Anyone who loves cars can appreciate the history of great racing cars. Whether they are mass-produced or exclusive vehicles, the pure power and performance capture the imagination and yield some of the sexiest cars for men. There are many classifications and categories of fast cars, but around here, we have to pay homage to the best American muscle cars. This is a list for motorheads. It’s our picks of the 11 best muscle cars of all times, and they’re listed in order of top speed (so no need to argue about which is more classic than the other).
There are a few rules. For the most part, we tried not to include successive vehicles of the same series. Otherwise, we’d just see a repeat of some of the newest muscle cars since 2016. We also curated the list to include some classics that we couldn’t stand to overlook. With that in mind, here’s your list of all-time great muscle cars.
1978 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
We’re kicking this off with a classic just about anyone can recognize. Muscle cars exploded in popularity in the late 60s, but in the 70s, a bunch of new regulations nearly killed the concept. It was hard to make a car that was fast and powerful but also clean and efficient. As muscle dwindled, Pontiac came up with a great answer. They produced the Trans Am, and this was one of the few exceptional machines that rose from the ashes of the muscle era.
This is a car that produced 220 horses. It could beat Corvettes of the same era. It went 0 to 60 in 9.6 seconds, and it had a top speed of 127 mph. It helped carry the muscle concept through the late 70s, and it’s on a short list of amazing cars that allowed muscle to survive into the modern era.
1969 Ford Mustang
You’ll see the year 1969 again. Many could argue that it was the absolute peak year for American muscle. The ‘69 Mustang is considered one of the all-time classic cars ever made. It was massively popular, and it came at a time when Mustang was establishing itself as the king of American muscle.
The ‘69 Mustang had a great engine. It was designed for racing but marketed to the masses. It could sustain 6000 RPM on the track. Those rotations generated 375 horsepower in a V8 design. It could go 0 to 60 in just 6 seconds (an amazing feat for the era), and it topped at 128 mph. The most exclusive build of the year, Boss 429, has recently auctioned for $200,000. How’s that for a classic?
1965 Shelby GT350
You can argue that American muscle existed before the Shelby, but it was the Shelby GT40 that established American vehicles as world-class. At the time, British cars, German engineering and Italian flash were all the rage. The GT40 was the legendary vehicle that took down Ferarri and led Ford to a long period of racing dominance. The GT350 was the street version of that car.
This thing was a monster, especially for 1965. It could get to 60 in 6.6 seconds. It topped out at 138 mph, and it produced 306 horsepower. A GT350 today, in top condition, could easily cost more than $500,000.
1970 Chevy Chevelle
You can’t talk about muscle without mentioning the Chevelle. This is a car that has captivated multiple generations. Everything about the vehicle screams muscle, and its reputation is hard-earned. Chevrolet has produced several of the most recognizable names in American muscle. The Chevelle is the everyman vehicle among them that doesn’t disappoint in performance.
The 1970 model had a ridiculous engine that produced 450 horsepower. That was enough to get it to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds, and it could hit a max speed of 142 mph. Just five years after the Shelby rocked the racing world, this street vehicle was outperforming it in every respect. That’s how fast cars improved in the era.
1969 Baldwin-Motion GT Corvette
We’re back to ‘69 again, and for good reason. Corvettes were arguably the first American car series that could be called muscle cars. There are countless classics from the decades of Corvette performance. The ‘69 is definitely among them, but the Baldwin-Motion GT takes things up a notch. This was a limited series modification of the Corvette, and the man who invented Corvettes called it his favorite.
This thing was a monster. With 600 horses on a V8, it could hit 60 in just 4.4 seconds, and it reached a max speed of 150 mph. If you’re inspired by this classic, you might want to rethink trying to buy one. Only 12 were ever built. You can imagine how hard it would be to acquire one of them.
2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350
In case you thought this list was limited to classic muscle, it isn’t. Some of the old cars still hold up by modern standards, which is impressive. Ford, a few years ago, decided to revive the Shelby GT350. That revival didn’t disappoint, and the latest model has the highest specs of the series so far.
This thing gets to 50 in 4.2 seconds while generating 526 horsepower. It tops out at 180 mph, making it an absolute monster of a car. It competes with supercars, but it starts under $60,000. It’s one of the fastest American muscle cars ever made, and it absolutely lives up to the name of Shelby.
2016 Chevy Camaro ZL1
The Camaro ZL1 is one of the top names in modern American muscle. The series only produces beast-like machines. Any year could reasonably take this spot on the list. We went with 2016 because it was the first year of the latest generations. Models since have seen mild upgrades, but we want to credit the new line with the major overhaul.
The ZL1 is a supercar in all except price (it starts under $60,000). It produces up to 650 horsepower. It hits 60 in a blitz-like 3.5 seconds. Its top speed is 190 mph. There’s plenty of car here to get you into all kinds of trouble. For modern American muscle, it’s hard to beat the premiere version of a Chevy Camaro.
2019 Cadillac CTS-V
We’ve been listing these cars by top speed. The next three on the list are all tied, so we broke the tie and listed them in this order based on how legendary we think each model is. The CTS-V was Cadillac’s return to amazing muscle. It has all of the comforts you would expect from a luxury vehicle. It has all of the power of a Camaro ZL1. Interestingly enough, it outperforms the 2016 ZL1, which should tell you everything you need to know.
With a 0 to 60 in 3.7 seconds and a top speed of 200 mph, this is true muscle that takes the time to recognize the value of style. Technically, you can get one of these for less than $100,000, but not by much. We’re calling this a full-blown supercar. At this range, buying new vs used is a moot point. You get a CTS-V to show off, not save money.
2019 Dodge Charger Hellcat
The Charger is among the American muscle legends. Picking which charger was not easy, but we went with the best. Well, we mostly went with the best. There are exclusive upgraded versions of the Hellcat that raise performance even higher, but the Hellcat is already a ridiculous vehicle, and upgrading it costs multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars. Does it really still count as muscle at that point? We aren’t sure, so we cut it here.
If you don’t max the Hellcat, it’s still going to start over $60,000. For that price, you get 707 horses under the hood, produced by a 6.2L V8. You can get to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, and your top speed hits 200 mph.
1969 Dodge Charger
Sorry for the misdirect, but there was a second Charger that needed to be on this list. We’re nearly to the very fastest American muscle car ever, and we have to go back to ‘69, the year of legends. The ‘69 Charger is arguably the ultimate muscle car of all time. Muscle competition was reaching its peak. Ford had barely proven that American cars could win on the track. Then Dodge decided to make everyone look silly.
At the time, NASCAR pushed cars harder than any other race (which is still arguably true). Under the most grueling conditions, the Charger was the first vehicle to ever finish a lap averaging 200 mph. It was so fast that NASCAR had to ban it in order to keep the race fair. If that isn’t legendary, what is?
In addition to an amazing top speed, the ‘69 Charger could hit 60 mph in 5.2 seconds, outclassing everything else from the time.
Chevy Corvette ZR1
You’ll notice there’s no year on this one. That’s because the ZR1 has been the flagship of American muscle for decades. Every time the Corvette starts to lose its place as a champion of muscle, a new generation of ZR1 blows everyone away. The ZR1 was the first street-legal American car to get to 60 mph in 3 seconds. The newest models now get there well below the three-second mark.
The ZR1 is a testament to raw power. The latest version of these supreme vehicles can get up to 212 mph. To be fair, modern ZR1s are full-blown supercars. You’re not buying one of these with pocket change, but you need no special upgrades to have a Corvette that can compete with any series of vehicles made anywhere in the world, and they’re still built on the philosophy of American muscle.
Whether you’re a true fan of American muscle or prefer innovation from other regions, there’s no denying that each of these vehicles is a work of art.