The ’80s are generally considered the dark ages of muscle cars and American performance, but there were a few bright moments. One of the cars that restored faith in muscle car movement in the ’80s was the mighty Buick GNX. The story of this model is an interesting one. Back in 1982, Buick started experimenting with turbocharging its line of standard V6 engines.
The results were satisfying, so engineers got permission to go further and develop a performance version that would deliver better acceleration figures. Soon, there was the Buick Grand National with a 175 HP motor, which wasn’t impressive, but it was a start. In the next couple of years, the Grand National got a bigger engine and more power, jumping from 175 HP to 200 HP, and finally to 235 HP.
With those numbers came the acceleration times of under six seconds, making the Grand Nationals quick cars. But in 1987 came the ultimate version Buick called the Grand National Experimental (GNX). It featured the same 3.8-liter turbocharged V6, but with a 275 HP engine with a 0 to 60 mph time of 4.9 seconds. The Buick GNX was the fastest accelerating production model in the world.
With a price tag of $29,000, it was expensive. But, there is a widespread legend about the owners who paid the lease on these cars, just by street racing them for money. Unfortunately, the Buick GNX was a one-year-only model and the company made just 547 of them. Today, those cars are equally praised as they were in the late 80’s.
1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda Convertible
One of the rarest and most sought-after muscle cars is the Plymouth Hemi Cuda. This model combines several desired options for any muscle car lover. The car is a Plymouth, a brand which no longer exists. They were known for several highly respected muscle cars, like the Roadrunner, the GTX and the Barracuda.
The ’71 Barracuda, or Cuda, is the second and last generation of this model. Plymouth totally redesigned it for 1970. It featured a new body, interior, and a lineup of powerful engines. The Hemi option was extremely rare. This meant this Cuda had a 425 underrated horsepower engine delivering brutal performance.
The convertible body style was also rare because they made only seven Hemi Cuda convertibles in 1971. The reason that this was such a rare car was simple. Back in the day, a convertible with the most powerful engine option wasn’t as desirable as it is 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 is a coupe.
They built this convertible cruising, so you don’t need a 425 thumping horsepower motor under your right foot. That is why Plymouth only built seven of them. However, since they are so rare, the Hemi Cuda droptop is also one of the most expensive muscle cars they ever made. A mint 1971 example sold for 4.1 million dollars back in 2008.
Police Muscle Cars
Today’s law enforcement agencies use various vehicles in their patrol cars. But back in the days of original muscle cars, police cruisers were big, slow sedans. Detroit was producing fast cars capable of achieving high speeds and outrunning the police, but cops still used large, heavy four-door cars.
But, in 1971, Alabama State Troopers saw the need for fast and capable patrol cars to chase suspects. They also needed to equip these cars with regular police components, but still have enough space for two officers and their gear. After a short search, the choice was made to purchase the AMC Javelin AMX with a 401 V8 engine and 335 HP.
If you are not familiar with this model, here’s just a short history lesson: American Motors Company (AMC) was an independent car manufacturer that closed its doors in 1987. It produced mostly economy cars, as well as a couple of muscle car models, with the Javelin being their most popular offering. The Alabama State Troopers chose this car since it was one of the most affordable available at the time. They ended up buying 133 models, which served during the ’70s.
This was the first time an official police force used a true muscle car. As many retired officers will testify, the Javelins proved to be the best choice and veterans of many highway chases.
Last Boss – Ford Mustang Boss 351
In 1971, Mustang received another thorough restyle which would be the final one for the first generation. The car grew in size and weight again 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 introduced in 1971. It was the Boss 351.
Made 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 with around 330 HP. It was fast, good looking and more expensive than the Mach 1 version of the same model year. Today, it is a true collector’s item.
Also, this was one of the quickest muscle cars of the period and one of the quickest classic Mustangs ever. The powerful 351 V8 managed to launch the Boss 351 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds, which is fast for an analog muscle car from the early ’70s.
Same Engine, Different HP Ratings
During the muscle car heyday, many manufacturers hid the real HP rating for insurance purposes or falsely advertised power of their cars. Back in the late ’60s, GM had a rule that forbade the manufacturers to produce cars with more than one HP for every 10 pounds of a car’s weight. This rule was aimed at stopping manufacturers from producing insanely overpowered models. All GM products and brands had to follow this. The only exception was the Corvette.
In 1968, Pontiac introduced the new Firebird with a 400 V8 engine producing 320 HP. Immediately after the introduction, car fans were publicly asking the factory why this new 400 V8 engine in the Firebird was rated at 320 HP, while the same 400 V8 engine in the GTO was 366 HP. Pontiac didn’t reply and soon the answer came from the insiders from the factory. The new Firebird 400 weighed 3,300 pounds.
So, to make it eligible under the GM one HP per 10 pounds rule, Pontiac had to rate the 400 V8 engine at 320 HP. Pontiac knew car fans would see through this stunt and the dealers would explain how the new Firebird 400 was significantly more powerful than stated. However, they needed to do it in order to sell the new model to the general public.
Shelby GT350 Convertible
Many muscle car enthusiasts will tell you the first model year for the Shelby Mustang convertible was 1968, but this is only partially true. In 1968 Shelby offered convertible versions for sale to the public as a regular production option. But the first convertibles Carroll built himself were produced in 1966 as a secret project.
They introduced the Shelby GT350 in 1965 as a race-ready version of the Ford Mustang. It soon proved itself on race tracks all over the world. By 1966, the GT350 was a global success. Ford praised Shelby for giving them a race car that could beat the Corvette and Europe’s finest sports cars.
For 1966, they offered the GT350 with more street friendly equipment, an automatic gearbox and color choices. This affected its popularity and helped sell more cars. However, there was still no regular convertible option. But, at the end of the 1966 model year, Carroll Shelby decided to produce a limited, secret run of six GT350 convertibles to give to family and friends.
This was a commemorative edition to celebrate the success of the GT350, as well as a prototype for the potential production of convertibles. Each car received full options like A/C and roll bars. They also painted each car in a different color with signature white racing stripes.
For years, mainstream muscle car enthusiasts were unaware of the ’66 GT350 convertible. This was because GT owners kept them in private collections, rarely showing them in public. Today, four are known to exist and two more are still to be found.
Just One of Two Produced
They presented the Coronet nameplate in 1955 on full-size cars as the highest trim level. But in the mid-60s, it moved to the mid-size segment, becoming Dodge’s most successful product. Coronets were attractive intermediate cars for family buyers that came with a large selection of engines and trim levels.
So Dodge offered the famous R/T trim package on two-door coupes and convertibles, too. This meant those more ambitious buyers could get a 440 V8 or the famous 426 Hemi engine in their Coronets. The Coronet R/T was Dodge’s answer to the Pontiac GTO, Chevrolet Chevelle and the intermediate performance cars. But the car most fans remember is the super rare ’67 Coronet R/T Convertible with a Hemi engine.
They only built two of those cars, which makes this Coronet the ultimate collector’s item. The Coronet R/T buyers in those days opted for the more reliable and almost equally fast 440 Magnum engine and closed body styles. Whoever bought that plush Hemi convertible must have been looking for a powerful cruiser with a lot of options. They never intended this car to be a stoplight terror, but more as a summer night’s express.
Back in the glory days of muscle car culture, the Detroit engineers used public roads to do final testing and adjustment. This meant that any given night you could see several pre-production muscle cars rumbling along the streets looking for a drag racing opportunity to prove its worth.
The famous Woodward Avenue in Detroit was not the only place where you could show your new, shiny set of wheels, though. It was also a place where engineers tested their cars and compared them in real life races.
Callaway Corvette 1000 HP
Rives Callaway established Callaway Cars in 1977, long after the muscle car craze had wound down. So, high horsepower performance machines were just a thing of past. He specialized in producing turbocharger kits for installation mainly in European cars. In the late ’80s, he was already a well-known name in the car industry.
Callaway concentrated on building his own creations on the bases of regular models. And at the moment, the hottest U.S. car was the Corvette C4, which delivered 245 HP. That may not seem like much, but in those days it was a respectable number. So Callaway developed a twin turbo kit for the venerable Chevrolet V8.
And at the end, the car produced a whopping 345 HP, which was an increase of 100 HP over stock. Chevrolet was so impressed by the result that it included the Callaway conversion as a regular production order. That meant customers could order the Callaway Corvette C4 from all dealerships.
But to show the real potential of twin turbo C4, Callaway produced the legendary Sledgehammer Corvette. It was a highly modified, heavily turbocharged 1988 Corvette that produced 898 HP and could go over 250 mph.
As you probably know, all muscle cars they produced in America were left-hand drive models. Although some muscle cars like the Mustang were available for sale in England and Australia, they only sold them as LHD cars. So, no manufacturer offered conversions to suit the local laws.
However, in their quest to sell more cars, AMC offered its Javelin pony car in a right-hand configuration for sale in England and most importantly, Australia. And some cars even went to Japan. As far as most car experts know, this is the only factory made RHD muscle car.
Shelby 1969/70 VIN Numbers
Although Ford offered the Shelby GT 350 and GT 500 in 1970, the truth was, they built those cars in 1969, selling the leftovers a year later. Ford decided to change the VIN numbers to 1970 codes for those models. However, it proved to be much more difficult than anybody expected.
In fact, the U.S. Government sent FBI agents to make the change. The problem was that changing VIN numbers is a federal offense. So, to do it right, a federal agent had to make the changes. So, if you own a 1970 Shelby, it was approved by the FBI early in its life.
Ford Mustang Tunnel Port 302 Engine
One of the most mythical engines in Mustang history was the ill-fated 1968 Tunnel Port 302 V8. The engine was one step from entering full production, but the top brass at Ford was concerned about the cost and reliability. So, they stopped it before it could hit the streets. The 302 Tunnel Port was a short block V8 with 5.0-liters of displacement and over 400 HP on tap.
The secret was the design of the engine heads that allowed for perfect breathing; thus, high horsepower and torque ratings. And the Tunnel Port V8 could rev up to 8,500 rpm. Those numbers were unheard of in 1968. Although it proved successful in racing, Ford never sold it to the public. So, the Tunnel Port 302 remained a legend among Mustang fans.
Smokey Yunick’s Chevelle
If you haven’t heard about Smokey Yunick, you should, because he is one of the most colorful characters in American racing history. In fact, Yunick was a highly interesting engineer and race car builder. However, he was a grand cheater when it comes to racing propositions. And his attempt to trick NASCAR officials is the stuff of legends.
However, one of the best moments was when he presented his specially prepared Chevelle for 1967 season. He built the car according to NASCAR specifications and everything looked correct. But then somebody parked a stock 1967 Chevelle next to Smokey’s car and the officials noticed that Yunick’s racing car was considerably smaller.
In fact, he built a 7/8th scale replica of a standard car that looked exactly the same as the Chevelle. But, it was narrower, shorter and much lighter, which would give him an unfair advantage on the track. Needless to say, they banned the car, but the legend survived.
21. Oldsmobile 442 Name
Despite the fact that Pontiac GTO takes all the credit as being the first modern muscle car, not a lot of people know that Oldsmobile 442 started the same year as the Pontiac. However, Oldsmobile was much more discrete about advertising a new model, basically, just an option on the Cutlass line. From the beginning, the 442 was marketed as “gentleman`s hot rod” an elegant, well-equipped muscle car with luxury appointments, reserved styling and brutal performance.
The name 442 caused a lot of controversies back in the day but the meaning was pretty simple – 4 barrel carburetor, 4 on the floor and dual exhaust. Of course, you could order it with automatic but if you wanted the most out your 442, you would take the manual.
32. Shelby Lil Red
After almost 50 years or searching, in early 2018 the famous Shelby Lil Red was found in Texas. Known to only a handful of car enthusiasts, the Lil Red was the long lost Shelby prototype and a missing piece of the Shelby puzzle.
So what makes this old Mustang so important? Well, it was a special 1967 notchback model, loaned to Shelby American and fitted with numerous experimental parts and a supercharged 428 engine. The car was used for development of the famous California Special package. However, in late `60s the car was gone and everybody thought that it was destroyed. Until this year.
23. Banshee I
The Banshee I was the first in a long line of Pontiac concept cars that had a strong influence on production models. The first one to emerge in 1964 was extremely advanced with compact dimensions, a lightweight body and a powerful engine. Pontiac conceived it as a “Mustang killer,” but GM was afraid that a sports coupe from Pontiac could affect Corvette sales and they cancelled the project.
24. Baldwin Motion Written Guarantee
Established in 1967 when Baldwin Chevrolet dealership teamed up with Joel Rosen`s Motion Performance, the dealership soon became the place for all your performance needs.
In contrast to other performance dealerships and tuning houses, Baldwin-Motion did very precise tuning of their cars and put out written guarantees that the tuned car will perform in a certain way. For example, their top of the line Phase III 427 V8 Camaro conversion had 500 HP and 10-second quarter mile times guaranteed or your money back. It has been recorded that no owner came back and requested their money back.
25. 1975 Cuda Concept
As you already know, the Barracuda was discontinued in late 1974 and no 1975 model was ever produced. But, did you know that Chrysler was very close to present the 1975 Cuda and move it up in the sports car segment?
They envisioned the 1975 model as a proper sports car with 2+2 seating configuration. It would have a sharp and aerodynamic front end, low roofline and silhouette. There were two prototypes, one with a pop up and one with exposed headlights. However, despite the car’s cool looks, Chrysler decided to kill the idea and sent the Barracuda to the history books.
26. Shelby Europa
When Shelby introduced its line of powerful Mustangs, European enthusiasts took notice and soon the cars were popular on the continent as well as in the States. One of the first Shelby dealers was Belgian racing driver Claude Dubois. After the Shelby production stopped in 1970, Dubois approached Carroll Shelby and asked him for the rights to produce a special line of European spec 1971/72 Mustangs under the Shelby name.
In two years, only about 14 cars were made which makes Shelby Europe an incredibly rare muscle car. Most of them got 351 V8 engines and some received the 429 Cobra Jet.
27. Moonshiners and Muscle Cars
Even though moonshining business was no longer popular in rural America by the time the muscle car era started, the remaining booze smugglers were devoted muscle car customers. However, since loud and obnoxious coupes and convertibles would have been too obvious, illegal alcohol runners used sedans, wagons or even pickups fitted with latest muscle motors, transmissions or suspensions. You’re probably thinking who in the world would buy a 426 Hemi Coronet Sedan? Well, somebody who wanted to keep low key but still needed almost 500 horsepower for a quick getaway.
28. Magnum 500 Wheels
One of the most popular wheel choices in muscle car era were beautiful Magnum 500 wheels introduced in late 1963. First available as 14 inch, they later became available as 16 inch since the dimensions of the wheels grew. The Magnum 500 was arather common factory option on almost all models of muscle cars and Ford, GM and Mopar all used them on their cars.
Interestingly, only one company refused to install them on their muscle cars. No Pontiac was ever delivered with Magnum 500, but with their own version called Rally II wheels.
29. Mopar`s Pistol Grip Shifter
When Mopar presented muscle models for 1970, they introduced numerous improvements, new designs and interior features. One of the most interesting and popular was the Pistol Grip Shifter. In reality, it was just a shifter knob designed like a grip of a revolver which became immensely popular with the buyers. Even today, this is a common aftermarket accessory.
30. Dodge Dart GSS
The main Mopar`s performance hub was in Chicago at Mr. Norm Grand Spaulding Dodge dealership. Owned by Norm Kraus, it was the place where you could order your muscle Dodge or Plymouth and tune it for extra performance. However, Mr. Norm wanted more.
Mr. Norm wanted a 383 V8 engine in a compact Dodge Dart body since he knew that it would sell because Dart was a lightweight car and with a potent 383, it would really be fast. However, he was told by Dodge engineering team that a 383 V8 wouldn’t fit the small Dart engine bay.So, he ordered a brand new Dart and a crate 383 V8 engine, and in a few days’ time a Dodge Dart GSS (Grand Spaulding Special) was born. It was the only muscle car built by an outside company which was covered by factory warranty.
31. Ford T5
If you are not a devoted Mustang fan then Ford T5 means nothing to you. However, if you know the history of Ford`s pony car, you will recognize a special German version of the Mustang. When the Mustang was introduced in Europe it was as popular as it was in the States. However, selling them on German market proved difficult since a small bicycle company owned rights to the Mustang name.
Ford decided to simply rename the Mustang as Ford T5 and sell the cars as such on the German market. Over 10,000 of T5 Mustangs were produced until 1973.
32. Guldstrand GS-90
Dick Guldstrand was a household name to all Corvette fans as one of the best known Corvette racers and tuners. In the early `90s, Chevrolet introduced the mighty ZR1 Vette, but Guldstrand felt it wasn’t enough. So, his shop presented the Guldstrand GS 90 with 475 HP and a host of other upgrades. The GS 90 production was very limited with some sources stating that only about 25 cars were made. However, they are easily recognizable due to custom bodywork and paintjob.
33. Dodge Lil Red Express
In the late `70s, a Dodge Ram truck was faster than a stock Corvette?! The secret of the Lil` Express Truck and its importance was in strict rules of the late ’70s which robbed the V8 engines of its power and vehicles of its performance.
But Dodge found an interesting loophole in regulations which declared that pickup trucks didn`t need catalytic converters. This meant that Dodge could install a more powerful engine and have it breathe easier and deliver more punch than previous models or competitors. And this is how the Lil` Express Truck came to be.
Dodge took the standard D Series short bed truck, added a 360 V8 engine and put big truck-like stacked exhaust pipes right behind the doors. They also installed durable automatic transmission, a red color scheme with signature decals and details and lots of chrome trim. This wild looking special model had 225 hp which was considered much in those days and thanks to revised drivetrain it was the fastest accelerating domestic vehicle in 1978! Just as a reminder, the Dodge pickup truck was faster than all Mustangs, Camaros, and Corvettes in 1978.
34. Sox and Martin Drag Race Cuda
Despite the fact that this Cuda wasn’t an official Plymouth product it was one of the most legendary and best known muscle cars of its day. The Sox & Martin was one of the most successful drag racing teams of the late `60s and early `70s and their favorite weapon was red white and blue Cuda with specially prepared Hemi engine.
The Cuda was thoroughly changed over the standard model but the basic layout was the same. The Hemi engine was fed by two Holly four barrel carburetors along with special ignition system and experimental camshaft. The car won 17 major drag events in 1970 alone proving that it is the fastest Hemi stock car in the world.
35. Shelby de Mexico
If you thought that Shelby Europa is the only foreign Shelby outfit, you are wrong. In 1967, Shelby de Mexico operation started, first as a performance dealer which sold Shelby aftermarket parts but then as a full-fledged car builder which designed and produced specially prepared and race ready Mustangs with Shelby flair.
In 1969, Shelby de Mexico introduced its most popular model based on the regular Mustang coupe. Only about 300 of those interesting cars were made and most of them are still lost in rural Mexico waiting to be restored.
36. Japanese Police Mustang
The Mustang entered police forces in America in the `80s when the SSP package was introduced. However, Japanese Police Forces used the Mustang long before their American colleagues did. In 1973, a brand new Mustang Mach I entered Tokyo police as high speed chaise car.
Back in those days, Japanese cars were all compact and slow so we are sure that the mighty Mustang Mach I had no problems outrunning anything on the road.
37. Astronauts drove Corvettes
Alan Shepard was the first American in the space and he was also a vivid Corvette enthusiast owning several models, including a white ’62 convertible which was a present from GM. Just before the legendary Apollo 11 flight, Neil Armstrong, first man on the Moon, bought a Marina Blue `67 Corvette 427. The relationship between astronauts and Corvette continued when Apollo 12 members all received identical gold 1969 Corvettes. Even today, members of NASA space projects drove America`s favorite sports car.
38. Bullitt Mustang
One of the biggest Mustang legends is the Bullitt movie car. In 1968, the legendary actor Steve McQueen starred in a detective flick “Bullitt” and played a detective who drove a mean looking `68 GT390 Fastback. Two cars were used during the shooting, one reportedly being destroyed and other for close ups and promotional shoots which was driven and modified by McQueen himself, and which was preserved.
The second car was later sold and owned by several owners and finally settled in East Coast of America in hands of a very private owner who wants to remain anonymous and who is fully aware of the importance of this particular car. The owner doesn’t want to sell it, but if and when this car eventually makes its way to the auction block, we are sure that this will be the most expensive Mustang in the world with the price which will break any previous records. In early 2018, this legendary piece of muscle and movie history has resurfaced and Ford is proudly showing it around the world after convincing owner to share his treasure with the rest of the car community.
39. Dukes of Hazzard Chargers
We all have grown up watching those Duke boys evading the sheriff and jumping orange `69 Charger all over fictional Hazzard County. Over the course of 7 seasons and over 100 episodes, TV buffs recorded that the General Lee Charger had over 150 jumps caught on camera. Of course, the car was fine on the screen but in reality producers used over 300 cars which all were sent to scrap after the filming was done.
Back in those days, Chargers were cheap and plentiful so producers didn’t have problem procuring that much cars. Some were so badly damaged that were immediately sent to scrap and some were cannibalized for parts and engines. All in all only around 10 original cars survived and the rest are history.
40. Acid dipping
When you wanted to make extreme performance car in late `60s, one of the first thing you did was to acid dip the body. Back in the day, this was popular method of making the body lighter by totally submerging it into a tank full of aggressive acid which removed all paint from the body, body filler and even some amount of metal, making the car body significantly lighter. The process was first used by race car builders to cheat on the propositions and then it was accepted by anybody who wanted maximum out of their car.
Muscle cars continue to be a popular choice for drivers young and old. They make a bold statement on the road, whether they are a new model or a classic one. Ask any driver, and they can probably name their favorite model of a muscle car. And, even if they can’t afford to buy one, at least many car shows feature them.