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.