Generally speaking, muscle cars are primarily an American tradition that can be directly traced all the way back to the 1940s, although the prime examples of which typically stem from the 1960s and early 1970s. Usually, an American muscle car consists of large-displacement V8 power, an intermediate platform, and two doors. Some purists argue that a true muscle car must not be built as a luxury vehicle or true sports car, but merely a more powerful (but affordable) version of mundane, production vehicles. This essential formula helped to keep costs down and provide power to a wider spread of consumers.
In contrast, very few foreign cars possess all of these traits. Sure, plenty of European cars have V8 engines, but the vast majority of which are either luxury sedans, exotics, or grand tourers with staggering prices that typically aren’t associated with muscle cars (at least as originally intended). Generally speaking, Europeans face a staggering amount of taxes on their automobiles, including higher fees for larger engine displacement. As a result, very few (if any) budget-friendly cars have emerged from this region while still offering V8 power in the same price bracket as American muscle. Nonetheless, despite their higher costs and opulent nature, a handful of European cars managed to slip through the cracks, and despite their inconsistencies, can possibly be considered muscle cars in certain circles.
10 1972-1989 De Tomaso Longchamp
The Longchamp was primarily based upon De Tomaso’s Deauville sedan, which also shared a platform with the Maserati Kyalami, although with a shorter wheelbase to accommodate the coupe styling.
Unlike its Maserati counterpart, the Longchamp got its power from a Ford 351-cid Cleveland V8, which is also the same engine that De Tomaso utilized for the legendary Pantera. The GTS versions of the De Tomaso Longchamp churned out just a hair under 300 horsepower, making these cars substantially more powerful than the vast majority of Malaise Era cars in which the Big Three had been offering during this period.
9 1972-1974 Monica 560
Traditionally, most muscle cars are arranged in a two-door configuration, although exceptions do occur. The Monica 560 might be an exception to this rule, although it was far more opulent and luxurious than your typical muscle car.
The Monica 560 was a lesser known, French luxury car that was built in low volume from 1972 through 1974. Powering the Monica was a Chrysler 340-cid V8, which was mated to either a TorqueFlite automatic or a ZF five-speed manual. With a top speed of 150 mph, the Monica 560 was touted as the world’s fastest sedan during its heyday. Only 40 units were ever produced.
8 1976-1986 Rover SD1
The Rover SD1 might be the closest example of a European muscle car in existence, mostly because it’s the only car on this list that didn’t come with an insanely high price tag. For most Europeans, reasonably priced cars offering V8 power simply didn’t exist, especially in countries that saw buyers paying taxes on engine displacement.
Even so, the Rover SD1 was heralded by many as a muscle car because of its 3.5-liter V8, which had been derived from an earlier design by Buick. The SD1 was also popular with British police forces, as when production was set to end in 1986, various departments began hoarding as many of these cars as possible for future usage.
7 1967-1976 Monteverdi 375 High Speed
Monteverdi was an obscure marque from Switzerland which aimed to fight directly against the power players from Ferrari and Lamborghini, producing various sports cars and grand tourers in the process. American V8 power was almost always used by the company to perform their chosen task at hand.
The 375 High Speed was one of Monteverdi’s more notable examples, which saw a long production run, lasting from 1967 until 1976. Again, American engines were available, including the Magnum and Six Pack versions of Chrysler’s 440-cid behemoth. With over 400 horses on tap for the 375 S, this European oddity could easily give American muscle a run for its money.
6 1969-1972 Aston Martin DBS V8
During the 1960s, Aston Martin had been developing their DBS in tandem with their 5.3-liter V8. While the DBS had first debuted in 1967, only an inline-six was offered until 1969, when the V8 was finally perfected by Aston’s engineers.
Their work paid off, as the original DBS was hailed as the fastest four-seater car in the entire world. Although many American muscle cars could easily overpower this Aston’s rating of 320 horsepower, proper gearing allowed this British GT to stretch its legs up to 160 mph, which was far ahead of the curve for the vast majority of Americans cars during this time.
5 1966-1976 Jensen Interceptor
The Jensen Interceptor was a massive, hulking grand tourer from the UK that utilized Chrysler V8 engines as their main source of thunder, which followed the same strategy Jensen had previously used with the CV8.
Earlier offerings received the 383-cid Magnum, although 1971 would see a shift to the 440 Magnum and Six Pack after Chrysler began choking down their engines with mandated systems for emissions control. Still, the Interceptor stands out for its muscular advantage.
4 1964-1968 Bizzarrini 5300 GT
The Bizzarrini 5300 GT stemmed directly from Giotto Bizzarrini, who’d previously worked as chief engineer at Ferrari and even assisted in developing the iconic 250 GTO. The unprecedented “Palace Revolt” uprising saw many key workers abruptly leaving the famed Italian marque, which ultimately led to some very interesting cars being produced elsewhere.
After forming his own company to directly compete against Ferrari (which was something of a trend during the 1960s, as further evidenced by Lamborghini and Serenissima), Bizzarrini then set about developing the 5300 GT. Powering this low-slung coupe was a Chevrolet 327-cid V8 that produced as much as 400 horsepower in racing trim. The end result was a staggering motorsport pedigree and a top speed of 174 mph.
3 1977-1989 Aston Martin V8 Vantage
When the Aston Martin Vantage debuted in 1977, it was hailed as Britain’s first supercar, mostly because of the utterly massive level of performance and horsepower that these beasts garnished through Aston Martin’s 5.3-liter V8.
While the vast majority of American cars struggled to make 200 horsepower in 1976, Aston Martin’s original V8 Vantage was seeing figures nearly double that, and with later versions showing an output as high as 432 horsepower.
2 1986 AMG Hammer
The AMG Hammer remains a legend of the 1980s, from a time when AMG remained a separate entity that reflected actual performance, instead of just a badge that Mercedes-Benz continues to unceremoniously slap onto vehicles that hardly deserve the term.
With the Hammer, AMG had created a German hot rod that could easily run with the best supercars across the globe. Basically put, the German tuner had taken a Mercedes-Benz 500E and stuffed a 5.6-liter M117 V8 into which, nearly doubled the 500E’s output to 355 horsepower. Officially, AMG rated the Hammer’s top speed at “over 190 mph”, which would be enough to outrun a Ferrari Testarossa. Altogether, production totals were never confirmed, but it’s believed that fewer than 30 of these cars were ever built.
1 1965-1974 Iso Grifo
The somewhat obscure Iso Grifo was a rare, Italian GT that offered enough performance to take on the best of Europe, and did so with an array of Chevrolet V8 engines.
Early versions from the 1960s offered the small-block 327, but by 1970, displacement options had included the L71 427, as well as the mighty LS6 454. What set the Grifo apart was the usage of a ZF five-speed that allowed the Grifo to thunder its way up to 180 mph, which could easily dismiss virtually anything else in the world.
Sources: Curated, Hagerty, Hemmings, Car Styling, Classic Driver