Home Cars Rare Power: These Classic Muscle Cars Could Make You A Millionaire

Rare Power: These Classic Muscle Cars Could Make You A Millionaire

Vukasin Herbez January 11, 2023

Most drivers know that the prices of classic muscle cars have gone through the roof. It can indeed take a millionaire to win some of the classic car auctions we see today. It all started in the ’90s when people rushed to snap the cars they lusted over in their youth, making $5000 cars worth $50,000 overnight. But it didn’t stop there. Rare, desirable cars equipped with special options had even more significant price hikes.

These made certain vehicles worth over $1,000,000. It was an important milestone for muscle car culture. Today, the price tag of $1 million is not uncommon in the classic muscle car world. Here are several cars that could make you a millionaire someday if you’re lucky enough to own them and put them up for sale.

Ford thunderbird
Photo Credit: Car Domain

Ford Fairlane Thunderbolt

In 1963, Pontiac, Chevrolet, and GM were out of factory-supported racing. Mopar dominated the strip with the Max Wedge. But that was about to change when Ford introduced a factory-built drag racer called the Fairlane Thunderbolt for the 1964 season.

Photo Credit: Auto WP

Built using a plain Fairlane two-door sedan body and removing all but the essentials, the Thunderbolt was all about lightweight and power. The interior was spartan and the trim was removed. Ford realized that van-sourced bucket seats were lighter than the standard bench, so the Thunderbolt had two small seats in the front. Under the hood was the new 427 V8 FE with a factory output of 425 HP. However, experts think the actual output was closer to 600 HP since the engine had a special intake manifold, high-performance heads, and special pistons (via Auto Evolution).

Photo Credit: Mecum

Chevrolet Corvette L88 Convertible

Even though the big block 427 Corvette left the factory in 1966, it was further refined with four levels of power for the 1967 model year. The list started with a 390 HP 427 V8 and ended with an extremely rare and powerful L-88 427 V8. Corvettes equipped with this engine were in a class by themselves since the aluminum head L-88 produced close to 600 HP (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Mecum

This option was developed for racers and was very expensive, almost doubling the price of the base ’67 Corvette. That is why it’s one of the rarest, with 17 built as a coupe and only three built as a convertible.

Photo Credit: Mecum

Dodge Coronet/Plymouth Belvedere Altered Wheelbase

The FX (Factory Experimental) class in the NHRA championship was a predecessor to today’s Funny Car class. It was a place where factory-supported teams could race cars that only resembled stock vehicles with engines, drivetrains, and/or body modifications that would never be on a street car. Chrysler decided to make six Dodge Coronets and six Plymouth Belvederes with altered wheelbases. They moved the rear axle just behind the driver. This helped the weight distribution and traction off the line (via How Stuff Works).

Photo Credit: Mecum

Those altered wheelbase cars were never street legal and featured numerous exciting combinations such as fuel-injected, supercharged, or turbocharged engines. Today, real altered wheelbase cars are extremely rare and present a valuable piece of muscle car history.

Photo Credit: Ford

1965 Shelby GT350 R

Carroll Shelby started building Mustangs in 1965 as fire-breathing machines that brought Ford some much-needed performance credentials. But the cars that were responsible for racing success were 34 “R” models produced only in 1965 and sold to privateers and racing teams all over America. Those cars were not street-legal and were used purely for racing purposes, something they did exceptionally well. The GT350 R had numerous modifications and was lighter, faster, and sharper than the regular GT350 (via Supercars).

Photo Credit: Ford

Each example had numerous wins and every R model is considered an extremely valuable piece of Mustang and racing history. They rarely come for sale, but they achieve astronomical prices when they do. That was the case in 2012 when a highly original GT350 R changed hands for nearly $1 million. With only 4,900 miles, and the original transmission and engine, this car was well-known amongst Mustang aficionados. It was raced extensively but was held in storage, which helped preserve its original condition and affected the price.

Foto Credit: Hagerty

Pontiac Catalina 421 “Swiss Cheese”

In the early 1960s, Pontiac realized that racing helps sell cars and that the famous Detroit mantra “Win on Sunday-Sell on Monday” really worked. Pontiac was big in NASCAR in that period, but its drag racing reputation in the NHRA championship was slim. To do the latter, Pontiac’s engineers manufactured numerous aluminum parts like bumpers, fenders, and hoods saving 159 pounds on the heavy car (via Supercars).

Foto Credit: Hagerty

Moreover, the vehicle had the nickname “Swiss Cheese” since they also drilled holes in the car’s frame to save a few more grams. With a high-compression 421 V8 engine and 410 HP, these Catalinas were lightning quick. Needless to say, “Swiss Cheese” Catalinas proved to be the fastest on the strips and won numerous races earning Pontiac some much-needed publicity. Today, most of the cars are accounted for and the prices for these valuable drag racing legends are close to $1 million.

Photo Credit: Mecum

Shelby GT500 “Eleanor”

A million for a Mustang? The most expensive and fantastic pony cars have already exceeded that number. In May of 2013, the famous car from the “Gone In 60 Seconds” remake was sold for a million dollars, making history for Mustang fans everywhere (via Maxim). “Gone in 60 Seconds,” starring Nicolas Cage, premiered in 2000. Despite its all-star cast, the only true star was a highly modified 1967 Shelby GT500 which was given the designation “E,” short for Eleanor.

Photo Credit: Edmunds

Even though several cars were used for the shooting, this one was the “hero car” used for close-ups and promotional purposes. After the movie, Eleanor soon became extremely popular, and lots of companies produced and sold replicas with various drivetrains. Purists protested since several Eleanors were based on and made using the real 1967 Fastbacks, which was considered blasphemy by many.

Photo Credit: Top Classic Cars For Sale

Dodge Hemi Dart LO23 Super Stock

As one of the biggest forces on America’s drag strips in the ’60s, Chrysler always looked for ways to improve performance and break records. After years of fiddling with mid-size platforms, for 1968, Mopar shoehorned the Race Hemi in the smallest platform they could find – the Dodge Dart (via Auto Evolution).

Photo Credit: Car Revs Daily

The actual fabrication of this beast was a tough task. The Hemi Darts were assembled almost by hand using regular 383 Dart. Installing the big Hemi in the small Dart’s engine bay was challenging and a tight fit but Chrysler engineers managed to produce exactly 80 cars. Of course, none were street-legal, and all went to racing teams.

Photo Credit: Mecum

Dodge Charger Daytona Hemi

NASCAR races were one of the most important battle arenas of muscle car wars. Back in the late ’60s, superspeedways were places of many fierce clashes between Detroit’s manufacturers. The most exciting period was when NASCAR rules allowed modifications to car bodies to make cars more aerodynamic. Most manufacturers jumped to this opportunity and created Aero racers. These were specially designed cars homologated for races (via Street Muscle Mag).

Photo Credit: Mecum

One of the most famous and influential was the 1969 Charger Daytona. It was produced in 504 examples strictly as a homologation special. The Charger Daytona was one of the first cars to be developed in a wind tunnel. It used new materials in construction. It proved to be very successful on the race tracks and even managed to do a record 217 mph run in almost stock configuration. The standard engine was a 440 V8, and only about 70 cars received the legendary 426 Hemi. Those cars are now worth over $1 million.

Photo Credit: Mecum

Yenko Nova 427

The Yenko family started a Chevrolet dealership in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1949. In the late ’50s when Don Yenko began to manage the business, the company slowly turned to the performance car market. They started with a series of race-prepared Corvettes, which Don raced himself. Then they moved on to full conversion jobs based on various Chevrolet models (via Motor Trend).

Chevrolet Chevy II / Nova - Yenko Camaro
Photo Credit: Mecum

Yenko became famous for its 427 conversions and the number of Camaro and Chevelle models with recognizable paint schemes. However, its craziest creation was the Yenko Nova 427. Produced for just one year in 1968, only 38 cars left the factory. All are powered by tuned 427 V8 engines producing north of factory-rated 425 HP. It was extremely fast and “almost lethal,” as Yenko best described it. The car was one of the fastest street-legal machines you could buy but a relatively rare sight on the strip due to low production numbers, sheer danger, and its high price.

Photo Credit: Mecum

Shelby GT500 Super Snake

This GT500 Super Snake was produced as a rolling laboratory to showcase the possibilities of the Mustang platform as well as for testing Goodyear’s “Thunderbolt” tire line. Goodyear was proud to announce that their Thunderbolt tires are capable of running at 170 mph. Shelby was quick to build a car capable of that speed. Using a Le Mans-winning race engine and modifying the transmission and suspension. Shelby created the Super Snake, the ultimate 170 mph Mustang. Today, 170 mph isn’t that uncommon of a top speed, but back in the late ’60s, most muscle cars struggled to reach 120 mph (via Road and Track).

1967 Shelby GT500 Super Snake Sells for $2.2M - 1-of-1 Shelby Mustang Breaks Record
Photo Credit: Road and Track

However, the Super Snake debuted in 1967 and broke several production car records with Shelby himself behind the wheel. The Super Snake was so successful that there were production plans. But when Shelby realized that the price of the finished product would be around $8000 (big money for 1967). He killed the project because he realized nobody would buy the car. Today, it’s worth over $2 million.

1970 Plymouth Superbird
Photo Credit: Hot Rod

Plymouth Roadrunner Superbird Hemi

As one of the craziest muscle cars ever produced, Plymouth has one of the most recognizable designs ever presented to the general public. To homologate the car for racing, Plymouth built (1970 model year only) just under 2000 road-going Superbirds and sold them all over America (via Supercars).

Photo Credit: Super Cars

The car used the Roadrunner body and it came with a 440 V8 as standard and 426 Hemi as the only engine option. However, to make it as aerodynamically efficient as it 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-shaped one to regular, which proved more slippery in wind tunnel testing.

Photo Credit: Edmunds

Shelby EXP500 Green Hornet

When discussing the most expensive Mustangs, we have to mention the Green Hornet, although it didn’t sell. Still, the car received a high bid of $1.8 million dollars at auction, but that wasn’t enough to buy it. For those who don’t know, the Green Hornet is another experimental Mustang from Shelby’s heyday (via Motor Trend). Although it wasn’t the only one, the Green Hornet features the most innovative features.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

It had a 390 V8 equipped with fuel injection, unique disc brakes on all four wheels, and an independent rear suspension. With this layout, the Green Hornet was a capable car that handled and stopped better than any other sports car on the market. Unfortunately, the cost of producing those features was too high. Ford and Shelby decided to go with more conventional technology. The other prototypes, like The Little Red (1967 Shelby GT500 Convertible), were all crushed. But the Green Hornet somehow managed to survive in the hands of an ex-Ford employee. A restoration was done and it’s now in perfect condition in the hands of the man who saved it from the crusher.

Photo Credit: Auto WP

Ford Mustang GT390 Bullitt

One of the biggest Mustang legends is the ‘Bullitt’ movie car. In 1968, legendary actor Steve McQueen starred in this detective flick, playing a detective who drove a mean-looking 1968 GT390 Fastback. They used two cars during the shooting but destroyed one of them. They used the other for close-ups and promotional shoots. McQueen, a racing enthusiast, drove and modified it, preserving it for the future (via Car and Driver).

Photo Credit: Pinterest

They later sold the surviving GT309 car. After several owners, it finally settled on the East Coast of the U.S. For decades, only a few people knew of the car’s whereabouts and the owner refused to sell it. Even McQueen himself tracked down the vehicle in the late ’70s. Then in 2018, Ford made headlines when it convicted the son of the owner of taking the original 1968 GT390 Fastback out of hiding and showing the car in public next to the modern Bullitt Mustang. In the summer of 2019, the original vehicle once again made headlines when it was announced that it would be in a January 2020 Mecum auction. Today, we finally know what the price of the most valuable Mustang in the world is – a staggering $3.74 million.

Photo Credit: Mecum

Chevrolet Corvette ZL-1

Back in the late ’60s, Chevrolet was under a racing ban proposed by General Motors. This meant that no official Chevrolet product could race. Of course, nobody stopped Chevrolet from helping racing teams through its “backdoor” programs in which special engines and components were developed. In the late ’60s, Can-Am was a famous racing series that featured prototype-class cars with V8 engines. Chevrolet wanted to purpose-build a power plant for this championship, so they produced an all-aluminum 427 big block called the ZL-1 in 1969 (via Corv Sport). It was a high-revving, 7.0-liter V8 with up to 550 HP in mild tune.

Photo Credit: Auto WP

This monster of an engine was far more powerful than anything Mopar or Ford had in production at the moment. The performance potential was unbelievable, and Chevrolet wanted to avoid offering this wild racing engine to the general public. So the ZL-1 option was absent in the press or official brochures. However, wealthy individuals close to the factory knew about its existence and could purchase the ZL-1. Only two Corvette ZL-1s are known to exist – one manual and one equipped with an automatic gearbox. Chevrolet destroyed the rest as pre-production prototypes. Only two found a way to private hands, where they have been cherished and preserved as the most valuable and exciting pieces of Corvette history. Their estimated value is over $3 million.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

Plymouth Hemi Cuda Convertible

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

Photo Credit: Edmunds

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, and they made just about 600 coupes and only 17 convertibles during a two-year production period. Prices for those 17 cars range from $2 to 4 million dollars.

Photo Credit: Ford

Shelby Daytona Coupe

The regular Cobra lacked top speed due to poor aerodynamics, and on long straights like on Le Mans, it was slower than the competition. To fight that, Shelby needed to modify the Cobra entirely. With the help of his talented team of engineers and hot rodders, he managed to construct an extended chassis, relocate the suspension and design a new, longer, sleeker, and much more aerodynamically efficient body (via CNN).

Photo Credit: RM Sotherby

Called the Daytona Coupe, it was a pure racing car barely suitable for street driving and intended to destroy the competition. They only made 6 of them, and you will need at least $7.25 million to own one today.

Chevrolet Camaro - Chevrolet Chevelle
Photo Credit: Mecum

Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 COPO

Back in the late ’60s, Chevrolet was under the aforementioned racing ban proposed by General Motors. Of course, nobody stopped Chevrolet from helping racing teams through its “back door” programs in which special engines and components were developed. In the late ’60s, Can-Am was a famous racing series that featured prototype-class cars with V8 engines (via Auto Evolution).

Photo Credit: Mecum

Chevrolet wanted to purpose build a power plant for this championship, so they produced an all-aluminum 427 big block called ZL-1 in 1969. It was a high-revving, 7.0-liter V8 with up to 550 HP in mild tune. This monster of an engine was far more potent than anything Mopar or Ford had in production at the moment. Chevrolet produced around 200 of those engines. And while most of them went to Can-Am racing teams, 69 of ZL-1 were installed in C.O.P.O Camaros and sold to drag racing teams. The Camaro ZL-1 was the same on the outside as a regular 1969 Camaro. It was so fast it was barely street-legal.

Photo Credit: Edmunds

Shelby Cobra 289 CSX 2000

You are probably asking why the early 1962 Cobra 289 is more expensive than the first 10 cars on this list put together. Well, the CSX2000 is the first Cobra ever made, and it was in the personal fleet of Carroll Shelby for decades (via Shelby American Collection).

Photo Credit: Auto WP

It was also the first magazine loaner car, publicity shot car, and demonstration model driven by many famous names. This Cobra is an enormously important part of American car history which lends to its ridiculously high price tag of over $13 million.

Photo Credit: GM

Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 LS6

The Chevelle was always a very popular muscle car as its combination of affordable price, excellent design, and powerful engines was a hit with buyers. In 1970, Chevrolet offered an expanded line of engines, including the famous 454 V8 big blocks (via Hemmings).

Photo Credit: Auto WP

The regular version was called the LS5 and was very powerful, but an even stronger LS6 variant was put in just 3,700 cars. The LS-6 had a near-racing compression of 11.25:1, used a bigger carburetor, and much stronger engine internals. Rated at 450 HP, it is more likely that it produced over 500.

Photo Credit: Mecum

Chevrolet Corvette L88

Even though we have already featured the L88 Corvette as the first item on our list, this one is the later C3 model introduced in 1969. It used the same basic mechanics and drive train components, including a very powerful 427 V8 engine (via Motor Trend).

Corvette L88 Via Motor Trend
Photo Credit: Motor Trend

So, why is the 1969 model much less expensive than the 1967 version, which sold for over $3 million? Simply, Chevrolet made 116 of those for 1969, which was much more than it did two years earlier. But you will still need at least $1 million to get the 1969 model.

Photo Credit: Wallup Net

Pontiac GTO Judge Convertible

By 1971, the end of the crazy muscle car segment was in sight. Tightening government regulations regarding safety, environmental, and insurance issues were killing cars’ power and the market overall since power was the main selling point. On the other hand, by 1970 and 1971, the muscle car market was full, and never before or since were there so many models on offer. This is why we have the GTO Judge on our list as one of the rarest and most expensive muscle cars ever produced (via Hemmings).

Photo Credit: Auto WP

The Pontiac GTO was always popular and a strong seller. But sales were down with so many competitors in the early ’70s. The famous Judge version, introduced in 1969, was continued in 1971. It featured a big block 455 V8 engine, crazy graphics, and a big spoiler on the trunk. Since the displacement limit wasn’t in effect and intermediate cars from GM could have the most significant engines available, GTO had 455 big block V8, rated at 335 HP. The Judge version was relatively expensive and didn’t sell as well as before. The convertible was over $4,000 (base price), which was a lot of money back then. This is why only 17 GTO Judge 455 convertibles left the factory that year, making it one of the rarest GTOs and muscle cars ever created.

Photo Credit: Auto WP

Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport

In the early ’60s, Chevrolet was very successful in motorsports. With Zora Arkus Duntov and Ed Cole as head engineers for Corvette, the racing version of the Corvette Stingray was a logical next step in its development. The Corvette had already proven itself on the market. Now it was time to prove itself on the race track. Back in the day, the Shelby Cobra backed by Ford was dominant at the race tracks. The Corvette team wanted to beat it (via Motor Trend).

Grand Sport Roadster Via Motor Week
Photo Credit: Auto WP

So, Zora and his team prepared 5 Grand Sport Corvettes with modified bodies, fully-loaded race engines, and a host of other specially built components. The Grand Sport Corvette had over 550 HP and was capable of brutal performance. The Corvette team had big plans and entered the Grand Sport Corvettes in several races with promising results. But the decision from the top of General Motors stopped all racing activities. For some reason, GM decided to stop investing in all forms of racing in early 1963. This killed the fantastic Grand Sport program before it could prove its worth, making the Corvette Grand Sport one of the greatest “what if” stories of the racing world. All five cars survived. The price for one these days? Over $5 million.

Photo Credit: RM Sotheby

Ford GT 40

The story of the Ford GT 40 is the saga of enormous effort, incredible support, luck, and several talented people all gathered in one place at one time to create history. After a failed attempt to buy Ferrari in the early ’60s, Ford was angry at Enzo for his childish behavior. They decided to beat him on the race track and prove who the real boss was. But at the moment, Ford didn’t have a racing program or even whom to manage it. So the company looked for outsources who could make things happen (via Ford).

Photo Credit: RM Sotheby

The basis for the Ferrari-beating race car was found in England in the form of the Lola Mk6. It was changed and given a new racing 289 V8 engine and turned into the first Ford GT 40 in 1964. The car didn’t look promising at the beginning. But meticulous work and money invested in it by Ford transformed the GT 40 into a world-conquering machine in months. To make a long story short, Ferrari was humiliated exactly four times between 1966 and 1969 when the GT 40 won 24 Hours of Le Mans four times in a row. It was a fantastic success and an incredible achievement by a company that never appeared in Le Mans before the mid-’60s. The GT 40 became an outright legend and a symbol of an American race car dominating the European racing scene.

Photo Credit: Auto WP

Chevrolet Impala Z-11

Pontiac was not the only GM division involved with drag racing on a full scale in the early ’60s as Chevrolet was pretty active too. But for 1963, Chevrolet introduced a very limited but highly influential Z-11 option on two-door Impalas. The idea behind the RPO Z-11 was to present the best street/strip technology in one model. And the first order of the day was to shed weight by using aluminum panels, a grille, a hood, and fenders (via Hemmings).

Photo Credit: Auto WP

The radio and heater were gone and the interior had lost all unnecessary luxury. The second was to add power, and the new 427, with numerous performance updates and racing internals, was present in the Z-11. Its power output was close to 450 HP, but some claim it was closer to the 500 HP mark. Z-11 Impalas were regular 11.2 seconds quarter mile cars, so they had a ton of power.

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