WHY IT MATTERS TO YOU
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.
Chevrolet Chevelle SS
Chevrolet Corvette Z06 (C7)
Dodge Challenger SRT Demon
Dodge Charger (second generation)
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