Muscle cars run in the blood of every American gearbox, and for good reason. What started as a distinctly American auto segment now has followers and passionate muscle groups all over the world. Muscle cars are known for their raw, unadulterated power, with huge engines in light cars speeding like crazy in a straight line. The truly golden era of the muscle car mania in America was undoubtedly the 1960s, when every automaker tried to beat the competition with a lighter, faster, more powerful beast. In just ten years, however, many of these muscle cars lost their prestige and power.
Due to strict new emissions laws and the oil crisis, the ’70s muscle cars that had been famous and successful saw undersized shells from their old versions. This meant the demise of many nameplates, while those that survived managed to survive by changing their branding or philosophy. However, if we’re talking strictly about muscle cars, their presence on the road is another big feature of the segment. That’s why muscle car design should always complement the sheer power under the hood. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, as often some cars certainly looked good, and yet were disappointingly weak in power. Here are ten such “muscle cars” that certainly managed to get it right aesthetically, but their engines never matched the surface.
10 Ford Turin (1974)
Ford released the Torino in 1968 and the Torino was a big car from the start. Sure, it came with a big engine to keep it moving, but sadly, a little over half a decade later, tighter emissions standards dictated the need for catalytic converters in cars by 1974.
The result was reduced air pressure in the engine, which also meant lower horsepower. The massive 7.5-litre V8 the Ford Torino came up with was far too heavy for the meager 260 horsepower it produced, causing the car to become sluggish and lethargic, causing Ford to retire it.
9 Plymouth Volare Road Runner (1976)
Plymouth got off to a flying start with the original Road Runner in 1968, which became an instant hit thanks to its bare-bones, no-nonsense philosophy. The ’68 Road Runner came with a 7.0-liter HEMI V8 that put forth 425 horses.
Unfortunately, like many of its peers, it couldn’t handle the emissions laws, and in 1976 the Plymouth Volare Road Runner was a shell of its former self. Smaller, and even weaker in the engine department, the Plymouth Volare (or the Dodge Aspen) only managed to cough up 175 horsepower, rising to 196, which wasn’t anything to write home about either.
8 Chevrolet Monza Mirage (1977)
Chevrolet originally planned to equip their 1977 Monza with a Mazda rotary engine. This really could have made the Monza a beast capable of beating the Miata, but the deal never went through. Although Chevy had a beautiful car on their hands, they had to resort to weak and ineffective engines for the Monza.
Thus, the Monza Mirage remained nothing more than a more sport-oriented bodywork that had no engine power to boast of, as its 305 Small-Block V8 engine never managed to develop more than 145 horsepower.
7 California corvette (1980)
In recent years, the automotive world has gotten excited about the idea of going green when it comes to their cars, but in the 1980s, people weren’t so excited about the idea. After an entire decade of weak cars stifled by emissions laws, Chevrolet released the California Corvette only for the western state, but it didn’t catch on even there.
The California Corvette had a 305 V8 engine under the hood, yes, but it might as well not have been there. To stay within emissions regulations that still dictated less power, the ‘Vette only produced 180 horsepower, which was never enough to get people to buy it. Being a Corvette, of course, the vehicle had the right curves and is nothing short of beautiful, but that just wasn’t enough at the time to make it a success.
6 Chevrolet Nova SS (1973)
Chevrolet launched the Chevy II in 1965 as a small and powerful pony car. There’s just no denying that the Yenko Novas were the quintessential muscle cars of the 1970s, like the Chevy SuperSport (SS). Chevy renamed the II as the Nova, but by 1973 it was nothing but superficial.
The Chevy Nova SS was just a $100+ trim that came with some stripes and color changes, but power didn’t increase. It ran the same undersized V8 engine that delivered 175 hpbut because this was a subcompact muscle car and guzzling less gas, it sold well.
5 Mercury Cougar (1974)
Mercury launched the Cougar in 1967, positioning it as their answer to the Ford Mustang. Over time, however, it began to diverge toward the Torino and Thunderbird, especially in terms of the size and luxury it accompanied.
In 1974, the Mercury Cougar was the largest it had been, and also the heaviest. Unfortunately, the Cougar’s engine couldn’t keep up with the increasing demand for power, thanks to the catalytic converters. The result? A car that looked great both inside and out, but was a snail in terms of power. Under the hood, the 1974 Mercury Cougar’s V8 engine coughed up just 170 horsepower, which was never enough for a car of its size.
4 Dodge Charger Daytona (1977)
Despite being one of the most iconic muscle cars of all time, even the Dodge Charger has had its bad years. Take the 1977 Dodge Charger Daytona, for example, one of the weakest Chargers ever. Based on the Chrysler Cordoba, the Charger Daytona caught the eye, yes, but it also raised eyebrows when you peeked under the hood.
Even though Dodge named this Charger after the NASCAR event, and they built it to compete at the Florida event, the V8 car was nothing but slow. It took a life to reach 100 km/h (12.1 seconds). This was a car that shared so much with the Cordoba that it probably should never have worn the Charger’s nameplate.
3 Oldsmobiel 442 (1979)
The Oldsmobile 442 started out as a trim for the machete, got its own name tag and spawned the Hurst Olds before becoming a trim again. Manufactured between 1964 and 1980, the Oldsmobile 442 had its worst years in 1979 and ’80s, the last two being.
This was just a downsized Oldsmobile Cutlass, which came with a 4.3-liter Oldsmobile V8 and a more expensive 5.0-liter Chevy V8. Unfortunately, despite such huge engines, the car managed to cough up 105 horsepower and 160 horsepower respectively, which was never enough. It did well in the looks department, but was never too remarkable. Undoubtedly, the 1979-80 variants were some of the weakest and most impressive 442s of all time.
2 Fox Body Ford Mustang (1979-1993)
During the era of the fox bodies of the MustangFord had the brilliant idea to develop the Fairmont, the Probe and the Mustang all on the same platform. This took away any unique identity that the iconic Pony car had managed to develop for itself over the decades.
In addition, these were some of the weakest Mustangs ever made, where a 5.0-liter V8 engine couldn’t even develop 150 horsepower. With only 140 horses driving these Mustangs, the Mustang’s name had never been more vulnerable to going into the mud, and yet the car sold well.
1 Pontiac Ventura II (1971)
GM tried to fool us into rethinking the Chevy Nova by simply renaming it the Pontiac Ventura II. In fact, apart from the 1971 Pontiac Ventura, GM tried the same trick again in 1978 and renamed it the Phoenix. Of course, none of these attempts worked, as the car itself was not very impressive.
Appearance was never the issue for the Ventura II, as it had all the hallmarks of a good-looking muscle car that would look good in the driveway. It even came with a massive 5.7-litre V8, but the disappointment came when the car took over 12 whole seconds to reach 100 km/h. With only 160 horses pushing the Ventura II, this was a failed excuse for a muscle car, and petrolheads made that known how little success the car was having.