What's a muscle car? Well, it's certainly not a regular car that hit the gym and drank protein all week. The term "muscle car" is an American way of describing a variety of high-performance automotive vehicles. Most muscle cars are two-door sports autos with powerful engines, so, no, your Prius isn't a muscle car. But there are plenty of muscle cars that are priced similarly or even cheaper than the soul-draining Prius.
Although there are numerous super pricey muscle cars on the market, it's a myth that owning one constitutes breaking the bank. Many publications credit the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 for being the first muscle car ever made. There are many claims on the true original muscle car, but one thing is for certain—it's a symbol of power. Can you think of an action movie that didn't feature a dope muscle car for the lead actor to crash or something? Yup, the muscle car symbolism is deeply engraved in the automotive culture.
If you're reading this article, then most likely, you enjoyed Gone in 60 Seconds, and if you haven't seen it, please do yourself a favor and make it happen—it's a movie about boosting really insane muscle cars. From the big screen and into the hearts of most alpha males, the muscle car is a piece of Americana. After doing some digging around, a list was born. Below you'll be able to find some of the coolest muscle cars ever made, and most will be priced under $20K.
20 1993 Ford SVT Mustang Cobra
One of the best 4.9-liter Mustangs ever built, the Cobra is a sleek, racing type of a two-door coupe with a slightly raised spoiler. This car looks like it can win most drag races, but it can also provide a fun ride to the grocery store. Pricing depends on the condition of this older model, but you can expect for this beast to be valued somewhere around $20k. Not sure if Craigslist will be the place to look, but there are plenty of these on the market.
The Cobra was the first car from Ford's Special Vehicle Team powered by a 235-horse version of the classic injected 5.0 V8.
There were only 4,993 of these made along with another 107 that were built as "R" versions—but those were a bit more expensive.
19 1989 Pontiac 20th Anniversary Trans Am
How can you describe such a masterpiece? Well this recent quote from Car and Driver's test of the Anniversary Trans Am does a splendid job: “Our test car scorched the drag strip with a 0-to-60-mph blast of 4.6 seconds and a quarter-mile run of 13.4 seconds at 101 mph. That means, as we go to press, that the turbocharged Trans Am is the quickest 0-to-60 sprinter available in any U.S. production-car showroom—at any price.”
Yup, this car is special in many ways. Besides breaking speed records, there were only 1,500 made. The Pontiac Anniversary Trans Am had a turbocharged 250 hp, 3.8-liter V6 which certainly qualified it as a muscle car. You can probably get lucky and find one in good shape for sale for around $19K.
18 1994–96 Chevrolet Impala SS
The Chevy Impala is a classic, a true gangster on this list of muscle cars. This historic ride debuted in 1958, and that model was a high-end luxury vehicle for families. Through the years, new trends, new engines, and new styles were infused into the classic Impala. It was one of America's best-selling full-sized cars.
GM brought back the Chevy Impala SS concept at the L.A. Auto Show in 1992, and the 94 SS model made its debut with a 260-horsepower 5.7-liter V8 LT1 engine, but only a 4-speed automatic transmission was offered.
With its predecessor's discontinued production, this revival model had a good run and enjoyed popularity in movies and music. There are a lot of Impalas on the market, but an SS from 1994 is fairly rare. If you find one in good condition, it'll cost you only $9K. (Be ready to see a lot of Impalas with huge rims.)
17 1979 Pontiac Firebird Formula 400 WS6
Pontiac didn't want to be left out of the muscle-car game, so they went ahead and jumped into the market with their Firebird. In order to compete with the Ford Mustang, the Pontiac Firebird was released in 1967. This 1979 model was part of the second generation of Firebirds; it was exclusively produced as a coupe. The new generation had an updated design while still retaining the traditional style of the model. The Bandit fanatics really helped sales during the time of the show. Many people wanted to drive the same car as Burt Reynolds in the cult classic.
The '79 model included a 220 hp true Pontiac 400 (6.6-liter) V8 and the WS6 handling package.
There were less than 25K made, and only a fraction had the 400 and the WS6. You can find one in mint condition for around $16k.
16 1974-76 Dodge Dart Sport 360
Ah, the good old Dodge Dart... The name leaves a lot to be desired, but it's one of the first of its kind, blending the boundaries of a sedan and a muscle car. It's one of the faster Dodge models, but it's also one of the more boring designs.
The Dodge Dart Sport 360 had a 200 net horsepower from a 360-cubic-inch (5.9-liter) V8 under its hood.
The rev of the engine quickly helps you forget its pedestrian appearance. The Dart is often forgotten as a classic muscle car, but it's on the same level as its counterparts: the Corvette and the Trans Am. "America's fastest sedan" was introduced as a low-priced full-size sedan and evolved into the 1974 compact model you see here. Altogether, there were 4 generations of Dart models, and each had its unique body. You can find a nice, spit-shined 74 Dart on Autotrader for around $7K—not bad for one of the fastest American sedans ever made.
15 1970-71 Ford Torino GT
When the Torino was released, it was considered the upscale variation of the Fairline model. The GT was essentially a clone or a twin of the Mercury Montego. This model was named after the city of Turin (Torino, in Italian), considered "the Italian Detroit." Ford chose the Torino as the base for its Nascar entrants. The 1970-71 Torino models were inspired by narrow supersonic aircraft with bulging fuselages. This sporty "GT" was available as a 2-door sports-roof coupe and convertible.
The GT can be found for sale for around $15K; this model was just one step below the much costlier Cobra edition.
The 1970-71 models were part of the second generation of the Torino, and along with the design refresh, the car grew in size. This model was featured in a great Clint Eastwood movie: Gran Torino.
14 1971 Pontiac LeMans Sport
The LeMans model was Pontiac's way of making the super popular GTO more available to the public. The optional equipment offered on the LeMans Sport pretty much equals up to the more costly GTO model. The average value of the 1971 Pontiac LeMans Sport is around $15k, unlike the GTO, which sells for exorbitant prices.
The LeMans model offered the driver a choice of a 400-cubic-inch V8, good for 300 horsepower, or the 455-cubic-inch engine with 335 horsepower.
It's the forgotten muscle car, and if you can get past not having the trendy GTO model name, this beast will impress you with every engine rev. In total, there were 5 generations of the LeMans series. It was finally replaced by the Bonneville model in 1982.
13 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
Compared to the earlier models, the 1977 Firebird got a very noticeable facelift and a change in the hood scoop. This Pontiac got an extra sprinkle of coolness from Burt Reynolds by being his iconic ride in Smokey and the Bandit. The Firebird Trans Am model has begun to appreciate in value due to the movie's popularity and its permanent place in American culture.
A 1977 Trans Am is fitted with the factory 400-cubic-inch V8, and if you're shopping around, in good condition, it should be valued at $19K.
The price has stayed relatively low due to the lack of power in the engine when compared to other muscle cars. This special-edition Firebird is famous because of its prominent feature role in the Burt Reynolds movie, so it's no surprise that the value has been steadily growing; it's now valued at around $20K.
12 1971 AMC Hornet SC/360
Unless you're a true car enthusiast, there's no way you're familiar with the AMC brand of cars. AMC was the American Motors Company. It was created in 1954, and it disappeared in the mid-'80s after a buyout. The innovative company focused on smaller, more compact vehicles while trying to compete with the big 3: GM, Ford, and Chrysler.
AMC built 784 of these compact muscled-up versions of the Hornet. The largest engine in the Hornet series was AMC’s 304 (5.0-liter) V8.
Even though there's a limited quantity of these forgotten muscle cars, the demand isn't high, so you can find yourself a nice Hornet for around $22K. There are various versions of the 1971 model, but the Hornet SC/360 might be the rarest AMC muscle car of them all.
11 1987 Dodge Shelby Charger GLH-S
The Shelby GLH-S model was born from modifications made to the Dodge Omni GLH at the Shelby factory. In the '80s there weren't any glamorous new releases to the muscle car market, but this revived model did what it could to garner interest. Unlike its predecessor (Omni), the Shelby Charger was a two-door sports coupe with a hatchback-like rear end. The top speed was 130 mph, and the overall performance of this vehicle was impressive, but it still wasn't appealing enough to the general public. As you can probably deduce by now, there aren't many of these cars out there, so it's safe to say this is a "rare" muscle car. But in line with the theme of this list, the Shelby GLH-S won't break the bank; you can probably find one in very good condition for $20K. By the way, "GLH-S" stands for "Goes Like Hell S'more" - SOLD!
10 1967 Mercury Cougar GT
While the Ford company was enjoying the popularity of their Mustang series, the prices of the hyped-up model just kept soaring. And that's when came in the Mercury Cougar, a nearly identical automotive option with its own flavor and style.
Aside from a longer wheelbase, the Cougar was a carbon copy of the 67 Mustang.
The GT package included upgraded brakes and an improved suspension and exhaust, along with other stylistic improvements. Aesthetically, the Cougar included sequential taillights, an exquisite grille and hidden headlamps. For any muscle car fanatic, the 1967 Mercury Cougar will measure up to the Corvettes and Mustangs of its generation. You'll also save some dough going for the Mercury, as this model can be found for around $19k out the door.
9 1971-75 Ford Maverick Grabber
This is one of the cheapest valued muscle cars on this list. But don't let the price tag fool you; this compact racer is powered by a 210-gross-horsepower, two-barrel 302-cubic-inch (4.9-liter) V8. It may not have the genetic makeup of a true muscle car, but it certainly looks like a classic. What you lose out on in power, you'll definitely make up for in the cost, as this model will only run you $8K in good condition. The Maverick broke the first year sales record set by the Mustang in 1965. Ford used to promote the Grabber as a performance model, and its release was one of the most successful debuts in the manufacturer's history. After its start in America, this model grew in popularity across the world in places like Brazil and Venezuela.
8 1985-90 Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z
This is the third generation of the Camaro model series. All of the 1985 Camaros featured refreshed noses and new deeper valances and front spoilers. Initially introduced in 1982, Camaros were designed with no prior inspiration from the muscle cars that came before it. The new angles of the front and the rear windows reflected the advances in car glass designs. The IROC-Z was named after the International Race of Champions and was offered as an option package on that year's model. This Camaro IROC-Z was on Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best list for 1985, but now, you can find it for sale for around $7K. With the Camaro, you're getting a 220-horsepower 5.0 V8 model that comes in dozens of variations and is priced like your first car—around $6k.
7 1986-87 Dodge Omni GLH
The 1986 Shelby GLH-S was a modified Dodge Omni GLH with Shelby heritage. It’s a front-wheel-drive, five-door muscle car powered by a turbocharged and an inter-cooled 175 hp, 2.2-liter engine. Only 500 were made, and still, you can buy one now for around $10k if your timing is right.
For a tiny muscle car, this Omni packed incredible performance—only 6.5 seconds was needed for 0-60 mph and 15 seconds for the quarter-mile run.
Its top speed being 130 mph, this Dodge was a very formidable muscle car, but it was never allowed a place in the stock categories because it failed to meet the required 1,000-units-a-year sales quota. The model name "GLH" stood for "Goes Like Hell," so you know the marketing department did their job! With such a catchy name, it's a mystery why there were only 500 made. Our best guess for why would be this model's sedan-like design and pedestrian vibe.
6 1971 Plymouth Satellite Sebring
The Satellite Sebring was the 3rd-generation model of this beautiful Plymouth series. With new safety requirements, the design was changed, and the Satellite lost a little muscle. You can still see the true muscle-car origins in the body of the vehicle, which it has in common with the much faster GTX trim.
The Sebring trim was offered in a 2-door coupe that packed a powerful V8 under the hood.
Now, the earlier-mentioned GTX will most likely break the bank; however, this one-step-down Sebring can be found in great condition for around $16k. This model series enjoyed a great run of popularity, which almost lasted a decade. The "Satellite" name was introduced in 1965 and discontinued in 1974. That long production run just means there are more used ones for sale on the market!
5 1983 Oldsmobile Cutlass Hurst
There haven't been many Oldsmobiles on this list. In fact, this is actually the first one! Cheers! It definitely deserves some attention, though, because this 1983 Cutlass Hurst is one of very few "notchback" muscle cars. (Notchback - model designed to highlight sharp or abrupt roof/rear-window angles. You learn something new every day!) Unlike the Supreme trim, the Hurst trim came in a front-wheel-drive version.
The Oldsmobile Cutlass Hurst was first produced in 1968 as a special performance version of the Cutlass Supreme. The special version had plenty of performance upgrades, including a tuned suspension, racing tires, a spoiler, and a power-bulge hood. The fully loaded version was sold for $19K, and the base model was only $11k. Now, you can find an '83 Cutlass Hurst for around $15k.
4 1987 Buick Regal Grand National
The Grand National model debuted in 1982 and was named for the NASCAR Winston Cup Grand National Series. This was Buick's way of capitalizing on the recent racing success of the brand. (Buick won the Manufacturers Cup in 1981 and 1982.)
This model was one of the fastest cars in production with a 3.8-liter, 6-cylinder, 245-horsepower engine that can do 0-60 mph in 6.1-seconds.
The Grand National model sold with the marketing phrase "What wins on Sunday, sells on Monday." The production choice of color for this series was usually black, so don't be surprised if there's a lack of color diversity if you're ever shopping for one of these bad boys. Due to the special nature of the model's name and its release purpose, many of these cars were treated as collectibles. The good news is that you're sure to find a Grand National in grand condition—sorry for the pun. But the bad news is that people are running up the price; it's worth around $22k.
3 1979 Chevrolet El Camino
The El Camino—sounds like a powerful Mexican wrestler, but it's just one of the more distinct muscle cars on the road. Everyone recognizes an El Camino when it's cruising down the street! The '79 version came in both three- and four-speed manual transmissions. However, this year's model didn't get many design changes because of the previous year's refresh. This new El Camino trim was introduced as part of the 5th generation in 1978. The entire model series was considered a coupe-utility vehicle and traces its origin all the way back to 1959. The original El Camino was released as a response to the great success of the Ford Ranchero. With 20-plus years in production, there's no shortage of unique-looking Chevrolet El Caminos on the market. You can find a really clean one for around $15k.
2 1952 Chevy 3100 Truck
This list needed a little bit of randomness, so why not drop in this awesome-looking muscle truck? These Chevys have a powerful aesthetic design with a hot-rod style body that can make any paint job look good. The 3100 model is very popular and sells regularly at national auctions, but you don't need to break the bank and outbid someone to own a '52 Chevy. There are plenty of these on the used market! The popular classic car websites won't be the place to look; you should try to find a diamond in the rough somewhere on Craigslist instead for under $10K. By the way, if you just want to kill time and check out the creativity of fellow car enthusiasts, search for this model on eBay, and enjoy!
1 1964 Studebaker Lark Daytona
The Lark series model production started in 1959. The Studebaker company was in business for over 100 years, but it ceased car manufacturing in 1966. For the '64 year-model, the Lark was restyled and given a much more modern appearance as part of the third generation of the model. Although not much changed in the interior of the car, the 1964 model was the most mainstream Studebaker Lark to date. The Lark was available with an i6 and v8 engine options. This specific 1964 Daytona was built as a 2nd series in the Ontario plant after the company moved from Indiana in 1963. At the moment, you can find this shiny toy for sale for around $12K. Just to recap, stay away from the classic auctions with these types of rides; you can find one that's worth fixing up without breaking the bank!