We love American muscle cars. We can’t help it, we just do. There is nothing sweeter than walking out to your garage to pay a visit to your baby who is lovingly protected under a good car cover. There she sits. Just waiting for someone to come and pay her the attention she deserves. You walk around the car and let your hand graze the car cover…deciding if you’ve got time to take her out for a quick spin before you have to get to work. Trust us, we’ve been there. 

Perhaps you are in the market for a great American muscle car. We wanted to put together a list of the top five American muscle cars of all time, but there are just too many great options to choose from. So instead of just limiting it to five, we figured we’d start a list and see where we ended up. So without further ado, let’s jump in and look at some sweet muscle cars that have been American icons. 

One of the best parts of owning a muscle car are all the sweet little numbers you can purchase that are quick. The 1960’s and 1970’s were a fantastic era for muscle cars that came with powerful V8’s engines and could pack a massive amount of torque. Some of the rarest muscle cars come from this era and it’s easy to see why they were so popular. They are fast! Once the 1980’s hit there were still some great cars that packed some great horsepower, but Emissions and other regulations put a little bit of damper on the party and they had to tame the muscle cars a little bit in comparison to the 1960’s and 1970’s versions.

  • The 1960 COPO Camaro had a special system in it the (COPO) or Central Office Production Order that was designed for fleet sales that had stain-proof interiors for taxicabs and heavy-duty suspension for cop cars. What’s awesome though is that some dealerships got smart and realized if they ordered one of these cars with the right order codes, then they could get these amazing cars ordered with features that Chevy didn’t want the average driver to have in their Camaro. Chevy put in a production order 9561 that called for a Corvette style 425 horsepower, V8 rates, 427 big block engine that is essentially a race engine. This engine was originally designed and developed for the Can Am series for use by the Chaparral racing team. Chevy is pretty sneaky though and didn’t put any special emblems on the engine or anything so if you pop the hood and look at the engine, there is no tip off to what it really is. Instead you will see normal Chevy emblems. Anyway, there was an additional COPO 9560 production order that called for an engine that was rated with 5 more horsepower, but everyone knew that it actually delivered close to 550 horsepower. It was an all aluminum V8 ZL-1 427 engine and that thing could move! Only 69 of these ZL-1 Camaros were produced and if you wanted to buy one at auction it would set you back a cool $400,000 +.
  • 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge has always been a popular muscle car. In fact the 1964 version dominated the market until 1968 when it had a lot more competition to compete with. This car was so popular that the rock band, Paul Revere and the Raiders wrote a song about it and sang about the ever-popular GTO. The song was featured in the original commercial for the Judge and is one of the first rock-music videos that hit the scene. Pontiac thought they should make a cheaper version of the GTO with a smaller engine in it that was ET (elapsed time) engine that was 350-cubic feet. However, John DeLorean who was the boss of Pontiac at the time totally vetoed that idea. He thought that instead of offering a GTO with a smaller engine, that they ought to offer a bigger and better version of the GTO that was a step up from the regular one, and that’s what they did. This stepped up version featured a Ram Air III engine that came standard and has 360 horsepower. If the buyer wanted to go even bigger, then they could get the Ram Air IV engine that offered 370 horsepower. There was one other option for a GTO Judge, and that was the convertible version that came with a Ram AIR IV engine. Only five of these were built in 1969 so they are pretty rare. As a side note, many wonder where the GTO Judge got its name. Word on the street is that John DeLorean was a huge fan of the TV show Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. It’s a skit show and he named the Judge after one of the most popular skits on the show.
  • The 1970 Chevy Chevelle LS6 was produced after GM finally decided to ease up on their longstanding rule that engines that are larger than 400 cubic inches could only be installed in midsize or bigger cars. The Corvette had always been the best selling car and top performing car for Chevy and it didn’t want to have the Corvettes sales slump so they wouldn’t allow any car to have a horsepower rating that was higher than the Corvette. That was in place until 1970 when they eased that rule. The highest horsepower in a 1970 Corvette was a 454 LS5 390 horsepower. That would soon change. All sorts of cars immediately jumped on the bandwagon and Chevy installed the LS6 V8, 454-cubic engine into the Chevelle SS. All of the companies divisions took part though and Oldsmobile got a 455-cubic inch into it’s normal 442. Most tried to estimate the LS6’s power at 500-lbs of torque and 450 horsepower. Those estimates weren’t quite correct though. The real horsepower was closer to 500 horsepower because of a giant 780 CFM carb, and a high 11.25:1 compression ratio. In 1970, Car and Driver tested one and found that it could do a quarter-mile in 13.8 seconds and go from 0-60 in 5.4 seconds. But you have to realize that test was done with skinny little tires that didn’t grip much. The test should be re-done today using modern tires and the car would be much quicker. Another little gem of knowledge about these cars is that the LS6 actually carries the highest factory horsepower rating off all the muscle cars.
  • 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429: Nascar was at the top of its game in the early 1970’s and late 1960’s. It was a dream situation for carmakers that could make up the wildest designs and specs for new racecars. They had unique body styles and hot little engines and every company was trying to out-do the next. If the automaker was able to see 500 of the car in question then they could run them in Nascar, which was the ultimate goal. The Boss 429 Mustang was one of these cars. The engine under the hood which was a V8, 429-cubic inch, 375 horsepower was specifically designed to be raced and was built to rev to 6000 rpms. This car never actually made it to Nascar however, and fared even less well on the streets; believe it or not, this Mustang was actually slower than some of the other big-block Mustangs at the time. That would never work for Mustang. It was time to get creative. This V8 was huge and didn’t fit in the engine bay of stock Mustang. So Ford outsourced the job to a company called Kar Kraft and they went to work and they fitted a smaller brake booster, relocated the battery to the trunk, widened the track of the front end, and relocated the shock towers all to make room for the beastly engine. That actually worked out well for anyone who purchased one of these Boss 429’s because they are still mysterious and rare which has made their value at auction go well above $200,000.
  • 1978 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am became famous in the movie Smokey and the Bandit and made it a hugely popular choice in the late 1970’s when all the other car manufacturers were struggling in lagging muscle car sales because of huge insurance costs, high gas prices and emissions controls. All the other carmakers were dialing back on their horsepower, but not Pontiac. In 1978 they actually increased their horsepower in the top Trans Am from 200 horsepower to 220. They also added some other great features like quicker steering, new tires, 8-inch wheels that were wider, and sport tuned suspension that actually made it so that it was faster and handled better around a track than the Chevy Corvette. For anyone that liked the close-to convertible feel of the T-top roof, had to be patient while Pontiac worked out the kinks. Originally in the 1976 versions they used a Hurst Hatch, made by Hurst but quickly found that they would have to design and develop their own because the Hurst Hatch leaked. They did design and develop their own with the help of GM’s Fisher body division and launched them mid-year 1978. So you can find a 1978 model that has the Fisher units and some that still have the Hurst Hatch. Most people can tell the difference between the two because the Hurst Hatch glass roof panels are smaller than the Fisher ones. But, it may be hard to tell unless you had one of each sitting side-by-side to compare.
  • 1970 Oldsmobile 442, which boasts dual exhausts, a four-speed manual, and a four-barrel carburetor has been one of the most popular muscle cars for Oldsmobile and was based on the Cutlass. Most people don’t realize that this car shared a platform with the Pontiac GTO and the Chevy Chevelle SS. The car started out with a 442 but quickly added the option of upgrading to a big-block 455-cubic inch V8 that gave it 360 horsepower and 550lbs of torque. It was very quick for it’s time and considering it was an Oldsmobile and could go from 0-60 in 6 seconds. James Garner actually raced one of these and took second in class at the NORRA Mexico 1000, which was the race before it turned into the Baja 1000. That car has since been restored and put up for sale. It will be interesting to see how much it gets purchased for.
  • 1965 Pontiac Catalina 2+2 was designed under the intention of making over the larger cars that Pontiac produced after they saw how popular their high-performance GTO version of Pontiac’s Tempest had been. So they came out with the new big body Catalina and dropped in the 421 cubic inch engine that had 338 horsepower. For a little more money you could even upgrade to the 421 engine that had 376 horsepower. This car had special badging, a Hurst shifter, bucket seats, beefier suspension and wide hubs that required eight lugs. One of the Catalina 2+2’s was tested by Car and Driver and went from 0-60 in 3.8 seconds and got through the quarter mile in 13.8 seconds. It was also quicker around the track than the Ferrari that the magazine used in the comparison test. Don’t get too excited though, that car was supplied to the automotive press and all of those cars were sent to Royal Pontiac in Royal Oak, Michigan before they made it into the hands of the writers that were going to write about them. It’s assumed that the cars that were going out to the automotive press when here first because Royal was not only a dealership, but they also supplied speed parts that were Pontiac-approved. You can guarantee that these cars had some Royal speed parts that the factory Catalina’s that were produced for the general population probably did not have.
  • 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona was one of the most unique muscle cars that was designed at the time. As it’s name suggests, this car was designed to race the longest and fastest tracks on the Nascar super speedways. They wanted to make sure they have the fastest and best performing car so the engineers decided to make some aerodynamic modifications and took the Charger to the wind tunnel. The aerodynamic modifications helped lower the coefficient drag to 0.28, which was pretty impressive. Some of the modifications that were made were a longer, sloped nose cone, a flush rear window, and an almost two foot tall rear wing that was that tall so that the trunk lid on the production cars could pass underneath it and fully open. The modifications were a huge success and the race version of the Daytona was the first car to break 200 miles per hour, in history. After awhile however, Nascar decided to ban these cars. The production cars are still a huge sought-after collector car and come with a big block 440 or 426 Hemi and cost $150,000 + at auction.
  • 1984 Chevy Corvette was the fourth generation of Corvette. The third generation ran from 1968 to 1982, which is a pretty impressive run. There is no 1983 production Corvette as a side note. The company decided to wait until the 1984 model year to launch the new version. All the 1983 prototypes were destroyed but one white one that sits in the National Corvette Museum in Kentucky. Speculation states that the reason they waited until 1984 was because of quality production issues and tighter emissions regulations that both caused them to need more time to develop the car, but to this day, no one is entirely positive. Anyway, before the 1984 came out there was wild speculation about the changes that would be made. Some thought it would use a rotary engine like Mazda and others thought it would use a mid-engine chassis like the Italian exotics did. When it was finally released it used a small-block V8 Chevy engine and only got 205 horsepower, which was not impressive at all. It didn’t take them long to fix that issue though and five years later they produced an ultra-performance Corvette that had a new, tuned port fuel-injection system that helped the performance and speed. It was the ZR-1 that had 375 horsepower.
  • The 1987 Buick GNX: everyone was clamoring for more V8 powered engines after they died down a little after the 1960’s and 1970’s craze. Buick was glad to come to the rescue and came out with their hot-rod version of the Regal coupe called the Grand National. It came with a strong turbocharged V6 engine that upped the horsepower from 245 to 276. It was one of the quickest cars on the market at the time and could go from 0-60 in 4.6 seconds. As a fun fact, eventually when Buick stopped making the GNX, which didn’t take long because they only made 547 of them that were purchased and stored away as investments for most buyers; they had a ton of left over engines that Pontiac picked up. Pontiac put the turbo V6’s in their 20th Anniversary, 1989 Trans Am. They rated it as 250 horsepower, but those that knew better realized they were sitting on more power under the hood than what was rated.

There are so many other fun cars we could have added to the list, so don’t think this is an exhaustive list by any means. Muscle cars are still fun to look at, drive, and collect as they take us back to a simpler time full of sexy nostalgia and offer us a glimpse of some of the cars that made history.