There is an age-old debate that rages on hotter than a smelting furnace, and it’s showing no signs of relenting. Tuners vs. Muscle Cars have been battling since the two first pulled up next to each other at a red light – and they’re never going to make peace!
We don’t want them to, either! Half of the fun is pitting the two designs against each other to see who comes out on top! Tuners think they are superior for their handling and engine design; muscle cars think tuners are, by comparison, puny little rice kettles, buzzing around like mosquitos. So who’s right?
Both of them are! The truth is, tuners are superior, by design. But comparing a modern tuner to a vintage muscle car is like comparing a WWII Warbird to modern F-35 Lightnings – it’s an apples to tangerines comparison.
In the ‘60s, when muscle cars were king, imports were swooning over 1.2L 78hp Datsuns; they were getting jollies on 2000GTs (with 150hp)! The truth is, they never did anything fantastic with horsepower until muscle cars were already being choked out by oil shortages and EPA regulations. It was moonshining and NASCAR that pioneered performance – and nobody was driving Toyotas! Once imports took a foothold on the domestic markets, however, they would forever reshape what a car could be. So, kudos to everyone, in their own right!
But we’re not here to talk about the best of the best, because both types of cars are wonderful in their own right. We’re here to look at the worst of the worst. These are not cars you want in your garage – but they make people face-palm everywhere they go.
20 1972 AMC Gremlin
The ‘60s and ‘70s would change the shape of domestic cars forever. Prior to this, we liked big, heavy, monstrous machines – sumptuous and luxurious. Once foreign automakers started pumping the market full of rickety little tin cans with fuel-efficient four-bangers, it forced the domestic automakers to adapt in order to stay competitive.
For better or worse, that meant things like THIS were what you could expect from them during the next decade. The Gremlin hit the market a few months prior to the Chevy Vega and the Ford Pinto, but there’s a reason you don’t know who the US Motors Corporation is today.
19 Chevy Nova (1975-1979)
We don’t mean just any Nova, but the GM icon ranks amongst our worst all-time cars simply because the Nova was one of the greatest little muscle cars of all time. The first, second, and third-generation Novas were among the most legendary of street rockets you could stuff a big block into; but when the 1975 year-model rolled out, the Nova took on a gnarly design that not even a mother could love.
They were trying to homogenate it with current design trends, but it ended up being the nail in the coffin for the Nova line. The third-gen fastback was the last great Nova to ever roam the roads.
18 Ford Mustang (1994-2004)
Since we’re bashing legends of rear-wheel past, we might as well throw the Ford Mustang under the bus. Again, it’s not due to a lack of love for the pony car – quite the opposite, actually. The Mustang is another Detroit dominator that moved more than people in its heyday – it moved our hearts and souls.
Part of our beef with the post-Foxbody ‘Stang is the shape they gave it. Sure, it was the ‘90s, but that doesn’t justify turning it into a sloppy-looking jalopy (with undertones of Taurus written all over it). Much of the Mustang was lost after the Foxbody departed from the current lineup.
17 Pontiac GTO (Post-1972)
The trouble with the GTO began in 1972 when it transitioned from a standalone model to a trim package for a set of sports coupes in the Le Mans line. The GTO continued to be a trim option as the Le Mans underwent a facelift (1973), following suit with many other models in the slow decay of large, domestic muscle cars. The trends were favoring smaller, lighter designs – with much less personality.
It was the rage of the day, but little did anybody realize, the sturdy and powerful cars they were condemning then would be coveted collector’s pieces later; the models they were trading up to would pile up in junkyards quicker than they could be inventoried.
16 Hurst/Oldsmobile (Fourth-Gen)
Up until the fourth-generation, the Cutlass maintained something of a formidable presence. It was never a mainstream muscle car, but underestimating this thing in the streets could be bad for your pride. Although the Cutlass line did feature some of the biggest motors GM put in small-body cars, the fourth-gen Cutlass line started to look like something to be embarrassed about as soon as the 1973 year-model rolled out.
The only way they could get around putting anything so big under the hood in one of their mid-sized cars was to designate it is as a “Hurst” add-on; GM didn’t want anything competing with the Corvette – especially not something so bad looking.
15 King Cobra Mustang (1974-1978)
It’s ugly; it’s confusing; it’s decidedly ‘70s! The King Cobra was a trim option for the second-generation Mustang (Mustang II) to offer something for the muscle enthusiast who didn’t care about fuel shortages and rationing. The regular Mustang II was okay for some people, but it was severely lacking in the performance department, and not everyone wanted to put around all the time.
The car is all but extinct now – but it was a hit in its heyday, selling nearly 300,000 units the first year it was available. It would continue to do fairly well throughout its lifespan, but there was just something unsustainable about it, and it’s all but a memory today.
14 Plymouth Volare Roadrunner (1976)
If you like performance deficits, leaks, and rust – the Plymouth Volare was the ride for you. Debuting in 1976, the former B-body decedent was a distinct deviation from the progenitor that started it all – the Roadrunner. Unlike the hard-hitting Roadrunner, the Volare wasn’t built to take a pounding; it wasn’t able to outrun police cars; it wasn’t a select choice for moonshiners.
What it was turned out to be a bad compromise between legacy styling and modern economics. The 383 cubic-inch screamer was replaced with the dreaded 318cid, but you could opt for a 360 (still with a two-barrel). Notably, the car was equipped with the world’s first onboard engine computer – the Lean Burn system. (All Par.)
13 Chevrolet Camaro (Second-Gen)
When the 1964 ½ Mustang came out, it was unparalleled and unrivaled. This was unacceptable to GM, who only recently had released the long-overdue Nova in response to the Ford Falcon. GM had to quickly scramble to initiate a muscle car to compete with the Mustang, and the Camaro has long-since been recognized as its retort. And it was a lackluster one for the pony car.
The Camaro would wipe the Mustang up and down the street, and twice on Sunday. But, the celebratory burnouts would all come to a screeching halt in the (can you guess?) the 1970s; (see 1982-1985 Iron Duke engine applications for all the substantiation you could ever need.)
12 Charger Daytona (1976-1977)
Looking at this may make you cringe; it may make you angry; it may give you anxiety. Just looking at it gives us the heebie-geebies, and for good reason. It’s not so much that it’s one of the worst looking cars in existence (although it most certainly is), but the worst part of the Charger Daytona is the fact that it is (in fact) a Charger Daytona!
This is what the ‘70s did to muscle cars! In pace of the nosecone and massive rear wing, you got barn-door aerodynamics and anemic performance; which made no sense when the hood was long enough for a submarine motor.
11 Chevrolet C3 Corvette Collector’s Edition (1982)
The C3 Corvette is a collector’s item among enthusiast despite its name, rather than because of. At the time of its release, the C3 was living its last year before the C4 redesign, and interest was already waning for the flagship performance coupe. The C4 was already in the works, but in an attempt to stir up a little buzz for the final C3, a Collector’s Edition trim package was added.
This package basically put the lackluster Cross-Fire injection system on top of an underpowered (200hp) 5.7L, and to make matters worse, they dropped the manual gearbox, leaving you with a car you wanted to leave in your garage for other reasons (rather than collectability).
10 Apocalypse MX-5 (End-Of-Days)
While the muscle car community has seen enough tragedy during their first phase out in the ‘70s, tuners were making a name for themselves with outstanding power to weight ratios, “hi-tech” engine designs, and modernized suspensions.
Comparing the two is an apples to oranges argument any way you look at it, but one thing muscle car guys seldom do is modify their cars into a state of sorrow like is so common with the tuner crowd. This MX-5, however, isn’t even a tuner. It isn’t an off-roader. It isn’t a car, but it also isn’t a truck.
9 Batmocivic (1983-1984)
What is this thing? We all know what it’s trying to be, but we’re not sure if we want to throw Molotov cocktails at it and chase it with pitchforks or race it to see if it’s really as fast as the tail cannon would lead you to believe. If Bruce Wayne were to see this, we don’t know how he’d react, but we’re pretty sure he’d make quick work of it with the real Batmobile.
The third-generation Civic was the first of its kind to introduce the CVCC engine, producing 76hp. Basically, you’d need to turn the Batlight on about three days before a crime was happening in order to get Batmocivic to the scene in time.
8 De "Rebel" Sol (1992-1998)
It walks like a Honda Sol; talks like a Rebel X-Wing, drives like the first production car in Japan to produce more than 100hp/liter, and was declared to be the most important sports car of the decade for the country by Best Motoring reviewer K. Tsuchiya.
For anything from the ‘90s to be declared “most important sports car” of anywhere, with a power output of 160hp, is very telling of the bleak performance offerings of the time. This Rebel Sol isn’t going down without a fight, though, no matter how you look at it. Packed with its trusty R2 unit, it’s ready to take on even the most fortified of exhaust vents. Stay on target.
7 Fast and Infuriating (Dom’s Ice Charger)
We think an elephant in the room needs to be pointed out here because for as prolific and popular as The Furious have been, it’s been a fantasy land of ridiculous stunts and wildly improbable sequences, carried out by some of the dumbest cars you’ve ever seen. Chargers are cool…yes. But what’s with the trunk-mounted nuclear reactor sticking out of the back?
Flared fenders, wheel spacers, tacky window reinforcements with faux lightening holes…a diffuser that sits a foot off the ground!!! (Like that’s ever going to make any difference.) Do the prop designers think we were all born yesterday? This Charger is getting put in the “tuner” category for all this lunacy. Team Muscle doesn’t want it anymore!
6 Special Feature – The Turbo Whistle
Tuner kids, we love you, and we mean this with a spirit of endearment – but really? A TURBO WHISLTE? You’ve got to be kidding! But you’re really not! (This is similar to the short guy that drives a one-ton F-350 with a 15” lift kit.) Not familiar with how this gizmo works? Allow us.
Basically, you overpay about $5.70 (retail price: $5.70) to get yourself a nice little piece of aluminum that you stuff in your tailpipe. Then, floor it everywhere you go for the silliest-sounding “turbo” noise you’ll ever hear. You don’t get made fun of because you drive tuners – you get made fun of because you drive tuners with turbo whistles.
5 Dub Edition GT-R
This is one of the most polarizing GT-Rs you will probably ever run across in your lifetime. Regardless of your performance bias – you have to respect the GT-R. Its roots extend back to the mid-‘60s (or even the late-‘50s, depending on how you look at it), with a longstanding track record of success and dominance.
It’s a driving machine. While the intricate engravings extend to a depth far beyond what a picture can convey, it’s immaculate paneling and slammed stance make it useless for every propose it was intended. The only thing more ridiculous would be to donk it out and put TV screens all over it.
4 Lawn Art Edition GT-R
The GT-R is one tuner that stands above most others. It comes from the factory sounding like a silent strip ninja; tune it with a full exhaust and some turbo upgrades and it’ll sound like something straight out of Star Wars!
Mountains of torque in every gear usually mean that, unless you’re a pro, there’s going to be space between the gas pedal and the floor, (but closing that gap is satisfying on a spiritual level). With so much to offer, it seems like such a waste to slam this thing to the earth and drag it across the ground; it defeats the whole purpose of having the $99,000 car in the first place – unless you just like how it looks in your driveway.
3 Nissan 350See
The “new” 350Z is sometimes more about what you can “see” that it is about the actual Z. Ricers make us mad because they’re all about “faking” speed and performance, but this is no such case. This is the destruction of factory performance with drag-inducing body bolt-ons and grip destroying suspension; it undoes the millions that were invested into the performance and handling the factory intended you to have.
Muscle cars do this stuff too; it’s called Pro Street – we laugh at them too! Faking fast is even more uncool when the car started out fast. Why would anyone destroy that?
2 Fit And Furious
If tuners aren’t making something fast into something slow (that looks fast), they’re making something slow look fast – while making it even slower. Sometimes, they make something slow look fast while making it even faster, but this is just as ridiculous. Fender flares, rims, drop spindles, huge brakes – what’s the point? This modified 2015 Fit appeared at the 2014 SEMA show along with five other Fits that were just as ridiculous.
Sure, it’s a culture – it’s an expression of style. But how often do you see people trying to make their equipment less efficient, aside from the various examples of the automobile? (You wouldn’t want to see your next airliner pull up to the gate with spinners it, would you?)
1 Super Sienna
What happens when you throw a tune on a minivan? Toyota thinks this is what happens. It’s probably the best iteration of a tune you could apply to a minivan. After all, Toyota knows what they are doing. The $50,000 price tag asserts as much; this is no ordinary soccer-shuttle.
You can bet the best engineering and development went into this silly looking Sienna, and we’re pretty sure it’s one of the coolest minivans you’ll ever drive. But that’s the problem…minivans aren’t supposed to be cool to drive! Give us $50,000, the LAST thing we’re doing is spending it on a minivan…just saying.
Sources: Car and Driver, Hemmings, Allpar, CJ Pony Parts, Barn Finds, Edmunds, Top Speed, Motor Trend.