Muscle cars are among the coolest and most desirable cars in the world. They are fast, relatively affordable, have rear-wheel drive, have a muscular body, and most importantly, are powerful. The golden age of muscle cars primarily focused on how powerful the manufacturers can make their muscle cars and get away with it.
Then came the Malaise era, which had some cool muscle cars, but the race to make the most powerful muscle car stopped with it. Years later, we started getting muscle cars with ridiculously powerful engines like the Challenger Hellcat, Shelby GT500, and the Camaro ZL1. These modern super muscle cars have the power of over 500 horses and are some of the most powerful cars in their price ranges.
But the muscle cars from the yesteryears are no slouch either. Manufacturers like GM, Dodge, Plymouth, and Ford charged their muscle cars with so much power that they would go in the history books as some of the most powerful cars of that era.
10 1970 Buick Skylark GS 455 – 350 hp
1970 saw many great iterations of muscle cars like the Chevelle, 442, and Charger. But the Buick Skylark was a dark horse in the power charts, with a 7.5-liter V8 that made 350 hp. There is also an optional Stage 1 package that increased the power output to 360 hp, but we’re only counting stock engines.
But what an engine this is, delivering 510 lb-ft of torque at just 2800 rpm. The GS 455 came with a three-speed floor-shifted manual or a four-speed manual, depending on the trim and options you choose. It may be a forgotten muscle car today, but a muscle car with a 350-hp engine was a huge deal back then.
9 1969 Mercury Cougar Eliminator – 355 hp
If the Mustang was too normal for you, and its Lincoln counterpart was too expensive/luxurious for your taste, Mercury provided the sweet spot between the two ends. The Mercury Cougar was Ford’s way of incorporating the best of both worlds, the power of the Mustang, and the comfort of Lincolns.
The 1969 Cougar drew power from a 7-liter Ford Cobra Jet V8 that made 355 hp at 5200 rpm. It also came with more features and luxurious parts than the Mustang, so the Cougar Eliminator was a solid choice for a versatile and powerful muscle car.
8 1967 Mustang Shelby GT500 – 355 hp
Some of the iconic Mustangs from the golden age of muscle cars are worth millions today, surely they must be quite spectacular to command such a huge value. The 1967 Shelby GT500, one of the most beautiful muscle cars is one of them. This one also came with a 7.0-liter V8 that made 355 hp.
But rather than the Cobra Jet we mentioned earlier, this one made use of the Police Interceptor V8. The other option was a 6.3-liter V8, but the bigger engine helped the Shelby GT500 become one of the fastest muscle cars in its era. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why it’s so iconic today.
7 1966 Pontiac GTO – 360 hp
The 1969 Pontiac GTO may be more popular today, but the 1966 GTO was one of the best muscle cars from that year. The GTO had an edge over other muscle cars because it offered more accessories from the brand, and it had more paint job options to choose from, so more people could enjoy it.
But the performance is what we’re interested in today, and it doesn’t disappoint in that area either. The 1966 GTO came with a pretty decent 6.3-liter V8 as standard. But the Tri-Power upgrade added dual carburetors that increased the power output to 360 hp. There’s also a XS Ram Air package for the GTO that increased the power to 380 hp, but it’s about as rare as a unicorn these days.
6 1968 Oldsmobile Hurst/Olds – 390 hp
The Mustangs, Camaros, and Challengers dominated the top-tier muscle cars segment during the ’60s and ’70s. But companies like Plymouth, Buick, Pontiac, and Oldsmobile did not go down without a fight either. The Hurts/Olds is one fine creation from Oldsmobile that has gained a lot of respect over the years.
Oldsmobile based it on the more popular 442, so the design was always going to be great. But they also gave it a more powerful engine than the 442 it was based on. The massive 7.5-liter Rocket V8 is one of the best engines in the Rocket series of V8s. It made 390 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque, a praiseworthy attempt from Oldsmobile.
5 1966 Plymouth Satellite – 425 hp
Plymouth has given us some of the most underrated muscle cars in history. While most people would remember Charger, Camaro, Mustang, or GTO from the classic era, the Satellite is a rad muscle car that almost no one talks about. The 1966 Plymouth Satellite came with a powerful 426 Hemi V8.
This 7.0-liter powerhouse delivered 425 hp and 490 lb-ft of torque. That’s a little less than what you get in a 2022 Ford Mustang GT V8, at least on the specs sheet. The Hemi-powered Satellite was a rare muscle car, though, so it may be why not many people have heard about it.
4 1970 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda – 425 hp
The Hemi Barracuda used to be an economical muscle car in the ’60s. But the ’70s saw a change in the beloved muscle car with updated looks, handling, and performance. The 440 “six pack” and 426 Hemi engines were present in the previous models, but the 1970 Barracuda got a decent boost in power output.
After roaming around the 250-350 hp category, the Hemi Cuda jumped to 425 hp for its 1970 model. It could blitz through a quarter mile strip in just around 13 seconds! That’s seriously fast considering it was the dawn of the ’70s.
3 1969 Dodge Charger R/T – 425 hp
We knew there had to be a Charger in a list of most powerful muscle cars, old or new. The 1969 Dodge Charter R/T is a popular one thanks to its appearance as ‘General Lee’ in The Dukes Of Hazzard. But more than that, the Charger R/T remained popular due to its undeniable charm and capabilities.
The 7.0-liter big-block V8 propelled this classic beauty with the power of 425 horses and 490 lb-ft of torque. So not only did it look great, but it also sprinted fast. Many muscle car enthusiasts and even casual fans alike would name it one of their favorite classic muscle cars.
2 1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 – 430 hp
The newest Camaro ZL1 is nothing short of breathtaking. Chevy has been hitting it out of the park with the modern ZL1 models, but this is history repeating itself because that was the case in the late ’60s as well. The 1969 Camaro is fast, costly, and full of character.
The Camaro became a great muscle car right from its first generation, thanks to its looks and performance potential. Speaking of, the official power rating Chevrolet gave the Camaro ZL1 is 430 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque. But it’s believed that the monstrous 7.0-liter V8 would score close to 550 hp at the dyno.
1 1970 Chevelle SS 454 – 450 hp
The Chevelle was undeniably one of the best and most popular muscle cars of all time. Even non-gearheads will remember the Chevelle after seeing it in so many movies, albeit not for long. But the Chevelle used to rule the streets during its prime, and the main feature that helped it was its power.
The basic variant of the SS 454 only made 360 hp. But if you select the RPO Z15 trim, you’d get a 7.4-liter V8 with a massive Holley carburetor that got cold air through the cowl induction hood. That enabled the Chevelle SS 454 to deliver 450 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque at 3600 rpm.