Gearheads today feel blessed to witness the revitalized power wars that dominate the news headlines coming out of Detroit. With Dodge's Challenger and Charger Hellcats, Ford's Shelby Mustangs, and Chevy's Camaros in their ZL1 trims, there's no shortage of wildly modern incarnations of the cars that helped establish the muscle car as this country's premier automotive form.
But back during the heyday of muscle car madness, power-mad consumers found themselves shopping in a market that was—there's no other way to put it—a glut of different brands and their unique take on the combination of simple, aggressive style and simple, aggressive engines. Though time has whittled the selection down to a few of the lasting monsters everyone has grown to know and love, the evolution of the muscle car has included plenty of ups and downs, hits and misses, strikes and gutters.
Meanwhile, as massive automotive corporations were churning out production model after production model hoping to find the right iteration that would ignite the lust of their customers, backyard builders who found themselves unsatisfied—knowing that they might pull up at any red light and be forced to race against an exact replica of their car—decided to take things into their own hands.
The result is that from concept cars to backyard mashups, modern and classic muscle cars that are simply one-of-a-kind abound in the world today. Keep scrolling for 20 that only the most dedicated gearhead has a hope of recognizing.
20 Dodge's Spaceship
This radical muscle car looks like a combination of a Dodge Charger, Plymouth Superbird, and maybe a little bit of the third-generation Chevrolet Camaro. But how could that be? It turns out that this bold concept was a one-off design called the Dodge Diamante that was mostly based upon the brand's successful Charger. Essentially a 1970 Hemi-powered Charger Convertible with some more aggressive styling, the Diamante concept was supposed to be a test-run to see whether Chrysler would be able to field a two-seater that could take on Chevy's Corvette. That must have been deemed too risky, and the Diamante never reached the production line.
19 Mach 40
Ford's GT40 rightfully sits atop the throne of Detroit's supercar royalty, with the Corvette coming in second (at a fraction of the cost). Nobody doesn't like the modern incarnations of the original Le Mans racers that took on Enzo Ferrari at his own game—and Ford's more recent GT tributes have been stellar, as well. But the GT isn't truly a muscle car. And speaking of which, what is the strange mashup pictured above. It's a combination of a Ford GT and a 1969 Mustang Mach 1. The 660-hp supercharged engine is still mounted amidships and the build took north of 11,000 man-hours to complete, according to Motor1.
Pontiac is no longer in existence but for most of its life, it shared the underpinnings of the Chevrolet Camaro and produced the Pontiac Firebird. The Firebird may have helped to cement Pontiac's eventual demise—given how disappointing the model became by the 1990s and early-2000s—but these days, the Camaro is still going strong. In fact, it might be stronger than ever, barring the excepeption of the legendary Yenko Camaro of old. Enough love for Pontiac still burns in the hearts of muscleheads, though, and this Firebird TT Black Edition Concept shows what a modern iteration of the classic muscle car could look like.
17 Two-Seater Custom
At first glance, this car just looks like a Mustang—but something's off. Maybe the photo has been fiddled with and the aspect ratio is wrong; this 'Stang is just too short. But the photo is legit and so is the one-off status of this custom Mustang build. It's been chopped in length and turned into a strict two-seater. Much like Dodge experimented with a two-seat Charger to take on the Corvette, between the 1970s and the 21st century, Ford didn't have a proper supercar to take on Chevy's product. Could a sweet, two-seater Fastback have pulled it off? Only if that smaller engine bay left enough room for some serious beef under the hood.
16 Big Boost
There's not much about this 1967 Camaro that retains what left Chevrolet's production line. Plexiglass, highly exaggerated body panels, and racing slicks stand out immediately—not to mention that humpback whale of a hood. This is, in fact, a twin-turbocharged Camaro set up for speed runs and it sure can blast around. Owner Bill "Big Boost" Lutz wasn't happy with his 8.5-second quarter-miles and so he dropped in an 882ci nitrous engine built by Gene Fulton and upgraded the rear suspension, with the result being a first run of 7.70 seconds. Then, he swapped back in a Hemi that only displaces 477ci—except with a couple of turbos bolted on, estimates range around 4,000 horsepower.
15 Seriously Challenged
Donking up muscle cars should come with time behind bars but this custom muscle car actually has a bit of humor in it—albeit humor that's deftly hidden behind enormous wheels, Lambo doors, and one of the worst paint schemes in the history of the automobile. But a second take of the car brings that second pair of doors into focus—the front is a Challenger but the rear reveals that this car is probably a Charger under the skin. After all, even with the kind of talent that went into this project, it was probably a whole lot easier to bolt on a Challenger hood than it would have been to convert the rear end to four door comfort.
14 Camaro Confusion
The Chevrolet Camaro has always been legendary, even when the model has had its fair share of ups and downs over the decades. Unquestionably, the first and most recent generations sit at the top of the heap, with the third and fourth gens receiving more than their fair share of criticism. But this custom build looks set to receive all the hate the world can muster because someone had the gall to combine an original 1969 Z28 with a 2002 clunker. Sure, it took plenty of skill to smooth out the rough edges—but the overwhelming question of why still remains a mystery.
13 No Camaro Deserves This Fate
Much like the Charger and Challenger mishmash and the 1969-2002 Camaro combination above, this piece of work will hopefully be a one-of-a-kind muscle car for the foreseeable future. Yes, the modern Camaro has helped the model (and Chevy as a whole) return to glory but no, this build should never have happened. The front end is clearly modern (though with a twist) while the tail resembles the first-gen Camaro that took the world by storm. Whether it's got Bluetooth and subwoofers, though, is a whole separate question. Regardless, the result is downright awful to look at and should probably visit the crusher before it rolls down any other streets.
Whether the El Camino belongs in the category of muscle car is a fun argument for gearheads to entertain themselves with when they haven't seen any new, outrageous builds on the internet in a while. Sure, it's a car-truck (cruck!) that had so little weight over the rear end it could burn rubber even when not in SS trim. But it sure was an awesome cruck! Still, there was no real need for anyone to combine a Pontiac GTO and an El Camino to make this one-off muscle cruck. Perhaps, like those maniacs who feel the need to climb Mount Everest, the builder behind this behemoth simply saw that all the pieces were there.
11 Mach 1
There's a Mustang logo on the nose of this Ford but it sure ain't a Mustang. Or is it? Those side vents, vestigial or not, do resemble an early Ford, as does the aggressively raked fastback and tail end combination (with some squinting, anyway). Yes, this is a Mustang—in fact, this is the original Mustang Mach 1 Concept from 1961. For those counting, that's fully three-and-a-half years before the first Mustangs hit the streets. Imagine if the Mustang that Ford mass-produced had looked more like this. The exterior is certainly sleeker but that front end with its fishy nose and angled headlight covers would probably have left the Mustang as a forgotten piece of history.
10 Home Built At Home
After stepping back and making the focused effort not to become hynotized by those wheels, just about every musclehead out there would still find their mind reeling as they tried to identify this car. There are hints of muscle car status—and a boatload of one-of-a-kind status, it turns out. Actually, it's a fully custom 1984 Pontiac Firebird that began its life equipped with a ho-hum V6. The design was based on a Ford Falcon from Australia's rear-end, the nose of a Hemi 'Cuda, and obviously plenty of inspiration from muscle cars of all brands and models. Under the hood, the V6 has been replaced by an LT1 V8—but the underlying 1980s Firebird's disappointing legacy lives on via an automatic transmission.
9 Time Travel
The first generation of the Corvette may look great but it definitely didn't presage the all-out awesomeness that the second generation would deliver. Combining wicked design with a series of beefy engine options, the C2 itself definitely didn't presage how disappointing the C3 and C4 would be, either. But those middling-model-year 'Vettes can be had for dirt cheap these days, while a nice 1967 Sting Ray can easily climb north of six figures. So one owner decided to retrofit his 1977 Corvette with some of the cues that made the 1967 Sting Ray so great. Unfortunately (or not), the result looks more like the Mach 5 from Speed Racer.
8 Shelby Convertible
Carroll Shelby may be most famous for building a convertible, the AC-based Shelby Cobra, but his Mustangs are equally as popular and truly fit the mold for premier muscle cars. But the chicken farmer from Texas learned a thing or two about real-world performance at Le Mans and after the Cobra, his top-of-the-line sports cars were coupes—see the GT40, Daytona Coupe, and the Mustangs. Some drivers crave that open-top driving experience, though, and one clearly wanted a Shelby Mustang in convertible form enough to put together this one-of-a-kind Shelby reproduction. Does it look great? Eh. Will it ever live up to a real one? Definitely not.
7 Tall Tales
The AMC Javelin is another relatively unknown muscle car that was built by a now-defunct brand (that was actually slowly merged into modern day Fiat-Chrysler). But in its heyday, the Javelin was a pretty popular muscle car with a relatively aggressive exterior and a range of engine options for the first-gen that maxed out with the "Go-package" that included a 390ci V8 pumping out 315 horsepower and 425 lb-ft of torque, which could be routed to the rear wheels through a four-speed stick shift and a limited-slip differential. But even knowledgeable gearheads who know all about the Javelin would be hard-pressed to recognize the custom version above, known as "Defiant!" and claimed to put out over 1,000 horses.
Hot hatches of today tug at the heartstrings of any gearhead. Cars like the Volkswagen Golf R and Ford Focus RS—the two premier options—combine stick shift transmissions, all-wheel drive, and potent turbocharged engines with the daily utility of a small station wagon. And though sales have begun to tail off (leading Ford to even contemplate turning its crossovers into hot hatches), there's really no reason to give up on the entire format (and Europe sure won't). There's also absolutely zero reason to build a hatchback or wagon out of a modern Camaro. The 'Nomaro' on the license plate sums it all up perfectly.
5 Wile E. Coyote?
The original Dodge Charger Daytona and Plymouth Road Runner Superbird were some of Detroit's more wildly ambitious projects. Built to homologate a few high-speed NASCAR racers, both models featured excessive aero kits featured enormous rear wings and beak-like front ends. But this unique modern Dodge is a Daytona tribute—that's built out of a Challenger. At the very least, the owner could have bolted that silly wing onto the modern Charger, instead. But then it wouldn't be a coupe and it's definitely true that the Challenger is a little more hardcore than the Charger these days. Times change, it seems, but wild ambitions remain the same.
4 Ready For A Dust-Up
While nameplates like Mustang, Charger, Camaro, and Challenger remain famous to this day, there are plenty of muscle cars that fell by the wayside over the years. One such defunct model from a defunct brand is the Plymouth Duster. Most drivers on the road today wouldn't recognize one until they could read the script on the rear—but approximately nobody would recognize this Duster thanks to its modern combination of primer paint, wheel spacers, and race-prepped interior. This kind of a build virtually ensures one-of-a-kind status because only one person's backyard vision was created, at the same time as it ensures a lack of one-of-a-kind value.
3 Form Before Function
The sibling of AMC's Javelin, the AMX was a smaller two-seater with similar drivetrain specifications and design inspiration. But this early concept of the AMX reveals that AMC did, at some point, want to make the AMX quite futuristic. With details that are reminiscent of a Lincoln Continental that's been squished into a muscle car's body—and a distinct lack of mirrors, in typical concept car fashion—the AMX Concept II reveals the futuristic vision that the company would never be able to live out. It's a shame that concept cars often receive extensive revisions before they end up being released for consumers because excellent experiments like this one could, no doubt, have changed the entire industry.
2 The Stuff Of Nightmares
The owner and builder of this car has decided to call it "Dream Ryder" despite it looking more like anybody's concept of a nightmare. The brain behind the project, Bill Logan of Simi Valley, CA, also considers it to be functional art. But for most muscle car fans, even doing this to a bedraggled 1984 Camaro would be against just about every principle there is. But that's exactly what Logan went ahead and did. The exterior is fiberglass, though, so don't expect this muscle car to do anything muscle cars do in The Fast and the Furious because the first love tap by a pursuit vehicle will send everyone into dreamland.
1 Mid-Engine Corvette
These days, the internet is simply swollen with spy shots and stat-sheet rumors about the forthcoming mid-engined Corvette. But even before the internet took over the lives of every gearhead in the world, Chevy had been sampling with a mid-engined Corvette (since the very early days, in fact). Probably the most unique is the 1986 Corvette Indy Concept pictured above. Only one functioning prototype was ever built but it also featured all-wheel drive and tech like active suspension. Of course, the world probably wasn't ready for such a radical design—though the concept clearly lent some design inspiration to the fourth-gen Camaro (and maybe the Jaguar XJ220).
Sources: Top Speed, Motor1, Hot Rod Network, and Dragzine.