Home Cars Graphic Mastery: Bold Production Car Designs That Turned Heads

Graphic Mastery: Bold Production Car Designs That Turned Heads

Vukasin Herbez February 5, 2024

When muscle cars exploded on the car scene in the mid-’60s, they brought a great many new things to the car industry. This included aesthetic changes with the release of new color schemes and graphic packages. When muscle cars became a sales hit, Detroit took the ‘cooler’ path with a rather colorful approach. The best way to stand out from the rest was to introduce wild and bright colors. Soon, shades like Hemi Orange or Plum Crazy Purple became synonymous with Dodge and Plymouth cars, but that wasn’t all.

To make their vehicles even more characteristic and unique, manufacturers started introducing various graphic designs that were previously unheard of at the time. This was the first time in car history that manufacturers equipped their models with wild graphics straight from the factory. It marked a revolutionary moment in the industry as a result. So much so that these graphics became legendary in addition to the cars. Even though this trend started in the US, it was later accepted by Europeans. Check out the best car graphic packages ever released straight from the manufacturers here.

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Photo Credit: Flickr

Plymouth Roadrunner

When it first appeared in 1968, the Plymouth Roadrunner proved to be a very influential muscle car. Not only did it introduce the new trend of inexpensive yet fun vehicles but it was also a strong seller. The most appealing thing about the Roadrunner was the fact that Plymouth used the Roadrunner cartoon character from the popular Wile E. Coyote cartoon. Chrysler paid $60,000 for the rights to use the name and design and everyone thought the company was crazy for doing so. The sales results proved everybody wrong and the Roadrunner was the first muscle car with crazy graphics, starting the trend (via MCI).

Photo Credit: Mecum

The Roadrunner had a bench seat, no luxury options, and manual steering. It came with the powerful 383 V8 as the base engine and buyers could also opt for the 440 or the mythical Hemi 426. In 1969, the Roadrunner got a convertible option for those buyers who wanted an open-air driving feel. But the majority of Roadrunners produced were two-door hard tops. For just above $3,000, you could be the proud owner of a Roadrunner in 1970. However, if you wanted a few options and the Hemi engine, the price quickly rose to over $4,000.

Ford Mustang Sidewinder Special
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Ford Mustang Sidewinder Special

For promotional purposes in the Oklahoma sales district, Ford prepared a particular version of the Mustang named the Sidewinder Special based on a 351 V8 Sportsroof model. Some experts claim the Sidewinders were based on the Mach I model but this was not confirmed (via Mustang Specs).

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

Ford built 40 cars in various colors and they all came with a unique set of decals packed in the box. The dealer prepared the vehicle before the sale and applied the decals. The characteristic one was the snake cartoon placed on the rear fenders. Today, these Sidewinder specials are only found sporadically.

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Photo Credit: Auto WP

Pontiac GTO Judge

Muscle cars started as affordable performance machines with lots of power and reasonable prices. However, due to high demand, some models began getting more and more expensive. Soon, there was a need for a budget-friendly muscle car aimed at youthful buyers who wanted a fast car but couldn’t pay much. The Plymouth Roadrunner was a perfect example of such a model. It was cheap, fun, and quick. Pontiac wanted a similar car, so in 1969, they presented the GTO Judge (via AAM).

Photo Credit: W Super Cars

The Judge became a legend in its own right, first because it took the name from the popular TV show and second because it was a brightly-colored muscle car with a big spoiler and funky “The Judge” graphics all over it. The GTO Judge wasn’t slow either, with 366 hp and a four-speed transmission. Available from 1969 to 1971, the Judge always represented a top-of-the-line model, making it desirable today. The Judge graphics package was available only on this model and the logo could be found on the dash, front fenders, and trunk.

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Photo Credit: Auto Evolution

Ford Mustang Mach I Twister Special

The attractive, cool-looking Twister Special was a unique version of the Mustang designed for the Kansas City sales district. It was based on a newly introduced Ford Mustang Mach I. The Mach I was a performance version that could be purchased with three engines – 302, 351, and mighty 428 Cobra Jet V8. The initial idea was that all Twister Specials should receive the biggest and most powerful engine, the 428 Cobra Jet. However, shortages of the engines forced Ford to make some changes and produce a few of them with the 351 V8 (via Auto Evolution).

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Photo Credit: Auto Evolution

All cars had a cartoon twister tornado on the rear quarter panel. Even some other Ford models like the Torino received the same treatment. Very few Twister Specials are known to survive today, and collectors seek them routinely.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia


American Motors Company was a legendary economy car manufacturer that battled Detroit’s ‘Big Three’ for decades but eventually folded in the mid-1980s. AMC has always been known for its wide selection of compact and affordable cars, exciting concepts, and dependable mechanics. However, in the late ’60s, AMC entered the muscle car market with the Javelin and the AMX since a muscle model would hopefully bring some excitement to AMC’s lineup (via Mecum).

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Both the Javelin and AMX enjoyed considerable success at the time. But there was one exceptional version, which is very rare and it was the AMX SS 390. This car was built in cooperation with Hurst, a famous company from the era. It featured lots of modifications and the biggest AMC engine, the 390 V8 with 340 hp. This may not sound as much as other muscle cars of the period but the AMX SS 390 was light, compact, and fast. They only made 52 of them, most of them in red, white, and blue. These machines went to drag strips where they easily beat much more powerful cars.

Photo Credit: Mecum

Oldsmobile Hurst/Olds

One of the most successful collaborations between a major car company and a small aftermarket outfit was the deal between Hurst and Oldsmobile. Back in the late ’60s, Hurst transformed the Oldsmobile 442 into one of the fastest cars available on the North American market. These were equipped with the famous shifter and signature gold and white or black and silver paint jobs. The color combo was so recognizable that it became the signature detail of all Hurst/Olds models. At the time, Oldsmobile was under GM’s ban that forbade the company from putting engines larger than 400 CID in intermediate cars. This meant that the popular 442 model couldn’t receive the biggest available engines. Because of that, it was inferior to Mopar muscle cars, which had engines of up to 440 CID under the hood (via Hurst Olds).

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Photo Credit: Mecum

However, since Hurst was an independent company, GM rules didn’t apply. So Oldsmobile shipped partially disassembled 442s to Hurst. There, they installed the biggest engine Oldsmobile had, the mighty 455 V8 with 390 hp. Of course, the Hurst Olds package also has numerous other performance upgrades, such as a Ram Air induction system and heavy-duty suspensions. It was expensive since the Hurst Olds was a limited-production factory hot rod. Hurst produced its versions of Oldsmobile performance cars from 1968 to 1979 and 1983 to 1984. However, only in the first few years did the unrestricted power output become the most exciting and well-known by collectors. After that, in the late ’70s and the early ’80s, Hurst Olds were just little warmer versions of standard Cutlass two-door models. These were produced in limited numbers and soon forgotten.

Photo Credit: Silodrome

BMW 2002 Turbo

In the early ’70s, BMW found success with its Neue Klasse series of models. The 02s were light, quick, and agile coupes, establishing the brand amongst performance lovers and racing fans worldwide. But BMW wanted more. It tried to present the ultimate 02 model incorporating a signature design with the latest high-performance technology – turbocharging (via BMW M).

Photo Credit: BMW Group

So in 1973, BMW introduced the 2002 Turbo, a crazy and naughty cousin to the rest of BMW’s lineup. The car featured a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 170 hp, revised suspension and brakes, unique design details, and an exciting graphics package. It was the first time that characteristic M Division colors were applied. Also, if you notice that the “Turbo” script on the front bumper is backward, it’s not a mistake. BMW deliberately did that so the driver could read which car was chasing them on the Autobahn.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

Ford Mustang King Cobra

The second generation of Ford Mustang debuted in 1974 and was on the market for four years until 1978. Despite the fact it was the subject of so many jokes and bad press, the Mustang II was a critical model. The downsizing of the Mustang range, introduction of economical four-cylinder engines, and part sharing with other Ford models helped the model survive the recession of the ’70s and the death of the muscle car movement (via Silodrome).

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Photo Credit: Mecum

Ford knew that their 5.0 V8 engine made only 140 hp in the Mustang II. The performance was indeed poor but they knew that they could attract some buyers by dressing up the car. So, the King Cobra was introduced. With a flaming snake on the hood, front and rear spoilers, and a complete body kit, the King Cobra was a typical ’70s factory custom car. Needless to say, its performance was not excellent. In reality, it was terrible but the outrageous body kit stole the show. Today, the Mustang King Cobra is considered a collector’s item.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

AMC SC/Rambler

Even though the Javelin and AMX are the most famous and popular AMC muscle cars, they weren’t the only ones. AMC produced several other exciting and fast machines and experimented with wild color schemes and graphics in limited production models (via Hemmings).

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

The SC/Rambler, or Scrambler as it was known, was precisely that. It was built in cooperation with transmission manufacturer Hurst, and it was essentially a budget Rambler model but with a powerful 390 engine and lots of go-fast options from Hurst. Since it was light and small, it was fast and eye-catching because it was painted only in the white, red, and blue color schemes. AMC made only around 1500 of these great cars in 1969.

Photo Credit: Fav Cars

Ford Capri RS 3100

The success of the Ford Mustang was very influential and inspired most American brands to offer a pony car model of their own. Even in Europe, the Mustang was popular and common but Ford wanted to explore the market further with a smaller European version. This is how the Ford Capri came to be in 1969 (via Supercar Nostalgia). Designed in the UK, the Capri was a European Mustang in every way. Using a “long hood-short deck” formula and semi-fastback styling, the Capri looked great and had a fantastic stance. Despite being based on a standard Cortina floor plan and using the same engines, the Capri looked like a thoroughbred sports or muscle car.

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Photo Credit: Wikipedia

It was often confused with a US-built Ford. However, most Capris were powered by diminutive four-cylinder engines and even the six-cylinder versions were less powerful and fast. So, in 1971, Ford UK introduced a limited-edition Capri called the RS 3100. It had a 3.1-liter straight six-engine with 145 horsepower and could sprint up to 60 miles per hour in just 7.6 seconds. Along with a rear spoiler, unique wheels, and graphics, the RS 3100 was a truly sought-after British muscle car.

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Dodge Super Bee

The introduction of the Plymouth Roadrunner influenced all muscle car manufacturers to present lighter and cheaper models with wild graphics. As a part of the same company, Dodge wanted its own version of the Roadrunner but felt it should use a new name and cartoon character rather than the existing Plymouth. So Dodge created another of the muscle car’s legendary models and logos – the Super Bee. The original 1968-70 Dodge Super Bee was based on the two-door Coronet body style with plain steel wheels, optional Plexiglas hood with an oversized hood scoop, no luxuries, and a choice of 383, 440, or 426 Hemi V8 engines (via Hemmings).

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

It was a fast and capable muscle car, but the cartoon bee on the rear fenders stole the show. The rear stripe was known as the bumble bee stripe and was installed on several other Dodge models. The Super Bee logo was part of Dodge’s “Scat Pack” marketing campaign and was a widely advertised symbol amongst the muscle car crowd. The Super Bee returned in 1970 to 1971, but based on a Charger body and logos on the hood and back. Dodge decided to revive the legendary Super Bee logo and model for an option on the modern-day Charger produced between 2007 and 2009.

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Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

The Trans Am model was introduced in 1969 as a unique and limited production version of Pontiac’s pony car Firebird. The 1969 model was fast, powerful, and rare. Yet its graphics and paint schemes were typical with just two blue racing stripes and a blue rear spoiler. However, the 1970 model year brought one of the most recognizable and legendary muscle car graphics packages of all time (via Robb Report).

Photo Credit: Mecum

Affectionately called the “Screaming Chicken,” Pontiac placed a highly stylized flaming bird logo on the hood of the car, which was extraordinarily modern and hip to the day’s standards. It started as a relatively small sticker on the middle of the hood in the early ’70s, only to grow to a big sticker covering the entire hood and finding its way on the B pillars, rear end, and front fenders. It was an extremely popular detail that still lives in the car community even though Pontiac as a brand and Firebird as a model are long gone.

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Photo Credit: BaT

Ford Free-Wheelin models

In the late 1970s, the automotive world was swept by special editions featuring nothing but crazy graphics, flashy wheels, and other details. The typical models of the era were Ford’s Free-Wheeling editions available on numerous models such as the Bronco, Econoline vans, Courier compact pickup trucks, and the F-150. The first thing that set those editions apart was their crazy graphics. Each Free-Wheelin model had five colors of rainbow stripes suited to the lines of the car. Since this option was available for four years from 1977-80, each year had its own style and differed from the previous model (via CJ Pony Parts).

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Photo Credit: Mecum

Other than that, Ford prepared numerous other styling details as optional extras. You could get special wheels, white letter tires, additional lights mounted on the roof, side pipe exhausts, bull bars, and many more aftermarket details. Since the Free-Wheelin package was available on so many models for four model years, we can’t clearly say how many have been made but it must have been thousands. Today, those vehicles are not particularly expensive or rare but they are fantastic to own – especially if you can find one with all the details and paint job intact.

1970 Amc Rebel Machine Via Silodrome
Photo Credit: Hot Rod

AMC Rebel Machine

One of the last and most legendary of AMC’s limited-production muscle cars was the cool-looking and patriotic Rebel Machine. Pushing the SC/Rambler concept even further, AMC presented the Machine in 1970 with the same mechanics but with more power (345 hp) and more performance-oriented options (via OCW).

AMC Rebel
Photo Credit: Hot Rod

It had a cool name, patriotic color scheme, Ram Air induction hood, and 0-60 times in less than six seconds, which made it a reasonable choice for any street racer. That is why it was more popular with buyers. AMC made over 2,200 of these exciting machines.

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Ford 428 Cobra Jet Logo

The legendary Cobra Jet was presented as a mid-year introduction in 1968 as Ford’s new muscle car engine. The pressure from Chevrolet’s 427 V8, Mopar’s 440 and 426 Hemis, and Pontiac’s 421 and 428 V8s made 427 Medium Risers obsolete. So Ford needed a new mass-produced muscle engine to battle its competitors. The Cobra Jet was an engine designed to be affordable but still durable and powerful enough. Ford rated the 428 Cobra Jet at 335 hp but it was apparent that their new mill puts out much more than that – over 400 to 450 hp to be precise (via MCI).

Photo Credit: Pinterest

The Cobra Jet was the most common top engine choice in the Ford Mustang, but they were also available for other Ford models like the Shelby GT500 or Torino. To further enhance the appeal of this new and powerful engine, Ford envisioned a marketing campaign with a fierce cartoon snake that burned rubber. The logo appeared on cars as well as on promotional material, clothing, and factory brochures. Despite the fact it wasn’t used on all models, the cartoon cobra was so famous it’s still recognizable today.

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Photo Credit: GM

Cadillac Seville Gucci

The 1975 Seville was maybe shocking to Cadillac purists as the first downsized Caddy ever and an affordable luxury car. But it was a brilliant move by the company and one of the best US sedans of the late ’70s. After the 1970-77 period marked by big land yachts and heavy cruisers, Cadillac realized that the market had turned to more agile and precise foreign cars such as the Mercedes W116 S Class. So it decided to introduce a smaller and more modern car that was every bit a Cadillac so the market would accept it as such (via Classic Driver).

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Photo Credit: Motor Trend

The 1975 Seville was the perfect car for the time and sales exceeded expectations. The Seville was elegant, perfectly sized, and reasonably powerful. It came with a long list of options and trim choices, including an attractive Slantback body style and even a Gucci-themed trim package.

Photo Credit: Motor 1

Plymouth Superbird

As one of the craziest muscle cars ever produced, the Plymouth Superbird had one of the most recognizable graphics packages ever presented to the general public. The Superbird attempted to win the famous Aero Wars in the late ’60s and early ’70s NASCAR championship. To homologate the car for racing, Plymouth built just under 2000 road-going Superbirds and sold them all over America (via Trust Auto).

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Photo Credit: Fine Art America

The car was based on the Roadrunner and came with a 440 V8 standard and the 426 Hemi as the only engine option. However, to make it as aerodynamically efficient as possible, Plymouth installed a nose cone, hideaway headlights, and an enormous spoiler in the back. Also, it transformed the rear glass from the standard concave-shaped one to regular, which proved more slippery in wind tunnel testing. The Superbird came with a wild graphics package and bright colors. All cars had vinyl roofs to hide the rear glass conversion scars, large “Plymouth” lettering on the rear fender, and a roadrunner bird logo holding a racing helmet. This was muscle car art at its finest and in its prime.

Photo Credit: Mecum

Plymouth AAR Cuda

The early ’70s were the craziest time for muscle car culture. Never before or since then had so many models, unique versions, and options been available. One of the best pony cars in 1970 was a newly redesigned Plymouth Barracuda, which came in a wide range of flavors from pedestrian six-cylinder models to the mighty 426 Hemi Cuda (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Mecum

Several graphic options were available for the 1970 Barracuda, ranging from hockey stripes with displacement numbers on the rear fenders to the big billboard-like script with the Hemi logo. However, the most interesting is the 1970 AAR Cuda model, which came with unique color combinations. 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, a special plastic hood in matte black paint with a hood scoop, a rear spoiler, and exciting side graphics including a big AAR logo. This version was somewhat more expensive than the regular 340 Cuda. That’s why only 2724 were made.

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Lancia Delta HF Integrale Martini Edition

Lancia’s compact model Delta was introduced in 1979. Yet only after it had been on the market for five years did the company start thinking about a performance version. Lancia was always big in rally sports and after their Group B model S4 was banned, they wanted something that could work well on the street and the track. So the HF Integrale was born. The main features of this model were a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 185 hp at first (up to 220 hp later on) and a permanent, well-balanced all-wheel-drive system (via Euro Classics).

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

The Delta HF Integrale is a crucial hot hatch because it was the first one with an AWD system. It marked the beginning of the transition from front-wheel drive, simple and cheap hot hatches to the high-tech, all-wheel drive performance monsters we have today. The combination of a powerful engine, sharp handling, excellent traction, and low weight was intoxicating for magazine testers of the day. The Delta HF Integrale received nothing but praise as a result. Over the years, the Delta HF Integrale proved to be a very successful concept, not only on rally stages all over the world but also amongst hot hatch fans. Production stopped in 1994 after almost 40,000 examples were made. Some of them were Martini Edition cars painted in characteristic colors.

Photo Credit: Motor 1

Shelby GT350 R

Even though the Shelby was based on the Mustang GT, much of the car’s suspension, design, aero package, and engine were new. The most significant single difference was the fantastic Voodoo engine, which has a 5.2-liter displacement, 526 hp, and 429 lb.-ft of torque. The main feature of this high-revving powerplant is the flat plane crank technology, which allows the big V8 to scream to almost 9000 rpm (via Car and Driver).

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

It’s the same technology that exotic manufacturers like Ferrari use, and this is the first time a muscle car has featured such an advanced engine. Ford’s investment in Shelby GT 350 R paid off since the performance is mind-boggling, taking only 3.9 seconds to go from 0 to 60 mph. But the numbers alone don’t do justice to this car. The Shelby GT 350 R is a pure sports car that delivers excellent driving dynamics and experience to the driver. It’s much closer to the Porsche GT3 in terms of precision driving and cornering speeds than it is to the Mustangs of yesterday. But the best thing was its Wimbledon White color and Guardsman Blue racing stripes. It is an amazingly recognizable graphics package available straight from the factory.

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Photo Credit: Porsche

Porsche 911 Dakar

Based on the Carrera 4 GTS, the 911 Dakar is a highly advanced off-road 911. Powered by the same 3.0-liter, flat-six engine, it delivers 473 hp and sends them to all four wheels over an eight-speed PDK automatic transmission. However, the similarities stop there since the 911 Dakar has completely new underpinnings, custom suspension, adjustable ride height, all-terrain tires, and unique stability control calibration to provide more slip in off-road driving conditions. It is capable of covering rugged terrain at incredible speeds. The body is fitted with mud flaps and different front and rear bumpers and Porsche even designed a particular wheel option for this model (via Porsche).

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Photo Credit: Porsche

But despite being a crazy 911, Porsche offered a special graphics package resembling the legendary 959, which won the Paris-Dakar rally in the mid-1980s. This special graphics package is an expensive option at over $5000. Instead of “Rothmans,” which initially was a sponsor, it says “Roughroads” with the same font and design. The reason for the change is simple. The endorsement contract has long expired and Rothmans is a tobacco brand, advertising for which is now banned in the auto industry.

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