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Class of 1970: The 20 Best Models from the Pinnacle of the Muscle Car Era

Vukasin HerbezJanuary 18, 2019

Think back to 1970. The Vietnam War was in full swing and Richard Nixon ordered the invasion of Cambodia, spreading fire all over south Asia. The greatest band in the history of rock and roll, The Beatles, broke up, leaving millions of fans in disbelief. But in Detroit, the muscle car culture reached its peak. Never have there been so many true muscle cars than in 1970.

Dozens of models were available all with the best options. They came with fire breathing engines and lots of power and style. They included pony cars with big blocks, full-size luxury cruisers and intermediate muscle legends. And most came with power outputs close to 500 HP, making 1970 was the best car year ever.

However, the writing was already on the wall because, in 1971, the environmental and safety laws took over and started killing the market. But, for those 12 glorious months of 1970, muscle cars were in full power and better than ever.

Read on to find out about the 20 most legendary, highly sought-after muscle cars from just one model year: 1970. All these cars were a colorful part of what turned out to be the best year in Detroit history. So, enjoy your long trip driving down memory lane.

  1. AMC Rebel Machine

AMC based the Machine on the SC/Rambler model from 1969, presenting it in 1970. It came with the same mechanics, but with more power at 345 HP. Also, it had more performance-oriented options. It had a cool name, patriotic color scheme, Ram Air induction hood and a 0 to 60 time of fewer than six seconds.

All that made it a reasonable choice for any street racer back in the day. And that is why it was more popular with buyers, yet they still produced it in limited numbers. In fact, AMC made just over 2,326 of these interesting machines.

  1. AMC Javelin/AMX

In 1968, AMC decided to enter the muscle market by introducing two new performance models. One was the Javelin and the other was the AMX. The AMC Javelin was a handsome pony car with a modern design, updated engine choices, and a vivid performance. As all other pony cars on the market, the Javelin started with straight six, going all the way up to a 390 V8 with a considerable grunt.

Despite being similar in technology and design, the AMX was a two-seater model. In fact, it was the only two-seater on the U.S. market other than the Corvette. It came with a shorter wheelbase and a 390 V8 engine delivering 360 HP. Also, it had lots of go-fast options and a reasonable price.

So, the AMC AMX was an interesting and capable muscle car. But for the 1970 model year, the Javelin and AMX received fresh redesigns and slight improvements. Interestingly, one special model was the AMX SS, which they aimed at the drag racing scene.

  1. Buick GSX

Indeed, 1970 was a watershed year for the American muscle and performance models. Never before or since there were so many great models available. Due to their steady sales and the great reception for their muscle models, Buick decided to introduce the ultimate muscle car. And it was in the form of the legendary and scarce Buick GSX.

GSX stands for Gran Sports Experimental and it was, in fact, a visually-upgraded Gran Sport with a Stage 1 performance package. The GSX debuted in 1970 with an aggressive graphics package unusual for Buick products. 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, since the Buick 455 was significantly lighter than the Chevelle 454 or Plymouth Hemi 426, the GSX was a sure winner in street races all across America.

  1. Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454

The Chevrolet Chevelle was always a popular muscle car. The combination of an affordable price, attractive design and powerful engines was a hit with the buyers. But for 1970, Chevrolet offered an expanded line of engines including their famous 454 V8 big block. They called the regular version the LS5 and it was quite powerful.

However, there was an even stronger LS6 variant, which they installed in just 3,700 cars. The LS-6 had almost racing-like compression of 11.25:1. Also, it used a bigger carburetor and had much stronger engine internals. And although they rated it at 450 HP, it was more likely that it produced over 500.

  1. Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

The 1970 model year marked the arrival of a new, second-generation Camaro featuring a radical restyle. The modern semi-fastback roof line was the main feature as well as the new platform and absence of a convertible option. And the early ‘70s Camaros were proper muscle coupes with power and style to back this claim.

Chevrolet retained the SS 350 and SS 396 versions with unchanged power. Some early brochures even mentioned the SS 454 model, but they never produced this car. However, the best all-rounder was still the Z/28 version featuring the 350 LT1 V8 engine with 350 HP ratings.

With a revised suspension, braking and four-speed manual transmissions, the Z/28 was once again a sharp and precise sports car. In fact, it could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.8 seconds and handle like a European exotic.

  1. Chevrolet Corvette LT1

Although Corvette had several impressive engine options in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, the best one wasn’t the big block. It was the interesting small-block 350 they called the LT1. The LT1 engine option represented a factory blueprinted engine with race-grade internals and beefed up components. The result was a 370 HP rating and an almost 7,000 rpm redline.

Due to the racing nature of the engine and the Corvette’s low weight and great handling, the LT1 was satisfying to drive and capable of an impressive performance. However, the market preferred big blocks so that is why Chevrolet made just 52 LT1s between 1970 and 1972.

  1. Chevrolet Nova SS

The Chevrolet Nova was a compact car they introduced first as the Chevy II in the early ‘60s. This small, affordable model was just a scaled down Chevelle or Impala. But by the end of the ‘60s, it had some serious street credibility, becoming a favorite street racer’s weapon. The combination of the Nova’s lightweight body and potent V8 engine made it quite fast.

Chevrolet introduced the SS 350 and SS 396 versions in 1968/9 and they were extremely fast. They left the 1970 model unchanged, so it still retained its classic styling with two powerful V8 engines as an option. Better yet, some independent tuners like Yenko even offered some brutally fast 427 conversions.

  1. Dodge Charger RT

The third and final year of the Dodge Charger’s second generation didn’t bring many changes to already perfect muscle car. The front grill received a chrome treatment with side scoops and a few small design improvements. The most important things, like the R/T package and the choice of a 440 Magnum or 426 Hemi engine remained the same.

The R/T or Road and Track package was a popular option that included cool graphics and a beefier suspension and steering. Also, it came with a 440 engine as standard. But, if you wanted full power for your 1970 Charger, you could choose the Hemi, which was significantly more expensive.

  1. Dodge Challenger

Although Plymouth had the Barracuda, which was the first pony car model they introduced two weeks before the Ford Mustang, its stablemate Dodge didn`t enter the segment until 1970. Some muscle car historians say that Dodge was almost too late for the party. But the Challenger was so good, it left its mark, reserving a place in history.

Mopar’s E-Body models, the Barracuda and Challenger were new for 1970. They featured a new design and better construction, as well as a wider, longer body. There were no significant mechanical differences between the Barracuda and the Challenger except the design. But, these two cars had some interchangeable bodywork parts, as well. Dodge presented the Challenger with the full firepower of Mopar engines

Their customers could get the powerful 383 V8, as well as the big 440 or even the famous 426 Hemi. Of course, the best performers were the 440 and the Hemi. Depending on the specifications, differential ratio and gearboxes, Challengers could accelerate to 60 mph in the 5.5 to 5.7-second range, which was super-quick for 1970.

  1. Dodge Coronet Super Bee

In 1970, the Super Bee package was still available on Coronet models, but for 1971, it became an option on the Charger. The 1970 Coronet Super Bee was mechanically almost identical to the Dodge Charger, but it had different styling and an even more aggressive front fascia.

The R/T option meant that buyers could get the 440 V8 as standard and the 426 Hemi as an option. Interestingly, just 13 people decided to do that in 1970, making the ‘70s Super Bee Hemi one of the rarest muscle cars they ever produced.

  1. Ford Mustang

The third redesign of the Mustang appeared for the 1969 model year and the car grew in size once again. Also, they changed the engine choices as well as the equipment list. Another thing Ford did was concentrate the Mustang lineup in two main directions. One was luxury with the new Grande notchback model and other was pure muscle with three new models, the Mach I, Boss 429 and Boss 302.

In addition, Ford introduced the legendary 428 Cobra Jet engine as a regular production option, which put the Mustang among the fastest muscle cars of the era. The best-known muscle Mustangs from 1970 are the Mach I and Boss tandem, with the 302 and 429. The Mach I was an affordable performance model with the 428 CJ as a top engine option.

The Boss 302 was a pure road racing car with the high revving 5.0-liter engine. The mighty Boss 429 was a car Ford designed to carry a special semi-Hemi big block engine destined for NASCAR racing. The Mach I was the most popular while they only produced the Boss models in limited numbers, discontinuing them for 1971.

  1. Ford Torino 429 SCJ

Ford’s intermediate muscle car, the Torino, returned for 1970 with a 429 Cobra Jet engine they rated between 370 and 375 HP. Ford wanted this car to fight the big dogs in the muscle car segment like the Dodge Charger and Pontiac GTO.

With interesting styling, a semi-fastback roofline and a powerful Cobra Jet engine, the Torino was one of the best cars in its class for 1970. It was also available as a convertible, and with or without the Ram Air intake hood scoop.

  1. Mercury Cougar Eliminator

Despite being a twin brother to the Mustang, the Mercury Cougar gained a cult following. It even managed to create a name of its own in the late ‘60s. But for the 1970 muscle car wars, the Mercury had something special in the form of the Cougar Eliminator. The Cougar Eliminator was a top of the line model with several interesting engine choices.

You could get a Boss 302 engine, high revving 5.0-liter V8, 351 Cleveland or the famous 428 Cobra Jet. If you compared this model to the Mustang range, you could say the Eliminator was a cross between a Boss 302 and a Mach I Mustang. However, the Cougar was slightly longer than the Mustang and had slightly better handling and comfort.

  1. Oldsmobile 442 W30

The 442 is one of the most legendary muscle car names in automotive history. In true Oldsmobile fashion, they thoroughly engineered the 442 to be a quality-built performance machine. And it was a car that could stand up to any of the muscle car legends. But in 1966, Olds presented a W30 option, which they marketed “for performance enthusiasts only.” However, in 1970 this package got a whole new meaning with the introduction of the mighty 455 V8 engine.

Even though they rated it at 370 HP, it was a grossly underrated figure. The 1970 Oldsmobile 442 was luxurious, fast and powerful and a bit more expensive than other muscle cars. However, the Oldsmobile engineers put a lot of time and effort into making it one of the most capable cars on the market. In fact, they gave it numerous tweaks and improvements not available on any other GM models.

  1. Oldsmobile Rally 350

In an attempt to fight the tightening regulations that were destroying the muscle car class, Oldsmobile introduced the bright yellow Rally 350 model. It was a clever way to avoid high insurance premiums with a smaller but still powerful 350 V8 engine producing 310 HP. This model was basically a 442 muscle car with a smaller engine and a lower price.

The most interesting feature was the bright yellow paint along with the yellow bumpers, spoiler and wheel inserts. It looked like somebody dropped the Oldsmobile Cutlass in a tank of bold yellow paint. Other manufacturers introduced similar models, but this Oldsmobile is best known due to its unmistakable appearance.

However, the Rally 350 wasn’t a big success on the market despite its clever engineering. Also, they only built 3,547 examples in 1970. Although most Oldsmobile performance cars are well-known among car enthusiasts, they forgot about the Rally 350 so it is rarely seen today.

  1. Plymouth Superbird

As one of the craziest muscle cars Plymouth ever produced, they offered the Superbird in 1970 only. In order to homologate the car for NASCAR racing, Plymouth built just under 2,000 road-going Superbirds, selling them all over America. They based the car on the Roadrunner and it came with a 440 V8 as standard and a 426 Hemi as the only engine option.

However, to make it as aerodynamically efficient as they could, Plymouth installed a nose cone, hideaway headlights and an enormous spoiler on the back. Also, it transformed the rear glass from the standard concave shape to a regular shape, which proved more slippery in wind tunnel testing.

  1. Plymouth Hemi Cuda

Two of the biggest Chrysler legends from the classic days of muscle car culture are the Barracuda and the 426 Hemi engine. All through the ‘60s, those icons of the industry didn’t mix. But in 1970, Plymouth offered this legendary engine in the Barracuda body style, immediately creating one of the fastest, most desirable muscle cars they ever made.

The mighty Hemi engine was an expensive, top of the line option for 1970 and 1971 available in coupe or convertible form. It cost around $900 over the price of the standard Barracuda. They only installed it in approximately 600 coupes and 17 convertibles during its two-year production period. They rated the power at 425 HP, but everybody knew the orange monster delivered more than 500 HP straight from the box.

  1. Plymouth Cuda AAR

The pony car wars were at full swing in 1970 with the new Firebird, Camaro, Dodge Challenger and the much-improved Plymouth Barracuda. But one of the most interesting 1970 Barracudas was the rare AAR ‘Cuda. The AAR ‘Cuda was a limited production model to commemorate Dan Gurney’s All American Racing team, which used ‘Cudas in the Trans-Am championship.

It came with a 340 V8 small block, special plastic hood in matte black paint with a hood scoop, rear spoiler and interesting side graphics, including the big AAR logo. This version was somewhat more expensive than the regular 340 ‘Cuda and that is why they only build 2,724 of them.

  1. Pontiac GTO Judge

They introduced the Judge package in 1969 and it returned for 1970 with even more power, unique details, and performance. The big rear spoiler and funky Judge graphics were back, too. But since Pontiac redesigned the GTO line for 1970, the Judge looked better and meaner, as well.

The biggest news was the availability of the mighty 455 big block engine with the Ram Air III or Ram Air IV intake system. Both engines had ratings of a conservative 370 HP, but everybody knew they produced much more power. Due to the stiff competition, the GTO wasn’t as popular as before. However, car fans still regard it as one of the best muscle cars around.

  1. Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

A special version for 1969, the 1970 Trans Am was a full-fledged member of the Firebird lineup. The Trans Am featured a high-revving 400 V8 engine. Although it was smaller than the 455 V8 in the GTO, it was faster because the Firebird was lighter than the GTO. The engine was also available in two stages depending on the type of Ram Air induction.

Also, the horsepower varied between 345 and 370 HP. Design wise, the 1970 Firebird was great looking car especially with the Trans Am trim. Also, it came with front and rear spoilers and had a beautiful paint job. With the 57/43 weight split, the Trans Am handled like dream.

These are the cars from the class of 1970 and the 20 best models from the pinnacle of the muscle car era. Have you seen one of these lately? If you want to own one, move fast, because they are becoming quite rare and hard to find.

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