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3 Most Iconic Classic American Muscle Cars

gold pontiac gto muscle car

Since its inception in the late 1800s, the car industry has transitioned through distinct Eras, including the Vintage, Antique, and Classic. The most iconic of all is the Muscle Car era, which lasted roughly from 1964 to 1974.

The Pontiac GTO is the beast that many believe started The Muscle Car Era. Automobiles included in this unprecedented period also included the Chevrolet Chevelle SS454 and the Dodge Charger.

Why Are They Called Muscle Cars?

As the moniker suggests, muscle cars are all about performance and raw muscle. Drag racing and hotrods began the Golden Age of Automotive engineering. Muscle cars born during the '60s and '70s are still in full production today.

Pontiac was the first to coin “Muscle Car” to describe their upcoming 1964 GTO. The Golden Age of muscle cars featured raw performance, distinctive styling, and robust engines as the center point:

●        V8 engines designed for maximum power

●        Aggressive styling with wide stances and bold lines

Pontiac GTO

General Motors first proposed the GTO in 1963, when the brand banned cars fit for racing. John DeLorean proposed a 389 cu. Inch in the Lemans, taking the model to new heights of power. The first generation of the GTO model pioneered the classic American muscle car era. In 1966, the GTO was offered as a stand-alone model, selling nearly 97 thousand units, its best sales year ever.

The second-generation GTO from 1968 to 1972 was more curvaceous in styling. It offered the 400 Ci engine as the standard power plant with a whopping 350m hp.

Pontiac Performance and Specifications

In 1964, buyers could choose the GTO as an optional package for the Lemans. The first GTO featured an upgraded 6.4-liter, 389 cubic-inch engine, putting out 325 horsepower. It could go zero to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds and had a blazing top speed of 122 mph.

Throughout the model's lifeline, Pontiac continued to increase engine displacement and horsepower, with the 1967 model going from 398 cubic inches to 400 cubic inches. Pontiac continued to upgrade the styling and engine power until this classic American muscle car was pulled from the lineup in 1972.

Chevrolet Chevelle SS454

green chevrolet chevelle muscle car with white stripe

Chevrolet produced the Chevelle model from 1964 to 1977. Introduced as a mid-sized model, the Chevelle became one of the brand’s most successful nameplates. The Chevelle series produced several body types, including sedans, station wagons, convertibles, and coupes. Chevrolet entered the muscle car era with its SS badge or Super Sport designation, lasting through 1974.

Chevrolet Performance and Specifications

The 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS454 was the highest-powered model in the series, and by every account, it was a monster. It had a 456 CID V8, 450 horsepower at a gut-wrenching 5600m rpm, and 500 ft.-lbs. of torque.

Midway through the Muscle Car Era, horsepower was the name of the game. In 1970, the big dog was the SS454, sitting at the top of the food chain; everything else came in second place. 4,475 SS454 Chevelles were built, making them ultra-rare in today’s vintage market. The Chevelle speed times were 0 to 60 in just under 6 seconds and the quarter of a mile in 13.7 seconds at 139.3 mph.

The Chevelle SS454 was the only GM product with a higher horsepower rating than the Corvette.

Dodge Charger

cream colored 1966 dodge charge in a garage with other classic cars and an american flag

Dodge hit the road running in 1966 when it introduced the powerhouse muscle cars, the fastback-designed Charger, and its Coronet models. The Charger introduced its hidden headlights and a large luxurious cabin. Dodge introduced several iconic, competing models in the Challenger and Super Bee. The brand has continued its jaw-dropping power march to contemporary muscle with the Charger SRT Hellcat widebody and the potent Hemi V8 SRT8 Challenger, solidifying its place in the classic American muscle car legacy.

Dodge Performance and Specifications

The Charger R/T ignited the popularity of the legendary car and hit the small screen as the featured role in the “Dukes Of Hazzard.” The 1968 Dodge Charger was a game changer for the muscle car era, with sales skyrocketing from 16K in 1967 to 93K in 1968. A base model Charger offered a pedestrian 318 CID producing 230 horsepower to the 383 CID with 325 horsepower. The real game changer was the Street HEMI 426 CID, producing a whopping 425 horsepower and an equally impressive 490 ft.-lbs. of torque.

The fastback Charger designed tried its hand at NASCAR but did not fare well due to rear-end lift. However, Car and Driver magazine found the 68 Charger made it to 60 mph in a blazing 4.8 seconds, the quarter mile in 13 seconds, and a top-end speed of 156 mph.


There has never been, nor will there ever be, another era such as the Muscle Car Age. Pontiac’s GTO, the Chevelle SS454, and the Charger can handily match or beat the current crop of performance cars offered worldwide.

The Muscle Car Era ignited a passion for high-performance automobiles for millions and solidified the legacy of the classic American muscle car. 

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