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Detroit Power: 30 Scarce Muscle Cars

Vukasin Herbez September 12, 2019

Detroit has produced millions of muscle cars from the early 1960s until today, and these magnificent machines are still highly sought after by collectors. Practically any muscle car regardless of the model year or specification is bound to draw attention from car enthusiasts. However, some are much rarer and desirable than others.

Muscle car rarity is often a product of certain circumstances regarding the specific car. Sometimes, a muscle car is misunderstood or too expensive, strange or powerful for the average buyer, all of which limits its appeal on the market. Read on ahead to learn about the 30 rarest muscle cars ever built.

Shelby Europa
  1. Shelby Europa

When Shelby introduced their line of powerful Mustangs, European enthusiasts took notice. Soon, the cars were popular overseas as well as in the United 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, they built only about 14 cars, making the Shelby Europa an incredibly rare muscle car. Most of them got 351 V8 engines, but some featured the 429 Cobra Jet.

Oldsmobile Rallye 350

  1. Oldsmobile Rallye 350

To fight the tightening regulations that were destroying the muscle car class, Oldsmobile introduced the bright yellow Rally 350. It was a clever way to avoid high insurance premiums with a smaller but still powerful 350 V8 engine producing 310 HP.

Other manufacturers introduced similar models, but the Oldsmobile is best known due to its unmistakable appearance and eye-catching yellow paint. However, the Rally 350 wasn’t a big success on the market despite its clever engineering. They only built 3,547 of them in 1970.

Shelby GT500KR

  1. Shelby GT500KR

In 1968, Ford introduced the 428 Cobra Jet engine and Shelby was about to use it in his line of Mustangs. He wanted to do something special and the result was the GT500KR, for King of the Road. Although they rated the 428 Cobra Jet at 335 HP, everybody knew the engine delivered more than 400 HP and 400 lb-ft of torque.

Ford limited production to 1,053 cars and loaded the GT500KR with interior trimmings and luxuries. Unfortunately, they only produced the GT500KR for the 1968 model year, dropping it in 1969.

Dodge Charger Super Bee 426 Hemi

  1. Dodge Charger Super Bee 426 Hemi

The original Charger Super Bee was a one-year-only model for 1971, which was an entry-level muscle car. Dodge sold it at lower prices, adding good equipment, wild graphics, and a 440 engine as standard. The Super Bee was a popular proposition for people looking for a classic performance machine in vivid colors with tire-shredding performance.

The base 440 delivered 370 HP. In the Six Pack option, it was capable of 385 HP. The Hemi was the only engine option. It was also very rare, as just 22 cars received that engine.

Chevrolet Chevelle Z/16

  1. Chevrolet Chevelle Z/16

The Chevelle Z16 is a fully loaded regular Chevelle with all the available speed options. That includes a 396 V8 engine with a Muncie four-speed gearbox and a heavy-duty suspension and equipment. Even some dealers weren’t aware that this option existed because Chevy didn’t market the Z16.

So this Chevelle was sort of a secret model. The Z16 was fast, but it was also expensive for a Chevy. That’s why they made only 200 of them.

Buick GSX

  1. Buick GSX

Backed by steady sales and the great reception of their muscle models, Buick decided to introduce the ultimate muscle car. It was in the form of the legendary-yet-scarce Buick GSX. The GSX stood for Gran Sports Experimental. It was, in fact, a visually upgraded Gran Sport with the Stage 1 performance package.

The GSX debuted in 1970 with an aggressive graphics package not typical for Buick products. It was available in two bright colors, Saturn Yellow and Apollo White. It came with a front and rear spoiler, functioning hood scoops, side stripes, and Rally wheels. Buick produced only 678 examples that year.

Ford Mustang GT Cobra Jet Convertible

  1. Ford Mustang GT Cobra Jet Convertible

Ford presented the legendary 428 Cobra Jet in 1968, and immediately Ford put it in the Mustang. The Mustang 428 CJ was a mid-year introduction Ford intended for drag racing, and that’s why they sold it in modest numbers.

Apart from 50 Fastbacks with the CJ engine and other versions, Ford offered the Cobra Jet in convertible form. They only built 34 cars, which makes them one of the rarest Cobra Jet models ever produced.

Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

  1. Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

In 1969, Pontiac wanted to present a model they could homologate for Trans-Am racing. As a part of GM, the factory was still under the racing ban. So to mask their intentions, Pontiac introduced the Firebird Trans Am as a loaded version. It featured big-block power from the famous 400 V8 engine they equipped with Ram Air III or IV intake system.

However, this special version with its signature white paint, blue stripes, Rally II wheels, and other equipment proved to be a tough seller. They only sold 634 Firebird Trans Ams. Among those, only eight were convertibles.

Shelby GT350R

  1. Shelby GT350R

Produced in 1965 only and sold to privateers and racing teams all over the world, the Shelby GT350R was a pure racing beast. These cars were not street-legal and were purely for racing purposes, something they did extremely well.

The R version was powered by the same 289 V8 as the regular Shelby GT350, but it produced close to 400 HP and had numerous racing modifications. The car was light and well balanced, making it extremely fast for winning races in America, Europe, and South America. Since they only built 34 of them, you need a veritable fortune to own one today.

Mercury Cougar Eliminator Boss 302

  1. Mercury Cougar Eliminator Boss 302

Despite being a twin brother to the Mustang, the Mercury Cougar gained a cult following and created a name of its own in the late ’60s. For the 1969 muscle car wars, Mercury had something special: 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 or a high-revving 5.0-liter V8 in a slightly bigger body with more luxury features. However, more buyers optioned for the bigger 351 or 428 Cobra Jet engines, making the Eliminator Boss 302 quite rare. In two years, 1969 and 1970, Mercury made only 638 of those great machines.

Chrysler 300 Hurst

  1. Chrysler 300 Hurst

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 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 producing 395 HP that could propel the two-ton beast to respectful acceleration times.

Pontiac GT-37

  1. Pontiac GT-37

One of the rarest 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. Behind this strange name was a regular Tempest with a few performance options. Also, the engine choice came from much more popular GTO model. This meant that buyers who had $3,000 to spend could get their car from 255 HP up to 345 HP.

Pontiac advertised the GT-37 as “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 went in only a handful of cars. Simply, the GT-37 had the performance and the hardware but it didn’t have the GTO appeal and image. That resulted in bad sales. In two years, Pontiac made only around 2,000 of these misunderstood muscle cars.

AMC Matador Machine

  1. AMC Matador Machine

AMC discontinued the famous AMC Rebel Machine for 1971, but the package lived on in the Matador coupe. However, there was no signature red-white-and-blue color scheme. The Machine package included steel wheels with performance rubber, a heavy-duty suspension, dual exhaust and the 360 or 401 V8 engine with up to 330 HP.

Technically, you could order the Machine package for a station wagon, but there are no records of someone doing that. The Matador Machine was a rare car since they produced only 50 of them.

Plymouth Roadrunner Hemi Convertible

  1. Plymouth Roadrunner Hemi Convertible

The Roadrunner was always a popular muscle car. Most Plymouth customers looked for standard examples with 383 or 440 V8 engines, closed bodies, and few options. However, some wanted to option their Roadrunners to the max and the 1970 Hemi Convertible is was the perfect example.

The factory only made three such cars that year. One came with a manual and two came with an automatic transmission.

Oldsmobile 442 Hurst Convertible

  1. Oldsmobile 442 Hurst Convertible

One of the most successful collaborations between a major car company and a small aftermarket outfit was the deal between Hurst and Oldsmobile. At the time, Oldsmobile was under the GM ban. It forbade the company from putting engines larger than 400 CID in intermediate cars.

However, since Hurst was an independent company, the GM rules didn’t apply. Oldsmobile shipped partially disassembled 442s to Hurst where they installed the biggest engine Oldsmobile had, the mighty 455 V8 with 390 HP. Since the Hurst Olds was a limited production factory hot rod, it was expensive and the convertible wasn’t available. But in 1969, Hurst produced three convertibles for promotional purposes only.

Dodge Coronet Hemi Sedan

  1. Dodge Coronet Hemi Sedan

The Chrysler Corporation introduced its legendary 426 Hemi engine for 1966 as an option on select Plymouth and Dodge models. The iconic power plant was an option on the Dodge Coronet as well. Technically, buyers could order it with any body style. However, most customers associated Hemi power with two-door coupes and convertibles.

Most people didn’t realize they could have a Hemi in sedan or even wagon form. That’s why only a few people bought the Coronet Deluxe Hemi four-door in 1966, the ultimate muscle car sedan. With an advertised 425 HP under your right foot, the Coronet Hemi four-door was arguably the fastest production sedan in America.

Shelby GT350 Convertible

  1. Shelby GT350 Convertible

A lot of muscle car enthusiasts think 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. However, the first convertibles Carroll built himself happened in 1966 as a secret project.

At the end of the 1966 model year, Carroll Shelby decided to produce a limited, secret run of six GT350 convertibles to give to his family and friends. They were a commemorative edition to celebrate the success of the GT350, as well as a prototype for the potential production of convertibles.

Dodge Challenger R/T Hemi Convertible

  1. Dodge Challenger R/T Hemi Convertible

Plymouth had the Barracuda, the first pony car they introduced two weeks before the Ford Mustang. But its stablemate, Dodge, didn’t enter the segment until 1970. They presented the Challenger with the full firepower of Mopar engines. Buyers could get a powerful 383 V8, as well as a big 440 or the famous 426 Hemi.

Since the Challenger was a true muscle car, the majority they sold were coupes, but a convertible was also available. In 1970, Dodge produced only nine convertible Challengers with the Hemi. That makes this model one of the rarest as well as the most powerful muscle car convertibles built in those golden years.

Oldsmobile W-31

  1. Oldsmobile W-31

The muscle car segment exploded in 1970 with big block power. Some manufacturers offered smaller, nimbler alternatives to the 427, 455 or 454 engines. One of those forgotten and obscure models is Oldsmobile W31. They offered the Olds Rally 350 for 1970 only, but the W-31 was its twin car with less “in your face” styling.

Also, it had similar power from a high revving 350 V8. The car featured lots of speed options. Yet it flew under the radar since most customers didn’t know it existed. In the end, Oldsmobile produced just 116 of those interesting machines for the 1970 model year.

Ford Mustang HO

  1. Ford Mustang HO

In 1972, Ford discontinued the Boss 351 and Cobra Jet Mustang while discontinuing the Shelby models two years prior. However, the performance Mustang buyers weren’t left without choices, because Ford offered an HO model. HO stood for High Output and it was a sort of a Boss 351 for 1972.

It featured a performance 351 V8 they rated at 275 HP, which was impressive by early ’70s standards. In the end, Ford only made about 60 of these interesting machines in all three body styles.

Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

  1. Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

The Camaro ZL-1 was the same as the regular 1969 Camaro on the outside. But it was so fast that it was barely street legal. The official 1969 Chevrolet literature doesn’t mention the ZL-1 option for the Camaro, yet most successful drag racers and car dealers knew about this expensive option. That’s why they only made 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-1s in COPO Camaros, selling them to drag racing teams.

AMC S/C Rambler

  1. AMC S/C Rambler

AMC built this cool-looking, rare AMC in cooperation with famous transmission manufacturer Hurst. It was a budget Rambler model with a powerful 390 engine and several speed options from Hurst.

Since it was light and small, it was fast. Also, it was eye-catching because they painted it only in white, red and blue. AMC made only around 1,500 of these great cars in 1969.

Ford Mustang 289 HiPo Convertible

  1. Ford Mustang 289 HiPo Convertible

The first true muscle Mustang was the 1965-1967 289 HiPo or K-Code Mustang. The 289 HiPo had a 271 HP V8 with numerous improvements over the standard engine. It was available at an extra cost in all three body styles.

It was also a rare option among Mustang fans. For 1967, its final production year, Ford produced only 50 convertibles with the 289 HiPo engine. They equipped most of them with a manual transmission, but 16 cars came with an automatic transmission.

Dodge Coronet RT Convertible Hemi

  1. Dodge Coronet RT Convertible Hemi

1970 was a watershed year for the classic muscle car culture. Never before or since there were so many cars to choose from. Dodge was at the forefront of the movement with the Charger and Challenger.

But the Coronet wasn’t as popular, although it had most of the same options and engine choices. In 1970 you could order a Coronet with the R/T package, the optional 426 Hemi in a convertible body style. However, because just two customers did that, these cars are incredibly rare.

Chevrolet Corvette L88 Convertible

  1. Chevrolet Corvette L88 Convertible

Although they introduced the big block 427 Corvette in 1966, Chevrolet refined it with four levels of power for the 1967 model year. The list started with the 390 HP 427 V8 and ended with the extremely rare and valuable L-88 427 V8. Corvettes with this engine were in a class for themselves.

The aluminum head L-88 produced close to 600 HP and came with a mandatory heavy-duty suspension, brakes, and handling package. Chevrolet developed this option for racers. It was expensive, almost doubling the price of the base ’67 Corvette. That’s why it’s one of the rarest, as they only built 17 coupes and three convertibles.

Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda

  1. Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda

Two of the biggest Chrysler legends from the classic days of the muscle car culture are the Barracuda and the 426 Hemi engine. All through the 1960s, those icons of the industry didn’t mix, at least not in street-legal cars. But in 1970, Plymouth offered this legendary engine in the Barracuda body style, immediately creating one of the fastest, most desirable muscle cars ever.

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. Plymouth installed it in approximately 600 coupes and only 17 convertibles during the two-year production period.

Dodge Charger 500

  1. Dodge Charger 500

Most muscle cars fans know the Dodge Charger lineup well, including the wild Charger Daytona from 1969. But the Daytona’s predecessor, the Charger 500, was far less known and not as successful. Simply, the standard Charger with its deep grille and concave rear glass wasn’t aerodynamic.

Despite its powerful engines and good drivers, it just couldn’t achieve the speeds required for winning. So, Dodge decided to introduce a limited-edition Charger 500. They named it “500” because they made that many of them. It came with a flushed grille, fixed headlights, and regular rear glass to improve the aerodynamics.

Plymouth Superbird

  1. Plymouth Superbird

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

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

Ford Mustang Boss 351

  1. Ford Mustang Boss 351

In 1971, Mustang received another thorough remodel that would be the final one for the first generation. The car again increased 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, but the Grande and Mach I stayed, albeit with lower power ratings. However, there was one interesting model Ford introduced in 1971. That was the Boss 351.

Because they made it for one year only, the ’71 Mustang Boss 351 was one of the rarest Mustangs ever at only 1,800 produced. It was powered by a highly-tuned version of the 351 V8 engine producing around 330 HP. It was fast, good looking, and more expensive than the Mach 1 version of the same model year. Today it’s a true collector’s item.

Plymouth AAR ‘Cuda

  1. Plymouth AAR ‘Cuda

The AAR ‘Cuda was a limited production model to commemorate Dan Gurney’s All-American Racing team, which used ‘Cudas in Trans-Am championships. It came with a 340 V8 small block and a special plastic hood in matte black with a hood scoop.

Also, it had a rear spoiler and interesting side graphics including a big AAR logo. This version was somewhat more expensive than the regular 340 ‘Cuda, so that’s why they only built 2,724 of them.

These are 30 of the rarest muscle cars Detroit ever built. If you want any of them, you’d better start saving your money. None of these cars is a bargain today, but they are nevertheless pieces of muscle history.

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