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Last Of The Breed: Top 32 Muscle Cars Of The 1970s

Vukasin Herbez May 9, 2019

6. Dodge Lil’ Express Truck

The muscle car era affected the truck segment, which resulted in a few special versions and more powerful engines. However, nothing changed the truck industry more than when Dodge introduced the Lil’ Express Truck in 1978 as the first full-size muscle truck in the world. The secret of the Lil’ Express Truck and its importance lies in the strict rules of the late 1970s, which robbed V8 engines of their power.

But, Dodge found an interesting loophole in the current regulations that declared pickup trucks didn’t need catalytic converters. This meant Dodge could install a more powerful engine and allow it to deliver more punch than previous models or competitors.

Dodge took a standard D Series short bed truck, added a 360 V8 engine and put big truck-like stacked exhaust pipes right behind the doors. They also installed a more durable automatic transmission. This wild-looking special model had a 225 HP engine, which was considered powerful in those days. Thanks to a revised drivetrain, it was the fastest accelerating domestic vehicle in 1978. It was faster than muscle cars like the Mustang, Camaro, and the Corvette. Today, these cool-looking Dodge trucks are highly sought-after and command high prices

5. Monroe Handler

Few people know what the Monroe Handler is. But back in the late ’70s, the Mustang was a disgrace due to a serious lack of performance and power. However, Hot Rod Magazine thought that underneath it was a cool, little performance car. So with the help of Monroe, a manufacturer of shock absorbers, they built the Monroe Handler. It turned out to be the only real-performing Mustang II.

Thanks to a long list of modifications, the Monroe Handler came with a 400 HP engine and a racing suspension. Monroe added an extensive body kit and a long list of other upgrades. Although it was a show car, the Handler proved the Mustang II had potential, so they started producing kits for the public.

4. Ford Mustang II 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 an important model. The downsizing of the whole Mustang range, the introduction of economical four-cylinder engines and parts sharing with other Ford models helped Mustangs survive the recession of the 70’s and the death of the muscle car movement.

But all of that doesn’t mean there weren’t any interesting Mustangs between 1974 and 1978. They just were slow. There was one particularly interesting model and it was the special edition King Cobra model. Ford knew their 5.0 V8 engine made only 140 HP in the Mustang II, but they also knew by dressing up the car, they could attract buyers.

So, they introduced the King Cobra. With a flaming snake on the hood, front and rear spoilers and full body kit, the King Cobra was a typical 70’s factory custom car. They mated the 5.0 V8 to a four-speed manual transmission to make a performance car. However, the performance wasn’t great, but the outrageous body kit stole the show. Today, the King Cobra is a collector’s item.

3. Buick Century GS

After 1970, the muscle car segment decline started. And in just a few short years, those glorious muscle cars disappeared from the scene. Buick tried their best to deliver great performance in luxury package. But after the slow sales of their 1971 and 1972 models, they decided to kill the GSX package.

However, in 1973, they renamed their Skylark line the Century. And that meant the engineers at Buick managed to sneak one more proper muscle car model, the Century GS. The Century GS was a Colonnade-style intermediate coupe. In fact, it was similar to those Pontiac and Oldsmobile intermediates with the characteristic front-end design. But the GS was just an appearance package that mimicked the looks of previous models.

The standard engine was the 150 HP 350 V8. However, if you optioned for the 455 Stage 1 big block, you could get 270 HP with revised brakes and suspensions. This version delivered some performance, so car fans consider it the last true Buick muscle car. However, the number of Century GS Stage 1 cars produced in 1973 is low. They only made around 700 of them with four-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmissions.

2. Ford Mustang HO

In 1972, Ford discontinued the Boss 351 and Cobra Jet Mustangs after killing their Shelby models two years prior. However, performance Mustang buyers weren’t left with a choice, so Ford offered the HO model. The “HO” stood for high output and it was like offering the Boss 351 for 1972.

It featured a performance 351 V8 they rated at 275 HP, which was impressive by those early ‘70s standards. In the end, Ford only made about 60 of those interesting machines in all three body styles.

1. Pontiac Can Am

Back in the late ’70s, the American performance car segment was just a pale shadow of its former glory. But, in 1977, Pontiac introduced the Can-Am, the one-year-only model that was the last true muscle car with big block power. In fact, it had as much power it could produce packed in a unique body style and white color.

Under the hood scoop from the Firebird Trans Am, there was a big 455 engine with 200 HP. And that was more than any other muscle car on the market at the moment. The Can-Am package consisted of special rear window louvers, a rear spoiler and a long list of special optional extras.

They introduced the car early in 1977 and the market responded well. In fact, Pontiac received between 5,000 and 10,000 reservations. But in the end, they only sold 1,377 Can Ams.

These are last of the breed and 32 of the best muscle cars from the early ’70s. Did you pick your ultimate favorite? Some of them are still available, so you should get out there and start looking before they disappear forever.

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