What is the greatest muscle car of all time?
Geez, that seemed like such a straightforward question when we asked it on Facebook. We quickly learned that it isn’t.
First you have to decide: what is the difference between a muscle car and a pony car? Some think there is a fool-proof definition for each, or that the terms are interchangeable. Some also are of the opinion that once a pony car (like the Ford Mustang), always a pony car, which means that every version that followed – even the 1968 Shelby Mustang GT500, for instance – isn’t a muscle car. And since the Chevrolet Camaro debuted as a pony car created to compete with the Mustang, then it too will forever remain a pony car, right?
The world can’t even agree which vehicle was the first muscle car. Many point to the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88. But wasn’t the 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk also a muscle car? The 1961 Chevrolet Impala? What about the ’63 Plymouth Savoy with a 413 Max Wedge? So why do many people point to the 1964 Pontiac Tempest with GTO package – the first Goat – as the start of the muscle car era?
The sound you just heard was our collective head exploding.
But we must trudge on. Taking all of the questions, theories and debates into account, here are our Top 5 Muscle Cars of All Time. At least, these are the muscle cars that we like best today. Unless all pony cars are muscle cars, or all muscle cars are pony cars. Pass the Excedrin.
1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 – We’ve heard it over and over. We’ve even said it ourselves: The 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 “is the apex of American muscle.” The car’s LS6 V-8 engine cranked out an impressive 450 horses, and its attractive swept-back roofline made it look fast even when it was standing still. (We also love two other A-body muscle cars, the Buick GSX and Oldsmobile 442 W30.)
1964 Pontiac GTO – We went with the ’64 based on its historical significance, but could have easily picked the 1967 GTO, which marked the first full model year of the Ram Air through a functional hood scoop on the GTO, or The Judge. Car and Driver Editor in Chief Eddie Alterman once called the ’64 GTO “the original, a seedpod containing the soon-to-bloom outlaw spirit of the muscle car.” Good enough for us.
1969 AMC Hurst SC/Rambler – Not only did the SC/Rambler look like an American muscle car (covered in red, white and blue), it could really get up and go, thanks to its 315-hp 390-cid four-barrel V-8.
1968 Plymouth Road Runner – So many Mopars to choose from, and so many deserving, like the Plymouth Barracuda and Belvedere GTX and the Dodge Charger and Super Bee. But we went with the Road Runner and its 425-hp Hemi V-8. No losers here, only winners.
1970 Mercury Cyclone Spoiler – Surprise! It’s true, you rarely (ever?) see this one mentioned among other great muscle cars, but we’re going for it. The Spoiler carried Ford’s largest-displacement performance engine, the 370-hp, 429-cid Cobra Jet. And we love that styling.