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.