and details. The SD 455 model was carried over from 1973. It featured better suspension and brakes in the new package. The standard 455 V8 had only 215 HP, but it developed 290 HP in SD trim, which was fantastic for 1974. These one-year wonders are the rare muscle cars made for only one model year. So if you can find one of these rare gems, consider yourself lucky. Not many people have the pleasure of owning or driving these cars nowadays.