5 of the Most-Coveted Classic Tuner Cars

Tuner cars are nothing new. Back in the ’60s, they were called third-party muscle cars, modified by the dealership or company to increase performance over what the factory offered. Some of them took it a step further and added exclusive wheels, body parts, or custom paint. They built what manufacturers didn’t offer, and a number of legends came out of that work.

Today, Yenko and Baldwin-Motion Chevys, Royal Oak Pontiacs, and Mustang Stallions and Shelby cars are some of the most sought-after vehicles in the classic muscle car market. Here’s a look at some of the fastest and most well-known classic tuners.

Ford

Shelby GT500

Shelby GT500, Source | GPS 56/Flickr

Shelby GT500

It doesn’t really get much bigger than this. From numerous race wins in the ’60s to Nicolas Cage drooling over one in “Gone in Sixty Seconds,” the GT500 is arguably the best-known tuner car of all time. Carroll Shelby knew the Ford Mustang could be more than a “secretary’s car” and totally changed its attitude by reworking the entire vehicle, including pulling the pedestrian 289ci V8 in favor of a 428ci. More than just turning up the horsepower knob, Shelby added a race-worthy suspension built from his Le Mans days (Shelby had been on the GT40 team), so it could tear up the corners as well as the drag strip. Stripes and custom parts helped the visual punch, contributing to the legend and making the GT500 one of today’s most expensive muscle cars.

Chevrolet

Baldwin-Motion Phase III Chevrolet Camaro

Baldwin-Motion Phase III Chevrolet Camaro, Source | mashleymorgan/Flickr

Baldwin-Motion Phase III Camaro

The Camaro was designed to fight the Mustang, so building a competitor to the GT500 was a natural conclusion. The Baldwin Chevrolet dealership teamed with a nearby speedshop, Motion Performance, to create a limited run of super-muscle cars. Baldwin-Motion would work on nearly anything, but it was famous for the Phase III Camaro (no, there wasn’t a phase I or II). This beast packed a 427 that had been heavily massaged with race-worthy parts. Advertising listed it as 500 horsepower and “unreal” torque. That’s not an exaggeration, as it could run 11.5 in the quarter mile. With optional bulging hoods, side pipes, and outrageous paint colors, these cars weren’t subtle, but they were fast.

Yenko SC427 Nova

Don Yenko’s dealership and performance shop had been building hot versions of the Camaro and Corvair for years by 1969. That experience allowed him to get the new Nova right the first time around. Pulling the top-of-the-line 427ci V8 from the big Chevelle SS, Yenko stuffed it, along with a four-speed manual, into the tiny Nova, making a hilariously fun and dangerous car. Four-hundred-and-fifty horsepower was good for 11 seconds in the quarter on slicks, and even zero-to-60 passed in just 5.1 seconds. It would be 30 years before the factory Camaro could do it that quickly, and for the ’60s it was very impressive. Yenko later reflected in Road & Track that the SC427 Nova was “barely legal at best” and was probably too dangerous for the street.

Pontiac

Royal Bobcat GTO

GM’s excitement division arguably created the muscle car in 1964, but by 1968, the 400ci-powered GTO was fading into the rearview. Mega-dealership Royal Pontiac decided to change things by swapping in a 428ci V8 with a fistful of upgrades. Loaded up with ram air and steeper gear ratios, the rebadged Bobcats were capable of daily driving but were a handful at the limit. Car and Driver called them dangerous in the wrong hands, as they were civil enough for grandma around town but just a gas pedal away from supercar firepower. Bobcats were good for 13-flat in the quarter, if you had tires that could grip all that torque. On regular street tires, they were good at turning rubber into smoke.

Dodge

Hurst/Spaulding Dart GTS 440

The Dart was an attractive but mild-looking compact, and it had acceptable performance with its 340ci V8. The late ’60s demanded more speed, so legendary aftermarket performance company Hurst and Chicago dealership Mr. Norm’s Grand Spaulding worked together to stuff Chrysler’s 440ci mountain motor in the compact Dart. Conservatively rated at 375 hp and 480 lb/ft, the repowered Dart weighed 3,600 pounds. The result was shenanigans, as the Dart GTS 440 was severely nose heavy, and lacked power steering or a warranty. It didn’t matter, though, as the overpowered compact could run low 13s in the quarter mile, beating Corvettes for half the price.

These tuned classics were performance bargains in their day but now sell for serious cash. Ever seen one at a car show or the strip? Let us know your favorite in the comments below.

A Look Back at the Truckcar

Lots of people love pickup trucks but don’t always have the need for a full-size truck. Way back in the ’50s, manufacturers developed a solution with the car-based truck, commonly called the truckcar, or coupe utility. Whatever you call ’em, the idea is the same. Take a car chassis and drivetrain, and drop a small pickup bed out back. While they’re the automotive equivalent of the mullet (business up front, party in the back), the classic truckcar has earned a place in the hearts of many.

Full-size legends

Ford Ranchero

The Ford Ranchero

While truck-ish cars have existed almost since the beginning of the car, Ford really kicked things off with the introduction of the 1957 Ranchero. Built on the full-size Ford sedan and coupe chassis, the Ranchero obviously differed from other cars with its body-integrated pickup bed. At a little over 5 feet long, the Ranchero bed offered light work potential in an easy-to-drive, car-like package.

The ’60s saw the Ranchero transition to the compact Falcon chassis, then the larger Torino, where giant engines like the 460 V8 were common. Cargo ratings hovered just over 1,000 pounds throughout the changes, making the Ranchero a true “half-ton truck.” While it sold well, light trucks were exempt from emissions and mileage requirements, so 1979 was the Ranchero’s last year, as it was replaced by the Ford Ranger compact truck.

The El Camino

The El Camino, Source | Allen Watkin

GM noticed early surging sales of the Ranchero and quickly developed its own competitor. The ’59 El Camino was based off the full-size Chevy sedan/wagon chassis but offered a variety of engines, from a weak inline six, to the fuel-injected 283 Ramjet. The second generation switched to the smaller Chevelle platform, and the El Camino mirrored the muscle car’s options and equipment, including the 396 V8.

The ’70s weren’t a great time for most car manufacturers, but the El Camino survived better than most. With a big-block 454 V8, manual trans, and rear-wheel drive under a lightweight rear, the El Camino was a groovy burnout machine that also delivered a respectable 5,000-pound tow rating when properly optioned.

Compact and odd

Subaru BRAT

The Subaru BRAT, Source | ilikewaffles

Around the time the Ranchero was disappearing in favor of light trucks, Subaru developed this odd little competitor. The BRAT differed from the American car-trucks with its 1.6-liter inline four cylinder making all of 67 horsepower, and driving all four wheels. While the bed was small, the weirdness continued there, with the option of two rear-facing jump seats. Alongside Van Halen’s best years, the BRAT was only available from 1978 to 1985.

Dodge Rampage

The Dodge Rampage, Source | John Lloyd

Apparently the coupe utility market was hot in the early ’80s, as Dodge felt the need to jump in with the Rampage. Despite the popularity of the K chassis, this little guy was built off the L platform (think Dodge Omni) and featured a 2.2-liter inline four powering the front wheels. That’s peak 1980s right there: a FWD truck with a tape player. It was even available in “Garnet Pearl Metallic,” which is ’80s-speak for neon pink. Rad.

Want one brand new?

Holden Ute

The Holden Ute, Source | FotoSleuth

Australia has a unique place in automotive history, as it never forgot how to build a muscle car, even during the 1970s and ’80s. The Aussie version of the El Camino is the Holden Ute. Like standard versions of the truckcar, the Ute features a modern chassis, suspension, and interior, with all the useful bed space you would likely need. If a standard V6 isn’t enough power, step up to the SS version, which features a 400+ horsepower 6.2-liter V8 and 6-speed manual transmission. With a 3,500-pound tow rating, it can haul your race car to the track, and then rip off a high 12-second quarter mile. Work and play in one great-looking package.

Volkswagen Saveiro

The Volkswagen Saveiro, Source | Wikipedia

While the 1980s mostly put an end to the rear-wheel drive truckcar, the Ute has held out until 2017. Now the closest comparable vehicles are small front-wheel drive truckcars like the VW Saveiro. This subcompact coupe utility drives the front wheels with a choice of four-cylinder engines, which is plenty of power when your truck is three-feet shorter than a Toyota Tacoma. Cheap and economical, the Saveiro meets the needs of many owners. Want one? You’ll have to move outside the US, as Volkswagen has no plans to sell them here.

While the truckcar doesn’t look to be returning to the USA anytime soon, we do have a lot of options if you don’t mind buying used. From a fun muscle project to a useful truck alternative, the truckcar style has a lot to offer.

Which is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.

Crucial Cars: Dodge Li’l Red Express

The mid- to late-1970s were rightfully regarded as the darkest days of performance. In an effort to meet ever-tightening emissions standards, engines were detuned as compression ratios were lowered and outputs were further strangled by emissions controls such as more restrictive exhausts with catalytic converters.

The mid-’80s would see a big resurgence in performance as newer technologies allowed engineers to once again tune engines for performance while still meeting emissions regulations. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.

Indeed, if one was looking for something American that would accelerate with gusto during the late 1970s, the pickings were mighty slim. Sadly, a V8 of the era typically made only around 140 to 170 horses with just a handful of performance-oriented vehicles able to join the 200-horsepower club. As such, performance choices were essentially limited to Chevrolet’s Corvette with its optional L82 350 V8, Pontiac’s Trans Am with the optional “T/A 6.6” (W72) 400 V8… and Dodge’s Li’l Red Express Truck pickup. Yes, that’s right—a pickup truck.

Dodge Li'l Red Truck

Red and righteous

Dodge took advantage of less stringent emissions regulations for pickup trucks, and with a wink and a nod created the Li’l Red Express Truck for 1978. The basis for this unique vehicle was the short wheelbase, “Utiline” (stepside) version of Dodge’s D150 pickup truck. From there, the engineers and designers had a field day.

Bright red paint covered the body and real oak wood accented the bedsides and tailgate while “Li’l Red Express Truck” decals and gold striping added still more pizzazz. Even among all that eye candy, one of the most arresting features was the chromed-out, vertical exhaust system whose big-rig-style pipes would have done a Peterbilt proud.

Chilled-out cabin

Inside, the outlandish Dodge had a much more sedate styling scheme. Buyers had a choice of either a bench or optional bucket seats (with a standalone folding-center armrest) in either red or black. A sporty thick-rimmed, three-spoke “Tuff” steering wheel was initially standard, though it would be replaced by a less-stylish four-spoke wheel the following year.

Dodge Li'L Red Truck interior cabin

A V8 with vigor

With all that flash on the outside, there had to be some dash under the hood. And with a free-breathing 360 V8 dropped between the front fenders, the Li’l Red Express delivered.

Specifically, the high-output V8 was derived from the Police package 360 and sported a massive 850-CFM 4-barrel carburetor, a dual snorkel air cleaner, a performance camshaft and a real dual exhaust system with 2.5-inch pipes. It was rated at a strong-for-the-time 225 horsepower. And that was likely a conservative rating given the performance it provided for a near 2-ton truck. A chrome air cleaner and valve covers dressed things up and harkened back to the muscle-car era when car makers were proud to show off their engines.

Unfortunately, a four-speed with a Pistol-grip shifter was not an option, as the sole transmission fitted was a column-shifted, beefed-up automatic that admittedly did a fine job of sending the power to the 3.55:1 rear end. The Li’l Red Express rolled with fat, 15-inch white-lettered tires mounted on chrome wheels.

A pickup with plenty of pickup

Performance figures were impressive for the time. The Li’l Red Express could sprint to 60 mph in around 7.5 seconds and blast down the quarter mile in the mid-15-second range. In other words, in those performance tests, this big red truck would run about neck-and-neck with the aforementioned Corvette and Trans Am.

Make it a race to 100 mph, however, and the Dodge would leave those sleek sports cars behind. Gathering up the fastest American vehicles available for 1978, Car and Driver conducted such a test and ended up naming the Dodge Li’l Red Express as the fastest accelerating American vehicle from 0-to-100 mph.

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Lively yet short-lived

After testing the waters and producing just 2,188 units for 1978 but seeing strong demand for its hot rod truck, Dodge ramped up production for 1979. Total production for that second year was 5,118 units.

For 1979, the Li’l Red Express Truck saw a handful of minor changes. Round headlights gave way to a quartet of square units, the hood was flatter and catalytic converters were fitted (as emissions regulations for trucks tightened up), now requiring the use of unleaded gas. Thankfully the latter had little effect on performance, likely due to the fitment of dual converters rather than a single one and the availability of higher octane fuel.

The gas crisis of 1979 helped to seal the fate of the Li’l Red Express Truck. Units sat unsold on dealer lots while gas prices grew and gas availability shrunk. Understandably, the company pulled the plug on the pickup after the 1979 model year run. Still, there was no denying that Dodge’s shining performance star provided much-needed light during a dark time.

Our First Cars: Three Revs For High School Cars

Your first car is special. It’s your first time driving on the road alone; your first grownup date with your sweetheart; and really, your first true form of independence. It may not have been the newest or most luxurious, but your high school car represented something more than just a vehicle—it kindled the pioneer spirit that Model T drivers had when they were able to expand their world. Your first car allowed you to explore the long roads ahead of you.

Advance Auto Parts | Our First Cars

The Cars That Taught Us (Some) Responsibility

But let’s not get too sappy here. High school cars came with first speeding tickets, first flat tires, and first repair bills. It wasn’t until years later, though, that we could look back and truly appreciate our first rides. We learned how to drive on them, but more importantly, we learned responsibility from owning them. A new set of tires cost us a whole summer job’s pay. Not having washer fluid when we were stuck behind a muddy construction truck meant we started regularly checking the fluid reservoir. In hindsight, we probably all wish that we had treated our high school cars better, because they gave us more than we ever returned.

A member at our church had posted the car for sale, and I begged him to sell me the car, even though I didn’t have the money or a driver’s license.

So with junior and senior year starting this September for new drivers across the country, let’s leave our first cars with an overdue parting gift, and I’m sure many of you are in the same boat vehicle. Call it an ode to our first cars. Let’s share the best and the worst parts. To get the party started, a few of us at Advance have volunteered our high school car stories!

Ode to First Cars

Advance Auto Parts | Our First Cars

“My first car was a 1972 Plymouth SCAMP. I started saving for the car when I was 14, and bought the car shortly after getting my first real job right after I got my driver’s license at 16. A member at our church had posted the car for sale, and I begged him to sell me the car, even though I didn’t have the money or a driver’s license. He finally agreed and I gave him a token $50 deposit. It was a 2-door hardtop, Gloss Red with a 318hp eight-cylinder engine, with lots of rust and I still paid $900 for it. My friends nick-named it the ‘Red Rocket,’ but it was a rocket that I never knew how fast I was going in because I could never get the speedometer to work. Nevertheless, it served me well through my high school years and I didn’t get a single speeding ticket, although I got stopped four times. I just told the officer my speedometer cable broke, and they let me off with warnings.” -Greg M.

Advance Auto Parts | Our First Cars

“My first car was a 1991 Chevy Corsica. I got it in the fall of 1995 when I was a junior. I could often be seen driving around with three hubcaps because they were plastic and fell off a lot. It didn’t run the greatest, only had an AM/FM radio, and there were NO automatic features. But that’s ok, its unreliability helped me get my very first cell phone in case I broke down on my way home from college.” – Lorie P.

“I got my first car, a 1980 Chevy Camaro, when I was 17 with a loan from my dad. My mom actually found the car in our small town newspaper. We bought it from a widow who was selling her late husband’s car. Her husband was the original owner and had only put 36,000 miles on it. I actually got to take the car for a short test drive down the street. When my dad and I got home after looking at the car I remember rationalizing the price to him. The Camaro was my daily driver for the next 13 years.” – Byron N.

Advance Auto Parts | Our First Cars

“My first car was a 1988 Toyota Camry—a hand-me-down from my stepdad that had the automatic sliding seat belts that forced you into safety mode once you shut the door. Everything about this car was gray. Gray paint, gray upholstery, gray carpet. I named him Steely Dan and drove him back and forth from Virginia to Tennessee for college until he finally kicked the bucket my junior year.” – Sarah M.

“My first car I ever drove in high school was a 1986 CJ7 Jeep with a manual transmission. I was so excited and relentlessly begged my parents to buy it for me even though I had never driven a manual before. My parents didn’t think it was a good idea, but I insisted. After all, how hard is it to learn to drive a stick shift on an old Jeep? About a week after they bought me the Jeep, I was begging them to sell it. I quickly realized that I was too afraid to actually drive it on the road. I have been driving an automatic ever since.” – Whitney S.

Advance Auto Parts | Our First Cars

“My first car was one that I had no business driving as a teen in the Midwest: a green 1974 Alfa Romeo Spider. It was loud, occasionally started in winter with an oil pan electric heater, super fun in the spring and fall, sweaty in the summer. Some people never learn, like me, so now I have a blue ’74 Spider.” – Richard M.

“I had a white 1977 Malibu Classic that my dad gave me. I bought chrome hubcaps and had someone in town paint it red for me. Then I took it to the new car wash and the high pressure water peeled off huge strips of paint! I was near tears because I had saved all of the money from my summer job to get the car painted. I had to drive it around with big strips of white paint showing through for quite some time.” – Dave K.

“My first car was a 2001 Dodge Neon R/T, handed down to me from my father. It was a neat little car, all black with a five-speed manual transmission and a decent engine. I did my share of stupid stuff until I got older and wiser, like fishtailing wet turns using my e-brake, burning my clutch disc and tires by popping into first gear at 6,000 RPMs, and going 8,000 miles without an oil change on conventional (gulp…sorry, car!).” – Neil B.

Share Your High School Car Story

What was your first car? Were you parking a block from school so no one could see it or were you washing and waxing it every week? Share your stories and photos on our Facebook page or reply in the comments.

Our Favorite American Muscle Cars of Each Decade

The fireworks may be shooting off this weekend in celebration of our nation’s birthday, but it always sounds like the 4th of July to us when we hear the rumble and exhaust of a 650 hp V8 engine. What better way to honor the holiday than to pay homage to the beasts on four wheels that have come out of Michigan, Kentucky, and Ohio over the years.

American muscle cars have evolved throughout the decades as technology improved and styling cues shifted, but they have always stayed true to their powerhouse DNA. The result is a legacy of over 60 years that has made for one heck of a ride. Read on to find out which muscle cars we picked as our favorites from each decade.

The “First” Muscle Car: 1940s

1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88

1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 | Photo via Barrett-Jackson

After the first American-made car appeared in 1893, plenty of other high-revving vehicles began popping up on our roads (think early race cars and gangster getaway cars). But it wasn’t until Oldsmobile’s 1949 Rocket 88 that the first true American muscle car arrived. Designed with a revolutionary overhead valve concept V8 engine, the Rocket 88 output 135 horsepower and 283 lb·ft torque on a light and nimble chassis, boasting more power and better fuel economy than its peers.

The Rocket dominated NASCAR that year and into the early ’50s, taking on the moniker, “King of NASCAR,” and paving the way for all muscle cars to come.

 The “Fabulous” Muscle Cars: 1950s

1955 Chevy Classic V8

1955 Chevy Bel Air V8

The muscle cars of the fabulous ’50s were all about pastel colors, whitewall tires, front bench seats, and convertible roof options. But make no mistake, these pioneer muscle cars had plenty of power under their long hoods. Thanks to a post-war boom in automotive sales, car manufacturers began loading up the horsepower and stretching cars’ limits. The most notable muscle car of this decade was the 1955 Chevy Classic V8.

The ’55 Chevy’s success came from it’s small-block 265 cu V8 engine, which was so reliable that it would become the foundation of Chevrolet’s muscle cars for the decades to come. Able to hit 195 horsepower, the ’55 Chevy found a place in the garages of millions of auto enthusiasts, accounting for nearly 23% of all car sales that year. This was the car that turned us onto muscle cars. And we’ve never looked back.

Runners-Up:

  • 1956 Mercury Montclair
    The Montclair featured a 260 hp V8 engine that put out plenty of power and had the 1950s classic look.
  • 1958 Packard Hawk
    Long wing panels, a hood scoop, and a supercharged 275 hp engine makes this Hawk a true ’50s muscle car.
  • 1959 Chrysler 300E
    Maybe ahead of its time, the 300E fell flat on sales, but has now become a rare gem among collectors. The 300E could belt out 380 horsepower—incredible for its time!

The ’55 Chevy found a place in the garages of millions of auto enthusiasts, accounting for nearly 23% of all car sales that year.

The Pony Cars: 1960s

1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429

1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429

The Ford Mustang hit the market in 1964, ushering in the era of pony cars—powerful compact cars—and creating a wave of competition that unleashed many of the muscle cars that we’ve come to love. It was the golden age for auto enthusiasts.

The Mustang looked fiercest with fastback rear-end styling, made famous in 1968’s action film Bullit. The “Boss 9” Mustang takes home the prize as our favorite Mustang with its hood scoop and 429 cu, 375 hp V8 engine. Ford has played around with different Mustang bodies and styles throughout the years, but a recurring theme is that they always wind up going back to this generation of Mustangs for inspiration. A true testament to the original pony car.

Runners-Up:

  • 1968 Dodge Charger R/T
    A true muscle car if there ever was one. The second-generation Charger was introduced for 1968 and ran through 1970, and gained fame via the TV show “The Dukes of Hazzard” (1969 Charger) and the first Fast and Furious movie (1970 Charger).
  • 1969 Plymouth Road Runner 426 Hemi
    The working man or woman’s muscle car. It didn’t have the flashy looks or steep price tag, but its engine was pure Hemi power.
  • 1969 Chevy Nova SS
    Quick and balanced. The Nova was ahead of its time in weight distribution during a period when muscle cars were getting longer and heavier. The Nova proved bigger isn’t always better.

End of the Golden Age: 1970s

1970 Dodge Challenger T/A

1970 Dodge Challenger T/A

At the turn of the decade, muscle cars weren’t just becoming more powerful, they were downright menacing on the streets. Dodge launched the Challenger in 1970, a late addition to the party, but it epitomized the golden era of muscle cars with its balance of a big, bold design and high-performing engine and suspension. The 1970s Dodge Challenger R/T came to fame as the getaway car in 1971’s film Vanishing Point; however, its 440 c.i. V8 engine, which unleashed 375 hp (considered a conservative rating), was the real show stealer.

Things were getting good when the global oil crisis and stricter emission laws forced car manufacturers to abruptly abandon large gas-hungry engines and turn their focus on developing more economical cars. The Challenger’s production halted in 1974, along with many other muscle cars of the golden era.

Runners-Up:

  • 1970 Chevrolet LS6 Chevelle
    At 450 hp and 500 lb·ft torque, it was the king of the streets. It’s cousin, the Camaro, went on to achieve greater success, but the Chevelle will always be a legend in its own right.
  • 1970 Plymouth Hemi Barracuda
    The first Barracuda came to market two weeks before the Mustang—it just could never surpass its junior competitor in sales and was stopped in 1974, never to return. This lost muscle car is still talked about by auto enthusiasts to this day.
  • 1971 AMC Javelin AMX
    The Javelin AMX didn’t have the biggest engine block, but it could hold its own thanks to its race-inspired design (its racing model won the 1971 and 1972 Trans Am Series championships). It was also the first pony car to be used by law enforcement agencies for highway patrol.

Diamonds in the Rough: 1980s

1985 Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z

1985 Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z

The ’80s were not kind to domestic car manufacturers. Detroit’s technology hadn’t caught up fast enough to deal with the new emission and safety laws, allowing European and Asian manufacturers to outperform most American cars in the market. Thankfully there were a few diamonds in the rough: muscle cars engineered by teams who adapted to the times, allowing US cars to go neck and neck with the sporty BMWs and Nissans that were hitting the streets.

The 1985 Camaro IROC-Z was one of these cars. With stunningly sleek good looks, race-tuned handling and suspension, and a five-liter tuned port injection V8 engine rated at 215 hp, the Camaro proved that American muscle cars were able to incorporate new technology and market demands while still retaining their historic roots.

Runners-Up:

  • 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
    Redesigned for 1982, the Firebird Trans Am became an icon of the “sexy” ’80s culture with its low, sleek lines, pop-up headlights and blacked-out taillights. It also starred as KITT in Knight Rider.
  • 1987 Buick Regal GNX
    What was lost in the early ’70s was found in the late ’80s with the Regal GNX. Brute power that could beat Porches and Ferraris on the strip. Its boxy looks on the other hand, couldn’t quite match up.
  • 1983 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS
    This street-legal version of NASCAR’s famed model was a success among racing fans. Its aero-influenced styling tweaks and “High Output” (for the time), 305 c.i. 180-hp V8, made it feel like it was always race day.

Back To Muscle: 1990s

1996 Dodge Viper GTS Coupe

1996 Dodge Viper GTS Coupe

American muscle cars regained some pep to their step in the ’90s, going back to the ’60s playbook in style and power but with the added bonus of engineering advancements. The Dodge Viper debuted in 1992 and instantly became the muscle car. Featuring an aluminum 8L V10 engine that output 400 hp and 465 lb·ft torque, this lightweight roadster could withstand 1 lateral g-force on turns.

The Viper’s most endearing factor, however, was its simplicity. There was no traction control or anti-lock brakes—the early models didn’t even feature airbags or air conditioning. The driver was connected with the car, without any electronics or modern aids to interfere, and it made for a pureness that only early muscle cars could match. Novice drivers were often bit by the Viper on high speeds, but those who could charm the snake were in for an exhilarating ride.

Dodge released the second generation Viper in 1996, offering a GTS Coupe model with a “double bubble” roof that made the car famous. This Viper had 50 more horsepower and a few concessions including airbags, air conditioning, and even power windows.

There was no traction control or anti-lock brakes—the early models didn’t even feature airbags or air conditioning.

Runners-Up:

  • 1992 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor
    This was the car that got our hearts racing, and not always in the good way. With a 4.6L V8 engine that output 210 hp, this rear-wheel drive sedan could catch speeding cars faster than you could say, “Miranda Rights.”
  • 1991 Chevrolet Camaro 5.7 V8 Z28
    While import cars were still lapping most domestics, the Camaro held true in the ’90s and reminded the world that American muscle cars could go with the best of them. This ’91 model rewards the Camaro with a second listing.
  • 1996 Ford Mustang Cobra
    Sporting a 32-valve, DOHC V8 making 305 horsepower, the 1996 Cobra signaled a new sophistication and performance level for Ford’s iconic pony car.

Millennial Refinement: 2000s

2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

Like we could forget the Vette. Launched in 1953 from Bowling Green, Kentucky, the Chevrolet Corvette has been a legendary American muscle car throughout the decades. From its sleek and sophisticated Stingray styling to its powerful and balanced V8 engine, the Vette is the definition of the cool muscle car. In 2009, it somehow became even better with the release of the ZR1.

The ZR1 was given a supercharged 6.2L V8 engine that output 638 hp and 604 lb·ft torque—the most powerful engine ever put into a sports car by GM at the time. With a top speed of 205 mph, 0-60 mph in 3.4 seconds, and 0-100 mph in 7.6 seconds, the ZR1 could chop contemporary Porsche 911 Turbo and Ferrari F430 imports on any given day. Our favorite feature on this Vette was the clear carbon-fiber hood panel that gave onlookers a glimpse of the beastly engine inside.

The 2000s refined American muscle cars, adding a layer of technological sophistication. The end products were things of beauty.

Runners-Up:

  • 2007 Dodge Charger SRT-8 Super Bee
    Dodge rediscovered its muscle roots in the 2000s, bringing back famed muscle cars such as the Charger and Super Bee. Built as a Charger but modified as a limited-edition Super Bee version, this blast from the past output 425 hp from its V8 Hemi engine.
  • 2005 Ford GT
    What started as a concept car based off Ford’s 1960s GT40 race cars, became a reality in 2005. This mid-engine, retro-inspired supercar put out blazing fast speeds.
  • 2002 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am WS-6
    Making our list a second time, the Firebird Trans Am was at the peak of its powers by this time, its last year of production. Able to hit 60 mph in about 5 seconds flat and run the quarter-mile in the mid-13s, this bird could certainly fly.

Modern Technology Meets Raw Power: 2010s

2016 Cadillac CTS-V

2016 Cadillac CTS-V

Like the 2000s, this current generation of muscle cars has benefited from evolving automotive technology. Instead of fighting a losing battle against emission standards circa the ’70s and ’80s, engineers now battle against each other on making the most powerful yet efficient engine. This age of technology has produced supercars that have broken every track record on the books.

And so, for this decade’s American muscle car, we’ve chosen a brand that used to be associated with quiet sophistication rather than high-octane performance. The 2016 Cadillac CTS-V may come from the makers of the DeVille, the steady sedan for well-to-do professionals for generations, but the 640 hp engine under the CTS-V’s hood is anything but retirement-age friendly. The CTS models have become progressively faster each year since introduced in 2002—as if the engineers were trying to sneak the horsepower numbers by the bosses—until finally, the 2009–2016 CTS-V generation appeared, muscles flexing.

The ’16 CTS-V sprints to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds and reaches a top speed of 200 mph. The Eaton-supercharged 6.2L V8 engine outputs 630 lb·ft torque on top of the 640 hp. Built with track days in mind, Brembo brakes, race-tuned suspension, carbon fiber hood and panels, and a quad exhaust make the CTS-V a force to be reckoned with. It may not have the spartan and reckless qualities of earlier muscle cars, but the numbers don’t lie. This is a muscle car that will roar down the highway, it just so happens to come in a luxurious package.

Not since the ’60s and ’70s have we seen so many rumbling, high-throttle cars in a single decade. Best of all, many of them are faster versions of models from our favorite bygone era. We can’t wait to see what the 2020s will bring.

Built with track days in mind, Brembo brakes, race-tuned suspension, carbon fiber hood and panels, and a quad exhaust make the CTS-V a force to be reckoned with.

Runners-Up:

  • 2016 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat
    707 horsepower. Need we say more? This monster has the most horsepower available on a production car to date thanks to its 6.2L V8 Hemi engine. The Challenger SRT Hellcat looks, sounds, and drives mean.
  • 2015 EQUUS BASS770
    If you took the best qualities from each of the ’60s pony cars and built them into one car, you’d get the EQUUS BASS770. Handcrafted by American engineers, this vehicle pays homage to that golden era while adding a supercharged V8 engine to make sure it can giddy-up with the modern-day guys.
  • 2016 Corvette Z06
    Like the Mustang, Camaro, Charger, and Challenger, the Vette deserves a second listing. The ’16 Z06 outputs 650 hp and can run 0-60 mph in only 2.95 seconds. We don’t take it lightly when saying this model is their best looking yet.

Tell us, do you agree with our choices? Which favorite muscle car did we miss? For more muscle car fun, take this short quiz to find out which decade of American muscle cars best fits your style!

Crucial Cars: Dodge Charger

Dodge Charger red picture

From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

In this installment, our man Gearhead digs deep into one of the baddest muscle cars in the land: the mighty Dodge Charger.

Calling the Dodge Charger a Crucial Car is kind of like calling asphalt black.

It pretty much goes without saying.

You’d be hard-pressed to find another model through the years that’s been as meaningful to enthusiasts as the Charger. In the ’60s and early ’70s, it was a king-of-the-hill muscle car that young men (including yours truly) fantasized about owning. In the ’80s, it was reborn as a sporty front-wheel-drive hatchback. All the while, the Charger name stayed relevant for folks who loved to drive.

But as the politicians like to say, I’m here today to focus on the present. Since 2006, the Charger has gotten back to its muscle-car roots, with one exception: it’s got four doors instead of two. Let’s take a few minutes and appreciate what the modern Charger has accomplished.

Dodge Charger 2 photoHemi V8 Power

From the get-go, the four-door Charger has been available with a brawny 5.7-liter Hemi V8. Now, does it truly have a hemispherical combustion chamber like Chrysler’s so-called “Elephant Engine,” the monstrous 426 Hemi from the ’60s? Some say no, because the chamber’s too shallow. But when an engine hauls this much you-know-what, who cares? Initially rated at 340 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque, the 5.7-liter Hemi has seen various improvements since, with output now creeping toward 380 hp and 400 lb-ft. But the basic design remains remarkably true to the original Hemis from my childhood, and if you ask me, that’s pretty doggone cool.

Of course, the modern Charger offers other Hemis, too — and by “other,” I mean bigger and better. There’s the Charger Hellcat’s supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi, of course, which makes an insane 707 hp. But that’s not the one I want, believe it or not. I want the 6.4-liter Hemi, naturally aspirated, with 485 hp and 475 lb-ft. It sounds like NASCAR when you’re on the throttle, and if you get the Charger Scat Pack model, you can have all that motor for a shade over $40 grand.

Luxury-Car Credentials

Underneath, the current Charger dates back to the ill-fated Daimler-Chrysler merger, which is actually a very good thing for Dodge. Basically, Mercedes shared its midsize sedan platforms and suspension technology with Chrysler, and the Charger’s still using that Benz know-how on the road today. Listen, don’t knock it just because it’s not the latest and greatest; Mercedes has been building tank-like sedans for decades, and that’s exactly what the Charger feels like from behind the wheel. It’s large, it’s hunkered-down, and it’s unflappable at any speed. Bottom line, it’s a luxury car in disguise, and that even goes for the ambient noise at speed — it’s almost nonexistent.

Aftermarket Support From the FactoryDodge Charger 3 photo

One of the great things about Dodge performance cars is that they’re backed by a factory-certified speed shop. Mopar is the name, and personalizing your Charger is what they’re all about. I’m talking about big wheels, slammed suspensions, audio upgrades, you name it. They’ll even help you squeeze some more power out of that Hemi if you want, and they’ll certainly hook you up with an awesome exhaust system to make it sing. If you’re a Charger fan, the stock specification is just a starting point for your creativity, and Dodge knows it.

Tell Us Your Charger Story

Have you owned or driven a modern Charger (2006 – present)? Leave your impressions of this four-door muscle car in the comments.

Editor’s note: Whether your drive a muscle car or a mini van, Advance Auto Parts has the parts and tools you need to keep it running right. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

Pittsburgh Dodge Challenger SRT Runs 10s in its First Time Out — Unmodified!

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat pictureAccording to Torque News:

This past weekend, 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat owner Ricci Cavallaro took his stock Mopar muscle car to Pittsburgh Raceway Park for the first time and with nothing more than Nitto NT05 tires, his first run down the track was an incredible 10.97 at 129 miles per hour. Then, he followed it up with two more runs in the 10 second range.

Long-time Mopar fan Cavallaro—who is not a professional driver—took his new supercharged muscle car to PRP, taking advantage of the good weather and a well-prepped track, and it paid off better than anyone could’ve predicted.

That’s insane, especially for a mostly unmodified vehicle!

Check out the full story on this spectacular SRT at Torque News.

Watch Ricci’s first incredible 1/4 mile pass here: