For automotive journalists, compiling a list of nostalgic vintage cars is one of the easiest tasks in the world. America seems to have a surplus of oldies that reminds us how cool cars used to be. Many American and European classic cars are history lessons in themselves, telling their stories before you’ve even run your curious fingers across their historic body lines and paintwork, or planted your behind on their faded leather seats.
Take the ‘70s Hemi ‘Cuda, for example. The sight of the car today brings back memories of how Generation Xers and Millennials had plenty of fun together with other Plymouth owners, parading around and stopping as a group at restaurants just to show off theirmuscle carsand draw envious looks.
The Camaro is still the most popular muscle car today, just as it was one of the best of the ‘60s and ‘70s, including the Pontiac GTO, Mustang Fastback, Chevrolet Chevelle SS, and of course, the Superbird Road Runner. We’d like to tell you that the Pontiac GTO or any of the vintage muscles on this list is the baddest muscle car, but nostalgia and the rich history each of these cars bring to the table won’t let us do that. Instead, we prefer to drop a list of the best vintage muscle cars for nostalgia’s sake.
10 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 – Top Sale $100,800
The understated look of the Oldsmobile 88 is obvious now, just as it was unremarkable decades ago when the car hit showrooms in 1949. It wouldn’t be the celebrity it is today had Oldsmobile engineers not fitted it with a powerful V8 engine meant for larger saloons.
A large, robust V8 propelling a relatively small and light body proved to be the perfect recipe for what would get widely considered the first muscle car. The Oldsmobile Rocket 88 is a prime example of what the American muscle car was all about before there was a muscle car culture and before the Mustang and the Camaro came along.
9 1964 Pontiac GTO – $45,000
The Rocket 88 Oldsmobile may have gotten recognition as the first muscle car, but it wasn’t until Pontiac unleashed the GTO in September 1963 that the ‘60s muscle car era officially began.
The GTO was initially an option package on the Pontiac LeMans, sold in coupe, hardtop, and convertible body styles. The GTO came just as GM banned its divisions from auto racing, forcing Pontiac to switch its traditional performance-focused marketing approach to street performance.
8 1964 Ford Fairlane Thunderbolt – Avg $139,358
The 1964 Ford Fairland Thunderbolt is one of the most nostalgic classic muscle cars from the ‘60s era. Ford offered the Fairlane full-size (midsize from the 1962 model year) automobile between 1955 and 1970. Named after Henry Ford’s Dearborn, Michigan home, the model took various body shapes through its production years, including 2- and 4-door hardtops, 2- and 4-door sedans, 2-door convertibles, and a 4-door station wagon.
The Thunderbolt was a limited production, factory experimental, drag racing version of the Ford Fairlane produced during the 1964 model year. Like the Oldsmobile Rocket 88, Thunderbolt used a robust 7.0-liter V8 race engine originally meant for the heavier Ford Galaxie NASCAR racers.
7 1965 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350
The name speaks for itself. The Shelby GT350 is probably the best classic muscle car in terms of sheer popularity and overly proven performance. How many more can boast of shifting two million copies in two years?
Despite the Mustang’s attractive styling, the innards came mostly from the boring Ford saloons, with the asthmatic inline-sixes as the best engines. The first-gen Mustang eventually got a 4.7-liter V8, but the Shelby GT350 versions of the ‘Stang made it a more serious contender.
6 1966 Plymouth Barracuda – $32,767
The Barracuda was just as badass as its name intentionally suggests. It could wake from rest to 60 mph in less than 10 seconds. This was the ’60s, don’t forget.
The Barracudas stood out with their heavy, low profiles and a massive rear window that betrayed a futuristic styling. If you’re looking for muscle cars for sale, the average 1966 Plymouth Barracuda costs about $32,767.54, a 31.1% price increase since last year, according to CarGurus. The 16 for sale on CarGurus range from $17,395 to $204,995.
5 1967 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28
You wouldn’t be wrong to describe the Camaro’s origin as a kneejerk response to the Mustang’s runaway success. Two million Mustangs sold in two years? GM could hardly resist getting a piece of that pie.
So, three years after the Mustang’s debut, the Camaro showed up in coupe and convertible body styles, equipped with a robust 295-horsepower 396 cu-in V8, and riding on the Chevrolet Nova platform. Chevrolet added option packages to the Camaro, including the cosmetics-focused RS and SS and the performance-focused Z/28 package. Did the Camaro help GM get a good chunk of that pie? You be the judge.
4 1968 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 – $24,887
The Shelby GT350 and GT500 – the jury is still out on the most popular and nostalgic of these two. In any case, it’s safe to say that the first two years of Shelby’s Mustangs are the most nostalgic and most coveted by Mustang purists.
The GT350s were lighter and more race-ready, but the later ’67 and ’68 models, like the GT500, rocked more serious innards to provide more fun to Mustang enthusiasts. The 1968 Mustang Shelby GT500 received motivation from a 428 cu-in big-blog V8 generating 335 horsepower.
3 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 – $35,000
Not to get left behind by the fledging pony car culture and not to let Ford have all the fun with the Mustang, Chevrolet ventured into the muscle car world with the Chevelle SS (Super Sport). This was 1964, same year as the Mustang’s debut.
Unfortunately, the Chevelle SS was no match (not in a long shot) for the reigning king of muscle cars – the Pontiac GTO. To remedy this, Chevrolet unleashed an outrageously-specd Chevelle for the 1970 model year, toting a 7.5-liter big-block V8 that made a ghastly 450 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque. The SS 454 could cover 60 mph from zero in 5.8 seconds, making it one of the fastest accelerating road cars in the world and hugely nostalgic today.
2 1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird – $1,650,000
The Superbird’s sky-high rear wing and pointed nose made it an obvious circuit racing machine. This was at a time muscle cars got typically designed for drag racing. The Superbird was a stock race car based on the Plymouth Road Runner.
The only reason the regular public got to lay hands on the Superbird was that NASCAR rules said we have to have at least 1,920 examples before the car can get to compete. The Superbird’s weird design kept potential buyers away some, but the car is a hugely desirable model of the Muscle Car era and frequently returns six-figure sums at auction.
1 1971 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda – $189,995
After the Barracuda’s launch just weeks before the Mustang’s debut in 1964, it could never break free of the Mustang’s formidable shadow – that is, until Plymouth unleashed the Hemi-powered ‘Cuda.
The Hemi ‘Cuda rolled out with a massive 7.0-liter V8 with 426 horsepower, propelling it from rest to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds. The ‘Cuda didn’t just play the part of a Mustang eater; it looked the part, too, thanks to a range of cartoonish colors and a ‘shaker hood scoop’ poking through the hood to gulp air into the engine.
Plymouth would rather kill the ‘Cuda in 1971 than shave the legendary Hemi V8 mill just to meet emissions laws. Only 115 ‘Cudas got built, with the rarer convertible versions fetching millions of dollars at auction.
Sources: Classic.Com, Hemmings, TrueCar