American muscle is legendary in the car world, and these 10 cars are the cream of the crop

Like food, music, or literature, every country puts its own spin on cars. While European and Japanese firms are known for emphasizing handling, the American approach has traditionally been all about power.

In the 1960s, American automakers began stuffing the biggest engines they could find into the smallest, lightest chassis that would hold them. It was a time when performance was as important a marketing angle as smartphone connectivity is today, and it birthed American muscle cars.

Traditionally, a muscle car’s performance is defined by the size of its engine. As the saying goes, there’s no replacement for displacement. Modern American performance cars are more well-rounded, but big engines and lots of horsepower are still their calling card.

Many great muscle cars have been unleashed over the years, but this list represents our top 10. We’ve got something from every major manufacturer, including plenty of classics and a handful of newer models. We listed engine displacement in both cubic inches and liters for the older cars, since that’s how they were identified when new.


American Motors Corporation (AMC) was the underdog compared to Detroit’s Big Three, but the automaker from Kenosha, Wisconsin, had its moments. The AMX was one of them. Rather than just soup up a standard production car, AMC shortened the wheelbase of its Javelin to create a distinct two-seat performance model. The AMX had muscle, in the form of an available 390-cubic-inch (6.4-liter) V8, but also a unique look. Even today, the original AMX stands out amid the sea of Ford, GM, and Mopar muscle cars that flood every car show. Like many other muscle cars, the AMX atrophied over the years. It eventually became just a badge applied to more pedestrian AMC models, culminating with the lackluster Spirit AMX, before disappearing altogether in 1980.

Buick GNX


Chevrolet Chevelle SS


Chevrolet Corvette Z06 (C7)


Dodge Challenger SRT Demon

Dodge Challenger SRT Demon


Dodge Charger (second generation)

1968-dodge-charger-rt-4-720×480-c (1)

The Dodge Charger launched in 1966 as a sleek fastback, and lives on today as a four-door sedan, but it’s the second-generation model sold from 1968 to 1970 that became an icon.

The 1968-1970 Charger is probably one of the most recognizable American cars every made. Just the gorgeous styling alone would have ensured that, but the Charger is also familiar from countless movie and television appearances, from The Dukes of Hazzard to Bullitt.

The Charger wasn’t all show and no go. A selection of powerful V8 engines ensured it could keep up with Ford and GM rivals on the street. When engineers found out it was about as aerodynamic as a brick on the track, they created the Charger 500 and winged Charger Daytona variants, leading to glory on the NASCAR circuit.


Ford Mustang Boss 302


The early days of muscle cars were all about NASCAR and drag racing, but those weren’t the only motor sports disciplines muscle cars were created for. The SCCA Trans Am road-racing series ignited a war between Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, and AMC.

Ford’s weapon of choice was the Boss 302, a version of the Mustang built specifically to win in the Trans Am. The “302” referred to the car’s 302-cubic-inch (5.0-liter) engine, built to satisfy Trans Am rules limiting engine displacement.

In the hands of driver Parnelli Jones, the Boss 302 took the fight to Ford’s rivals, leading to some epic on-track battles. While far from the only memorable Mustang performance variant, the Boss 302 was so fondly remembered that Ford revived the name for a limited-edition model in 2011.

Ford Shelby Mustang GT350R


With the current-generation Mustang, Ford tried to build a car that would not only appeal to traditional American fans, but also do battle with European sports cars. The Shelby GT350R was Ford’s secret weapon.

Inspired by a classic 1960s model of the same name, Ford launched the Shelby GT350 in 2015, and with it the hardcore “R” variant. Both versions are powered by a high-revving 5.2-liter V8, but the GT350R takes things to the extreme with carbon fiber wheels and a draconian approach to weight savings. The rear seats and air conditioning are optional extras.

The result is a car that is incredibly capable on the track, but also refreshingly analog. While most modern performance cars rely on electronics to go fast, the GT350R relies on well-sorted mechanical components, and leaves the rest up to the driver.

Plymouth Road Runner

By the late 1960s, the original idea of muscle cars as affordable performance cars seemed to have run its course. Muscle cars were getting more elaborate and, consequently, more expensive. That’s when Chrysler’s Plymouth division saw an opportunity for a back-to-basics model. The Road Runner was nothing more than an ordinary car with a big engine and copious references to a certain cartoon character. On the outside, the Road Runner didn’t look like anything special, but it packed some serious firepower under the hood, including Chrysler’s legendary 426 (7.0-liter) Hemi V8. In 1970, Plymouth fitted the Road Runner with a streamlined nose and massive rear spoiler to create the Superbird, a NASCAR-inspired sibling to Dodge’s Charger Daytona. Things went downhill from there, though. Later Road Runners lacked the guts of models from the late ’60s and early ’70s. Today, not only is the Road Runner gone, but so is the entire Plymouth brand.

Pontiac GTO

The Pontiac GTO is arguably the original muscle car. Numerous American performance cars preceded it, but the GTO was the first to combine an oversized engine, affordable pricing, and marketing that emphasized performance. In 1964, Pontiac put a 389-cubic-inch (6.4-liter) V8 into its Tempest, ignoring restrictions put in place by the GM higher-ups on engine sizes for smaller cars. To top it all off, Pontiac stole a name from Ferrari. “GTO” is short for “Gran Turismo Omologato,” denoting race cars that must have road-going counterparts. The Pontiac GTO wasn’t built to race, but the name still sounded cool. The GTO kicked off a muscle car arms race, with Pontiac’s fellow GM divisions, as well as rivals Ford, Chrysler, and AMC, getting in on the action. The GTO itself grew more elaborate, with bigger engines and more extroverted styling. It eventually disappeared, returning briefly in the early 2000s as a rebadged Holden Monaro. That car wasn’t as well received as the 1960s original and was quickly scrapped. Pontiac itself didn’t survive much longer.






German Autos

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