When considering the most popular classic American cars, muscle cars always seem to dominate the favorite choices of prospective buyers. One of the main reasons why muscle cars are so desired are the extremely loud and powerful V8 engines that power them. Ironically, most experts believe that the origin of the first V8 engine was the creation of French engineer Léon Levavasseur, who placed his invention in several boats and planes of the era. His engine made rare appearances in cars for the next several decades, but Henry Ford’s more compact flathead V8 would soon be the precursor to the arrival of the Oldsmobile “Rocket” 88 muscle car in the late 1940s.
American manufacturers like Ford and GM would then race to pack as much horsepower and torque in their V8 engines as possible in the 1950s through the 1970s. Compared to sports cars, muscle cars are often more practical for daily drivers, as they have comfortable interiors and ample space for cargo and passengers. While the most heralded muscle cars like the 1965 Shelby GT350 can sell for upwards of $400,000 to $500,000, fortunately, the cheapest cars with V8 engines are regularly obtained used for a fraction of that price. When first released, some of these sleeper cars either flew under the radar due to marketing mistakes or represent an era for a model where its popularity had at least temporarily faded. The following top 10 muscle car bargains provide the thrill of a V8 engine without making buyers regret spending all of their life savings.
10 2007 Cadillac CTS-V ($18,000)
As one of the most powerful American sedans ever designed, the Cadillac CTS-V made a splash in 2003 as a direct competitor to European luxury cars like the BMW M5 and the Audi S7. The CTS-V put to rest the debate that a four-door car could achieve muscle car status, with a Tremec T56 six-speed transmission and 5.7-liter V8 engine producing 400 horsepower.
The 2007 Cadillac CTS-V was the last model in the first of three generations for the car and is often sold in good condition with low mileage for around $18,000. With Cadillac’s state-of-the-art interiors and luxury features combined with hefty power, the CTS-V is undoubtedly one of the best muscle car values on the market.
9 1970 Ford Mustang Grande ($13,200)
With its legacy as Ford’s longest-running nameplate, it can seem like an impossible task to find an affordable classic Mustang. During its first generation from 1965-1973, the Mustang gradually increased in size, before its downsizing began by the mid-1970s.
Fortunately, when answering the question of what is the cheapest V8 Mustang, a desirable first-generation Mustang doesn’t have to cost a fortune, even with a more luxurious Grande trim that arrived in 1969. The 1970 Ford Mustang Grande is a two-door coupe with a V8 engine that can produce 220 horsepower and is regularly listed in good condition for as little as $13,200.
8 1970 Buick Riviera ($13,000)
With Buick’s extensive catalog of classic cars, luxury often comes to mind before raw power. However, the oldest American car manufacturer developed the Riviera for a 1963 release, going head-to-head against Ford’s popular muscle car, the Thunderbird.
The Riviera not only matched the Thunderbird’s horsepower, but even exceeded it in some instances. Even though the Riviera failed to beat the sales of its rival in the 1960s, it persevered for eight generations until its retirement in 1999. The 1970 Riviera was the last of the cars until the famous Boat Tail redesign arrived a year later, and with its V8 engine outputting 370 hp, it’s one of the cheapest muscle cars on the used car market.
7 1990 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am ($13,000)
Released in 1967, the Firebird was John DeLorean’s answer to the Chevrolet Camaro, and was an instant success even pitted against the Ford Mustang. The Trans Am began in 1969 as a performance and appearance add-on package for the Pontiac Firebird.
The 1990 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am was one of the worst-selling models in its history, with the company turning its attention more to safety concerns. The 1990 version was the first Firebird to have a drivers-side airbag, and on the whole, the engine options lacked the power of previous generations. Still, the Trans AM GTA included a V8 engine with an output of 235 horsepower and is a relatively cheap and modern V8 muscle car worth considering.
6 2003 Mercury Marauder ($11,800)
Labeled as a sleeper car, the Marauder line of cars has existed in various forms since 1963. Despite offering V8 engine configurations, it was always overshadowed by other Ford and Chevrolet muscle and sports cars each time it reemerged.
The Marauder was last available for a brief run in 2003-2004, acting as a high-performance version of the Mercury Grand Marquis sedan. Much like the Ford Taurus SHO which enjoyed a longer production history, the Marauder never found steady sales numbers and perplexed buyers who didn’t expect such high performance in the shape of a sensible four-door American sedan. Regardless, the 2003 Marauder is one of the cheapest V8 cars available from its era, with a generous output of 300 horsepower.
5 1965 Chevrolet Impala ($8,900)
The Impala name on its own may not be instantly recognizable as a leading muscle car, but after the Impala Super Sport (SS) arrived in 1961, it had the performance to contend with the top-performing American cars of the era. With an unusual 6.7-liter V8 engine and 360 hp, the SS would then become an upgradeable trim option for many of Chevrolet’s cars in the years to come.
The 1965 Impala underwent a fairly radical redesign and ended up as one of the best-selling editions of all time. The most affordable 1965 Impala is a four-door sedan which, despite its more than capable performance, is one of the cheapest V8 cars on the used muscle car market.
4 1976 Dodge Dart ($8,700)
In 1960, the Plymouth line of cars became separated from Dodge, which had traditionally sold them at dealerships. The Dart debuted in 1960 as a full-sized car, but after poor sales, the car took over from the Lancer and became more compact and powerful in 1962 with the Max Wedge 413 V8 engine.
The Dart’s transition to one of the most compact muscle cars was fruitful, and the car enjoyed a solid run of sales until it was discontinued in 1976. The Dodge Dart of the mid-1970s is affordable and easy to customize, and you can find Swinger or Sport models with V8 engines in the $8,000-$9,500 range.
3 1967 Ford Thunderbird ($8,700)
In the early days of the Corvette, the Ford Thunderbird was marketed as a personal luxury car that also offered the same level of performance as the Chevrolet sports car. Ford’s strategy to appeal to a wider audience of drivers led to strong sales that eclipsed the success of the Corvette.
By 1967, the Ford Mustang’s popularity had taken off as a two-door four-seater like the earlier Thunderbirds. Ford’s response to make the Thunderbird more desirable again was to introduce a four-door version, and the car also became longer and heavier. All trims of the 1967 Thunderbird included V8 engines, but the four-door Landau sedan is usually the most affordable option, with auction closings going for as low as $8,700.
2 1976 Pontiac Grand Prix ($8,600)
The first Grand Prix rolled into dealerships in 1962, looking to build on Pontiac’s successes on the racetracks in recent years with a high-performance personal luxury car that could rival the Ford Thunderbird. The early Grand Prix was essentially a sportier version of a Pontiac Catalina coupe with a 6.4-liter V8 engine capable of 303 horsepower.
The Grand Prix evolved in the mid-1970s with larger bumpers to meet new safety standards and V8 engines that were on the decline in output thanks to federal emission standards. As Pontiac celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1976, the Grand Prix had its best-selling year to date. Surprisingly, a two-door coupe from this year sells for as low as $8,600, making it one of the cheapest V8 cars of the 1970s.
1 1989 Chevrolet Camaro RS V8 ($6,200)
The third generation of the Chevrolet Camaro from 1982 to 1992 often has a less than stellar reputation for performance, as Chevrolet struggled to escape from the malaise era that forced automakers to use lower-powered, more efficient engines. As the 1980s unfolded, the Camaro would gradually work toward reasserting itself as a legitimate muscle car.
A limited-production Camaro RS in 1988 experienced strong sales to the point where it became a more widely distributed trim in 1989. As a more affordable alternative to the Camaro SS, the 1989 Camaro RS coupe is one of the most attractive and cheap muscle cars, with a V8 upgrade option that was originally available for only a $400 upgrade.