The muscle car is a proud American institution that has been going strong since the late 1940s – even if there’s been a recession or two and an oil crisis between then and now. Today’s muscle cars still follow the same recipe as they did in the 1960s and 1970s.
The muscle car ethos involves packing a large and powerful engine – preferably a V8 – into a relatively small, relatively light body. All you have to do is come up with a fun and brutal name for the vehicle, something like mustang, Charger or Barracuda. Classic muscle cars were more imaginative than most of the cars we have today, and the designers had more fun and freedom to produce what they wanted – therefore cars like the Plymouth Superbird and Buick GNX exists. The closest the auto industry has come to such utter ridiculousness in recent decades is the Dodge. hellcat engine.
So while a lot of muscle cars – and most vehicles in general – have gotten quite expensive due to reaching collector status or becoming classics, there are still some pretty great muscle cars out there for not that much money. With that, here are 10 of the best classic American muscle cars that everyday people can afford to buy.
10 1978 Pontiac Firebird ($10,500)
The Pontiac Firebird is one of the most famous muscle cars of the 1960s and 1970s, thanks to its huge engines, long hood and iconic color scheme. The first generation Firebird was nothing more than a slightly redesigned Chevrolet Camaro, but the second generation took on some model-specific design questions and a wider range of engines.
The Firebird range started with a 3.8-litre V6 or a 4.1-litre six-cylinder, before gradually ramping up to a massive 7.5-litre V8 – with many Chevrolet and Buick V8s in between. The Firebird is an iconic vehicle which can still be bought for relatively little money.
9 1980 Chevrolet Camaro ($16,000)
The Chevrolet Camaro, along with the Ford Mustang and the Dodge Challenger/Charger, were part of the great American powerhouse ‘Big Three’. The second-generation Camaro was an all-new car, with a unibody design and new components. It was longer, lower and wider than the previous model and was in production between 1970 and 1981.
The second generation saw many changes during the production run – both in styling and technique – as it was produced during the US oil crisis. This meant that many of the engines were detuned to achieve better fuel economy, resulting in large V8 muscle cars that barely put out 150 horsepower. As such, the Camaro’s popularity dropped a bit, and these cars are still relatively affordable†
8 1973 Dodge Dart ($15,000)
The Dodge Dart was a smaller muscle car produced by Chrysler and fell under the Challenger and Charger. It was available in both coupe and sedan body styles, but the most popular was the coupe.
The Dart was updated every year, and to comply with new emissions standards, Dodge added a catalytic converter—as well as other new parts—to the model and renamed it the Dart Swinger. The model was equipped with a 5.9-liter V8, which produced 245 hp via a 4-speed manual transmission or a 3-speed automatic.
7 1967 Dodge Charger ($28,000)
The original Dodge Charger was launched in 1966 and was only available until 1967, when the second generation – the famous – was launched. The original Charger was built to take on AMC’s Marlin, and was the same price and specs. The Charger used the same platform as the larger Dodge Coronet.
The Charger was equipped with several engines, the most powerful of which was a 425 hp 7.0-liter 426 HEMI V8 fitted with twin 4-barrel carburetors. The more popular version was the larger 375-hp 7.2-liter 440 HEMI, which was mated to a 4-speed manual or 3-speed automatic. Despite being the original Charger, it’s still less expensive than the second generation, which has now become nearly unaffordable.
6 1970 Ford Maverick ($6,000)
The original Ford Maverick was a smaller pony car, instead of the current compact pick-up truck. The Maverick was the American equivalent of the Capri from Ford of Europe, the main difference being that the Maverick was available ex works with a V8 engine.
The Maverick was produced between 1969 and 1977, when it was replaced by the Ford Fairmont. The Maverick is a great little muscle car, even when fitted with a 6-cylinder engine that only put out 155 horsepower. Fortunately, the engine compartment is big enough for a big V8, making the little Maverick a real competitor to the Australian Holden Torana.
5 1969 AMC AMX ($29,000)
The AMC AMX – also called the Rambler AMX – was a two-seat GT-style muscle car produced by the American Motors Corporation between 1968 and 1970. Oddly enough, it was a direct competitor to the Chevrolet Corvette, but cost significantly less.
The AMX was powered solely by V8 engines, starting with a 225 horsepower 4.8 liter and increasing to a 6.4 liter with twin 4-barrel carburettors, producing 340 horsepower. All AMXs were fitted with a 4-speed manual transmission as standard, but had the option of a 3-speed column-mounted automatic transmission.
4 1974 AMC Javelin ($12,000)
Another affordable AMC product is the second generation Javelin† Built between 1970 and 1974, the Javelin received many updates during production, mainly related to emissions and fuel economy. Chrysler had discontinued their pony car line and Ford had introduced 4-cylinder engines in their Mustang II, but AMC kept their big V8s in production.
As a result, Ford saw sales rise, while production numbers of the AMC Javelin continued to decline. The Javelin was finally discontinued in 1974, in favor of a focus on the new Matador Coupe. Today, the second-generation Javelin is iconic for its unique design, but remains a relatively inexpensive muscle car.
3 1965 Ford Mustang ($19,000)
The Ford Mustang is one of the most famous – if not the most familiar – muscle/pony cars ever made. Introduced in 1964, the Mustang became an instant hit and while not the first ‘pony’ car, it defined the segment.
The Mustang was originally powered by a 2.8-liter inline-6 from the Falcon, but this was quickly remedied with a V8 in the form of the 4.7-liter 289† The Mustang dominated the segment, with Chrysler, Chevrolet and AMC taking years to release their own competitors.
2 1966 Plymouth Barracuda ($18,000)
The Plymouth Barracuda was actually the first vehicle in the line of pony cars, and was released in early 1964. Unfortunately, a few months later, Ford launched their Mustang and the Barracuda was completely drowned out. Interestingly enough, the Barracuda almost became the Panda – which does not have quite the same ring.
The Barracuda was equipped with two inline-6 engines that are also found in the Plymouth Valiant and on which the Barracuda was based. Chrysler also added a 4.5-liter V8 that produced 180 horsepower, beginning one of the most exciting automotive eras in history.
1 1972 Oldsmobile 4-4-2 ($36,000)
The original Oldsmobile 4-4-2 was in production between 1964 and 1980. The 442 was essentially a powerful version of the Cutlass – as the Pontiac GTO was a more powerful version of the Tempest Le Mans. The name behind the 442 was reportedly the 400-cui 6.6-liter displacement, 4-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts, although there are different stories.
An interesting aspect of the 442 was that from 1970, the standard engine for the 442 was a 455-cui 7.5-liter V8, producing 365 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque. The Oldsmobile 442 is one of the coolest big muscle cars ever madeone that is still available at an affordable price.