The Best Classic Muscle Cars
Made In The Last 50 Years
[A Few Just May Surprise You]
by Bill Flitter
Dad, Coffee Lover, Coach, First Car: '79 Camaro
I still remember the day like it was yesterday. I was 16 years old. My dad comes home from work, walks in the door and says to me, “I found a car for you.”
He was as excited to tell me as I was as excited to know what it was. I was expecting the worst (i.e., Maverick) but hoping for the best (i.e., Corvette).
I had cash in my pocket from the many odd jobs I did since I was 13. So, I was ready to buy.
We arrived at the dealer and there it was — a 1979 midnight Blue Berlinetta Camaro. One of best classic muscle cars of the 1970s (in my opinion).
I proudly drove it off the lot that hot summer night in Wisconsin. What followed, well, we’ll save that for future blogs.
There have been many classic muscle cars in the last 50 years. Car enthusiasts argue which are the best. I asked our friends at Instamotor their thoughts on the best classic muscle cars from the last 50 years. Here is what they came up with…
10 Of The Best Classic Muscle Cars From The Past 50 Years
Normally the term “muscle car” hearkens to distant memories of Mustangs and Camaros drag racing between stop lights. Those cars are iconic in their own right. However with their respective revivals (which are great cars), the streets have become saturated with them. Some classic muscle cars of the past, however, have been fully realized by their makers and are confined to legend. These cars, some not having been made for more than 50 years, should never be forgotten, and should be eternally respected as machines that have paved the way for new muscle cars to thrive.
1973 Ford Falcon XB/GT Coupe
Production of the Ford Falcon in America may have halted in 1970, but it continued strong in Australia up until 2016. You may recall the iconic 1973 Ford Falcon XB/GT Coupe from the movie Mad Max, in which it was fitted with a supercharger and, consequently, [“600 horses of fuel injected vengeance”]. You can still buy one of these and have it shipped to the U.S. for nearly $20,000, which shouldn’t be an issue legally since its 351 Cleveland engine was sold in the U.S. That means it could make a lot of horsepower as it’s part of a bigger block family than the 351 Windsor.
1971 Mustang Boss 531
For one year Ford made the Mustang Boss 351, which like the Falcon also had the Cleveland V8. More common are the Boss 302 Mustangs which were made between 1969-1970. Boss Mustangs were made to compete in Sports Car Club of America’s (SCCA) Trans-AM series, and thus were offered with not just a racing-inspired engine but also handling and aerodynamics packages. If you can find the Boss 351, one of the rarest production Mustangs to ever exist, it’ll cost you somewhere around $80,000.
1966-1976 Jensen Interceptor
In Britain, the Jensen Interceptor could be considered a muscle car partly because of its massive 440ci mopar V8 engine. The Interceptor also came with a limited-slip differential (LSD) and, at one point, with 305 horsepower was the most powerful Jensen ever made. Not only did it have the proper equipment for performance, the Interceptor also had the all the stylings and size that helped it squeeze into contention as a muscle car. If you can find one and don’t mind putting a lot of elbow grease into completely restoring it, you could pay as little as $5,000. But if you want one that’s ready to go, expect a heftier price tag in the way of $70,000 or so.
1963 Studebaker Super Lark
Enthusiasts might point to the competition between the Mustang and Camaro as sparking the era of muscle cars. However, older and possibly wiser schools of thought might consider the 1950s as the birth era of practical sized cars with big performance. Defunct since 1966, Studebaker is hailed as making the first ever muscle cars with inspired, lightweight stylings coupled with big engines producing a lot of horsepower for the time. The Studebaker Super Lark was equipped with a performance package that included handling and power upgrades, including a supercharger. Studebakers aren’t hard to find at affordable prices, but a Super Lark might be a different story.
1969-73 Datsun 280z
Across the Pacific, Japanese manufacturer Datsun was busy creating its own version of the muscle car. Since Japanese vehicles are known for being on the smaller, more conservative and efficient side, we chose the mid-1970s 280z. It was a small, light sports car with a 2.8-liter inline-six cylinder engine, a 5-speed manual transmission, and 170 horsepower. These cars are readily available, but aren’t as cheap as they used to be. Be that as it may, there is still a wide market for modifications and general restorations. You can probably find one in decent shape for between $5,000 – $10,000.
1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL-1
Yes—both a Mustang and Camaro have made this list but, with only 69 ZL-1s produced, that makes it no ordinary Camaro. The ZL-1’s engine was a 427 aluminum block V8. It was bred for Can-Am racing, and produced more than 500 horsepower, making it one of the fastest Camaros ever. The first 20 were put into racing and the rest for the street. However, its moderate price tag of more than $7,000 meant it didn’t sell out until the early 1970s.
2003-04 Mercury Marauder
This ultra rare muscle car, though it didn’t have as big of a V8 as some of these predecessors, makes our list simply because of how mythical and angry it is. Seeing a Mercury Marauder on the street is a surreal experience because on the outside (and much of the inside) it looks like a police interceptor, but when you see the name “Marauder” engraved on the rear bumper, suddenly the car looks completely different. The Marauder got a DOHC 32-valve version of Ford’s 4.6-liter V8, and produced more than 300 horsepower. The Marauder also got police interceptor suspension. Unfortunately, the Marauder was discontinued after 2004, which makes its two-year run all the more special.
1970 AMC Machine
Simply called “The Machine,” this short-lived AMC had under its hood a 4.6-liter V8 producing 340 horsepower. Its engine boasted an impressive compression ratio of 10:1, and the Machine even had its own special custom wheels. On the outside, the closer you look at its stylings the more they seem inconsistent. It’s got sharp, aggressive 90-degree right angles on the front, which flow into more forgiving slight curves in the back, resembling the 1965 Mustang. This gives the AMC a style that separates it from other muscle cars of its time.
1968-69 Dodge Coronet
We all remember the Chargers from similar years. A lot of the American car manufacturers had small, mid, and full-sized sedans. Ford had its Falcon, Fairlane, and Galaxie, while Chevrolet had its Nova, Chevelle, and Impala. Dodge had a similar kind of lineup, with the Dart as its small size car, and then the Coronet as an intermediate-size car, with the Plymouth Belvedere sharing the same platform as a full-size car. The Coronet could be equipped with a monstrous 7.2-liter V8, and in 1969 had an A12 package that included the 440 producing 390 horsepower. The Coronet had a similar look to the Charger, but was a smaller and more compact version, in other words more sporty.
1971 ZR2 Corvette
The ZR2 Corvette was a ZR1 with no power windows, steering, air conditioning, and no radio. It did however, have a 454 Chevrolet V8 engine that made 425 horsepower. It was mated exclusively to a 4-speed manual transmission. Insanely rare, ZR2 today is worth potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Over to You
Some of these classic muscle cars you’d be hard pressed to find even at a car show. So if you’re lucky enough to see them in person, be sure to soak in the experience. Take a photo if you can, because these will soon be confined to history books and legend.
Luckily, the concept of the muscle car is not restricted to only these ten cars. What are your top picks for classic muscle cars? What did we miss?
The spirit lives on in current generations, like the Mustang, Camaro, and Challenger. All of these current generation muscle cars are affordable whether you are buying new or used. So if you want to help keep the muscle car spirit alive, it’s well within the realm of possibility.