Muscle cars are the greatest thing to ever come out of the American auto industry. Their unique combination of aggressive sporty designs, giant front-mounted V8 engines that sound glorious, and rear-wheel-drive layout has earned them fans from all over the globe, which is why models like the 2023 Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro are still going strong decades after their introduction.
While muscle cars can face off with some of the top European performance cars in almost every aspect, there’s one area where the Europeans have always defeated them – racing. Having a giant V8 under the hood supplying power to the rear wheels can be fun in certain situations, but it makes them terrible race car options in most renowned competitions where the ability to take corners at speed without rolling over is key.
Thankfully, there’s one racing category that muscle cars thrive in, and that’s drag racing. Muscle cars thrive in drag racing as it only tests acceleration and not handling as they usually race in a straight line. With that said, let’s explore some of the greatest drag racing used muscle cars ever, from modern options to classic ones.
10 2020 Dodge Challenger SRT Super Stock
In the mid-2000s, Dodge decided to revive the legendary Challenger nameplate after a long hiatus. Dodge’s designers rolled up their sleeves and built one of the best modern takes on a retro design. While the 2008 Challenger looked modern, it had styling cues that reminded gearheads of the iconic 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T. It’s no surprise that the third-generation Challenger has retained the design since.
Dodge has built several versions of the third-generation Challenger over the last 15 years, and the 2020 SRT Super Stock is the fastest in a drag race thanks to its 807-hp engine, crossing the quarter-mile mark in an incredible 10.5 seconds.
9 1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
The late ’60s saw a huge competition among American automakers to see who could build the fastest muscle car of the day. Dodge didn’t want to miss out, so it introduced a special package for the 1969 Camaro that would turn it into an absolute monster – the ZL1.
Only available through Chevy’s COPO program, the ZL1 package equipped the Camaro with an all-aluminum 430-hp big-block V8 that Chevy developed specifically for drag racing, making it a beast on the track. Sadly, the 1969 Camaro ZL1 is among the rarest muscle cars with only 69 examples in existence, which is why it can sell for more than $1 million, according to Hagerty.
8 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350
Carroll Shelby is an American automotive genius who left an unmissable mark on the auto industry. Shelby played a key role in the development of various iconic cars, and the Mustang Shelby GT350 is among the best.
The Mustang Shelby GT350 made its debut in the ’60s and stayed in production until 2020 when Ford announced its discontinuation. The final Mustang Shelby GT350 packed a powerful punch thanks to its 520-hp “Voodoo” V8 engine, allowing it to cross the quarter-mile mark in just over 12 seconds. Since it’s no longer in production, the GT350 is one of those American cars that will surely gain value in the coming decades.
7 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE
The aforementioned 1969 Camaro ZL1 was so popular that Chevy decided to bring back the ZL1 package in the modern versions of the Camaro. The ZL1 version of the current Camaro generation debuted in 2017 with many upgrades over the SS, including a lower grille to improve cooling, a new front splitter, and a new 10-speed automatic transmission.
For those who wanted a more track-focused version of the ZL1, Chevy offered the 1LE package that reduced weight by 60 lbs and added cool features like Multimatic spool-valve shocks and Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires. Thanks to the upgrades, the ZL1 1LE covers the quarter mile in 11.4 seconds.
6 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429
The horsepower race was heating up in the late ’60s muscle car market, and Ford didn’t want to miss out. So, in 1969, Ford rolled up its sleeves and built one of the best special edition Mustangs ever – the Boss 429.
Ford wanted the Mustang to obliterate Chrysler’s Hemi-powered muscle cars in the NASCAR Grand National Division, so it built the Boss 429 engine for it. The Mustang Boss 429 made 370 hp, allowing it to cover the quarter mile in 14.09 seconds. The Mustang Boss 429 is a prized collectible these days and is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
5 1970 Plymouth Hemi ’Cuda
Chrysler-owned Plymouth went out of business about two decades ago, but not before leaving us with some pretty cool models. One of the greatest Plymouth creations has to be the Barracuda and the incredible Hemi ‘Cuda it spawned.
The Hemi ‘Cuda debuted in 1970 and was Plymouth’s most powerful muscle car at the time, thanks to its 7.0-liter Hemi V8 that made over 425 hp. The Hemi ‘Cuda needed just over 13 seconds to cross the quarter-mile mark, which was respectable in 1970. It’s no surprise that the Hemi ‘Cuda is among the most expensive muscle cars you can buy at auction, with Hagerty valuing the rare convertible version at over $2 million.
4 2022 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500
Gearheads were sad when Ford ended the Shelby GT350’s production run in 2020, but thankfully the automaker kept the much faster Mustang Shelby GT500 in production. The Mustang Shelby GT500 offers the best performance you can find in any production Ford model, which is why gearheads love it.
At the heart of the latest Mustang Shelby GT500 is a huge 5.2-liter ‘Predator’ aluminum-alloy V8 paired with a supercharger. It produces a crazy 760 hp, allowing it to hit the quarter mile in 11 seconds.
3 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS454 LS6
The legendary Camaro is Chevy’s greatest muscle car model, which is why it’s the only one that survives decades after all the others died. However, Chevy has built other cool muscle cars in the past that were better than the Camaro during different times in history, and the 1970 Chevelle SS 454 is one of them.
The Chevelle SS 454 had a massive 7.4-liter V8 under the hood, and buyers who chose the optional LS6 version had up to 450 hp to play with instead of just 355 hp in the LS5.
2 1966 Ford Fairlane 500 R-Code
The Ford Fairlane doesn’t really come up in conversations regarding the top ’60s muscle cars. However, the ultra-rare 1966 500 R-code deserves a mention, as we think it’s among the most underrated muscle cars.
The 1966 Fairlane had a design refresh that gave it proper muscle car looks. The 500 R-Code trim made it a lot better in the performance department, as it came with a massive 7.0-liter “R-Code” V8 engine making over 420 hp and the Ford “Top-Loader” four-speed manual gearbox. Ford built this engine and transmission combo for Super Stock racing, which is why it was so fast.
1 1987 Buick GNX
Buick has always been among the most boring American automakers, as most of its models don’t appeal to performance car lovers. However, in the late ’80s, Buick built the GNX and showed everyone that it could also compete with the big boys.
The GNX started as a Grand National but received several upgrades under the hood thanks to McLaren, including a new turbocharger and a bigger intercooler. Thanks to the upgrades, the GNX reportedly made around 300 hp, allowing it to cover the quarter mile in just 12.7 seconds. This was faster than the Ferrari F40 and Porsche 930, which is insane for a Buick.