Home Cars Sculpted For Speed: Luxury Coupes That Tore Up The Roadways

Sculpted For Speed: Luxury Coupes That Tore Up The Roadways

Vukasin Herbez September 28, 2023

Muscle car fans know that real performance cars often have their own cues that establish their levels of insane performance. These include massive hood intakes, spoilers, racing stripes, and aggressive stances. The rumble of the exhaust might just be the biggest indicator of true speed. However, some unique cars were both fast and desirable. These luxury coupes delivered a huge level of performance luxuriously.

These rides weren’t necessarily flamboyant or loud. They were models that appealed to customers who wanted luxury but craved performance. The best of luxury coupes were notorious for their ability to cocoon the driver in luxury but provide it with enough firepower to beat Mustangs at the stoplight. Find out which luxury coupes featured massive performance right here.

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Mercury Marauder X100

Today, the Mercury brand is defunct. But back in the ’60s, it was a well-respected luxury division above the working-class Ford and just below Lincoln. Mercury did well in the muscle car segment with the Cougars and Cyclone. Luxury performance models were scarce until 1969 when a new generation of the Marauder left the factory. Imagined as a luxury coupe, the Marauder had a fresh design with new features like concealed headlights, a massive front end, and a sloping rear end with concave glass (via Hemmings).

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It was a big, heavy car intended for cruising rather than racing. However, Mercury needed something to fight the Pontiac Grand Prix and Buick Riviera GS. They needed to upgrade the Marauder to higher spec if they wanted a piece of the action. So the Marauder X100 was made. Behind the strange name was a regular 1969 Marauder but with a 429 V8 engine with 360 hp, bucket seats, heavy-duty suspension blackout rear trim, and fender skirts.

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Studebaker Golden Hawk

The Studebaker brand disappeared in 1966 after years of trying to stay relevant in the American market. However, in the mid-1950s it was still one of the best names in the business with a lineup of exciting models. One of the best Studebakers ever built was the elegant, fast ’56 Golden Hawk (via Wall Street Journal).

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Conceived as a cool-looking personal luxury coupe, the Golden Hawk had a Packard-derived 352 V8 engine with 275 hp, which was impressive for the day. Its performance was also significant with a 0 to 60 mph time of less than nine seconds. The Golden Hawk showed the market that Studebaker could still produce exciting cars with a premium feel and looks. Unfortunately, that was one of the last successful Studebaker models as the company closed in 1966.

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Pontiac Grand Prix SJ

Back in the ’60s, Pontiac was considered GM’s performance brand. It was no coincidence that this company conceived the GTO. The allure of powerful engines and aggressive design was Pontiac’s trademark. Management wanted to widen its appeal and go beyond regular muscle cars like the GTO and the Firebird. To enter the world of luxury muscle cars, Pontiac had a perfect candidate in the form of the Grand Prix. This model’s competition was the Ford Thunderbird and Oldsmobile 98 as a so-called “gentleman’s express” (via Hemmings).

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However, with the restyling of the Grand Prix for 1969, there was a chance to introduce trim packages that would transform this comfy cruiser into a real muscle car. Pontiac jumped at the opportunity. First, there was a new design with a long hood, a short rear end, and an exciting new dashboard. The 1969 Grand Prix looked apart from the competitors and sales immediately jumped. Second, there was a fantastic trim option called the SJ. It featured a high-output 428 V8 engine that delivered 390 hp and a host of other performance options. The moniker “SJ” was borrowed from the legendary Duesenberg brand.

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Oldsmobile Toronado

Today’s enthusiasts may not remember Oldsmobile since the brand was retired in 2000. But back in the 1960s, the company enjoyed a reputation for inventive technology, style, and luxury. Oldsmobile represented the cutting edge of GM at one point in time, presenting models that were far ahead of their time while displaying power and style on the global market. One such car was the Oldsmobile Toronado (via Car and Driver).

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This was a big, powerful personal luxury coupe with a twist since it had front-wheel drive. In those days, only a few imports were front-wheel drive, while all domestic cars were rear-wheel drive. However, Oldsmobile wanted to introduce something else and constructed an ingenious FWD system. Designers drew a fantastic-looking shape with a low roof and hidden headlights. Power came from a big block 455 V8 with 385 hp. The Toronado was a success and introduced superb driving characteristics that left competitors in the dust. The first two generations were the best while the later Toronado was just a Cadillac Eldorado with a different grille.

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Buick Wildcat

Introduced in 1962, the Wildcat was one of the first personal luxury coupes that featured a performance-tuned engine and options. Of course, since it was a Buick, luxury appointments and upscale options were guaranteed. Even before the Rivera GS or the start of the muscle car craze, Buick noticed that there was a market for full-size coupes with muscle performance (via Hemmings).

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Young, successful people wanted an upscale product that looked expensive but still had enough power to make everyday driving fun. In those days, luxury coupes like Thunderbirds or Eldorados were big, heavy cruisers with soft handling. That’s why Buick introduced the Wildcat. The Wildcat was a separate model available as a regular four-door hardtop, two-door coupe, or convertible. Under the hood was always a powerful V8 from the top of Buick’s engine lineup. The best year was 1967 when the Wildcat had the mighty 430 V8 engine producing 360 hp. This kind of power in an unassuming sedan or coupe was unheard of at the time and provided great performance and exclusivity to owners.

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Ford 7-Litre

Many people are unaware of this model’s existence. But this is a very interesting and powerful car unfortunately with a short history. The story started in the mid-’60s when Ford introduced a new engine with 428 CID (7.0 liters). An evolution of their venerable FE block. The engine was a powerful street motor with lots of horsepower and torque. At the same time, Chevrolet had the successful Impala SS featuring the 427 V8 and Ford wanted to compete with it (via Top Speed).

Ford Galaxie - Car
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But Ford had a different vision. If Chevrolet produced the Impala SS as a pretty mundane car, Ford would create its model as an upscale coupe or convertible emphasizing luxury. Using a full-size Galaxie two-door hard top or convertible, Ford introduced a new model for 1966 called the 7-Litre. The seven stood for displacement, and Litre spelling gave the otherwise ordinary Galaxie more European charm. Under the hood was the 428 V8 with a respectable 345 hp, which delivered a pretty convincing performance. However, the 7-Litre’s equipment is also very interesting since Ford put everything they got into this car. The buyers could get A/C and bucket seats were standard.

1961 Chevrolet Impala SS
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Chevrolet Impala SS

The legendary SS (Super Sport) package has its place in muscle car history as an important model that promoted performance to the general public. This was one of the first high-performance automobiles that were relatively affordable and fast. Everything started when Chevrolet decided to transform its 409 truck engine for use in passenger cars. There they discovered that the unit was very powerful and could outrun all other vehicles on the road. Just by mild modifications to the engine, it could produce up to 409 hp. That was enough to propel the Impala from a standstill to 60 mph in six seconds flat (via Motor Trend).

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At the time, that was Corvette territory. So as a mid-year introduction, Chevy presented the SS package. It featured bucket seats, sports trim, and other details, and came with a 348 V8 engine with 350 hp. However, the most attractive option was the 409 V8 with up to 409 hp if you opted for the dual quad intake system. This started the SS sub-model for the Impala lineup from 1961 to 1969. Chevrolet offered the biggest and most powerful engines in the prestigious SS package for its two-door coupes and convertibles. That turned a regular family car into a fire-breathing full-size muscle car.

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Chrysler 300 Hurst

Everybody knows about the legendary Chrysler 300 “Letter Cars,” a series of high-powered coupes and convertibles built from 1955 to 1965. They were called “Letter Cars” since each model year had a letter starting with “C” and finishing with “L” in 1965. With low production numbers, bespoke interiors, leather upholstery, and very powerful engines, the “Letter Cars” were true Gran Turismo coupes of their era. When production stopped in 1965, everybody thought an actual 300 Series car would never be seen again (via Mopar Insiders).

Chrysler 300 - Chrysler
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However, in 1970, a limited-edition 300 Hurst left the factory. It was built in very limited numbers of only around 500 with the help of the famous transmission company Hurst. It featured a special white and gold paint job. A similarly styled interior and a rear spoiler was integrated into the rear deck lid. Under the hood, a mighty 440 V8 engine with 395 hp could propel the two-ton beast to respectful acceleration times. This model was offered for one year only. But true Mopar aficionados will never forget the gold and white behemoths with Hurst emblems. At the same time, dedicated Chrysler historians place this special version as a continuation of the “Letter Cars” lineup.

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Pontiac Catalina 2+2

In the mid-1960s, the Pontiac GTO was the car to have since it was at the forefront of the exciting new muscle car movement. With its performance, powerful engine, and great Pontiac styling, the GTO was the perfect car at the time. But it wasn’t the only stellar performance machine coming from Pontiac. In 1965, there was another pure muscle car icon in the form of the Catalina 2+2. Behind this strange name hid a full-size Catalina model available as a coupe or a convertible but with a performance twist (via Motor Trend).

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The regular Catalina was a great-looking, decent-selling model. But in its 2+2 form, it grew into a true Gran Turismo with a luxury interior and fire-breathing engine. Since the Catalina was a full-size model, it was eligible for engines over 400 CID according to GM rules of the time. This meant that the Catalina 2+2 came with the famous 421 V8. If you wanted, you could also get a Tri-Power intake system, which was the same as on the GTO, That option boosted the car’s power to 376 hp.

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Plymouth Fury GT

Despite being an economy brand for the Chrysler Corporation, Plymouth had a surprisingly large number of muscle cars during the ’60s and ’70s. Their luxury muscle car was the GTX. But in 1970, the Fury GT debuted as their biggest model on offer. The Fury GT was a two-door coupe version of the Fury sedan. In GT guise, it was a full-size muscle car with a perfect combination of looks and power (via Hemmings).

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Under the hood was the well-known 440 V8 with a three-carburetor setup and 375 hp. Buyers could choose between the 727 Torqueflite automatic and four-speed manual. If they wanted any actual performance, they would clearly choose the manual. However, despite the power and looks, the Fury GT was a small performer since it was still heavy. In combination with a relatively high price tag, it proved to be a slow seller. So after just one year in production, Plymouth discontinued the GT model.

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Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS 454

Back in the late ’60s, Chevrolet product planners decided to enter the personal luxury segment with a new model. Since Chevrolet was known as a mid-priced car brand, moving up the ladder was a big deal. Chevy knew that they needed a fresh design and powerful engines. Built on the modified Chevelle platform, the Monte Carlo was a handsome coupe-only car with V8 engines. It also had a nice interior and decent performance. Even though most Monte Carlos came with smaller V8 engines and concentrated on luxury, there was one crazy muscle option in the form of the SS 454 package (via Hagerty Agent).

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This version was a true muscle beast with a monstrous 7.4-liter V8 engine which pumped 360 hp and propelled the heavy Monte Carlo to excellent 0 to 60 mph times. Buyers could get this trim level for just $420 above the base price, which transformed this coupe from a somewhat lazy cruiser to a quarter-mile beast. However, only around 3,800 people decided to do so. So the Monte Carlo SS 454 remains one of the rarest luxury muscle cars ever produced.

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Buick Riviera GS

In the early ’60s, Detroit was aware of luxury Gran Turismo European coupes coming to America and selling significant numbers. Performance-oriented buyers wanted to avoid big and heavy domestic-made coupes that had the power but didn’t provide a sports car’s handling. So they turned to Ferraris, Maseratis, and Jaguars for that performance car excitement and prestige. GM decided to capitalize on this trend by introducing a fresh new luxury model with great styling. It also had a cool name and enough power to shame those European coupes (via GM Authority).

Foto Credit: Auto WP

So, in 1963, the Riviera left the factory and immediately became one of the most exciting cars on the American market. Its combination of sleek and elegant styling, modern interior, and Buick’s Nailhead engine made the Riviera an instant best-seller. It was also the first real competitor to the Ford Thunderbird. But Buick wanted more, so the company introduced the legendary Riviera Grand Sport or GSin 1965. The car featured a revised suspension and a more significant 425 engine. It also had a host of performance upgrades. In this version, the Rivera was a genuine world-class automobile with 360 hp and 0-60 mph acceleration times of 7.9 seconds, better than most sports cars of the period.

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Plymouth GTX

Introduced in 1967 as a luxury option in the Belvedere lineup, this model was on the same platform as the Coronet. But it was much more luxurious and had the 375 hp 440 V8 standard. Plymouth wanted the GTX to compete with luxury cars of the period, so they installed almost all possible creature comforts. It also had unique trim on the outside to distinguish the GTX from the rest of the lineup (via Hemmings).

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The GTX was a gentleman’s hot rod with all options, nice interior and exterior details, and only one optional engine choice – the mighty 426 Hemi. The 440 Magnum was the standard engine. But if you wanted the ultimate Plymouth muscle luxury, you had to opt for the Hemi. Because it was significantly more expensive than the rest of the Mopar muscle car lineup, the GTX was never that popular. It’s quite rare today as a result.

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Studebaker Avanti R2

In the early ’60s, Studebaker invested in a luxury coupe to fight poor sales. They thought a new, fancy upscale model would attract customers and turn the attention of the automotive public back to them. So in 1962, the very sleek, modern-looking Avanti was introduced. The innovative design, construction, and technology were exciting, and the car received praise from the motoring press. The base version could have been more powerful, but soon Studebaker introduced a supercharged R2 option, which delivered 289 hp (via Silodrome).

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The R2 version didn’t come with an automatic transmission, only being available with a close ratio manual gearbox, and air conditioning was not available. Besides that, many performance upgrades were standard equipment. The R2 model even broke 28 world speed records, achieving a top speed of 170 mph, which was a big deal in 1963. The acceleration numbers were good and the R2 could sprint to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds. Unfortunately, Studebaker had problems with production. The Avanti had limited availability, which affected its popularity. So, by 1964, this model was discontinued. Today, the Avanti R2 is one of the coolest ’60s cars and an early luxury muscle car. During its short production run, just over 4,600 examples of Studebaker Avanti left the factory and only a handful were the incredible R2s.

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Dodge Magnum

The model name Magnum may sound familiar since Dodge used it on a successful line of station wagons produced from 2005 to 2008. But the model dates back to 1978. The original Dodge Magnum was a luxury muscle car coupe produced for two years in 1978 and 1979. Back in the late ’70s, the American performance market was practically dead. Insurance companies and environmental and safety laws killed the muscle car culture and new cars had embarrassingly low power figures (via The Truth About Cars).

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The muscle car market wasn’t gone; there just weren’t any cars that could have performance numbers close to the models from the late ’60s. As one of the prominent muscle car companies, Dodge knew this and tried to introduce a model that would have some power in a luxury package to appeal to the broader audience. This is how the Magnum was born. It was a cool-looking coupe with all the right ingredients for the time. It had rear-wheel drive, a long hood, a short deck, and a thumping V8 in the front. The biggest engine was a 5.9-litre V8 with 195 hp. Of course, this is diminutive by today’s standards, but back in 1979, this guaranteed respect. Unfortunately, its high price didn’t help sales and the Dodge Magnum didn’t return for the 1980 model year.

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Cadillac CTS-V Coupe

Cadillac was without a proper performance series to compete with BMW or Mercedes for years. But finally, the V-Series was born. It was all that Cadillac lovers dreamed of powerful engines, world-class handling and suspension setups, and exclusive production. Even the competitors took notice when Cadillac rolled up the brand-new V-Series model (via General Motors).

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Arguably, the second-generation CTS-V model produced between 2008 and 2014 was the most successful. Under the hood was a supercharged 6.2-litre V8 with 556 hp, making the CTS-V the most potent performance sedan on the market. The suspension and the rest of the drivetrain were advanced and up to task. So CTS-V was considered a full package and one of the best driver’s cars available. With a 556 hp LS9 V8 engine and 0 to 60 mph time of just 3.8 seconds, the second generation CTS-V was one of the fastest coupes on the planet and a true luxury muscle car.

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