Smoke the tires with the top American muscle cars with the first 5 of the top 10 muscle car in America…
In the 1960s, American automakers began stuffing the biggest engines they could find into the smallest, lightest chassis that would hold them. It was a time when performance was as important a marketing angle as smartphone connectivity is today, and it birthed American muscle cars.
Traditionally, a muscle car’s performance is defined by the size of its engine. As the saying goes, there’s no replacement for displacement. Modern American performance cars are more well-rounded, but big engines and lots of horsepower are still their calling card.
Many great muscle cars have been unleashed over the years, but this list represents our personal favorites. We’ve got something from every major manufacturer, including plenty of classics and a handful of newer models. We listed engine displacement in both cubic inches and liters for the older cars, since that’s how they were identified when new.
Plymouth Barracuda (1964)
While the Mustang is credited with creating a category of “pony cars,” the Plymouth Barracuda actually beat the Ford to showrooms. But Plymouth didn’t market its car with the same zeal as Ford, and “Fish Cars” just doesn’t sound as good. The Barracuda evolved into a Plymouth-badged version of the Dodge Challenger, complete with an available 426-cubic-inch Hemi V8. While Plymouth is gone, rumors occasionally surface that Chrysler is planning to recycle the Barracuda name for use by another brand.
Pontiac GTO (1964)
The Pontiac GTO is arguably the original muscle car. Numerous American performance cars preceded it, but the GTO was the first to combine an oversized engine, affordable pricing, and marketing that emphasized performance.
In 1964, Pontiac put a 389-cubic-inch (6.4-liter) V8 into its Tempest, ignoring restrictions put in place by the GM higher-ups on engine sizes for smaller cars. To top it all off, Pontiac stole a name from Ferrari. “GTO” is short for “Gran Turismo Omologato,” denoting race cars that must have road-going counterparts. The Pontiac GTO wasn’t built to race, but the name still sounded cool.
The GTO kicked off a muscle car arms race, with Pontiac’s fellow GM divisions, as well as rivals Ford, Chrysler, and AMC getting in on the action. The GTO itself grew more elaborate, with bigger engines and more extroverted styling. It eventually disappeared, returning briefly in the early 2000s as a rebadged Holden Monaro. That car wasn’t as well received as the 1960s original and was quickly scrapped. Pontiac itself didn’t survive much longer.
Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 (1967)
The original Camaro Z28 was built for Trans Am racing, where it faced off against the likes of the Ford Mustang Boss 302 and Dodge Challenger T/A. It notched an impressive record, winning the championship in 1968 and 1969. On the street, the Z28 name has been applied to multiple hot Camaro models over the years, most recently a hardcore, track-focused version of the fifth-generation Camaro.
AMC AMX (1968)
American Motors Corporation (AMC) was the underdog compared to Detroit’s Big Three, but the automaker from Kenosha, Wisconsin had its moments. The AMX was one of them.
Rather than just soup up a standard production car, AMC shortened the wheelbase of its Javelin to create a distinct two-seat performance model. The AMX had muscle, in the form of an available 390-cubic-inch (6.4-liter) V8, but also a unique look. Even today, the original AMX stands out amid the sea of Ford, GM, and Mopar muscle cars that flood every car show.
Like many other muscle cars, the AMX atrophied over the years. It eventually became just a badge applied to more pedestrian AMC models, culminating with the lackluster Spirit AMX, before disappearing altogether in 1980.
Dodge Charger (second generation, 1968)
The Dodge Charger launched in 1966 as a sleek fastback, and lives on today as a four-door sedan, but it’s the second-generation model sold from 1968 to 1970 that became an icon.
The 1968-1970 Charger is probably one of the most recognizable American cars every made. Just the gorgeous styling alone would have ensured that, but the Charger is also familiar from countless movie and television appearances, from The Dukes of Hazzard to Bullitt.
The Charger wasn’t all show and no go. A selection of powerful V8 engines ensured it could keep up with Ford and GM rivals on the street. When engineers found out it was about as aerodynamic as a brick on the track, they created the Charger 500 and winged Charger Daytona variants, leading to glory on the NASCAR circuit.