Muscle cars were an automotive phenomenon which started in the early 1960s in America and left an everlasting mark on the global industry. It was the era of glorious machines, stretches of burned rubber under every stoplight and gasoline addiction which brought us fantastic cars, crazy designs and created the coolest of all car genres. In a very short period of time, almost all American manufacturers presented numerous models which could be considered muscle cars. In just a few years, the muscle cars were at height of popularity, constantly battling each other for supremacy on the streets and boulevards. Manufacturers introduced various models, versions, engines, trim levels and performance packages and it looked like the fun will never stop. However, in the early 1970s muscle car craze came to a sudden stop when US government introduced a set of safety and environmental regulations which killed the muscle car class and lowered power levels of the cars in general. All of a sudden, cars with 400 hp dropped to measly 200 hp and performance was tragically slow. It took more than 20 years for American manufacturers to present cars which were as fast as their counterparts from the ’60s, and to revive the American performance in full force.
Since muscle cars were so influential and popular, most common muscle cars became well known beyond the automobile fandom. Cars like Ford Mustang, Dodge Charger, Plymouth Barracuda, Chevrolet Camaro, Pontiac GTO, Mercury Cougar and many more became integral parts of popular culture and appeared in numerous TV shows and movies. Those cars become so popular that their recognition went over the limits of car culture into the mainstream. But, what about those cars that didn’t have a chance to appear in popular movies or TV shows and didn`t get the acknowledgment of a wider audience. Since American manufacturers produced much more muscle car models than a common enthusiast knows about, we will present you 20 forgotten muscle cars, models that are equally good looking, equally fast, and equally powerful, but have been flying under the radar for all those years. This is the list of undiscovered muscle car gems and we are sure that you will enjoy this list and learn a thing or two.
AMC Rebel Machine
AMC is a company which is now long gone and almost forgotten, but back in the day they had some pretty cool muscle cars. The most popular were, of course, the Javelin and AMX, but the Rebel Machine is the coolest of them all, althoughlargely forgotten. It was based on a regular Rebel coupe but with the addition of a patriotic livery, powerful 390 CID V8 engine with 340 hp and performance extras. This was one-year model only (1970) and despite the decent price, only 2,363 were made.
AMC Hornet SC/360
Another forgotten AMC is an interesting compact muscle car called AMC Hornet SC/360. In the early ’70s manufacturers already understood that the end of the muscle era is close and tried to introduce cars which were smaller and cheaper but retained same performance levels. One of those attempts was the Hornet. However, it wasn’t successful and only 784 were made.
Introduced in 1962 and discontinued in 1971, Buick Wildcat was not your typical muscle car. This wasn’t an intermediate or compact size car, but a full-size luxury cruiser with a twist. Under the hood lurked the most powerful engine Buick had at the moment. If you are looking for both performance and creature comforts, look for the Wildcat since the prices are not high and the cars are very capable.
Chevrolet Monte Carlo
Monte Carlo is one of the longest running Chevrolet nameplates with the first model introduced in 1970. It was built on a stretched Chevelle platform and featured more luxury and powerful engines. It could be had with a 454 big block V8 making this personal luxury coupe as quick as contemporary Corvettes and Camaros. The production numbers were high and the prices are reasonable today.
Chrysler 300 Hurst
In 1955, Chrysler introduced the 300C model which is widely considered as one of the first muscle cars. After that, the “Letter Series” was born and in next 10 years, Chrysler 300 symbolized power, luxury, and speed. But, those cars are well-known, and the forgotten model is Chrysler 300 Hurst from 1970 which was a special version that featured a special paint job, rear spoiler and powerful engine.
The Coronet was always an intermediate sedan in Dodge’s lineup and before the muscle car era, it was a pretty ordinary and dull car. However, in the late ’60s, Coronet got powerful engines and it could be turned into a very fast street fighter. Unfortunately, the success of Chargers, Roadrunners, Super Bees stole the limelight from the trusty Coronet and left it somewhat forgotten.
Dodge Dart was a small compact grocery getter from Dodge produced mostly with slow six cylinders or less powerful V8 engines. It was the cheapest and slowest car that Dodge produced in that period. However, when equipped with a 383 V8 or even bigger engines, the little Dart was lightning fast and extremely fun to drive. Despite good sales results, Darts were never as sought after as some of the more popular Mopar muscle cars of the era.
Slotted between a compact Falcon and full-size Galaxie, Fairlane was Ford`s mid-size offering which had conventional engines and features. But in the mid-60s, Fairlanes could be had with powerful 289 and 390 engines and with sporty paint jobs and optional extras. Those were quite good looking muscle machines with a lot of potential but never achieved success of the Ford Mustang or Torino in the eyes of muscle cars enthusiasts.
The Ford Galaxie was a typical full-size family sedan with squared design and modest engines. But in 1966 and 1967, Ford offered its famous 427 V8 engines in Galaxie two-door calling it Ford 7 Litre. From the outside, there was no difference to similar Galaxie two-door models but underneath the body panels, there were performance suspension, a monster of the engine, upgraded brakes and a luxurious interior. Due to its unassuming appearance, Ford 7 Litre was forgotten and pretty rare car.
The Comet started its life as a Ford Falcon clone but with little more upscale features. However, in the mid-60s Comet got performance treatment and full restyle which turned it into a pretty capable street machine. The buyers could get up to 390 V8 which delivered 335 hp and extremely good performance from the little Mercury. Unfortunately, Cougar proved to be more famous and everybody forgot about the Comet although it was a full fledged muscle car in every aspect.
Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser
To be straight, Vista Cruiser was Oldsmobile`s family wagon with seating up to 9 and loads of trunk space. So, how come it can be a muscle car? Well, in 1970, if you chose the right options, you could get the engine and drivetrain from famous Oldsmobile 442 muscle car which could instantly transform your boring family wagon into a sports car killer. Of course, just a few people did that and that is why this fantastic car was soon forgotten.
The Toronado was a pretty controversial car when it came out in 1966 and still is an object of discussion among the muscle car fans. It was the first front wheel drive American car since the 1930s Cord and probably the only front-wheel-drive muscle car. It had a big 455 V8 engine with 385 hp and great performance in a sleek looking coupe body. That makes it a muscle car, and a specific mechanical layout means that it was overlooked by muscle car guys.
Ford Ranchero GT
Ford was and still is famous for its F-Series full-size pickup trucks. But in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the company produced a model called Ranchero which was half a car and half a truck. It was a pretty practical workhorse popular with handymen and delivery guys and inevitably, during the height of the muscle era it got its performance version in form of the Ranchero GT. It was a good looking, pretty fast little truck but not so popular, and always in the shadow of a very similar Chevrolet El Camino.
Pontiac Catalina 2+2
Built from 1961 to 1967, Catalina was Pontiac`s full-size sedan and coupe with beautiful design and sporty pretensions. Buyers could get powerful engines, but with the introduction of a2+2 option, Catalina really became a full-fledged muscle car. This trim package included revised suspension, bigger brakes and more power, and Catalinas with 421 and 428 engines could really fly. However, the popularity of Pontiac GTO and Firebird kept the Catalina largely unknown.
Chevrolet Laguna 454
This obscure muscle car was released during the dark ages of American performance, and with a not so good looking design, it was overlooked by the enthusiasts. But, Laguna is a much better and faster car that you might think since it is equipped with a torque monster of a 454 V8 engine, sport suspension and 4-speed manual transmission. This combo is capable of some respectful performance especially by the standards of the day.
Studebaker Avanti R2
Once famous and very popular, Studebaker was facing hard times in the early ’60s. Sales were alarmingly low and bankruptcy was just around the corner. To regain the hype and attract the customers, the company presented a personal luxury coupe called Avanti. It was a fantastic looking car with one interesting option called R2. It had a supercharged engine and four-speed manual transmission which transformed the luxury cruiser into a muscle machine. Studebaker closed its doors for good in 1966 and Avanti went into the twilight of the muscle cars world despite its great design and almost 300 hp engine.
Plymouth Fury GT
Plymouth was one of the great names of the original muscle cars. This, now defunct company had several extremely popular and well-known models in their lineup, like Barracuda, Roadrunner, Duster and GTX, but there was one car no one remembered and it is called Fury GT. Fury was full size Plymouth aimed to family buyers. But in GT form, it was a luxury two-door cruiser with the most powerful 440 V8 you could get. Somehow, this formula was not successful with the buyers and Fury GT was lost in corridors of time.
Dodge Lil’ Red Express Truck
In the late ’70s, Dodge cleverly used a loophole in regulations and introduced a special truck which was a real performer, too. It was called Lil’ Red Express Truck and behind this funny name was a Dodge D100 truck with a performance engine, transmission and drivetrain. The result was a true muscle truck which was the quickest American made vehicle in 1978! Most hardcore muscle car fans don`t consider it a true part of the muscle car class but it really is and it was overshadowed by some other models.
Chevrolet Kingswood 427
Similar to the Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser, Chevrolet Kingswood was a big station wagon with woodgrain inserts on the side, whitewall tires and a big trunk. Nothing out of the ordinary, and nothing that would assume that this car can run with the fastest muscle cars of the era. Underneath the hood was a427 V8 engine with 390 hp, enough to propel the big wagon to prohibited speeds very quickly. But not so many people understood the true value of this model and just 546 were built in 1969.
Mercury Marauder X-100
Conceived like a personal luxury coupe in 1969, Marauder was in fact a muscle fighter in a tuxedo. As an upscale brand of Ford Motor Company, Mercury presented the Marauder with a big 429 CID V8 engine, interesting looks, and 360 hp. That firepower guaranteed fast acceleration and high top speed, while Mercury`s reputation ensured that the car would be full of creature comforts and fine materials. It was a truly interesting combo, and today, the Marauder X-100 is a must for every true muscle car aficionado.