8 of the best American muscle cars ever made

From the 1968 Shelby GT350 Fastback to the 1969 Pontiac Firebird Coupé, we’ve rounded up the most powerful, beautiful mid-century motors…

From the Jaguar E-Type to the Aston Martin DB5, Britain produced many beautiful mid-century motors. The cars of continental Europe, also, revved up some serious style during these decades — whether that be Ferrari’s 250 Berlinetta or the Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing. But, across the pond, our American cousins were also making some outstanding cars of their own.

There’s the Ford Mustang, the Dodge Challenger and the Chevrolet Camaro; cars so coveted that they charged into global view — even if these ‘muscle’ models weren’t as readily available or seen on British roads. So, to celebrate these motors, we’ve trawled through the all-American, high-performance garage and chosen eight of our favourite cars that crash brute force together with slick, strapping design…

1968 Shelby GT350 Fastback

One of the highest-performance variants of the iconic Ford Mustang, this machine was the ultra-masculine creation of Shelby American Inc. With a fibreglass hood, unique fascia and special taillights among the features added to the car, exclusive parts such as console, gauges and special badging were created bespoke to customers orders.

Produced: 1967 to 1968
Engine: 302ci OHV V8 Holley with a 4-Barrel Carburettor
Power: 250 horsepower at 5,000rpm
Price when new: $4,117

1969 Dodge Charger R/T 426 Hemi

The Charger R/T was Dodge’s top performance model. And, just as the 1968 film Bullitt immortalised a V8 Ford Mustang GT similar to the Shelby GT350 above, a 1969 Dodge Charger was glorified in The Dukes of Hazzard, which featured a bold orange model; the ‘General Lee’. This most powerful variation came with sportier trim, special paint schemes and even the option of racing stripes.

Produced: 1968 to 1970
Engine: 7-litre, naturally-aspirated ‘426’ V8
Power: 425 horsepower at 5,000rpm
Price when new: $3,575

1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS Coupé

Introduced for Chevrolet’s high-octane 1964 season, the first generation Chevelle steered into the carmaker’s line-up between the compact ‘Chevy II’ and the full size ‘Impala’. The facelift tore onto the scene four years later and, when it launched, this Malibu ‘Super Sport’ (SS) variant was one of the fastest muscle cars ever built. 

Produced: 1968–1972
Engine: 6.6-litre 402ci with a 4-Barrel Carburettor
Power: 450 horsepower at 5,600rpm
Price when new: $2,809

1967 Plymouth Barracuda Coupé

Another second generation muscle car, the 1967 Plymouth Barracuda Coupé was available as a convertible and a notchback hardtop. With ‘Coke bottle’ side contours, curved side glass and S-curved roof pillars, it was built to compete with Ford’s sporty two-door version of its compact ‘Falcon’ Sedan. 

Produced: 1967 to 1969
Engine: 273ci V8 with a Single 2-Barrel Carburettor
Power: 180 horsepower at 4,400rpm
Price when new: $2,530

1969 Pontiac Firebird Coupé

The first generation of the century-spanning Pontiac Firebird is perhaps the best. Designed as a pony car to compete with the Ford Mustang, it sped onto the muscle car scene just five months after the Chevrolet Camaro — and shared the same ‘F-Body’ platform. The name was borrowed from a series of prototype sports cars from the 1950s (Pontiac would later, in 1977, release a car called the ‘Phoenix’).

Produced: 1967 to 1969
Engine: 5.7-litre 350ci two-barrel V8
Power: 265 horsepower at 2,660rpm
Price when new: $2,831

1967 Chevrolet Camaro

Another top-tier American muscle car, there have now been six generations of the Chevrolet Camaro. But few beat this first iteration; a snarling-but-sleek machine with a long bonnet, low ride and more trim options than you can shake a gearstick at. Curiously, it shares its semi-unibody design with the significantly less-sporty 1968 Chevy II Nova.

Produced: 1966–1969
Engine: Big Block Chevy 454ci V8
Power: 295 horsepower at 4,800rpm
Price when new: $2,572

1970 Dodge R/T 426 Hemi Challenger

The Dodge Charger further up this list may have made its name in The Dukes of Hazzard, but the car’s younger brother, the Challenger, speed into the hearts of motoring enthusiasts in the 1971 action film Vanishing Point. Raising the bar in terms of power, dimensions and luxury, only 137 of these R/T 426 Hemi Challengers were ever made.

Produced: 1970
Engine: 7-litre, naturally-aspirated ‘426’ V8
Power: 425 horsepower at 5,000rpm
Price when new: $4,500

1974 Ford Gran Torino

The youngest car to grace our list also made an indelible stamp on the world of pop culture; catching criminals and looking good doing so in Starsky and Hutch. The third iteration of the third generation of Ford’s ‘Torino’ has a smaller, more central grille, chrome bezels surrounding the headlights and a windscreen raking at a fast 60-degree angle.

Produced: 1974
Engine: 351ci ‘Cobra Jet’ Engine
Power: 255 horsepower at 5,600rpm
Price when new: $3,411

Want more car features? We go inside Lunaz, the British brand restoring classic cars to their former glory…

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