Which car comes to mind when you think of muscle cars? Ford Mustang? A Chevy Camaro? Maybe a Dodge Demon. And then there was the Pontiac Firebird and the Ford Thunderbird and the AMC Javelin. These were and are muscle cars that look like muscle cars – they looked strong and powerful, and revved to match their looks.
But there are also those muscle cars that looked like just another run of the mill car but left others eating the dust because they packed a punch under their hood. Here are our picks of 10 muscle cars that were way more powerful than they looked.
10 1970-71 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS454
No one thought muscle car when they looked at the Chevy Monte Carlo – and neither did Chevrolet market it as one. The Monte Carlo was a luxury coupe introduced by Chevrolet in 1970 and came packing a high-end interior as well. With a V8 engine, it gave a good performance too.
However, the SS 454 trim that existed for just a couple of years housed a beastly 7.4-liter V8 mill that pumped out 360 horses and cost just $420 more than the base model. With only 3,800 ever sold – the Monte Carlo SS454 remains a coveted muscle car today and looked nothing like the powerful beast it was.
9 1970 Buick GS 455
Most GM muscle cars ran on smaller engine displacements till 1970, and that’s when GM came unto itself. Buick introduced the Buick Gran Sport 455 in 1970, on a 7.5-liter V8 that could pulse out 360 horses – enough for this big, beautiful and heavy car to sprint 0-60mph in 5.5 seconds.
The difference lay in the massive 500 ft-lb torque that gave it respectable speed figures, valid till today. Of course, since it was a Buick, it looked more like a luxury car than a muscle ride, but once you pushed that pedal hard, this Buick could run like the wind.
8 1969 Mercury Cyclone CJ
Not many would remember that the Mercury Comet Cyclone, which came to be known later as the Mercury Cyclone, was also a muscle/pony car. While the Cyclone was an able car, it was the 1969 Cyclone CJ, with the initials standing for Cobra Jet that took this car places, and fast.
The 7.0-liter V8 Cobra Jet mill spat out 355 horsepower and took the Cyclone to the top level of performance muscle cars – even if it didn’t look the part, and does not come to people’s minds today. With the Cobra Jet engine, the Cyclone CJ could run a quarter-mile in less than 14 seconds – and this was 1969!
7 1975 Chevrolet Chevelle Laguna S-3
This one did not look like a muscle car, or even a powerful car to begin with. It was an upscale, luxury-aimed model of the Chevelle lineup, and even then, not many sat up and took notice of it.
One single model of the Laguna can technically be called a muscle car – it came in a coupe body style (lighter weight) and a powerful 7.4-liter V8 mill that could thrash out 235 horsepower – the output may seem low, but it gave this car enough power-to-weight ratio to make its rear tires spin with the torque. However, it wasn’t a memorable car then and is largely forgotten now.
6 1966 Ford Galaxie 500 7-Liter
So the Ford Galaxie 500 didn’t excite many people though it still sold decent numbers. It was boring, and somewhat mundane for the 1960s and was a pretty average car performance-wise also. It was supposed to be Chevrolet Impala’s competition and we would have laughed at that had it not been for the Ford Galaxie 500 7-Litre.
Housing the 7.0-liter Thunderbird V8, this version jetted out 345 horses. By 1967, Ford had dropped Galaxie in favor of just the Ford XL 7-Liter nameplate. There were police versions of this car as well, with the police interceptor V8 managing to pump out 360 horsepower.
5 1971 Pontiac GT 37
The Pontiac GT-37 wasn’t so much a new car than a car put together using the body of the Pontiac Tempest with the performance of the Pontiac GTO. The Tempest nameplate had been dropped for this year and the GTO-models enhanced engines that gave birth to the GT-37 (and the T-37) could be had for as little as $3000.
The 255 horses the Tempest stirred up went all the way to 345 with the GT-37. Sadly, despite the awesome performance, only 2000 of these cars were ever built or sold because the GT-37 had all the power once could ask for but did not look like it could swat a fly.
4 1971 AMC Hornet SC 360
In 1971, AMC began making a muscle car called the Hornet. And it was a good compact car. Along with the Hornet base model, the Hornet SC 360 was also introduced. This one with a 5.9-liter V8 power mill that churned out 250-300 horsepower, depending on the model.
Now, the Hornet and the Hornet SC 360 looked just about the same except that latter had a hood scoop that gave away its muscle car internals. If you still didn’t know that the Hornet had a muscle car variant, you could not know that this lightweight “muscle” car could do a quarter-mile in less than 15 seconds, thanks to its power-to-weight ratio.
3 1967 Ford Mustang 289 HiPo
The HiPo may tempt you to call this Mustang a hippo, but with its fastback body and an exceptional small-block mill, it was anything but. HiPo stood for High Power, for the Windsor 4.7-liter (289 cu in) power mill managed a pretty cool 271 horsepower, and made this Mustang canter to a sporty tune indeed.
The first-generation Mustangs may not have been the most powerful of the lot, but people queued up for them. The HiPo looked like just another Mustang – but packed a very different punch than the other Mustang variants that ranged much lower in horsepower and torque.
2 1969 Chevrolet Bel Air 427
There cannot be a truer sleeper muscle car than the Bel Air 427 – at a time when the hordes were going for the Chevy Impala, some of the well-read folks opted for the Bel Air 427. Why? Well, firstly – it did not look like the quintessential muscle car – it was sleek but plain and did not have that beastly presence on the road.
Until you pressed the accelerator, that is – pure American muscle gave it 425 horses, thumping out of a 7.0-liter V8 power mill. And then the Bel Air could leave the Impala SS gasping in the tail dust.
1 1957 AMC Rambler Rebel V8
The Rambler was a rather small and unassuming car launched in the 50s. This was the time AMC was in serious competition with the Detroit Three who were all launching small, powerful cars. So AMC decided to put in a V8 in this tiny car – and this V8 was the one that also powered the Nash Ambassador special and the Hudson Hornet.
This 5.3-liter AMC power mill managed 255 horsepower, and it was more than enough to take the lightweight Rambler 0-60mph in seven seconds. A speed that only the far more expensive fuel-injected Corvette was able to match at the time!