The 10 Greatest Muscle Cars

This essay discusses the five greatest muscle cars of the 1960s and '70s.

It wasn't long ago that dinosaurs roamed the earth. The ground trembled when they moved and lesser species ran for cover when they roared.

I am, of course, talking about the era of the muscle car - that most American form of transportation that has the power to fascinate generation after generation. There have been faster cars; cars that handled and braked better; and automobiles that exuded more sex appeal, but those mighty muscle cars of the 1960s and early "˜70s are still king of the hill in the minds of many enthusiasts.

This essay will discuss the five greatest muscle cars. Pony cars - such as the excellent Ford Mustang GT, Chevy Camaro SS, and Plymouth Barracuda - are not included on this list, just as more luxury muscle cars like the Chevy Impala and Oldsmobile 442 are also excluded. Although fine automobiles, these models lack the brutal simplicity of the hardcore muscle cars, and should be examined using different criteria.

What these five cars have in common is an almost fanatical obsession with power. The original muscle cars - the GTO, Chevelle and Charger particularly - were often simply badge designations on standard mid-sized sedans. Throughout the 1960s, as the phenomenon grew, car manufacturers built more sophisticated automobiles such as the Boss 429, but the formula remained much the same: Shove as big an engine as you could in as spartan a suspension as possible and market it to the emerging youth movement.

1968 Plymouth Roadrunner: The Plymouth Roadrunner was as raw and brutal as a .44 Magnum. Featuring a wide variety of power plants, including the 390-horsepower 440 "six-pack" and legendary 425-horsepower 426 Hemi, the Roadrunner was a purebred muscle car. Built to a price, the original 1968 Roadrunner was capable of blistering quarter-mile times in the mid-13s. Designed as a GTO-beater, the "˜bird' used the Warner Brothers' Roadrunner in its badges and even had a horn that went "beep beep."

1969 Chevy Chevelle SS: The Chevelle began life in 1964 and employed either a 340-horsepower, 400-horsepower or 425-horsepower 409. But perhaps the best-known Chevelle was the 1966 Chevelle SS 396. The 396 pumped out 360-horsepower and the car's simple, brutal lines said it meant business. By 1969 Chevy had decided to up the ante and offered its hot L72 427 in the Chevelle. With this fire-breathing, 425-horsepower engine, the Chevelle burnt through the quarter mile in just over 13.3 seconds.

1968 Dodge Charger R/T: The original Charger, which used the Dodge Coronet as its base, was in some ways a mid-sized version of the Plymouth Barracuda. Featuring a fastback design that was popular, the Charger, like many Mopar automobiles of the day, could be dialed in with engines ranging from the venerable 318 to the hellacious Hemi 426. In 1968 the car underwent an extensive facelift, resulting in arguably one of the best looking vehicles of its day, as well as receiving a healthy injection of performance. The R/T model with the 426 Hemi and improved suspension parts could roast through the quarter mile in just under 14 seconds.

1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429: The Ford Mustang is more than a car - it's a legend. But even the hottest Mustang of the 1960s - featuring the impressive 250-horsepower 351 - could not keep up with many thoroughbred muscle cars of its day in the straight line. The Boss 429 changed that. With a clear racing lineage, the 429 was fast, handsome and handled well. Running through the quarter mile in just under 14 seconds, the Boss could even keep up with venerable hot-rods like the Dodge Charger and GTO and still look like a small car doing it.

1967 Pontiac GTO (convertible): The GTO started the muscle car revolution, and the early goats have a special place in many enthusiasts' hearts. Originally an option on the mid-sized Tempest model, the 1964 GTO looked boxy by today's standards, but offered a fierce combination of power plants, including a 325-horsepower 389. The 1966 GTO was one of the handsomest incarnations of the goat. Offered in coupe or convertible, the GTO also came with an optional Ram Air system, and could sprint through the quarter mile in the mid-14s.

The muscle cars of the 1960s and "˜70s still stalk the asphalt jungle, feeding on today's performance automobiles in drag strips throughout the world, proving that nothing succeeds quite like excess.

© High Speed Ventures 2011