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Muscle Cars Throughout History

Muscle cars were fast, sleek cars marketed at affordable prices. Although muscle cars didn't have an advanced suspension or brake system, they were fast and sturdy. Most muscle cars were powered by a V8 engine. Playing to the ideals of masculinity and power, American car companies produced many muscle cars starting in the 1950s. The golden age for muscle cars was from 1964 until 1971. The first muscle car producers were Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Chevrolet, and Buick. Muscle cars were known as "hot rods," and every automobile manufacturer produced a model to attract young buyers.

First Muscle Cars
Oldsmobile Rocket V8

The Oldsmobile Rocket V8 first appeared in 1949. It was distinguished by its 135-horsepower engine and its steel crankshaft with aluminum pistons. The Rocket V8 was a perennial favorite at NASCAR races until 1953.

1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk

Studebaker manufactured the Golden Hawk for a short period from 1956 until 1958. The Hawk was a small coupe that weighed only 3,360 pounds. With a 275-horsepower engine, it was the second-fastest muscle car of its time.

1957 Rambler Rebel

The Rambler Rebel featured a unique 327-cubic-inch V8 engine. The Rambler Rebel accelerated from zero to 60 in only 7.5 seconds, second only to a Corvette.

413 Ramcharger Dart

The 413 Ramcharger Dart is an extremely rare muscle car because only 212 of them were built. A true collector's item, the Ramcharger Dart was built for drag racing. The Dart had a Max Wedge engine and 410 horsepower, but it weighed only 3,350 pounds.

1964 Ford Thunderbolt

The 1964 Ford Thunderbolt sacrificed a lot of creature comforts to be a lightweight racer. Even the standard glass windows were replaced with plexiglass. Only 111 Thunderbolts were built. The rarest Thunderbolt is the maroon version, of which only 11 were made.

First Street Hemi

The first street Hemi was installed in consumer vehicles in 1966. Originally a racing engine, the Hemi weighed more than 800 pounds. Even so, the weight didn't stop cars with Hemi engines from placing in the top four spots of the Daytona 500 in 1964. The Hemi was a gift to speedsteers.

Pontiac GTO

The Pontiac GTO was an exception to the engine size rules at General Motors. The 389-cubic-inch engine was much larger than the usual 330-cubic-inch maximum and was offered as a special option. The sharp increase in sales led other car manufacturers to mimic GM's engine.

Dodge Charger

The Dodge Charger could be outfitted with a 318-cubic-inch V8 engine or a Hemi racing engine. It was a stylish car with a bumper-to-bumper fastback. Drivers approaching from behind could see the label "Charger" written above the taillights.

Plymouth GTX

The last Plymouth GTX convertible was produced in 1969. The Plymouth GTX was also manufactured as a hardtop. The car could reach speeds of 98 miles per hour.

Plymouth Road Runner

The Plymouth Road Runner was a budget alternative to the luxury muscle cars that started to appear in the late 1960s. The public response to the Road Runner was unexpectedly positive: Plymouth sold more than twice as many Road Runners as it had predicted. The 335-horsepower engine could be upgraded to a 426-cubic-inch Hemi for extra speed.

Olds 442

The "442" in Olds 442 means it's an Oldsmobile with a four-speed manual transmission, a four-barrel carburetor, and two exhaust pipes. It was originally an optional upgrade package for the Cutlass and the F-85. In 1968, the Olds 442 became a standalone model.

Chevelle SS396

Chevrolet was the first auto manufacturer to produce a small-block racing car. After its competitors started catching up, Chevrolet launched the SS396 with a 396-cubic-inch V8 engine.

Buick Gran Sport

The Buick Gran Sport was a luxury race car outfitted with Buick's largest engine, at 400 cubic inches. The engine had 325 horsepower. The Gran Sport was produced as a convertible and a hardtop.

Ford Torino GT

The Torino GT was Ford's upgrade to the Fairlane. The Torino GT became famous for its 428-cubic-inch, 335-horsepower Cobra Jet V8 engine. Ford sold both two-door and four-door versions.

428 Cobra Jet

Even though the Ford Torino GT had a 428 Cobra Jet engine, Ford designed the Cobra Jet with red and chrome accents and a "428" badge to set it apart from the Torino GT. It came with manual and automatic transmission options.

AMC Rebel Machine

The AMC Rebel Machine was recognizable from miles away due to its blue hood scoop. Its V8 engine was paired with a four-speed transmission. The AMC Rebel Machine was one of AMC's first forays into the muscle car market and was only produced in 1970.

Olds 455

The Olds 455 replaced Oldsmobile's earlier 442 in 1970. The 455-cubic-inch engine had 360 horsepower. Even with a manual transmission, the Olds 455 could cover a quarter-mile in less than 14 seconds.

Buick GSX

The Buick GSX made its debut half a decade after the Gran Sport's appearance. It was only available in two colors: yellow or white with racing stripes. The engine was 455 cubic inches and had a whopping 510 pound-feet of torque.

Chevelle SS454

Chevrolet increased the Chevelle's engine capacity to 454 cubic inches. It easily reached speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour.

Dodge Charger Daytona

The Dodge Charger Daytona was the fastest muscle car on the market in 1970. Its rear wing extended a full 23 inches into the air. Another distinctive feature was its wedge-shaped front. The Daytona was available with a manual or automatic transmission.

Updated By Mark Houlahan