The ’70s was a time when muscle cars started the decade running strong with no cares in the world. The oil crisis changed all that with drastic costs in gasoline, which had not been a huge problem for owners of gas guzzlers that achieved under 8 mpg. As the years changed, and carmakers shifted more towards fuel economy and less pollution, muscle cars received some major changes.
Regardless of the transformations happening across the nation, there were still numerous cars that stood out above the others. There were also some that may have seemed to be great but were actually far less than good. In fact, they needed to be retired and sent off to the junkyard.
11 Greatest: 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454
The true king of the streets was the Chevelle SS starting in 1970. It was the original muscle car produced by Chevy. For the first time, it had a monster big block that could pump out 450 hp and could run the quarter-mile strip in an exhilarating 13.7 seconds at a speed of 103 mph straight from the factory.
Compared to the Chevy cars of today this may not seem too impressive, but back in ’70s, it was. It was a huge deal with nothing on the roads being able to touch it, except for some of its close cousins. And that was stock off the lot with no upgrades or improvements done.
10 Greatest: 1970 Plymouth Barracuda Hemi
The one other beast in the early ’70s that could keep up with the king of the streets was the Barracuda. This lesser-known monster had the popular 426 Hemi stuffed under the hood. It could put out 425 hp and would shoot down the track in 14 seconds, reaching a speed of 102 mph. With the correct driver, it was one of the few cars that could beat the Chevelle in a drag race starting from a complete stop.
Very few were made so for collectors this is a highly sought-after car today. A 1970 Plymouth Barracuda Hemi convertible recently sold at auction for $2.6 million, making it worth more than any other car of the time, including the Ferrari. Impressive for an American muscle car that at the time was not the first choice for buyers.
9 Greatest: 1971 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray LS6
Corvette is a name thrown around amongst muscle car enthusiasts and is still a car that people strive to own. The LS6 engine was the best option for an engine when power and speed was wanted. It was the same 454 that could be found in the Chevelle, but it only produced 425 hp. The difference was how the Corvette’s engine was manufactured. It had aluminum heads, forged pistons, and changes to the crankshaft and rods.
The 1971 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray could barrel down the quarter-mile in 13.8 seconds at a speed of 104.65 mph. It was only 0.1 second behind the king of the road and could trade wins with the Chevelle at any time. Since both are Chevy, though, winning was chalked up to the car name, rather than the car itself.
8th Greatest: 1974 Pontiac Firebird
The 1974 Pontiac Firebird had a tone of potential. With a little work, it could put out a massive amount of power. The car, off the manufacturing lines, came with a 455-HD that could produce 290 hp. The drag strip was eaten up in a matter of 13.5 seconds at a speed of 104.4 mph. It has slightly better times than the king listed above, but it was not as consistent as the Chevelle.
In 1977 the car was made famous by Burt Reynolds in “Smokey and the Bandit.” It had a much smaller engine and could only push out 185hp. Not a particularly good change, but as cars went to better fuel usage and less impact upon the environment it was expected.
7 Greatest: 1978 Dodge ‘Lil Red Express
The ‘Lil Red Express is not actually a car, but it is one of the most iconic rigs from the ’70s. Power hungry drivers pushed them to the limits, driving and racing side-by-side with the cars of the day. Due to the massive changes in EPA regulations many muscle cars were downgraded to the point of not being muscle cars at all. But trucks had different rules.
The 1978 Doge ‘Lil Red Express came with a 360 police modified motor that could consistently run the quarter mile in 14.7 seconds at a speed of 93 mph. Not bad for an emission’s friendly vehicle. The motor itself only pumped out 225 hp and would top out at 118 mph, but it was one of the best in 1978.
6 Junkyard Worthy: 1972 Chevrolet El Camino SS 454
Yes, it is the same engine found in the king of the roads during the ’70s, but it had one dramatic difference. The back end of the vehicle was designed like a pickup truck, removing all the weight that helps a muscle car propel ahead. This made it hard for the rig to get any grip when trying to shoot off the line.
The motor was a beefy 454 that could, under the perfect conditions with the correct driver, fly down the drag strip in a matter of 13.2 seconds at a speed of 105 mph. The truck shaped car had the potential of running door to door with its cousin, the Chevelle, but it was not consistent due to the light rear end.
5 Junkyard Worthy: 1974 Chevrolet Vega
Anyone that has ever built a beastly muscle car from the ground up is familiar with the Vega. It was a car that engine builders loved to stuff big motors into. It had the potential to put most cars to shame on the track and could keep up with the big block monsters. But only if it was transformed from its stock parts.
Straight from the factory, the 1974 Chevrolet Vega came with a puny 2.3-liter four-banger that squeaked out 75 hp at best. It would get down the track in over 20 seconds and had a top speed of 121 mph. As with most four-cylinders, it had decent acceleration from a standstill, but as speed increased the available power decreased.
4 Junkyard Worthy: 1976 Chevrolet Camaro
When hearing the word Camaro it is assumed that it is a muscle car worthy of owning. If the standard looks of it is the most important aspect this would be a great car. When it comes to the motor, and the performance, it is a car that is found wanting more.
The 350 V8 that was installed into the 1976 Chevrolet Camaro could only pattern 165 hp. Track times were not much better than the horsepower, running the quarter mile in 16.8 seconds at a final speed of 82 mph. Not what is normally expected from a Camaro.
3 Junkyard Worthy: 1978 Dodge Challenger
It is hard to believe that any type of Challenger would be better off in the junkyard than screaming out through the city streets. Unfortunately, this was a resurrected name used to try and improve sales. The original muscle car had stopped production earlier in the decade.
Mitsubishi designs were incorporated into the 1978 Dodge Challenger in an effort to produce a more fuel-efficient model that could meet the requirements set by the EPA. The car came with a few options of motor, all four cylinders that produced under 100 hp.
2 Junkyard Worthy: 1979 Ford Mustang
Mustang is another one of those iconic names that muscle car lovers drool over. That is, of course, not counting most of the fox body models that offered little to no actual power. The 1979 came with any style of motor wanted, from a small, fuel-efficient four-cylinder to a 5.0-liter.
The 5.0-liter engine pushed these light cars down the track with 140 hp. It could complete the quarter mile in 16.7 seconds at a speed of 82 mph. When put next to the earlier model Mustangs, or today’s versions, the 5.0 1979 Ford Mustang pales in comparison.
1 Final Thoughts
Not all muscle cars are created equal. Not all of them can be built to keep up with others. Just because a model year has the name of a beast does not mean that it is anything more than a sheep in wolves clothing.
Oil shortages and new regulations made a significant impact upon all of the car makers in the ’70s. Fuel efficiency and reduced air pollutants became the top priority. This pushed true muscle into history, until recently when car makers began using innovative technology to produce engines that could give big horsepower and decent fuel economy.
5 Times The Camaro Was Way Better Than The Mustang (5 When It Wasn’t)
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