Everyone loves a classic muscle car, even when they're beat up and resting on cinderblocks out behind Grandpa's garage. So much of automobile history can be traced through the lineage of muscle cars and pony cars, and all the more so for fans of Detroit's big brands. Today, gearheads get to revel in the power wars dominating the products coming out of the Dodge, Chevy, and Ford factories.
For a few decades there, it seemed like domestic manufacturers had forgotten why everyone loved the muscle car: beefy engines, aggressive exteriors, and reasonable pricing. Instead, this nation's carmakers decided to use the same names on products built to compete with cheaper imports, with fuel economy prioritized over quarter-mile times.
The last decade or so, however, has seen a veritable muscle car renaissance—and the world of custom classics has only grown, at the same time. It's a new era of muscle car mania and a dream come true for every car nut who felt embroiled in a disappointing nightmare for so many years.
The internet is partly to blame for creating a forum where the wants and needs of the car-buying public could be voiced, and it has also led to a sharp spike in access to aftermarket car parts for home mechanics, modders, and tuners. But not all custom muscle cars end up quite right, and the worst of the bunch even disprove the famous maxim that practice makes perfect.
25 Snorks Up
The 1980s were a weird era that combined punk music, corduroy furniture, and questionable vehicle designs, so it's no wonder that everyone felt a little like they wanted to go Back to the Future. Dodge's Charger from that era, especially, fell well short of its previous generations, with the resultant coupe disappointing in almost every way.
But customizing a 1986 Charger with a huge hood scoop that's more likely to remind people of an off-roading snorkel than a supercharger's intake is just silly—even if the rubber out back implies some serious power from the build.
24 Santa's Slayin' It
In the case of this hilarious piece of holiday decorating, the builders better hope Santa doesn't actually deliver some charcoal—judging from the plethora of car ads that bedeck the holiday programming season, Santa's got good taste in automobiles.
And this Camaro certainly isn't anywhere near the jolly good fellow's standards. Sure, it's meant to be funny, and the third-generation Camaro is a joke in and of itself, but for the sake of all that is on the good list, can we please avoid this naughtiness?
The Fox-Body Mustang helped revive a model that came dangerously close to extinction during its dubious second generation. And while the third-gen was, in fact, offered with a couple of respectable 5.0-liter V8 options, today the kind of power they were cranking to the rear wheels seems almost laughable.
But with a simplicity that modern cars can't hope to match, the Fox Body is a favorite for backyard builds—although cutting a portion out of the hood to fit what's either a massive radiator or top-mounted intercooler (complete with 'DRIVE' spraypainted on there) is an exercise in questionable aesthetics.
22 Steam Punk Charger
Everyone loves the scenes in The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day when the cyborg peels back his skin to reveal the mechanical skeleton underneath. Even when Arnie's fake face has been shredded off and that creepy red eye stares, unblinking, into the carnage, the little kids watching squeal with joy.
But no one, not even the children among us, loves this custom Dodge Charger with a wrap that borders somewhere between steampunk and rat rod. When the riveted, rusting aluminum gives way to pistons and mesh beneath—all the while looking more like the Terminator's jaw than an actual engine—at least the attention is drawn away from those cringe-worthy wheels.
21 Room For The Fam
With the inexorable increase of crossovers on today's market, it seems like there's a good chance that the automotive world may actually live the nightmare of seeing an SUV-styled Camaro and Mustang on the streets.
And as embarrassing as it sounds, the Camaro almost hit showroom floors for the first time as a station wagon. Thankfully, that wasn't the case—but that hasn't stopped a few maniacal modders from transforming their muscle cars into long-wheelbase monstrosities with enough space to pack all the little monsters into the back seat.
20 Mustang Energy Drink
This list simply has to start with a Ford Mustang. Simultaneously the most popular muscle car ever made (despite beginning its run as a pony car) and beloved by fans in bone-stock, factory condition, the Mustang is also one of the most popular cars for backyard mechanics to try their hand at modifying.
And leave it to some maniacs hopped up on Monster Energy Drink to ruin a Mustang like this one, slapping on green and black wheels shod in low-profile tires to match a paint job that's straight off the can of their favorite beverage.
19 Retromod or Backdated?
Is this a modern Camaro that has been backdated with a convertible top and rear end from a vintage example? Or is it a vintage example that got into an accident and has an owner so lazy they didn't even want to bother sourcing the right front end to fix their baby up?
Regardless, the result is a mishmash so bad that even a paint scheme somewhat reminiscent of General Lee can't save it. And wasn't General Lee a Charger, anyways?
18 Scraping Through The Curves
Clean restomods like this one truly reveal a lot about their owners and builders. The amount of time and effort it takes to bring a car back to pristine condition, all while updating it with some modern touches, probably can't be calculated on a TI-86.
And yet in the end, the mental clarity—or lack thereof—of the owner and builder (possibly the same person) becomes equally clear as they power around the bends of what looks like the Angeles Crest Highway in the background, all the while scraping up their fancy new wheels and demolishing the immaculate body work on those fenders.
17 Whale Shark
There's no doubt that a 1,000-horsepower AMC Javelin sounds like a great idea. And based on the reporting surrounding this custom build, the supporting cast is all in place, as well, to make this beast a (relatively) reliable street or drag strip build.
But stop daydreaming about ruining those rear tires in one single quarter-mile burnout and focus on the exterior design for a second, and it won't be long before the bulbous hood, lower air inlets, and strange paint color all bring to mind a lounging whale shark, so full of krill it can barely bask in the hot sun.
16 Orange Ya Glad I Didn't Say Camaro?
When the fifth generation of Ford Mustang came out, it was a big step up from the fourth-gen. But then again, it would have been hard to take a step down the ladder (without actually releasing the Probe with Mustang badging on the front and rear).
At the very least, the fifth-gen helped pave the way for today's awesome 'Stang, which has helped to spark the escalating power wars dominating the headlines out of Detroit these days. But this fifth-gen is just a sad piece of custom work, and its orange paint job, orange soft top, and silly wheels just help to remind us of how dated the generation got, and how quickly.
15 Lucha Libre Transformer
The fifth-gen Mustang has, without a doubt, become a favorite among the tuning and modding crowd, and though the model can be found dirt-cheap in about four seconds on Craigslist, it still came with a few reasonable engine options. Plus, relatively simple styling makes for an easily customizable exterior—but these guys have gone right ahead and thrown all that out the window.
Now, they're sitting on a Transformer of a car that's complete with a bad body kit and butterfly doors. But the original muscle car Transformer was Bumblebee, not a butterfly, and he was a Camaro in the Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox flick, not a Mustang.
14 Shock Top
One design element that has entirely gone by the wayside is rear and quarter window louvers. It's a shame, too, because nothing screams "1980s" like a Toyota Celica that's missing its rear glass but still has shadows provided by Kanye West-themed shades.
This Mustang owner clearly misses his Fox Body, and though the customized fastback doesn't even have quarter windows, at least the rear's got some louvers slapped on. The weirdest part, though? The all-white top, without a doubt.
Even without four doors, someone decided to modify their modern Camaro into something that approaches the original Camaro wagon concept. And in reality, it almost doesn't look bad. Almost, anyway. Reminiscent of a Dodge Magnum from the mid-2000s, it would appear the builder of this project didn't realize there's a reason Chrysler put the kibosh on the Magnum after only a four model-year production run.
As an exercise in high-quality bodywork, this is impressive; but as an exercise in high-concept thinking, this is a disaster.
The Corvette stands alone as perhaps Detroit's only factory supercar. The only thing that ever came close was the Dodge Viper, and Chevy's long-tenured 'Vette—especially from the last two decades—wipes the floor with the Viper in the curves, even if its outright beastliness isn't quite the same in every trim package.
But the whole point of the modern Corvette is sleek, futuristic, aggressive speed, and the fact that the geniuses at Callaway felt inclined to turn a Corvette into a hatchback seems to suggest that maybe the design team hired a persuasive, yet misguided, new intern.
11 Rat 5
The C3 Corvette may be one of the biggest performance letdowns of any car ever made, but it certainly did nail the exterior design. (Sadly, when the fourth generation arrived later, Chevy decided not to up the powertrain's output to match the radical swoopiness of the outside, but rather to further tone down the style to match the tepid power beneath.)
But this C3 has taken that exterior and gone even further with it, landing somewhere between a Sting Ray and the Mach 5 from Speed Racer. The tow truck it's strapped to suggests that any potential performance upgrades may have been lost in the mix, though.
10 Father of the Aztek
Pontiac's Aztek is universally reviled as possibly the worst car ever made (from every angle, too: the stylistic, performance, and utilitarian perspectives, all at the same time). And even if Walter White did drive one in Breaking Bad, which has helped to boost values on the secondhand market from dirt-cheap up to sand-cheap, the Aztek is still a lame duck.
This third-generation Pontiac Trans Am, already a disappointing car that shared its underpinnings with the similarly sad, third-gen Camaro, has received a hatchback rear end that presaged the disappointment that would follow about a decade and a half later.
9 Fire Parrot
There's no doubt that the fourth-generation Camaro and its Firebird sibling truly put the "beakyness" back into the Firebird's exterior design. But with a bad green paint job that also features some gunmetal grey (for no reason at all), the Firebird ends up looking for like a fire parrot.
While this era of GM products did, in fact, include a few powerful V8 engine options, the fact that someone loves their car enough to put in this kind of work is astounding. Almost as astounding, that is, as the result.
8 Two Chrome Rims
Race car builds have a tender spot in the hearts of every automotive enthusiast. If only the cars we bought from the factory could come with plexiglass windows to shave those pounds! And yet, this race-built Pontiac GTO hits every note—other than the windows, of course—perfectly badly.
Trying to transform one of the quintessential Detroit beefcakes into an aerodynamically smooth racer, the builders of this car ruined the front grille, headlights, and air dam. Throw in a downright strange tail end and chrome wheels up front paired to drag slicks out back, and there's so much that could have been done better.
7 Not A GTO
Don't believe the hype, and don't let GM fool you. Sure, they called it a GTO, but the mid-2000s rebadging effort wasn't a GTO: it was an Australia-sourced Holden Monaro with a few different letter glued on. And while the original Monaro was based on the original GTO, the more modern relationship was flipped entirely backwards.
A couple of LS V8 engines were respectable, but the rest of the project was almost hilarious boring, and there's no doubt this last-ditch effort to save Pontiac from the grave actually ended up hastening the brand's demise.
6 State of the Union
Vin Diesel's character, Dominic Toretto, loves his Dodge Chargers in the Fast and Furious franchise, and in another of the franchises that he's starred in, a classic Pontiac GTO makes a serious appearance. Sure, Diesel himself isn't in the XXX: State of the Union sequel, but in the movie, a bizarre restomod shows up.
While most of the audience may have thought the car looked awesome, any gearhead will immediately bemoan the build's style, which is almost the opposite of the beef and primer style of Diesel's Chargers in the Fast and Furious movies.
5 Too Legit To Quit
The AMC AMX's status as a muscle car is semi-questionable but at the very least, it managed to get the general exterior style right. A shorter wheelbase and only two seats made it a model that should have been outright sporty, and compared to most other muscle cars, it was light as a feather at around 3,000 pounds. And it even came with up to a 6.4-liter V8 under the hood!
But the AMX didn't sell well and is a rare sight on the roads today—only wild modders willing to put the work in keep them around, and as is readily apparent from this example, that's not always a good thing.
4 Get Like Me
Today's Dodge Charger is an awesome sports sedan with plenty of appeal for domestic buyers hoping to combine brute power (in the Hellcat trim) and a reasonable price point with comfortable seating for a family of four. When the Charger is employed by Highway Patrols, it becomes a true prowler of our roads, with an attitude that's a serious improvement over the old and blobby, yet legendary, Crown Vic.
But the Charger has also drawn a fair number of modders, thanks to its aggressive exterior, and sadly, many of them have just slapped on huge chrome wheels, ghastly paint colors, and even butterfly doors.
3 Weight: Distributed
Previous entries about Dominic Toretto's Dodge Charger may require revision because it turns out that in Fast 8, some seriously questionable thought went into the creation of the mid-engine, all-wheel-drive monstrosity seen above.
More Ken Block than Tokyo Drift (ironic, yes?), the wild build does seem like it has potential. With a 550-horsepower LS3 mounted amidships, track wider than a tank, and power routed to all four wheels, this domestic take on the Veyron is no slouch. But in the end, what's the point? Was the Charger's long hood simply not long enough to mount the engine up front?
Whether or not the Corvair counts as a muscle car can be endlessly debated (to great bemusement among gearheads), but there's no question that only one Detroit product ever really gets compared to Porsche on a regular basis. And though sometimes those comments aren't necessarily positive (tailspin, anyone?), a domestically built, rear-mounted flat-six hasn't seen the light of day since, mostly because of a failure of reverse engineering on the part of GM.
But the Corvair's low-slung style is equally missing from this country's products—not that this catastrophe of a rear-hinging door custom is helping things in any way.
Dominic Toretto's Dodge Charger may eat JDM tuners for breakfast by the handful, but the 1980s weren't kind to the model. The same can be said for the late-70s and the Challenger, which turned into a similarly bland product for about a decade, there (and was, hilariously, a rebadged Mitsubishi at heart).
And yet, as with any boring car, someone out there thinks the style is ripe for a sleeper build. But building a sleeper and then adding flames, a hood scoop, and drag slicks is a questionable decision unless the owner's got a "LeMons" win in mind.
Sources: LSX Mag, Bang Shift, and IMDb.