10 Most Iconic American Muscle Cars
American Muscle Cars, Then and Now
Some things are undeniably American and are so ingrained into our culture and collective memory that it’s impossible to ignore them. In the automotive world, that honor falls to a few historic vehicles, but a whole category of cars was defined by young Americans‘ desire to go fast and break the rules.
The muscle car – a brawny, usually V8-powered bruiser – is as American as apple pie, and today many draw big interest and big dollars at auction events. Which ones are the most iconic of all time? It turns out that’s a hard question to answer, as several classic muscle cars hold a special place in history for very particular reasons.
We’ve gathered a list of 10 of the most iconic muscle cars. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it should serve as a good jumping-off point into the world of high-powered gas-guzzlers.
Read on to see the most iconic American muscle cars.
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The Ford Mustang needs no introduction, but we’ll try anyway. In continuous production since 1964, the Mustang has been the defining muscle car for American car lovers. Ford hasn’t been one to limit its imagination with special editions and limited-run versions of its vehicles, and the Mustang is no exception. The Mach 1, Shelby GT350 and GT500, Boss, Cobra and Bullitt are the most popular, but there have been several others over the years.
Today’s Mustang offers a four-cylinder engine, a V6, and powerful V8s. The car is regarded as one of the best handling and most dynamic American sports cars, but there was a period of time, not all that long ago, when the Mustang seemed to have lost its mojo.
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The Camaro came along in late 1966, just a couple of years after the Mustang. Unlike its Ford rival, however, the Camaro was dormant for a period of about eight years in the early 2000s. Like Ford has done with the Mustang, Chevy has offered a variety of special editions and performance upgrades for the Camaro over the years. These editions include the legendary Z28, SS, and unique dealer packages like the Yenko Camaros from decades ago.
The Camaro we see today is dated compared to the Mustang, having been in production for several years without a major overhaul. Chevy introduced a high-performance ZL1 1LE package for the cars in 2018, and the Camaro is generally praised for great handling and a buttoned-up chassis.
There are rumors of a new generation Camaro hitting the market in the next few years.
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The ‚Vette has been around since the early 1950s as Chevy’s halo sports car. Across those years, one of the most dramatic transformations in automotive history took place in 2020. After decades of brawny, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive Corvettes, Chevrolet unleashed the mid-engine eighth-generation car. Known as the C8, the new Corvette is blindingly quick and can hang with the world’s great supercars.
The two-seater has been offered as a convertible and in high-performance versions such as the ZR1 and Z06. The C8 Corvette can run to 60 mph from a standstill in around 2.9 seconds, and the upcoming Z06 should be able to pull it off in a few tenths less.
The days of big and loud muscle cars have been over for at least two decades, but nobody told Dodge. The Challenger is a holdout from an era past, but Dodge has constantly tinkered with the car to add more performance and new tech over the years.
The original Challenger was sold from 1970 into the early 1980s, and took a 25-year hiatus before returning in 2008. The newest Challenger is available with massively powerful engines that surpass 800 horsepower. Dodge has focused on turning the Challenger into a drag strip weapon that can put down amazing times right off the dealer’s lot.
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The Dodge Charger started life in the mid-1960s as a coupe, but when it returned in 2006 after a nearly 20-year break, Dodge added a couple of doors. The modern Charger sedan is a full-size American muscle car with plenty of room and comfortable accommodations. It’s also available with a few extremely powerful engines that make it one of the world’s fastest four-door cars.
Like the Challenger, the Charger is an aging design at this point in its lifecycle. It has been over a decade since the car last saw a major redesign, but also like the Challenger, Dodge has made improvements over the years to keep it relevant. We may even see an electric version of the car in the coming years.
The original Pontiac GTO is credited as being the car that kicked off the muscle car craze in the 1960s. It was built for around ten years between the 1960s and 1970s, but the GTO name was mostly used as a trim level or options package for other Pontiac models, not as a standalone model itself.
Pontiac brought the GTO back for a few years in the early 2000s, but the car never regained its former glory. Throughout its life, the GTO offered V8 performance and a big-time personality that have made it legendary to enthusiasts and the average driver alike.
In the late 1960s, Plymouth paid Warner Brothers for the rights to use the Road Runner name on a line of muscle cars, and the rest is history. The Road Runner is one of the most recognizable and sought-after muscle cars of all time.
The cars evolved over the years until 1970 when the now-legendary Superbird made its way into NASCAR and the collectors‘ hearts. It was only produced for one model year, and today it commands some of the most impressive auction results ever seen. The Road Runner persisted on into the 1970s, but it suffered from a boxy, heavyweight design that hampered performance.
Based on the Oldsmobile Cutlass, the 442 was a rowdy options package that added plenty of performance and striking aggressive style. Oldsmobile gave it the 442 name because of its 400 cubic-inch engine, four-barrel carb and dual exhaust system. The 442 carried on through a few generations and ended its life alongside more modern classics like the Buick Grand National.
Near the end, government fuel economy and emissions rules started to crack down on vehicles with high performance and horsepower. Because of this, Oldsmobile had to dull the car’s considerable power and attractive specs. This makes the early cars especially desirable, and limited editions like the Hurst Oldsmobile and others are even more valuable.
The GNX was a one-year-only model that was built in partnership with McLaren (yes, that McLaren). Known as the „Grand National Experimental,“ the model featured an underrated engine that made around 276 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque, unique, subtly styling, and a zero to 60 time of just 4.6 seconds. To show just how advanced the car was, those numbers were staggering by late-1980s standards, and are competitive today.
Because of its rarity, the GNX commands a pretty penny at auction, but there are other options. The Grand National was another Buick that still turns heads today, along with the Turbo-T and T-Type from the same era.
AMC might not have lasted all that long, but its legacy lives on in the awesome cars it produced. The AMX was a two-seater produced in the late 1960s. The car got up to a 390 cubic-inch engine that produced 325 horsepower when new. The AMX carried innovative technologies and features for its time, such as a single-piece injection-molded dash, reinforced windshields and more.
Today, the AMX can draw big bids at auction and high-dollar sales numbers. Because of its short production run, the cars are quite rare, and various options make them even more desirable. One is the „Go Package,“ or Go-Pac, which added larger brakes, an upgraded differential, heavy-duty suspension and more.
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