Revving Through History: 8 Vintage Muscle Cars You Must Drive Before You Go

Vintage Muscle Cars You Must Drive Before You Go
LovableNinja, Pixabay

The appeal of a classic muscle automobile is difficult to resist. The mere thought of having one in your driveway as a valued asset appeals to every gearhead.

Furthermore, one imagines driving a classic American beauty everywhere, every day, and turning heads wherever they go.

Driving in a piece of automotive history is thrilling, and having a classic muscle car as a daily driver will undoubtedly boost your street cred by ounces.

After all, daily drivers should not be limited to dull sedans and hatchbacks.

However, there are plenty of classics that look beautiful while parked but break down when it’s time to go. Old parts typically overheat or fail due to age or a lack of dependability.

Of course, there’s no doubt that some American classic automobiles from a half-century ago are still capable of going the distance, having been designed like tanks for longevity.

In this list, we’ll take a closer look at eight of the most vintage muscle cars you must drive before you go, exploring their history and relationships to understand why these cars are still so popular.

Revving Through History: 8 Vintage Muscle Cars You Must Drive Before You Go

Vintage Muscle Cars You Must Drive Before You Go

1. Plymouth Roadrunner (1968-1970)

When Plymouth released this classic in 1968, they knew the muscle car movement was here to stay. In fact, it was one of the first corporations to truly woo the youth vote, with a shockingly cheap sticker price ($3,000 base) and a cartoon tie-in that included the WB character’s characteristic “beep-beep” horn.

Of course, that sticker price was merely the start. The essential word in muscle vehicles has always been “muscle,” and over the years of the Road Runner’s popularity, the power options rose while its no-frills look remained relatively consistent.

Some upgrade packages, such as the “six-pack” that raised the normal 383 horsepower to 390, or a 426 Hemi, could nearly double the price. At the top of the list of options, you could run a quarter-mile in 13.5 seconds and reach speeds of more than 140 mph.

In 1969 alone, over 80,000 units were sold. The hardtop version, which lacks a central pillar, remains popular among collectors.

However, for every carefully detailed, delicately treated Road Runner that is still kept under lock and key 40 years later, many were driven just as intended: straight into the ground. Today, collectors consider the 1969 ragtop version to be the gold standard, with just roughly 2,200 ever built.

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2. 1971 Plymouth Superbird 440.

The Plymouth Superbird was constructed in a unique style to meet NASCAR’s specifications at the time.

Despite being built on the Road Runner, this hardtop frequently appears on best-of lists, outperforming other Plymouth options.

Its distinctive redesign was created to meet the specific needs of that muscle-car mecca, NASCAR: the pinnacle of muscle car power back in the day, and something every driver — whether by fantasy or aspiration — knew represented the greatest accomplishments of both engineering and driving skill.

The standard horsepower was 375 and came from a Magnum 440 cubic V-8 engine. The Superbird came with two upgrade options: a “six-pack” (three two-barrel carburetors instead of the basic four) or the 425-horsepower Hemi V-8, which is still the more valued configuration.

While many of those Superbirds were unlikely to realize their NASCAR aspirations, they did inspire a generation of drivers.

For those who preferred the car’s unusual — but trendsetting — form to the more utilitarian Road Runner, it was a matter of aesthetics. However, the Superbird continues to bring dreams to life.

In fact, during the previous decade alone, the collector’s asking price of a well-preserved Superbird 440 has climbed by two-thirds. What could fetch $67,000 at auction in 2001 is today more likely to cost you $107,000.

3. Dodge Charger R/T 440 (1968–1969)

Even the most inexperienced driver will recognize this hardtop as one of the most visually appealing and memorable vehicles on the list.

“The Dukes of Hazzard” may have made the Charger famous, but one of the most beloved chase moments of all time, in the 1968 muscle-car classic “Bullitt,” Steve McQueen’s opponent drove a black Charger into Hollywood history.

More recently, “The Fast and the Furious” franchise reintroduced the world to the beloved Charger. Something about those lines, and the power under the hood, appears to symbolize not only the muscle car phenomenon but also a unique sense of danger, rebellion, and bad-boy strength that no other vehicle can match.

This serious piece of Hollywood history would have cost $39,000 in 2001, but demand and scarcity combined mean that now, only 10 years later, you’re looking at closer to $170,000 for a mint machine.

Not bad for a car that debuted 37,000 units in its first year with a base price of only $3,500. Its legendary “Coke-bottle” style, unusual front grill, and hidden headlamps all imply swagger and power, while the R/T designation was Dodge’s way of indicating that the car was equally suited for street performance and drag racing.

The heavy-duty suspension allowed for outstanding handling, making those acrobatics even more exhilarating to perform, but it was the look that captivated drivers and collectors alike.

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4. Chevrolet Camaro ZL1/Z-28/SS Coupe (1967–1969)

Many antique muscle car aficionados continue to aspire to own this ’68 Camaro.

In 1967, the Z-28 was the most popular Camaro model, although the option packages were quite different. With a 4.9-liter engine and a four-speed manual transmission, the automobile was designed for racing; its brakes were in the front, making handling difficult for newcomers but precise for more experienced drivers.

The base package had a small-block V-8 with 290 horsepower, a Muncie four-on-the-floor transmission, positraction, and power steering.

It raced the quarter-mile in 14.8 seconds. The Z-28 was designed for road racing, and it remains popular for its handling and well-known design.

The 1969 ZL1 is a rare muscle car that is also one of the most powerful and well-known. The ZL1 had 500 horsepower in an aluminum V-8 engine with a top speed of 125 miles (201 kilometers) per hour, allowing it to reach 60 in around 5.3 seconds and run the quarter-mile in 13.16.

Of the 69 vehicles produced, the majority found their way into drag racing, and this strong package option was never offered again. What was worth $18,000 in 2001 has risen to $91,000 among the highest-rolling collectors.

Vintage Muscle Cars You Must Drive Before You Go
rsoler616, Pixabay

5. Buick GSX (1970).

Take the body of a popular midsize day driver, the Buick Skylark, and shove a monster engine inside. Then provide it in a well-publicized dual form—it was available as a convertible or sedan, as was customary—and wait.

While the Grand Sport debuted in 1965, it did not garner much national attention for several years. The 1967 GSX was a big Buick, but it wasn’t until the 1970 introduction, with its 7.5-liter engine and 400 horsepower, that people became very intrigued.

The Stage 1 GSX performance package promised a basic horsepower of 360, but testers told the public that with valve, head, and camshaft improvements, it could exceed 400.

This car, capable of completing the quarter-mile in 13.38 seconds, was notably available in only two classic colors: “Apollo White” and “Saturn Yellow.”

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6. Plymouth Barracuda (1970–1971).

In exceptional circumstances, well-kept Plymouth Barracudas have sold for up to $2 million. The Barracuda has a rich and long history, in addition to being the highest earner on the market over the last decade (an already high worth of $49,000 has risen to more than $2 million in some cases).

Although it debuted in 1964, it took more than six years to become a success. With the introduction of a 7.2-liter, 390 horsepower engine in 1970, Plymouth propelled the Barracuda into the mainstream of the muscle car industry.

Another variant included a 7-liter Hemi engine capable of 425 horsepower, which, like its less powerful siblings, was notorious for problematic handling no matter how many times the suspension was overhauled.

This “Hemi-Cuda” could accelerate to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds and was known for burning rubber with little effort. Due to the high cost and rising insurance premiums, only a few hundred were produced.

None had the same trim, color, or transmission, making each a unique collector, with only approximately a dozen convertibles having the Hemi combination.

7. Pontiac GTO (1964–1969)

While the GTO was introduced in 1964, it wasn’t until 1965 that it truly attracted the attention of muscle car enthusiasts.

Because of its legendary significance, the 1965 “Goat” remained a favorite among muscle car enthusiasts even after being outpaced in terms of speed and power. It was one of the first cars to go from zero to sixty in 6.1 seconds, contributing to the national muscle car boom.

The Goat, marketed to youth as inexpensive and fast, put a 6.3-liter V-8 in the body of a midsized Tempest and added the distinctive split-grill design, which is still one of the most recognizable front elements of any muscle car today.

The 1967 model expanded the motor size and replaced the six-pack carburetor with a single 4-barrel carb, with a “Ram Air” induction option that boosted max rpm and 360 horsepower, but only 751 of the 82,000 machines sold that year were equipped with it.

The 1969 “Judge” version increased horsepower marginally, with a 6.5-liter engine and many luxury interior option packages.

In addition to the inside renovation, alterations were made to the appearance of the car, reviving its popularity. It’s no surprise that this vehicle’s rarity and sentimental significance have increased its value from roughly $36,000 in 2001 to as much as $200,000 now.

8. Chevrolet Chevelle SS/LS (1966-70)

The Chevy Chevelle is among the most popular muscle cars. This 1966 model is clearly a classic. The Chevelle, one of the most well-known muscle vehicles, saw multiple redesigns over its fame.

The famous Chevelle SS, which began in 1966 as the “Super Sport” package for the ’61 Impala, wasn’t actually introduced to the market until 1966, when its classic forward-thrusting front fenders, special wheel covers, red-line tires, and black-out grill were added to show off the car’s striking new style.

The 1966 Chevelle SS 396 was only made in roughly 100 units and is highly valued today. In fact, the high end of resale has increased from $28,000 to $369,000 in the last decade alone.

In 1969, Chevy dealers who couldn’t sell the cars quickly enough created the Central Office Production Order, or 427 COPO, which was produced in a limited quantity of approximately 320 cars.

It was capable of producing 450 horsepower and included an L-72 427-cid V-8 engine, indicating that dealers desired power.

The last great SS, the 1970 7.4-liter, had 450 horsepower and could accelerate to 60 mph in six seconds flat. With racing stripes and a great interior, it was the popular pick.

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