Most people will agree that muscle cars are the best things that American automotive industry has bestowed upon us, and they will likely be right. Even modern muscle cars are some of the most prolific nameplates available, and they often grace the covers of world’s best known auto mags. However, not every muscle car has been given the praise it deserved. This is one of the reasons there’s so few of them now. Another reason is their incompatibility with the modern, more pragmatic era in terms of efficiency. But, let’s get back to the fact that many muscle cars throughout history haven’t exactly been appreciated during their time.
There were always many reasons why a single muscle has failed to become an icon. By looking at the picture as a whole, we can easily find out a different perspective. Back in sixties, early seventies and even eighties, there were simply way too many V8-powered cars ranging from ponies to full-size limos. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that some of them were simply below par in terms of overall quality. These cars don’t interest us here. We’re searching for those quality ones which have remained underrated and under the radar throughout their careers, and still are. Neither of the following cars have actually been engulfed by oblivion, but you’ll agree that they rarely cross your mind and even more rarely appear on any type of modern media platforms.
10. Pontiac 2+2
Let’s begin with short-lived 2+2 that came out of Pontiac’s kitchen. The fact that Catalina’s spin-off was only produced for three years speaks a lot about it being underrated, but the car had plenty of kick for a full-sizer. Most potent engines were 421 ci 6.9L V8’s that were available during initial couple of years, and 428 ci 7.0L V8 that came in ’67. Furthermore, ’67 2+2 with 428 and HO package used to deliver 376 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque. Not bad for mid-sixties.
9. Buick Wildcat Years: 1963-1970
Fitted with Nailhead and Wildcat engines, this full-size car was able to compete with pretty much any other option out there. Super Wildcats from ’63 and ’64 featured double carburetor 425 ci V8’s, while strongest Wildcat ever came with 455 ci 7.5L V8 engine back in 1970. 370 horses and more than 500 pounds of torque are imposing figures even for today’s conditions.
8. Dodge Dart (Swinger, Demon and Sport) Years: 1968-1976
Fastest Dart of the generation was made in ’68, but Hemi Dart was not exactly street legal at the time. Instead, Dodge introduced Swinger as their new high performance version of the car, later that same year. 340 ci 5.6L V8 featured in Darts until 1974 when they were superseded by 360 ci 5.9L V8’s. By the time this change transpired, Dart Swinger was long gone since it was replaced by Dart Demon in 1971. Even Demon itself was replaced by Dart Sport in ’73 – a year prior to powertrain replacement. All in all, top performance Darts (those street legal at least) have had some inspiring monikers over the years, but you don’t hear about them now.
7. Ford Torino Cobra Years: 1968-1971
Torinos weren’t exclusively muscle cars, but GT models and those fitted with Cobra-Jet engines certainly were. Ever since their introduction in ’68 to discontinuation in ’71, Cobra-fitted Torinos were the epitome of sheer performance and muscle. 429 ci 7.0L V8 was said to develop at least 335 horses, but even more were surely locked behind this big-block OHV. You can find plenty of Torino bargains out there which clearly means these cars weren’t appreciated enough.
6. AMC Rebel – The Machine Years: 1970
It was only built for a single year, so you’ll be hard-pressed to find one these days. The Machine was the fastest of Rebels, and not only that. It featured the strongest engine in hp ratings that AMC has ever offered in production vehicle. This 390 ci 6.4L V8 used to have 340 horsepower which was by at least 15 hp more than what second strongest AMC Rebel produced. Furthermore, The Machine is instantly recognizable by its blue, white and red paintjob which clearly demonstrates car’s true-blooded American origins.
5. Mercury Cyclone Spoiler Years: 1970-1971
Mercury Cyclone started as Comet’s performance line in ’64 only to become Montego’s performance division in ’71. Incidentally, that’s exactly the life span of this muscle car which tells us a lot of how badly it was treated back in the day. Spoiler was the fastest option package for Cyclone during its autonomous years, and it featured 429 ci Cobra-Jet engine in its base form. Buyers were given the option to upgrade to Super Cobra-Jet with Drag Pak and Super Drag Pak for even more power. Oh, and it had a spoiler.
4. Jensen Interceptor MK3 Years: 1971-1976
I know that the car comes from British manufacturer but powertrain is car’s heart and soul, and this Brit’s soul was American to the core. MK3 models were powered by Chrysler’s 440 ci 7.2L V8 which had superseded the smaller 383 ci unit from MK2 and MK1 models. Sadly, only 6,400 or so Interceptors were produced during all those years, and even fewer are still on the roads.
3. Buick GS 455 Stage 1 Years: 1970
1970 was the only year that Skylark featured this high-end performance package which made it one of fastest Buicks of all time. Gran Sport by itself used to be performance-oriented option before becoming a nameplate, but optional Stage 1 trim added a few more horses to already strong 544 ci 7.4L V8. It was rated at 360 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque which put this unique and rare Skylark among the fastest muscle cars of the time.
2. AMC Gremlin Randall 401-XR Years: 1972-1974
You might call them ugly, but they were like that on purpose. After all, just take a look at their name. One thing you can’t call them, however – slow. At least Randall 401-XR models weren’t. 20 or so of these cars came out of Mesa, AZ Randall dealership during the course of three aforementioned years. Apart from Randall, rest of the nomenclature strategy takes its powertrain into consideration, while XR stands for Gremlin X and Randall respectively. Thanks to its 401 ci 6.6L V8, 401-XR was able to achieve 106 mph in 13.9 seconds, in quarter mile drag. There was some beauty to them, after all.
1. Plymouth Sport Fury GT Years: 1970-1971
GT version of Plymouth Fury was only available for couple of years, but that was enough for the car to showcase its abilities. Sadly, that wasn’t enough for most people to remember it. Both year models were offered with 440 ci 7.2L V8, but there were differences in overall power output. In 1970, those differences were 350 hp from 4 barrel and 390 hp from 6 barrel (three 2bbl’s) carburetors. In 1971, the only option was 4bbl with 375 horsepower. Although having plenty of power to spare – to date, Plymouth Sport Fury GT remains one of the most underrated American muscle cars of all time.