There's something about the classic American muscle car that just can't be beat. Sure, they're not as fast as most modern machines, they handle terribly, they guzzle gasoline and run through tires like toilet paper, but once you fire up that engine, none of that really seems to matter...
Until about 10 years ago, American cars got a bad rap for their poor handling and shoddy build quality. But oh, how times have changed… now they get a bad rap for poor fuel economy, too! Just kidding, there’s one thing that U.S. carmakers do very, very well: horsepower. Mountains and mountains of asphalt-shredding, stoplight-racing horsepower.
While you certainly wouldn’t want to take any of the following automotive beasts on a quick spin around the Alpine countryside, if it’s miles and miles of flat, open countryside you’re faced with, then there’s little that can beat them. Read on for a list of 10 of the most badass, rubber-burning, all-American muscle cars ever – each built to conquer the world, one quarter-mile at a time.
2014 Tesla P85D
The P85D might be the ultimate sleeper. Besides the small badge on the trunk there aren’t any real visual cues that this car is anything beyond your typical Tesla. But activate “Insane Mode” (seriously!) and prepare yourself for one hell of a ride. No joke – this car will outrun nearly anything else on the road, including EVERY SINGLE ONE of the following cars. So why isn’t it our favorite? Simply put: there’s too much software, not enough engine. Muscle cars require a rumbly V8, and all the speed in the world can’t change that…
1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88
Arguably the world’s first muscle car, the Rocket 88 was unique because it capitalized on an automotive trend that’s as American as apple pie - hot-rodding. After WWII, it wasn’t uncommon for idle former military engineers to buy up luxurious old automobiles, strip away the weighty interior and stick in a ferocious new V8, leaving them with a ridiculously powerful machine for its relative weight. Somewhere along the line the team at Olds realized they could cash in on this practice by offering a store-bought version to customers who couldn’t build their own hot-rod. The result was the world’s first factory-made muscle car.
1955 Chrysler C-300
Based on the New Yorker and named for its horsepower rating, it is also the spiritual progenitor of today’s Chrysler 300. When introduced, the C-300 was a world-beater, producing a whopping 300hp at a time when most cars made less than 200. Also, its 331 cubic inch (5.4L) engine had a revolutionary hemispherical combustion chamber, which is where Chrysler’s trademark “Hemi” name came from. It dominated racing in the U.S., despite its two-ton weight, and Tom McCahill (the father of the magazine road test) called it “a hardboiled, magnificent piece of semi-competition transportation.”
1964 Pontiac GTO
Much like the Chrysler C-300, the GTO was based on a much humbler car (the Pontiac Tempest), and was only available as a trim option at first. This car was badasss in every sense and broke a whole lot of rules. Firstly, it violated General Motors’ (Pontiac’s parent company) standing order forbidding engines larger than 330 cubic inches in medium-sized cars; the GTO, or “Goat” as it was nicknamed, had a 389 ci engine. Secondly, it stole its name from the Ferrari GTO without a please or thank you. It also came to define what would become the modern “muscle car formula” - a basic two-door hardtop, made in America, and stuffed with a big, bad V8.
1970 Buick GSX
The GSX debuted in 1970 – right at the pinnacle of the horsepower wars – and it was crammed with what would remain the era’s largest engine: a 455-cubic inch V8. That’s 7.5-litres of fuel consumption! Somehow it “only” produced 360hp, but it did also produce a more diesel-appropriate 510 foot-pounds (690 Nm) of torque, which raised the question of which item you’d need to replace first – the gasoline or your tires! While it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see such a large engine in a Buick again (unless they start building tanks), it’s nice to know that, once upon a time, such absurdity was indeed possible.
1970 Ford Mustang Boss 429
The Mustang didn’t begin life as a true muscle car. Over time, however, it grew larger and larger, and by its seventh year (1970) it was definitely more muscle car than sporty GT. The “Boss Nine” (as enthusiasts call it) was special because the engine that was stuffed into it was a homologation originally destined for NASCAR. We say “stuffed” in the literal sense, as the car had to be modified so that this massive power plant would fit under the hood. It produced a meaty 375 hp and is extremely valuable today, as only 859 of the machines were ever produced featuring this engine.
1970 Plymouth Belvedere GTX
Notice how the GTX and the preceding two cars on this list were all built in 1970? That’s because ’70 was the pinnacle of the horsepower wars and the GTX was no exception. Producing a cheek-wobbling 390 horsepower from its 440 ci V8, the GTX was loved even more thanks to the array of crazy colors you could specify when ordering one: Vitamin C Orange, Tor-red, Lime Light, In Violet... Even cooler than that, Mike D of the Beastie Boys had a ’68. Nuff said.
1970 Chevy Chevelle 454
If you wanted true invincibility over a quarter-mile, this was the only option in 1970. The Chevelle 454 produced an incredible, tire-spinning 450 horsepower. While that might seem laughably underwhelming now, back then it was enough to leave you needing a change of underwear. Many of the largest engines that were used for muscle car builds were initially built to go racing and the 454 was no different; its engine was based on the hugely successful 427 used in Can-Am racing – a competition famous for its lack of regulations on engine size, aerodynamics and pretty much everything else...
1963 Dodge Dart Ramcharger
Remember Chrysler’s famous Hemi engine from the C-300? Well, a few years later, it was all grown up and spitting out the power of 425 horses! Again, this was way before anyone else could come close to this kind of figure. It was still available years later, too. While the Dart was a geeky-looking little coupe that seemed more at home parked in a secretary’s driveway than out on the dragstrip, that didn’t stop it piling up the trophies - of which it won many. Frankly, this car defines everything a muscle car should be - understated, unpretentious, and ready to beat everything at the push of a pedal.
2015 Dodge Challenger
No matter how cool all the cars from the ‘70s and earlier were, the sad truth is that, even though they produced an unholy amount of power, they weren’t very efficient and their tires couldn’t really put that power into action. Now, however, it’s a completely different story, and the new Challenger (and Charger) from Dodge are here to put all that right. Each one churns out 707 hp and 650 ft-lbs of torque – over double what the originals of the ‘70s were doing – proving that Chrysler remains at the top of the pile, all those years down the line. Just make sure you buy extra tires if you do ever get behind the wheel.
Words by Yoav Gilad for Highsnobiety.com