by Nikola Potrebić
Muscle cars are the most coveted types of classic vehicles among Americans. And there’s a good reason for that. The American muscle period represents the golden age of the American car industry. The correlation between the two is unavoidable since most people relate to American cars through the muscle car scene of the bygone era. Even a few remaining muscle cars today are well known to gearheads across the globe. Something which can’t be said about your typical American mid-size sedans or even most of domestic SUVs.
Yet, not all muscle cars have been successful. Moreover, fewer have passed the test of time. Others are mostly forgotten or simply a rare sight on modern roads. This time we’re reflecting on 28 such rare muscle cars that you’ll be hard-pressed to see on a road today. We’ll avoid the obvious rarest muscle cars ever made as it’s understandable why a three or even a two digit production number total appears once in a blue moon. The following 15 aren’t obscured, unheard of or holy grail of muscle cars. They’re simply established nameplates whose numbers have thinned down considerably – provided they were large enough to begin with.
These Rare American Muscle Cars Are Seldom Seen On The Roads
1970 AMC Rebel “The Machine”
What was likely the most outrageous AMC muscle car ever created, only managed to find 2,326 buyers in total. Exclusive for 1970 model year, “The Machine” was a result of AMC/Hurst collaboration. Unlike its predecessor – the 1969 Hurst SC/Rambler – “The Machine” was officially marketed without the Hurst bit in its nameplate. Powered by 390 cu in AMC V8, “The Machine” was more than capable of hitting 60 mph from standstill in 6.4 seconds, doing quarter mile in 14.4 seconds and maxing out at 127 mph. After all, it packed 340 horsepower and 430 lb-ft of torque.
But that wasn’t all. AMC dealers offered numerous “over the counter” options for it, including drag racer’s 5.00:1 gear ratio and $500 “service kit” which increased this unique Rebel’s power to well over 400 ponies. Fitted with these options, “The Machine’s” quarter mile time was easily reduced to 12.7 seconds. After the first 1,000 units in red, white and blue were sold, AMC decided to offer “The Machine” in other color options as well. Still, only a handful of these ultimate AMCs remain. Especially if they were painted Big Bad Green or Frost White with a flat-black hood of which only one and three remain, respectively. It’s a real classic American muscle car!
1970 Plymouth Hemi Superbird
There were actually 135 of this muscle car produced in the year 1970. The car was a modification of the Plymouth Road runner line of racers. The Superbird, designed after Dodge’s Charger Daytona, featured a Hemi 426 cubic inch engine and high performance parts. It was well known for its high mounted spoiler that looked like a wing and a horn that mimicked the sound produced by Looney Tunes’ Roadrunner cartoon character.
1969 Chevrolet Camaro
The 1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was released as an upgrade of the original 69 Camaro. It had an L88 engine made of aluminum unlike the other models that had sheet metal engines. The engine, according to factory stats, could produce 430 horsepower, but in reality the engine produced 560 horsepower. Since it was made of aluminum, it weighed 500 pounds only. There were only 69 ZL-1s manufactured in ’69. The first twenty cars were used on professional drag racing tracks while the rest were sold to the public for $7,200 a piece. The price was too high for the average consumer so much that 12 of these cars were sent back to the factory to be fitted with smaller engines and made affordable for the general public.
1963-1964 Ford Galaxie 427 SOHC
Let’s start with the big guns. Ford‘s flagship car of the sixties isn’t something you’d imagine as one of the most powerful muscle cars of all time, but that’s exactly what it was. Or at least handful of Galaxies fitted with 427 SOHC 7.0L V8 engines also known as “Cammers”. The engine was so powerful that Chrysler had to intervene, and NASCAR subsequently banned it from the competitions under their wing. Cammer was rated at 616 hp with single four-barrel carb, and at 657 hp with dual carburetors. Most would agree even that output was rather conservative, and that Cammer made even more.
1971-1972 Dodge Dart Demon 340
Yeah, the upcoming 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon isn’t the first Chrysler car with this rather imposing name. Back in the early seventies, Dodge used it on their own version of the Plymouth Valiant Duster fastback. Accompanying the name were somewhat controversial badges depicting a cartoonish devil wielding a fork. You’ll remember those were the 1970s, hence the name and badging didn’t stick for long. Certain religious groups took offense to the cute little devil figure and demanded its withdrawal. Dodge scoffed at their demands at first, but caved in after a year or so when sales took a nosedive.
The Dodge Demon might have been done for, but its 340 cu in V8 continued on in the Dodge Dart Sport 340. For 1971, the Demon 340 was rated at 275 hp, while 1972 models had 35 ponies less. Around 10,000 units were ordered during its first year and around 9,000 additional models were bought the following year. Dodge sold Dart Demon with the smaller 318 cu in V8, and 198 and 225 cu in slant-sixes as well. Yet, these engines weren’t exactly worthy of the Demon name and badging. Especially considering how beastly the upcoming Demon Challenger will be.
1968-1971 Ford Torino GT Convertible
The Torino started its journey in 1968 as an upscale trim package on the intermediate Ford Fairlane. Tables turned in 1970 when Fairlane became a sub series of the Ford Torino before disappearing altogether for 1971 model year. Despite Ford Torino being a popular offering back in the day, and GT badge being even more popular than conventional models – not many Torinos have survived to date. They were extremely prone to rusting and most of them ended in scrapyards a long time ago. This makes them a rare sight on the roads today. Especially rare are Torino GT convertibles which are collectible cars these days.
All Torino GT units came with standard V8s under their hoods. 289, 302, and 390 cu in units were available in 1968. Windsor 289 left the lineup in 1969 to be replaced by the 351 cu in unit. For 1970, 390 V8 had also left the stage. Ford did put the 429 cu in Cobra Jet with 360 horsepower in its place, though (370 hp with the Ram-Air option and 375 ponies with the same option in 1971). Only 13,234 Ford Torino GT convertibles were made over the course of four years. As of 1972 model year and debut of the Gran Torino, convertibles were finally discontinued. With low production numbers and serious rust issues, it’s no wonder why Torino GT convertibles are a rare sight on the roads today.
1987 Buick GNX
The Buick Regal Grand National has managed to revive the muscle car scene almost singlehandedly. If you deem a turbocharged V6-powered car a muscle, that is. Despite the hazy muscle car definition and experts’ opinions, Regal Grand National was the closest thing to a muscle car in years. And its ultimate wild iteration – the Grand National Experimental – raised it all to an entirely new level.
Introduced in 1987 during G-body’s last year, Buick GNX started from $29,900. In theory, at least. In practice, this offspring of Buick and McLaren Performance Technologies/ASC collaboration moved around for more than twice its MSRP figure. Only 547 of them were ever made, so dealers often had a field day, selling them for as much as $75,000 at dealer-only auctions. Even $30,000 was a lot of money in 1987, not to mention $75,000. But, lucky buyers got 276 horsepower and 360 lb-ft of torque in pitch black menacing aura that Buick GNX emanated. In truth, they received as much as 300 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, but that’s just another one of GNX’s perks.
1967-1970 Dodge Coronet R/T
The Coronet nameplate was already there for a while before R/T models got introduced in 1967. By the time they arrived, however, former full-size car became an intermediate. And what an intermediate it was! The fact that Dodge Coronet R/T’s only optional engine was the fabled 426 cu in Hemi speaks for itself. As if standard 440 cu in Magnum V8 wasn’t a heavy hitter already. Magnum was tuned to 375 horsepower and 480 lb-ft of torque with 3-speed TorqueFlite trans (482 lb-ft with 4-speed manual), while Elephant V8 delivered 425 ponies and a whopping 490 pound-feet of twist.
This hierarchy was kept until mid 1970 when Dodge also offered a six pack version of the Magnum which generated 390 hp and 490 lb-ft of torque. Over the course of four years, Dodge produced a total of 29,957 Coronet R/Ts. 2-door hardtop “WS23” option and 2-door convertible “WS27” option were the only available body styles, and guess which were rarer? Moreover, Convertible/Hemi combo was so rare that only 24 are known to have been ordered that way.
1994-1996 Chevrolet Impala SS
Despite the fact a total of 69,768 of these ultimate sleepers were produced, they’re still a rare sight on American roads. Somehow, they’ve just been evenly distributed across the country. All were painted in dark colors as if to tell others to stay away from them on the roads. 35,246 of then were painted Black, 19,314 came in Cherry, and 15,118 were Dark Green. What they all have in common is the famous 350 cu in LT1 V8 taken out of Corvette. It helped the Chevrolet Impala SS generate a total of 260 horsepower. It also helped it to a 0 to 60 time of 7 seconds flat, a 14 seconds flat quarter mile and a top speed of 142 mph.
Mid-nineties Chevrolet Impala SS was resurrected after the nameplate disappeared in 1985. But Impala wasn’t exactly an awe-inspiring performer since the late sixties and disappearance of that coveted SS badge from the line. All was corrected, however, when seventh gen Impala SS rocked the world. Competitors tried to market similar cars but Impala’s LT1 engine coupled with a police handling package was simply unbeatable.
1965-1967 Pontiac Catalina 2+2
Although 2+2 option for Pontiac Catalina was first introduced in 1964, it wasn’t until 1965 that it had finally fulfilled its purpose of positioning the Catalina as a performance full-sizer. That’s the year which saw 421 cu in V8 take the starting spot in the lineup. For $418 above the conventional coupe’s price, 2+2 put up 338 hp and 459 lb-ft of torque. Tri-power option cost additional $307, but it delivered 353 ponies, while $410 HO package made 376 horses.
Despite becoming a model of its own for 1966, Pontiac 2+2 continued without major changes. In 1967, however, 2+2 received a new 428 cu in V8 engine topped with Rochester Quadrajet 4-barrel carb which produced 360 ponies in conventional and 376 horsepower in HO form. This would also be the last year for Pontiac 2+2 nameplate. At least in the U.S. Canadian 2+2s continued on as Pontiac Parisienne until 1970. A total of 19,762 Pontiac Catalina 2+2s were produced; 11,521 in ’65, 6,383 in ’66 and only 1,768 in ’67, so its understandable why Pontiac withdrew it from the market.
1969-1970 Ford Mustang Boss 429
The Mustang “Boss 9” isn’t only one of the rarest American muscle cars. It’s also one of the best muscle cars ever made. Why? Apart from the obvious which would be great looks, prolific name, and limited production of 1,357 units, “Boss 9” came with an engine especially built for the occasion. 429 cu in Boss V8 was built in order to answer the gauntlet thrown in Ford’s face by the Mopar boys. How did it fare against the Hemi Elephant? Well, it generated 374 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque, so it came short. In theory, at least. In truth, Boss 429 developed around 500 horsepower.
Less than 1,500 (857 in ’69 and 500 in ’70) produced units isn’t the only reason Ford Mustang Boss 429 is a rare sight today. Their hefty price tag among collectors is. Six digit territory seems to be their natural habitat these days. Lucky few have got them for less than $200,000 as some specimens change hands at auction blocks for more than half a million.
1969-1970 Mercury Cougar Eliminator
Third year of production brought some refreshing changes for the Cougar. Mustang’s stablemate received new dimensions and styling, becoming wider and longer in the process. For some reason, buyers weren’t impressed, though. Sales were poor and Mercury answered with a high-performance spring edition that sported one of the most intimidating names in automotive history. Eliminator was born and Mercury Cougar’s fortunes turned overnight.
Ford stuffed Eliminators with 290-horsepower 4-barrel version of their 351 cu in Windsor V8. That doesn’t say much. Especially considering the year was 1969. But optional engines were what counted. Boss 302 delivered the same 290 horsepower, albeit with higher rpm counter. 4-barrel 390 cu in V8 raised the output to 320 ponies and finally, the 428 cu in Cobra Jet yielded 335 horsepower and 440 lb-ft of torque. Off all the mentioned engines, only Boss 302 was Eliminator-exclusive, though. Mercury managed to sell a total of 2,250 Eliminators in 1969 and additional 2,267 units in 1970. Latter were again redesigned, and had a new 300-hp 351 cu in Cleveland V8 as standard engine. Moreover, the venerable 390 was dropped altogether.
1970-1971 Pontiac Firebird Formula 400
Formula 400 likely never stood a chance of becoming the go-to nameplate among the Firebirds. Not while the Trans AM was there, anyway. Yet, this potent muscle car for the silent types certainly deserves the credit and respect that it’s due. After all, Formula 400 wasn’t named like that in vain. Introduced during mid-1970, it came with 400 cu in L78 V8 under its hood, packing as much as 330 hp and 430 lb-ft of torque. And that wasn’t all. Optional engine was the Ram Air III L74 HO version of the mill with 10.75:1 compression and additional 5 ponies.
What might not be a widely known fact is that Ram Air IV was also technically available with the Firebird Formula 400. However, Pontiac never advertised the package other than in GTO brochures, so no one ended up ordering one. Only 88 Trans Am Firebirds got it. Although 7,708 Formula 400s were ordered in 1970 and additional 7,802 were produced in 1971, Pontiac Firebird Formula 400 is still a rare sight on the roads.
1967 Ford Fairlane 500 R-Code
The Fairlane was released in 1955 and remained Ford’s only full size car until 1962 when it was redesigned to compete more effectively against other models in the muscle car market. It was in fact Ford’s first muscle car. The preceding Ford muscle car models such as the Torino and Cobra were based on the Fairlane design. In 1967, Ford launched the 500 R-Code. The letter R, which was included in the VIN number, signified that the new Fairlane had dual quad carburetors. The modification gave the Fairlane 500 425 horsepower. It was a popular muscle car despite the fact that there were only 57 of this model manufactured.
1967 Plymouth R023 GTX
Prior to the release of the GTX023, Plymouth’s GTX was nothing more than a shadow of the popular Barracuda series and the powerful Roadrunner. This is probably why GTXs are rarer to come by than other Plymouth models. The rarest of them is the GTX R023 model. There were only 55 of them made and all were designed for the racing track. The car lacked all the luxurious amenities of the former GTX such as radio, heater, carpet, insulations, and even hubcaps. It was stripped all non-essential extras to shed off extra weight. In fact, it was 500 lbs lighter than the normal GTX, despite having a 426 cubic inch Hemi engine. Notably, it could go from zero to 60 within 4.8 seconds, which was quite a feat in 1967.
1970-71 Plymouth Hemi Cuda Convertible
Ask any muscle car fan if there has ever been or will ever be a better car than the Hemi Cuda and the answer will be a definite no. The Cuda was born after Plymouth redesigned its Barracuda series in 1970. It came with 5 different engine sizes starting from 340 cubic inches to 440 cubic inches. The rarest of them all is the 426 cubic inch Hemi. Between 1970 and 71, Cudas were the only cars having a 426 cubic inch Hemi engine. The 1970-1971 Cuda convertibles are quite rare today. There were only 21 produced, probably because the engine upgrade cost $871.
1967 Chevrolet Corvette L88
Chevrolet’s Corvette L88s were manufactured between 1967 and 1968 at a factory in St. Louis, Missouri. They were racing cars with a large 427 cubic inch block engine. Chevrolet designed the L88 specifically for professional racing and consumers were discouraged from accessing the car for fear of releasing such a beast on city streets. The car’s engine produced 435 horsepower, which was a bit higher than your everyday Corvette. The L88 production was later halted due to increased emissions. Only 196 left the St. Louis assembly lines. The rarest of them are the 1967 models. There were only 20 produced that year.
1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 LS6
Of all Chevrolet Chevelles, the 454 LS6s are the most difficult to find. Chevelle SS models were available in two options: the RPO225 that had a 402 cubic inch engine or the RPO215 with a 440 cubic inch engine. The LS6 was an upgraded version of the RPO215 and came with a horsepower capacity of 560 hp.
1954 Oldsmobile F-88
The Oldsmobile F-88 was a fiberglass-bodied “Dream Car” built on an unmodified Corvette chassis. It was actually fitted with a 324 Olds V-8 while the Corvette came only a straight six. The console was derived from a 1953 Oldsmobile console with a tachometer added and customizing the fascia of the gauges. Two complete cars were constructed, with only one remaining. Components for two to three additional cars were also made, which may or may not have been assembled. This is how many historians have arrived at the 5 examples.
1954 Packard Panther
The 1954 Packard Panther was built to showcase some of the more radical ideas Packard was considering for its production models in the mid- and late-1950s. The Panther was a fiberglass-bodied, two-seat sporting convertible, with a total of four Panthers built, of which only two survive. Although Packard had already launched its V-8, the Panther used the 327 CID flathead inline eight, supercharged to produce 275 HP, in an effort to help push sales of Packards sitting on dealer lots with the old engine.
1971 Pontiac GTO Judge Convertible
Designed by John DeLorean, the GTO was actually an upgrade for Pontiac’s Tempest line. The upgrade was largely inspired by the advances made in the Ferrari 250 GTO design. By 1966, the car was completely different from the Tempest. The Judge was launched in ’69 as a racing version of the GTO. It was stripped down to reduce weight and make it a true racing car. It was then fitted with a 455 cubic inch engine. Production of GTO Judges was later halted by the government due to strict emission standards. Only 207 convertibles of this model were ever produced. Today, GTO Judges are some of the most sought after convertibles. The rarest of them are the 17 convertibles made in 1971.
1969 Chevrolet Corvette ZL-1
Before we delve any deeper about this car, keep in mind that there were only 3 made in the year 1969. That should give you a general idea about the rarity of the ZL-1 1969 model. The car was born after Chevrolet dared to fit an all-aluminum ZL-1 engine block into a Corvette. Only three Corvettes were lucky enough to benefit from this venture. The idea originated from an order placed by a factory worker at Chevrolet’s St. Louis plant. Two more orders were later placed by the plant’s workers. The all-aluminum 427 cubic inch engine gave 500 horsepower. In 1969 each of the three cars cost $10,771, which was $3000 higher than the price tag of a normal Corvette. Keep in mind that the three cars were bought by Chevrolet employees. We can only wonder how much each would fetch today.
1970 Ford Torino King Cobra
In response to the Dodge Charger Daytona and Plymouth Superbird Ford developed the 1970 Ford Torino King Cobra. It had a sloped front end with dual headlamps located in cut-outs on the front fenders. Intake air came in under the bumper. Parking lamps were located between the headlamps, molded into the front fascia. But then NASCAR increased the minimum number of cars required to be produced for public sale from 500 to 3,000, the project was abandoned. Only three prototype cars were produced: one each with the Boss 429 engine, one 429 SCJ, and one 429 CJ.
1971 Ford XY Falcon GT-HO Phase III
Produced between May and November 1971, the Phase III Falcon was the fastest four-door car for nineteen full years before Lotus Carlton dethroned it. Although not technically American car (manufactured by Ford Australia), we simply couldn’t have excluded it from consideration. All 300 models made had 300-horsepower 351ci Clevelands under their hoods. As you can probably guess, they were also criminally underrated in order to get around the insurance trivialities. They actually made somewhere between 350 and 380 horses.
1966 Chevrolet Biscayne L72
427 cu in version of the Mark IV V8 engine made its debut in 1966 and GM sympathizers could have gotten their hands on it either by buying a Corvette or any of division’s full-size cars. Intermediate muscle cars – although quickly rising in popularity – were still limited to sub-400 cu in engines. Although they didn’t really need big-blocks to compete with much heavier full-sizers, some people still couldn’t resist ordering the strongest engine available. Cheapest way to do that in 1966 was to buy the Chevy Biscayne. With starting price of $2,484, it was less expensive than the Bel Air, Impala and Caprice.
But 427 V8 had another secret. There was a high-performance L72 version of the mill that cost just shy of $450 and developed a whopping 425 horsepower. Chevrolet hasn’t disclosed the specific figures but a total of 1,856 L72 V8s were ordered across the big car lineup that year. Most of them were probably Biscaynes. Considering all of the aforementioned, it’s no surprise 1966 Chevy Biscayne with L72 option is right there among the rarest classic muscle cars.
1969-1970 Plymouth Road Runner Convertible
Plymouth Roadrunner was one of the truest muscle cars ever conceived. Most classic muscle cars were already rather expensive by the time 1968 had arrived, but Plymouth’s Belvedere-based 2-door intermediate fixed that in an instant. It was available for less than $3,000 and it still delivered 14-second quarter mile times. They were also rather successful and many of them are still with us. But Plymouth also offered a convertible version of the Roadrunner in two following years. With 2,128 units sold in ’69 and 658 additional models moved in 1970, Roadrunner convertible is one rare sight on today’s roads.
Behind every successful Roadrunner, there was the 335-horsepower 383 cu in V8 engine. Well, almost behind every one of them. 12 Roadrunner convertibles in 1969 and 4 in 1970 were stuffed with the popular 426 cu in Hemi V8. That means they had as much as 425 horsepower at tap. In any case, only 2,768 Plymouth Roadrunner convertibles were ever made which makes them quite a low percentage spec in Roadrunner’s rich production history.
1970-1972 Buick GSX Stage 1
The king of the muscle cars came from the most unlikely of American divisions. Although Buick’s performance roots date back to the early 1900s, no one expected they’ll be the ones marketing one of the quickest and most powerful muscle cars of all time. And GSX Stage 1 package for the Skylark-based Gran Sports was exactly that. Package itself was limited to GS 455 models which were already rather expensive. GSX proceeded by adding additional $1,195 to the final sticker, while Stage 1 added another $115. Results were record-topping 510 lb-ft of torque, and either 350 horsepower in GSX or 360 ponies in Stage 1 form.
Buick moved 678 GSX’s in the second part of 1970 model year, 400 of which were Stage 1-powered. Only Saturn Yellow and Apollo White color options were available (491 yellow and 187 white ones were sold). Stage 1 was choked by catalytic converters in 1971 and 1972, hence only additional 124 and 44 units were sold respectively. Total number of color schemes was up to five by then, but power was considerably undermined, and these models aren’t worth as much as the originals. Whether they’re expensive or not, no one can deny their exclusive rarity.
1977 Pontiac Can Am
Although not exactly a muscle car judging by its unworthy 180 horsepower and slightly better 325 lb-ft of torque – Pontiac Can Am was still one of the better performers at the time. It was 1977 and peak of the malaise era, for Chrissake! Problem was; Pontiac introduced the Can Am in order to fill the void they created by axing the GTO. And special edition of 400 cu in V8-powered LeMans simply couldn’t do it. But that wasn’t the biggest issue. Around 10,000 people lined up pre-ordering the car despite Pontiac’s plans of making only 5,000 units. Yet only 1,377 Can Ams ever reached their destination.
Pontiac built the Can Am together with Motortown whose rear spoiler tooling broke down before the production was completed. Waiting three months in order to resume production was not an option, and Can Am was frozen in its tracks. A sad fate for a possible GTO successor that’s now one of the rarest classic Pontiac models ever produced.
Bonus: 1969-1970 Aero Cars
The big aero four, “aero cars”, “aero warriors” or “winged warriors” were the rare and powerful NASCAR homologation specials from the peak of the muscle car era. Lineup consisted of (in order of appearance) the Ford Torino Talladega, Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II, Dodge Charger Daytona, and Plymouth Superbird. FoMoCo dynamic duo was introduced in 1969 – same as Mopar’s Dodge Charger Daytona. Plymouth Superbird, however, rolled off the assembly lines in 1970. That explains its somewhat larger production quota. You see; every automaker that was into NASCAR back then, had to sell at least 500 of their entrant cars to the general public. In 1970, that number was increased to one unit per every two manufacturer’s dealerships. For Plymouth, that meant 1,920 units.
Apart from around 1,920 Superbirds, aero warriors’ lineup consisted of approximately 750 Torino Talladegas, 503 Cyclone Spoiler II’s, and 543 Charger Daytonas. Aero warriors were all powered by the most powerful big-block engines: 427 FE and 429 Boss V8s in Blue Oval’s case, and 426 Hemi and 440 Magnum V8s in Mopar’s instance. Potent engines and extreme aerodynamic shape created a sort of unbeatable combo in these four super muscle cars. Aero warriors were so dominant in fact, that NASCAR had to ban them after the 1970 season. They’re still around, but you’ll be lucky to spot them anywhere near the road nowadays. Especially the Mopar duo with their sharp beaks and heavy rear wings.