The secret of the Lil’ Express Truck and its importance lies in the strict limitations of the late ’70s that robbed V8 engines of their power. Dodge found an interesting loophole in the regulations that declared pickup trucks didn’t have to have catalytic converters. This meant Dodge could install a more powerful engine and have it breathe easier to deliver more punch than previous models or competitors (via Dodge Connection).
That’s how the Lil’ Express Truck came to be. Dodge took a standard D Series short bed truck and added a 360 V8 engine. Next, they added big truck-like stacked exhaust pipes right behind the doors. They also installed a durable automatic transmission with a red color scheme.
In the late ’60s, Can-Am was a famous racing series and it featured prototype class cars with V8 engines. Chevrolet wanted to purpose-build a power plant for this championship and produced an all-aluminum 427 big block called ZL-1 in 1969 (via Motor Trend).
It was a high-revving, 7.0-liter V8 with around 550 HP. Chevrolet produced about 200 of those engines. While most of them went to Can-Am racing teams, 69 ZL-1s were installed in C.O.P.O. Camaros and sold to drag teams. The Camaro ZL-1 was totally the same as the regular 1969 Camaro on the outside, but it was so fast it was barely street legal.
The Dodge Challenger didn’t enter the segment until 1970. Although some muscle car historians say Dodge was too late to the party, the Challenger left its mark and reserved a place in history. It featured a new design and better construction, as well as a wider and longer body. Also, buyers could get a powerful 383 V8 as well as the big 440 and the famous 426 Hemi (via Auto-Data).
But the best performers were the 440 and the Hemi. And depending on the specifications, differential ratio, and gearboxes, Challengers equipped with those engines could accelerate to 60 mph in 5.5 to 5.7 seconds. Drivers considered that extremely quick by 1970 standards.
Even before muscle cars were a thing, Chrysler produced a series of high-performance luxury coupes and convertibles with unbelievable performance and unmistakable style. They called the model the 300. The C300 was the first model in 1955. People called them the Letter Series, and those upscale cruisers were some of the fastest and most powerful models ever.
They equipped the first models with early Hemi engines that could produce 300 horses; hence the name. The early Chrysler “Letter Series” models were the first American-made cars with 300 HP ratings. With the introduction of advanced intake setups, different engine power levels rose so these big, heavy cars achieved impressive acceleration times (via Dan Jedlicka).
Plymouth revealed the GTX in 1967 as a luxury option in the Belvedere lineup. They based this model on the same platform as the Coronet. However, it was much more luxurious and had a 375 HP 440 V8 standard. Plymouth wanted the GTX to compete with luxury cars of the period, so they installed almost all possible options (via Hemmings).
Also, they added a special trim to distinguish the GTX from the rest of the model lineup. The GTX was a gentleman’s hot rod with all the options. It had 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, drivers went for the Hemi.
In the early 1960s, Pontiac realized that racing helps sell cars and the famous Detroit mantra “Win on Sunday-Sell on Monday” works. Pontiac had a good base for a fast super-stock car in the form of the two-door Catalina. It had a potent 421 V8 engine, but it needed to add power and subtract some weight. So to do the latter, Pontiac engineers manufactured numerous aluminum parts like bumpers, fenders, and a hood (via Supercars).
Interestingly, they soon nicknamed the car, “Swiss Cheese” since they also drilled holes in the frame to save a few pounds more. With its high compression 421 V8 engine delivering 410 HP, these Catalinas were lightning quick.
The legendary SS (Super Sport) package has its place in muscle car history as it brought performance to the general public. This was one of the first high-performance automobiles that were relatively affordable. Just through mild modifications to the engine, it could produce up to 409 HP which was enough to propel the Impala from 0 to 60 mph in six seconds (via Motor Trend).
At the time, it was Corvette territory. Chevrolet presented the SS package, which featured bucket seats and sports trim. It came with the 348 V8 engine with 350 HP. However, the most attractive option was the 409 V8 with up to 409 HP if drivers opted for a dual-quad intake system.
In 1970, Buick decided to introduce the ultimate muscle car in the form of the legendary and scarce Buick GSX. The GSX stood for Gran Sport Experimental. It was a visually upgraded Gran Sport with Stage 1 performance package. It was available in two bright colors – Saturn Yellow and Apollo White (via GM Heritage).
The power output was the same (345 HP/510 lb.-ft). And because Buick’s 455 was significantly lighter than Chevelle’s 454 or Plymouth’s Hemi 426, the GSX was a winner in street races across America. However, despite all the qualities of the GSX and numerous accolades by the motoring press, Buick built less than 700 examples.
In 1968, Ford introduced the 428 Cobra Jet engine and Carroll Shelby was about to use it in his line of Mustangs. Shelby wanted to do something special and the result was the GT 500 KR. “KR” stands for “King of the Road”. They rated the 428 Cobra Jet at 335 HP (via Supercars).
But everyone knew that the engine delivered more than 400 HP and 400 lb-ft of torque. Production was highly limited and they loaded the GT500 KR with lots of special interior luxury. Unfortunately, they only produced the GT 500 KR for the 1968 model year, dropping the version for 1969.
In the mid-’60s, the Pontiac GTO was the car to have, but it wasn’t the only stellar performance machine coming from Pontiac. There was another pure muscle car icon in the form of the Catalina 2+2. 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 (via Hemmings).
It was the same as the GTO, which boosted your car’s power to 376 HP. Also, buyers could order limited-slip differentials and heavy-duty steering. All that made the Catalina 2+2 well-appointed, but unfortunately expensive too.
The Yenko family started a Chevrolet dealership in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1949. In the late ’50s, when Don Yenko started managing the business, the company slowly turned to the performance car market, first with a series of race-prepared Corvettes. Don himself raced with complete conversion jobs based on various Chevrolet models.
Very soon, with the introduction of the Camaro in 1967, Yenko started converting it to 427 V8 power and selling them as Yenko Super Cars. In addition to more power, wild graphics, and a long list of optional extras, Yenko even offered a factory warranty and heavily promoted his models (via Supercars).
The Nova was Chevrolet’s compact car introduced first as the Chevy II in the early ’60s. The small and affordable model was just a scaled-down Chevelle or Impala. Still, by the end of the ’60s, it obtained serious street credibility since it became a favorite street racer’s weapon. The combination of Nova’s lightweight body and potent V8 engines made it very fast (via Motor Trend).
Chevrolet introduced the SS 350 and SS 396 versions in 1968/9, which were extremely fast. The 1970 model wasn’t changed and still retained classic styling and two powerful V8 engines as an option. Independent tuners like Yenko even offered brutally quick 427 conversions.
In 2014, Dodge presented the Hellcat and the muscle car community went crazy. The reaction was expected since the 6.2-liter supercharged V8 with 707 HP is a legit monster of a muscle car that shouldn’t be driven on the streets. But Dodge did just that, allowing the public to buy one of the fastest, most powerful muscle cars ever built (via Dodge).
It’s only when you unleash the fury of its 707 supercharged horsepower that you will feel the brutality of the Hellcat package and the power going to the rear wheels. The 0 to 60 mph times are in the high three-second range and the car can top 200 mph. There’s no better proof that the legend of the Dodge Charger as a muscle car is alive and well.
The legendary Z/28 version returned for the 2014 model year in an interesting and extremely capable package. Once again, the Z/28 was a track day car and a road racing-oriented Camaro. It came with brakes, suspension, and steering dedicated to precision and driving dynamics. Under the hood was a 7.0-liter V8 from the Corvette Z06. It delivered 505 HP and provided more than enough power (via GM Authority).
The rest of the car was all highly engineered for precision. Chevrolet gave it stiffer shocks and thicker anti-roll bars as well as special wheels and brakes. The new Camaro body shed 300 pounds, which helped the Z/28 achieve better numbers at the racetrack.
The mythical Mustang Boss 429 is a proper homologation special legend. Ford conceived it in 1969 as a pure racing engine they intended to use in the NASCAR championship. The Boss 429 featured a different engine architecture than the rest of Ford’s big blocks. First, it was much wider and had semi-Hemi combustion chambers. That helped it achieve higher revs and get better flow inside the head to produce more power and torque (via Supercars).
Factory rated at 375 HP, this unit truly produced over 500 HP and more in race trim. Ford decided to put this engine into the Mustang, creating a limited-production Boss 429. But NASCAR decided not to homologate it since the series only accepted intermediate and full-size cars.
The Chevelle was always a trendy muscle car. Its combination of affordable price, excellent design, and powerful engines was a hit with buyers. For 1970, Chevrolet offered an expanded line of engines, including the famous 454 V8 big blocks. The regular version was called LS5, and it was mighty, but there was an even stronger LS6 variant installed in just 3,700 cars (via Hemmings).
The LS-6 had almost racing compression of 11.25:1 and used a bigger carburetor and stronger engine internals. It was rated at 450 HP, but it is more likely that it produced over 500 HP.
As one of the craziest muscle cars ever produced, the Roadrunner Superbird has one of the most recognizable designs ever. To homologate the car for racing, Plymouth built it for one year only in 1970. They produced just under 2,000 road-going Superbirds, selling them all over America (via FOX News).
Plymouth based the Superbird on the Roadrunner, equipping it with a 440 V8 as standard and 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.
Chevrolet knew the Camaro platform could handle much more than 426 HP thanks to its fantastic cornering speeds. So it was only natural that as soon as the new generation hit the streets in 2010, Chevy engineers started developing a performance version. The first of those was the Camaro ZL-1 first released in 2012.
The ZL-1 was a special 427 V8-powered drag beast from 1969 and its 2012 counterpart followed the same formula. Chevrolet took the biggest and most powerful engine GM had, which was a 6.2-liter supercharged V8, and stuffed it into the Camaro. The result was a 580 HP street terror with the highly advanced Magnetic Ride suspension, performance Goodyear tires, Brembo brakes, and more (via Evo).
Even though Ford based the Shelby on the Mustang GT, much of the 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 (via Car and Driver).
Ford’s investment in the Shelby GT350R paid off and the performance is mind-boggling with 3.9-seconds 0 to 60 times. But the numbers don’t do this car justice. The Shelby GT350R is a pure sports car that delivers fantastic driving dynamics as well as an unforgettable driving experience.
There were fast SUVs before Jeep introduced the Trackhawk. However, this glorious machine deserves a place on this list for two reasons. First, for the 707 Hellcat Hemi engine under the hood. Second, its 3.4-second 0 to 60 mph time makes this SUV faster than some supercars (via Jeep).
The Trackhawk is a brutal machine that is highly unusual and influential. It is a proper muscle car in SUV form. That shows how a high horsepower Hemi engine can make anything a proper muscle car, even a full-size SUV.
The original Mach I debuted as an affordable performance version of the Mustang Sportsroof in 1969. It featured a long list of options and three engines. The base was the 302 V8, then the 351 V8 and the top-of-the-line model with the mighty 428 Cobra Jet. Despite the fact that Ford built over 20,000 examples in 1969, only a small number had the Cobra Jet engine (via Mecum).
But this was the definitive option to have. Only 428 CJ-equipped Mach Is had true performance potential and could beat other muscle cars on the street. The 428 Cobra Jet was rated at 335 HP but everybody knew that it produced more than 400 HP.
The 1970 model year was big for the Oldsmobile 442 and all GM muscle cars. General Motors lifted its corporate ban on putting engines bigger than 400 CID in intermediate bodies. So all GM muscle cars including the 442 got the big block and more power. But in 1970 the 442 got the mighty 455 V8 with 370 HP and 500 lb.-ft of torque.
Since the 442 was more luxurious than other muscle cars, it was also somewhat heavier. This made it a little slower. However, it was still an extremely capable machine with 0 to 60 mph times of 5.7 seconds (via Motorious).
The ZL1 might steal the headlines when it comes to horsepower and insane 0 to 60 numbers. However, the standard Camaro SS is still the best choice. If you want an exciting muscle car but have a budget, keep your eye on. With incredibly composed chassis, precision steering, and excellent suspension, this Camaro is arguably the driver’s car (via Chevrolet).
Under the hood is the venerable 6.2-liter V8 with 455 HP. It’s capable of getting the 2022 Camaro SS to 60 mph in just 4.0 seconds. The top speed is a pretty respectable 183 mph. Unfortunately, you will need the German de-restricted Autobahn to prove Chevrolet’s claims.
By 1974, almost all muscle cars were extinct from the market. And sadly, those that remained were robbed of their power and style. However, there was one model that managed to survive and offer as much performance and power as possible – the 1974 Trans Am Super Duty 455 (via Motor Trend).
They carried the SD 455 model over from 1973, but in the new package, it featured a better suspension and brakes. The standard 455 V8 produced only 215 HP, but in SD trim it developed 290 HP, which was absolutely fantastic for 1974.
The rise in power of domestic cars during the 1980s brought the first real performance to the Mustang range in nearly 20 years. The Fox-body Mustang grew more and more powerful with each model year, starting from 175 HP in the 1983 model (via Motor Junkie).
By the late ’80s, the venerable 5.0-liter V8 engine was pumping 225 hp and 300 lb.-ft of torque which translated to some solid 0 to 60 mph times. This car marked a return to the roots with a strong V8 engine and exciting performance. Also, the late ’80s Fox-body GT was very popular, so they are plentiful today.
The original Viper in the early ’90s was what happens when talented individuals with a clear goal set out to make the perfect car. Under the hood was an 8.0-liter fully aluminum V10 delivering 400 HP and 465 lb.-ft of torque. It secured the Viper’s place as one of the most powerful new models on the market (via Car and Driver).
With a price tag of over $50,000 and 0 to 60 mph times of 4.6 seconds, the Viper beat many European exotic machines. Its performance established the Viper as one of the best-looking, fastest cars of the early ’90s and the legend of America’s deadliest snake began.
Ford was always successful in NASCAR championships. So when Dodge started moving with their specially-prepared Chargers, Ford reacted with the Aero-warrior model they called the Torino Talladega. Next, they added a few slippery details and homologated them for the superspeedway (via Silodrome).
Ford built a total of 754 Talladegas, using many of them for racing. In contrast to the extreme Charger Daytona, Ford decided to modify the front and the back of a regular Torino, removing the pointy wings and front end. This approach proved to be successful, so the Torino Talladega won many races.
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 1960s, Hurst transformed the Oldsmobile 442 into one of the fastest cars available on the North American market (via Driving Line).
Oldsmobile shipped partially disassembled 442s to Hurst where they installed the biggest engine Oldsmobile had, the mighty 455 V8 with 390 HP. The Hurst Olds package also got numerous other performance upgrades like the ram air induction system. They also added a heavy-duty suspension and brakes.
For 1963, Dodge and Plymouth presented a new design and upped the power of the legendary 413 Max Wedge motor to 426 CID displacements. Dodge presented a plain-looking Ramcharger version of their two-door 330 model. It was a bare-bones two-door sedan with a bench seat and 426 cubic inches of pure power in the front (via Supercars).
The upgrades all allowed more power, 426 cubic inches, and an insane 6,500 rpm limit. Chrysler claimed their new 426 Max Wedge engine delivered 415 HP with standard 11.0:1 compression, 425 HP, and an optional 13.5:1 ratio. However, most experts claim the real power output was much higher at closer to 500 HP. In 1963, this was one of the quickest cars in the world.
For years, Cadillac was without a proper performance series necessary to compete with BMW or Mercedes. But finally, the V-Series was born. It was all Cadillac lovers dreamed of with its powerful engines (via Motor Trend).
Arguably the most successful was the second-generation CTS-V model produced between 2008 and 2014. Under the hood was a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 delivering 556 HP. That made the CTS-V the most powerful performance sedan on the market. With 0 to 60 mph time of just 3.8 seconds, the second-generation CTS-V was one of the fastest four-door vehicles on the planet. You could say it’s a true muscle car sedan.
If for any reason, the 707 HP from the Hellcat package is not enough and you want the most powerful street Hemi engine ever, the Demon package may be the best option for you. With standard fuel, it will deliver an insane 808 HP, but if you use the high octane stuff, it will pump out almost 840 HP.
Its acceleration from 0 to 60 is less than three seconds, and under full power, the Demon will accelerate with 1.8 G force. That is faster than jumping off a cliff. This car is capable of covering a quarter-mile sprint in less than 10 seconds straight from the dealership (via CNet).
Two of the biggest Chrysler legends from the classic days of the muscle car culture are the Barracuda and the 426 Hemi engine. In 1970 Plymouth offered this legendary engine in the Barracuda body, immediately creating one of the fastest, most desirable muscle cars ever (via AutoExpress).
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 installed it in about 600 coupes and only 17 convertibles during its two-year production period. The power was rated at 425 HP but was rumored to have delivered more than 500.
Chevrolet produced the second-generation Corvette (C2) from 1963 to 1967. It was one of the most beautiful and aggressive-looking cars of the muscle car era. It was also a popular and successful racing car in the hands of many private racing teams. Corvettes equipped with the L-88 engine were in a class by themselves since the aluminum head produced close to 600 HP (via The Manual).
Also, the L-88 had a mandatory heavy-duty suspension, brakes, and handling package. Chevy developed this option for racers. But it was expensive, almost doubling the price of the base ’67 Corvette. That’s why it is one of the rarest, with only 20 in coupe and convertible form.
Some people think of a Cougar only as a Mustang with a longer wheelbase and luxury interior. But Mercury’s muscle car was much more than that. With its unique styling and trim, it was an independent force in the muscle car wars of the late ’60s. The ultimate version that perfectly combined muscle car power with luxury was the mighty Cougar XR-7 (via Hemmings).
This model had the 390 V8 engine with 320 HP. But buyers could also opt for the GT package, which included a beefed-up suspension and stronger brakes. Over the years, the Cougar was in the shadow of the Mustang.
It seems that every new generation of the Shelby GT500 pushes the envelope even further. Each model delivers so much power, it’s hard to comprehend. Just look at the latest 2020 model. From the outside, it looks like a menacing Mustang. But the real surprise lies beneath the metal (via JD Power).
The massive 5.2-liter supercharged V8 engine delivers 760 HP and sends it to the rear wheels through an intelligent 10-speed automatic. This interesting combo makes the new GT500 the perfect combination of old-school muscle and modern technology. The result is even more astonishing as it takes just 3.3 seconds to get to 60 mph with a 180-mph top speed.
The 1969 Trans Am featured big-block power from the famous 400 V8 engine equipped with the Ram Air III or IV intake system. The difference between those engines was significant since the Ram Air IV featured many improved engine internals and components. But they rated both at 366 HP, which was understated (via Volo).
However, this special version with its signature white paint, blue stripes, and Rally II wheels proved to be a tough seller. Sadly, they only sold 634 Firebird Trans Am. And among those, only eight were convertibles.
Think again if you believe Yenko was the classic Camaro tuner. There were several well-known names in the business, but the most extreme was Baldwin Motion (via Silodrome). Their 427 conversions for the early 1970s models were simply the best. Baldwin Motion installed numerous exceptional performance parts.
They delivered them with a written warranty that the vehicle could achieve 10-second quarter-mile times and produce 500 HP. Today, Baldwin Motion Camaros are highly sought-after and valuable pieces of muscle car history.
The third redesign of the Mustang appeared for the 1969 model year and the car grew again. Ford produced it for only two years in 1969 and 1970. The Boss 302 featured a 302 V8 engine conservatively rated at 290 HP. The real output was closer to the 350 HP mark though (via Ford).
The Boss 302 was a model Ford intended for racing in the Trans-Am championship. Apart from the blackout hood, spoiler on the trunk, and other details, it featured a stiff, track-tuned suspension, a close-ratio gearbox, and a high-revving engine.
A young engineer named John Z. DeLorean thought of a genius idea. He wanted to install a big, powerful 396 V8 into a light, intermediate Tempest two-door body. He knew it was an easy and affordable way to create a true performance machine. For just $295, buyers could get a high-performance 396 V8 with 325 HP in a standard or 348 HP in the famous Tri-Power form (via Muscle Car Facts).
The package included a manual transmission, unique trim, GTO decals, and dual exhaust. And since the car was light, the Tempest GTO delivered a convincing performance. In fact, in 1964, it was one of the quickest American cars on the market. Even Corvette owners weren’t safe from Tempest GTOs lurking at stop lights across the country. The big sales made it clear the GTO was a hit among younger buyers and that a star was born.