The 10 Most Iconic American Muscle Cars

Promotional Shot Of 1964 Ford Mustang

1. Ford Mustang

Where does one even start when talking about the Ford Mustang?  This car has become the embodiment of America’s love affair with speed and muscle.  This iconic Ford instigated the creation of the “pony car” classification of automobiles and prompted competing car manufacturers to crank out America’s other favorite muscle cars.  For Ford, the Mustang was (and continues to be) a smash hit.


The first Mustang debuted at the New York World’s Fair in April of 1964.  It was originally equipped with a 260-cubic-inch (4.3L) V8 but was quickly upgraded to a 289-cubic-inch (4.7L) V8 in its first year.  By 1968, the Mustang was outfitted with a 302-cubic-inch (4.9L) V8.  The following year, Ford released several performance packages for the Mustang including the Boss 302, Mach 1, and Boss 429.  The speed and power had arrived.


2. First Generation Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 (1967-1969)

When Chevy realized that the Corvair wasn’t going to compete with the Ford Mustang, designers put their heads together.  The result was the Camaro — a meaty muscle car that came with a myriad of engine, transmission, and special package options.

The Z/28 option was a “race ready” car.  With a 302-cubic-inch (4.9L) V8 engine, the Camaro was tailored to fit the Trans Am’s requirements: that the car’s engine be below 305-cubic-inch (5.0L) and that the vehicle be available for public purchase.  Like many of America’s muscle cars, the power of the engine was under-reported (usually for insurance reasons).  Although the Z/28’s sticker read 290 horsepower, the engine was probably capable of a number closer to 350 horses.  Wink.


3. Ford Boss 302 Mustang (1969-1970)

After the debut of the Camaro, Ford realized that it needed to step up its game.  In 1969, Ford released several Mustang performance packages—one was the Boss 302.


This car is exactly what its name implies. It was fitted with a 302-cubic-inch (4.9L) V8 engine rated at 290 horsepower. (It is likely that this number was underrated and that the Boss 302 was capable of something much higher.)

Hoping to edge out the Chevy Camaros that had won the Trans Am race series in both ’67 and ’68, Ford entered the Boss 302 in the ’69 and ’70 races.  In 1970, the Ford Boss 302 Mustang finally took home the championship.


4. Pontiac GTO

The GTO made its debut as an optional package offered for the 1964 Pontiac Le Mans.  By 1966, it had become a separate Pontiac model.  The “GTO” name is actually inspired by the infamous Ferrari 250 GTO.  Unfortunately for GM, some gear heads were more upset than impressed by the naming (how could anything compare to the 250 GTO?!)


5. 1970 Buick GSX

Buick needed to call Pontiac’s raise that appeared in the form of the GTO.  Their answer was the optional GSX package on their Buick GS455.  The car was equipped with a 455-cubic-inch V8 engine, rated at 360 horsepower.  The GSX sported distinct stripes: two black stripes through the hood and one across the body, reaching from headlights to taillights and flowing across the trunk.  In 1970, it was only offered in two colors, “Apollo White” and “Saturn Yellow.”  The palette increased to six color offerings by 1971.


Although a handsome vehicle, not many were sold.


6. 1970 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda (Barracuda)

In 1970, three versions of the Barracuda were offered: the Base Barracuda, the more luxurious Grand Coupe, and ‘Cuda sport model.  The ‘Cuda sported a Chrysler E-body, which had a larger engine bay than the previously produced A-body Barracudas, and was equipped with a beastly 426-cubic-inch (7.0L) Hemi V8 engine rated at approximately 425 horsepower.

Famous drivers Dan Gurney and Swede Savage raced beastly ‘Cudas in the 1970 Trans Am Series.  Although the ‘Cudas took a few poles, neither won a race.


 7. 1969 Dodge Charger

The Dodge Charger appeared on the scene in 1966; unfortunately sales were not stellar and the folks at Dodge decided to give the Charger a bit of a makeover.  The rear was reworked (thank goodness) and the body tailored and tightened.  Generation two was quite handsome and, fortunately for Dodge, sales did increase.  The Charger’s ample screen time on the hit television series The Dukes of Hazzard might also have helped.  The Dukes’ orange Charger, The General Lee, appeared in almost every episode.


8. 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle 454 SS

Produced from 1964 to 1977, the Chevelle was a smash success for Chevrolet. However, it was the 1964 Chevelle Malibu SS that put Chevy on the “muscle-car map.”  Equipped with a 283-cubic-inch V8, rated at 220 horsepower, the SS was Chevrolet’s first foray into the infamous muscle-car brawl.  Unfortunately, the SS was quickly eclipsed by the more powerful vehicles available at Pontiac.  Chevrolet set to work improving the Chevelle.


By 1970, the Chevelle SS was available with a LS5 454-cubic-inch (7.4L) V8 engine capable of 360 hp.  The LS6 engine was rated at 450 hp, although it has been suggested that it actually produced more.  This car was a bona fide monster.


9. First Generation Pontiac Firebird (1967-1969)

I have heard rumors that the initial Firebird was designed to be a two-seater–but the big wigs at General Motors were wary of a direct competitor with the Corvette and had the Pontiac designers return to the drawing board.  Consequently, the Firebird became a pony car, sharing the GM F-Body platform with its cousin the Chevy Camaro.

The gen-one Firebird was available with several engines, including “High Output” and “Ram Air” options.  Initial engine offerings in 1967 ranged from a 230-cubic-inch (3.8L) OHC I6 to a 400-cubic-inch (6.6L) Pontiac Ram Air V8. There were six engine offerings by the following year, including three flavors of the 400-cubic-inch (6.6L) V8.  The 1969 400-cubic-inch (6.6L) Ram Air IV V8 option was rated at 345 horsepower.



10. 1970-1974 Dodge Challenger

Although said to be a “challenger” to the pony car segment, the Challenger was a little late to the game…arriving in 1970.  However, unlike its Chrysler E-body compatriot and cousin, the Plymouth Barracuda, the Challenger was larger and more luxurious—possibly making it a better competitor for the equally well-appointed Mercury Cougar.


Despite design criticism and patchy sales numbers throughout its production period, the Challenger of the ‘70s has become a much sought after vehicle for collectors.


Honorable Mentions:

Buick Grand National (mid-to-late 1980s)

Buick Skylark (mid-to-late 1960s)

Mercury Cougar (1967-1970)


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