When it comes to fast cars, nothing can get quite as simple and laid back as an old muscle car.
Europeans in the 1960s were experimenting with double overhead camshafts and Weber choked carburetors.
Whereas with American muscle cars, it was either go big, or go home. Engines were big, simply made, and produced some very serious amounts of horsepower!
And don’t think that they raced at expensive, prestigious circuits. 1/4 of a mile between a set of lights is what really mattered.
And the average petrolhead might think of Mustangs, Camaros, Chargers etc. as typical muscle cars that can’t go around corners and that’d be the end of the story. But no! I mean really NO!
So, coming up now are 10 underrated muscle cars that deserve recognition.
1962 Pontiac Grand Prix 421 ‘Super Duty’-
The Pontiac Tempest GTO of 1964 was all very well. A big 389ci ‘Tri-power’ V8 meant it was noticeably quicker and meaner than a standard Tempest, some regard it as the first ever muscle car.
Well, I disagree completely with that statement. Because muscle cars are supposed to be good at one thing, and that’s setting a decent 1/4 mile time.
And so, Pontiac’s Grand Prix of 1962 did just that. The big 421ci V8 breathed through twin Carter four-barrel carburetors and produced 405bhp!
Coupled with a 4 speed manual transmission, this land yacht with spice could run the 1/4 mile strip in under 13 seconds at 116mph!
Just 16 Grand Prixs had this engine installed in 1962, which makes this underrated muscle car rarer than a Ferrari 250 GTO.
1961 Chevrolet Impala SS 409-
The first time Chevrolet had produced a muscle car was by offering a super-sports (SS) package to the 1961 Impala. It was only a $50 option, yet only around 140 were ever sold with the 409ci V8.
That said, buyers HAD to know their engines to know what they’re getting. Because the 409 SS had 3 different carburetor set ups…
The standard four barrel had 360bhp, a triple two barrel had 380bhp. But best of all was the dual quads, which rated at 409bhp!
That meant a 1/4 mile time of 12.8 seconds, and a top speed of 150mph! This is the most badass sleeper you’ll ever come across.
It was a symbol, really of what American cars were becoming. It was no longer the stylish fins and looks that mattered, it was what you had under the bonnet.
1963-64 Plymouth Sport Fury 426 ‘Max Wedge’-
The Plymouth Fury was one of those cars in America that the average human being simply underestimated.
However, in 1963, just 18 examples of a beast in disguise had sneaked out of the factory!
Inspired by the rule changes surrounding maximum displacement in NASCAR, Chrysler expanded their 413ci V8 and enlarged it to 426 cubic inches.
Yet, apart from the pistons and rings, shared all of the parts from the 413… The 3 speed manual transmission was still the best bet.
Still though, with the right compression ratio, this car produced 425bhp and could blitz a 1/4 mile time of just 12.2 seconds!
It’s important not to get this engine mixed up with the 426 Hemi, because the Hemi had a hemispherical combustion chamber above the pistons, whereas the Wedge engine had a slightly weird wedge-shaped chamber. (Diagram below)
1964 Buick Wildcat Sport Coupe 425 (Power Pack)-
Some say that all it takes to make a muscle car, is to take a standard car, and stuff a big and powerful engine in it.
And that’s exactly what Buick did in 1964, with their modest Wildcat. And it really was wild!
Power came from a 425ci V8 with the optional ‘Power Pack’, this meant 360bhp and a 0-60 time of just 6.8 seconds. Not even Maserati’s new Quattroporte was as quick as this!
All that pickup meant an 1/4 mile time of 15.4 seconds. Sports cars of today struggle to match that pace, and yet Buick pulled it off. Even with a simple 4 speed manual transmission.
Even later muscle cars of the decade really weren’t much quicker. If you ever see one of these cars, tip your hat.
1964 Mercury Super Marauder 427-
The Marauder sounded exciting, and it was! It was Ford’s take (under the Mercury division) to rival the Chevrolet Biscayne and Oldsmobile 88, engines ranged from a rather nice 390ci V8.
But it was the 8 barrel 427, which really pumped one’s blood!
It was a NASCAR- spec engine which churned out 425bhp and had numerous class victories in NASCAR and in the stock car class at the gruelling Pike’s Peak Hill-climb.
With just 42 examples of the R-Code Marauders built in ’64, you’ll be unlikely to appreciate one in person…
Nonetheless, this is a beautiful example of a very early Detroit muscle car!
1965 Oldsmobile 442-
When Pontiac released their Tempest GTO in 1964, Oldsmobile thought it was a good idea to follow suit.
And so in the same year, they churned out the 442. Like the Pontiac, it was a performance package for the bang for your buck Cutlass. (Really, that’s how muscle cars were!)
All was changed by ’65. Instead of a 330ci engine, Olds now offered a 400ci V8! Which was running 345bhp and 440lb ft of torque.
This was only the beginning of the mid-sized muscle car era, yet it could hit a 1/4 mile time of 15.5 seconds! And even the motoring press of the time even praised this car for it’s handling ability, so it was a stable car too.
The top speed may have only been 118mph, but if you had a cliche 289ci Mustang in 1965, you didn’t want to race against a 442!
1965-67 Buick Grand Sport 400-
Now that firms were stuffing high performance engines into their standard cars, Buick thought it was a fine idea to jump on the bandwagon as well, in 1965.
And so, their first mid-size muscle car was born! The Grand Sport (GS) 400.
Using the Skylark’s body, they literally shoe-horned their powerful 325bhp 401ci ‘nail head’ V8 under the bonnet. Yet, despite it’s quick 16.6 second 1/4 mile time, the ’65 GS was actually quite a mature car.
It’s fair to say though, the ’66 and ’67 GS400s became more angular and aggressive. Yet still undeniably sexy!
By ’67, the engine had been changed as well. The dated 401 was replaced by a fresh 400ci engine, which predictably had more power (340bhp) and could achieve a 1/4 mile time of 14.8 seconds!
Underrated muscle car? Yep. Big time.
1966 Dodge Coronet 440 R/T-
Some will say that the Dodge Charger is the world’s ultimate muscle car, and it’s a reasonable argument.
It was the star of endless films and TV shows, which generally (get it? General Lee…) helped gain it’s hype and popularity.
But to average people, it’s the Charger’s sister: the Coronet, which tends to be forgotten about.
Even in 1966, Dodge had managed to squeeze out 375bhp from their enormous 440 magnum. Less than the 426 Hemi, yes. But in terms of performance, there was very little between them!
It may have been the standard engine for the R/T, but it could hit 0-60 in 5.7 seconds. Only a tenth behind the 426! And a 1/4 mile time of 14.3 seconds.
Underrated? Maybe not the Coronet, but the 440 Magnum certainly is!
1962 Ford Galaxie 500 ‘Super High Performance’ (406ci)-
This was Ford’s answer to Chevrolet’s insane Impala SS, and it certainly didn’t disappoint!
The creation of this early muscle car simply consisted of Ford taking their standard 390 V8, and expanding it to 406 cubic inches, alongside some other performance upgrades as well such as a larger radiator, heavy duty suspension and a ‘tri-power’ intake set up.
It may not have had power steering or power brakes, but it had 405bhp on tap! And that was enough to launch this car to 60 in just 6.1 seconds. That meant a 1/4 mile time of 14.6 seconds!
And remember, this was all at a time when the dishwasher was considered a bit rich.
Nevertheless, Galaxies may have been popular cop cars, but don’t underestimate what this one has under the bonnet!
1969 Mercury Cougar Eliminator 428CJ-
I don’t necessarily think that Cougars are underrated. However, I do think that they tend to be known, but forgotten and stored in the back of people’s hearts.
The Mustang’s up-scale cousin really deserves some more love in my opinion. And the best of all, was the Eliminator 428 Cobra Jet!
This V8 engine produced 335bhp and 440lb ft of torque, far less than the monstrous Boss 429, but only 2 Cougars were believed to have had that engine inn 1969. So realistically, this 428 was the best you could buy.
This forgotten beast could also achieve a 1/4 mile time of just 14.1 seconds, thanks to it’s 0-60 time of just 5.6 seconds!
It’s not the fastest or the most impressive muscle car, but it definitely doesn’t deserve to be left forgotten! I’d have a Cougar over a Mustang in a heartbeat.
Thanks for reading! If I’ve missed anything out, please leave a comment below 🙂
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