The late sixties to early seventies were the golden age of American muscle cars. Automakers competed to make the most powerful vehicles on the market, resulting in some of the sickest and most outrageous muscle cars ever produced. This article covers 23 of the most iconic high performance models from the peak years of 1968-1972.
During the muscle car era of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the major American automakers were engaged in an all-out horsepower war. Each year, new models debuted with more powerful engines, aggressive styling, and wild performance packages aimed at enthusiasts seeking blistering acceleration and head-turning looks. This golden age produced some of the rawest, most potent street machines ever unleashed on the American public.
From the flip-front Chargers and Road Runners with huge rear wings to Chevelles with Coke bottle styling packing high-revving big block V8s, Detroit unleashed a range of menacing machines virtually unmatched before or since. This article looks back at 23 of the sickest muscle cars that captivated gearheads during the genre’s peak years from 1968 to 1972.
1. 1968 Dodge Charger R/T
The second-generation Dodge Charger debuted for 1968 with an instantly iconic coke bottle shape featuring hidden headlights that flipped up to reveal the grille and twin-carb V8. The Charger R/T version carried a potent 440 cubic inch Magnum or optional 426 Hemi engines making it one of the quickest cars on the street.
2. 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona
To dominate NASCAR racing, Dodge installed a giant wing and nose cone on the Charger to improve aerodynamics. The Charger Daytona could be had with a 440 Magnum or 426 Hemi engine, making it the fastest production car of its day. Its outlandish styling and blinding performance cemented its status as an automotive icon.
3. 1972 Chevy Chevelle SS
4. 1970 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda
For the ultimate in Chrysler performance, the 1970 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda featured a street-legal 426 ci Hemi V8. Lightweight Barracuda body and stripped interior helped it rocket down the strip. Today it’s among the most valuable muscle cars ever built.
5. 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429
Ford built the 1969 Boss 429 Mustang for homologation purposes, meaning it had to make the car available to the public to race the 429 ci V8 in NASCAR. The Boss 429 engine was underrated at 375 hp but made more like 500, turning the Mustang into a beast.
6. 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Z28
The 1969 Camaro Z28 was the pinnacle of Chevy’s pony car performance. Its high-revving 302 ci V8, Muncie 4-speed manual, and performance suspension made it fantastic on the street as well as track. Big fender flares, racier looks, and an available cowl induction hood gave it style to match the speed.
7. 1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
At the top of the 1969 Camaro pecking order sat the ZL1, featuring a hand-built aluminum 427 ci (7.0L) all-aluminum V8. Officially rated over 500 hp and requiring racing fuel, the lightweight ZL1 was built for domination. Only 69 were made, making this one of the most desirable Camaros ever.
8. 1969 Chevrolet Chevelle SS
Chevy’s midsize muscle machine could be had with stump-pulling big block power plants up to the 450 hp 454. Coke bottle styling, a blacked out rear panel, and domed hood gave the 1969 Chevelle SS swagger and style to match its brawn.
9. 1968 Pontiac GTO
Considered by many as the original muscle car, Pontiac introduced the GTO as an option package on its Tempest in 1964. By 1968, the GTO was its own model and could be equipped with 400 cubic inch V8s up to 370 hp, propelling the car down the strip at unruly speeds.
10. 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge
For 1969, Pontiac added an outrageous body and graphics package to its GTO, dubbing it The Judge. The Judge featured a wild rear spoiler, “The Judge” decals, psychedelic striping and came standard with a 366 hp 400 V8. The Judge turned the GTO into a true muscle car menace.
11. 1968 Shelby GT500KR
Legendary builder Carroll Shelby applied his magic formula to the 1968 Ford Mustang, creating the GT500KR. The KR stood for “King of the Road”. Fitted with a 335 hp 428 cubic inch V8, it lived up to the name and further cemented Shelby’s place in muscle car history.
12. 1969 Dodge Coronet Super Bee
On a budget? The 1969 Dodge Coronet Super Bee delivered big block V8 muscle car excitement at a lower price. The aggressive Super Bee came standard with a 440 ci Magnum V8 pumping out 375 hp. Performance and affordability in one angry package.
13. 1970 Buick GSX
The top performance model of Buick’s Grand Sport line, the wild 1970 GSX came standard with a 360 hp 455 cubic inch V8. Unique styling cues like a fiberglass performance hood with air scoops and blacked-out grille set the GSX apart from its Buick brothers.
14. 1969 Oldsmobile 442
The 442 name stood for a 4-barrel carb, 4-speed manual, and dual exhaust. Available with big block 400 V8s up to 345 hp, the 1969 Olds 442 coupe had the brawn to match its handsome, understated looks. A true all-American muscle great.
15. 1970 AMC Rebel Machine
AMC wanted a piece of the muscle car pie, so it stuffed a 390 ci V8 under the hood of its compact Rebel coupe and dubbed it The Machine. Wild patriotic graphics came standard along with drag strip geared powertrain specs. The Rebel Machine was some wicked American muscle.
16. 1969 Mercury Cougar Eliminator
For 1969, Mercury unleashed the Cougar Eliminator, a performance version of its upscale Cougar coupe. It could be equipped with engines ranging from a 351 Windsor V8 up to a 428 Cobra Jet. Featuring a racing-inspired gauge package and front spoiler, the Eliminator was ready to prowl.
17. 1969 Ford Cobra Jet
Boasting a 428-cubic-inch (7.0-liter) displacement, it delivered 335 horsepower thanks to a four-barrel carburetor.
18. 1968 Plymouth GTX
Based on the midsize Plymouth Belvedere, the 1968 GTX was engineered to dominate the strip. The GTX came standard with a 440 ci Magnum V8 pumping out 375 hp, with optional 426 Hemi power available. Rallye wheels, twin hood scoops and a heavy dose of attitude completed the package.
19. 1970 Plymouth ‘Cuda 340
The 1970 Plymouth ‘Cuda 340 delivered big chunky looks and V8 grunt in a more affordable package by swapping in a smaller 340 ci LA series V8. With 275 hp it had less power than the big blocks but still ran quick and looked fantastic.
20. 1969 Chevrolet Nova SS 396
Chevy’s compact Nova received the full Super Sport treatment for 1969, becoming the Nova SS 396. Under the hood sat a 350 hp 396 cubic inch big block. This four-door compact may have looked tame outside, but packed a nasty bite.
21. 1969 Dodge Super Bee
Based on the Coronet, Dodge unleashed the more affordable Super Bee. As one of Mopar’s baddest bang-for-your-buck muscle cars, the 1969 Super Bee came stock with the 383 ci Magnum V8 putting down 335 hp and a wicked exhaust note.
22. 1970 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
Pontiac created an instant icon when it launched the Firebird Trans Am for 1970. Standard features included hood scoops, cool decals, a rear spoiler, and a 400 cubic inch V8. The Trans Am combined performance, looks, and affordability. An original muscle hero.
23. 1970 Plymouth Duster 340
Plymouth took its compact Valiant Duster coupe and added a 275 hp 340 ci V8 to create the Duster 340. This small muscle machine delivered big thrills by blending nimble handling, a 60’s style fastback bod, and V8 soundtrack.
The late 1960s into the early 1970s represented the pinnacle of American automotive performance. Horsepower, style, and youth culture fully converged during this magical moment that gave birth to some of the rawest, most outrageous muscle machines Detroit ever produced. This list celebrates 23 of the sickest high performance models that captivated gearheads and defined an iconic automotive era. Their audacious power and style will never be forgotten.