America is home to some of the meanest muscle cars ever made. Since the Oldsmobile Rocket 88 first came out in 1949, domestic carmakers worked relentlessly on designing the ultimate muscle car. During the golden age of the local auto industry, companies such as Ford and Pontiac offered some of the greatest cars ever made. Fast-forward 60 years, and those classic cars are still as impressive as they were back then.
Restoring a classic muscle car is not an easy feat. There are several things piston heads should know before starting a restoration project. Having a substantial budget is a given. More things come into play as a project gets closer to completion. Not every car enthusiast looking to start a restoration project may have the time, resources, or energy needed. In that case, looking at some of the best classic muscle cars to restore is vital.
10 1969 Ford Mustang GT
Released in 1964, the Mustang would completely transform the American car industry. While popular, the original Mustang did not meet the minimum requirements when it came to sportiness. The secretary car would earn more sporty features in 1965 when Ford started offering the GT package.
There are a myriad of reasons why the Ford Mustang is the best-selling muscle car ever. First, the car looks gorgeous. Second, the best versions are fitted with Ford’s legendary 428 Cobra Jet engine. Despite its low sales number in 1969, the Mustang GT remains a terrific car. With 299,824 Mustangs sold in 1969, finding parts for a ’69 GT is not that hard.
9 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge
It is practically impossible for younger gearheads to fully understand how insane the domestic car scene was in the late ’60s. To put it simply, the Pontiac GTO was once compared to the legendary Ferrari 250 GTO. Pontiac manufactured a lot more GTOs than Ferrari did around that time. One of them, The Judge, is always remembered as one of the coolest muscle cars of the ’60s.
The GTO The Judge is a true icon from the late ’60s. To attract a younger crowd, Pontiac decided to spice up the muscle car scene with a cheaper, cooler, and head-turning banger. Executives at Pontiac moved forward with two variations of the Ram Air V8. The least powerful configuration pumps out a whopping 366 hp at 5,100 rpm and 455 lb-ft of torque. Although only 72,000 GTOs were sold in 1969, fixing up an old lady is a possible feat.
8 1970 Chevrolet Camaro Z28
When Ford released its Mustang, Chevrolet had nothing in its lineup to counter-attack. At the time, the faulty Corvair was the only car that could somehow compare to the Mustang. Realizing that it needed something to rival the Mustang, Chevrolet released its answer to the Mustang in 1965. The emblematic Camaro was born.
Cars like the 700 hp supercharged Chevrolet Camaro Z28 restomod with lots of carbon fiber featured on AutotopiaLA are beyond cool. However, nothing beats a clean Camaro Z28 in its original form. The stock 350 cu in small-block LT1 V8 already pumps out 360 hp at 6,000 rpm and 380 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. Although less than 8,000 Z28s were made in 1970, there are plenty of shops offering parts for this timeless classic.
7 1970 Oldsmobile 442
Oldsmobiles are not the most memorable cars. Before the brand was put out of misery in 2004, the vast majority of its vehicles were simply disappointing. Things were drastically different in the ’70s. Oldsmobile offered a wide variety of passenger cars, including some seriously attractive muscle cars. The 442 is one of them.
The ’70 Oldsmobile 442 is the embodiment of the muscle car era. Despite not being as popular as muscle cars released by Dodge or Chevy in 1970, the 442 remains a freak of nature. The 442 without the W30 package comes with a 454 cu in Rocket V8 factory-rated at 365 hp at 5,000 rpm and 500 lb-ft of torque at 3,200 rpm. Around 20,000 442s were made in 1970. Though harder to restore than a Mustang or Camaro, the 442 is worth doing a bit more research.
6 1971 Chevrolet El Camino SS
Utes are huge in Australia. They once were a thing in America as well. Ford first released the coupe/ pickup hybrid concept back in 1957. The Ranchero was born. Two years later, Chevy would strike back with the El Camino. There are things gearheads forgot about the Chevrolet El Camino SS, such as the fact that it was more popular than the Ranchero.
The mean-looking ’71 El Camino SS is proof that anything can be turned into a beast. Chevy offered a variety of engines on the El Camino, but only the SS came with the 454 cu in LS5 V8 in 1971. Though not the most powerful Chevy engine that year, the 454 still cranks out 285 hp at 4,000 rpm and 390 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. With roughly 42,000 El Caminos made in 1971, it is possible to turn a rust bucket into a beautifully restored collectible.
5 1971 Plymouth Road Runner
It is hard to think that Plymouth was once competing against other cars in the low-end market segment. Cars such as the Barracuda or the GTX are absolute wonders. Today, these cars do not sell for less than $100,000 in pristine condition. One of the best cars made by Plymouth, namely the Road Runner, should be on every muscle head’s shopping list.
The 1971 Plymouth Road Runner looks very similar to the GTX. The two nameplates were different trim levels of the same vehicle. The Road Runner, with a little over 14,000 built in 1971, was far more common than the GTX. Chrysler still offered several meaty engines, including the 440 cu in RB-Series V8 capable of pumping out 385 hp at 4,700 rpm and 490 lb-ft of torque.
4 1972 Dodge Charger Rallye
Dodge started showing its teeth in the mid-60s. Even if cars were not appealing to the eye, they were fitted with some of the nicest performance parts any gearheads could ask for. Several Dodge cars like the Polara and the Charger came with monstrous units like the 426. It would not be until the ’70s that Dodge cars started looking fierce and sporty.
The 1972 Dodge Charger Rallye tend to be overshadowed by its direct predecessor. The car remains a terrific classic muscle car. At best, the ’72 Charger Rallye comes with a 440 cu in V8 that produces 330 hp at 4,800 rpm and 410 lb-ft of torque at 3,200 rpm. Dodge built a little less than 76,000 Chargers in 1972.
3 1972 Ford Gran Torino
The muscle car scene was booming back in the early ’70s. Despite the Nixon administration putting pressure on the automobile industry, carmakers were still churning out one classic after the other. Some of the muscle cars from the ’70s that were better than the Ford Gran Torino did not age as beautifully. Even if it is less popular than the Mustang, the Torino remains a tremendous muscle car.
It is fair to concede that the ’72 Ford Gran Torino is grossly underpowered. To be fair, most muscle cars lost a bit of their appeal that year. Although a Coyote swap would do the trick, the top-line 429 cu in V8 still pumps out 208 hp at 4,400 rpm and 322 lb-ft of torque at 2,600 rpm. It may not be much based on today’s standards, but it is sufficient for a classic car of that caliber. With 56,819 units sold in 1972, finding a Gran Torino in decent condition for less than $20,000 is possible according to Hagerty Valuation Tool.
2 1973 Buick Apollo
If one brand is not known for its muscle cars, it must be Buick. Unlike most car companies at the time, Buick remained quiet when it came to muscle cars. The company did release the GSX and the Skylark GS, but it was nothing in comparison to the number of muscle cars released by the Chrysler Group or Ford. In 1973, when everything seemed lost, Buick offered a car that looked oddly familiar.
The ’73 Buick Apollo looks very similar to the Chevrolet Nova of the same year. Both cars are based on the same platform. In ’73, the Malaise Era was well underway. The Buick Apollo ended up with a 350 cu in small-block V8 rated at 175 hp at 3,800 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm. These figures are far from jaw-dropping, but then again, the year was 1973. A total of 9,868 two-door Apollos were made in 1973. Though they may not be plentiful, they were never very popular.
1 1973 Chevrolet Corvette
The Chevrolet Corvette was initially designed to counter the two-door sports cars coming from Europe. Directly competing against the Porsche 356, the Corvette quickly made a name for itself on and off the track. Almost 20 years after its introduction, the Corvette earned its spot at the table. The queen of muscle cars is regarded as one of the best American cars ever made until today.
The Chevy Corvette was still a terrific car in 1973. Though nowhere as insane as the ZR2 released two years earlier, the Corvette C3 was still one of the most powerful mass-produced American cars. At best, Chevy offered a 454 cu in LS4 V8 that develops 275 hp at 4,000 rpm and 390 lb-ft of torque at 2,800 rpm. Even if Chevy made only 30,464 Corvettes in 1973, the C3 was such an iconic car that shops specialized in restoring only classic Corvettes.