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The Ernst Bros and I have talked about collaborating on an article on American muscle cars for a while. I wanted it to be different from all the "Top 10" or "Best 15" titles you see on the web.

So, we decided to pick just one from the 1964-1972 era and call it the Best Muscle Car of all time.

A very challenging task, I know...That's why I thought it would be a much better read if we had others give their take on the topic.

I posted on LinkedIn asking my network.

People who used to eat, sleep, and breathe gasoline during the golden era of American muscle. Folks who were out there racing on the street and the drag strip.

True petrolheads like Paul Wittrock, who said:

"Consider looking beyond pure performance/engineering and choose cars that embody the true soul of the muscle car, which is American ingenuity, when street racers, dealers, and passionate factory engineers worked together to create some legends: Z28, CobraJet, HEMI..."

Or Adam White, who shared a story about a Pontiac vs Ferrari road test and added his thoughts:

"A 1965 Pontiac Catalina Coupe 2+2 421 HO might not be considered because it's technically a Full-Size car and, therefore, out of the running. Yet a full weekend of testing by Road and Track magazine at Bridge Hampton race track on Long Island, NY, in 1965 showed it could really perform...its 0-60mph time of 3.9 seconds was the quickest of any car for at least 2 decades."

Now, let's move forward by answering one important question.

What are the Best Muscle Cars in this Comparison?

As you figured out from the title, I've included only muscle cars manufactured between 1964 and 1972. After the 1970 Clean Air Act and the 1973 Oil Crisis, the American muscle car was no longer the same.

I'm comparing street legal vehicles the way they came from the factory. That said, there won't be any Super Stockers. Any factory lightweight beast was a race car. You won't see an early Ford Mustang model either; that's a pony car.

To pick the top contenders, I relied on:

  • My experience from covering the muscle car scene for a decade.
  • The opinions of those who participated in my survey-type post.
  • Data from the past and from the current collector car market.

I'll first list the most powerful engines from the muscle car era. Then, I'll compare vehicles fitted with those in terms of quarter-mile ETs. Finally, I'll look into the most sought after muscle cars.

A winner will be picked in each category, and finally, I'll name one of them the king of American muscle cars. Let's start with the V8 mills.

The Most Powerful Muscle Car Engines

Before we dive in, I'd like to mention that these are engines used in muscle cars that were available to the public. That's why you won't see the Blue Oval's 427 Cammer or GM's ZL1 427, even though Fred Gibb convinced Chevrolet to produce 50 COPO Camaros with the latter.

I wish we could pick a dozen engines and run those on the dyno, but that's not possible. So, I'll have to stick with the factory HP ratings despite knowing these are unrealistic.

Pontiac 389 Tri-Power

Even with the Tri-Power setup, Pontiac's 389 cubic inch V8 engine wasn't as powerful as the other V8s that came out later in the Golden Age. Still, many refer to the 350hp 1964 Pontiac GTO as the first muscle car, and we can't determine "The Best" without considering "The First," right?

Mopar 426 HEMI

The HEMI powerplant street version was fitted in various vehicles from 1966 to 1971. While the torque numbers of the 426 and the 440-6 were the same (490), the Big Elephant was rated at 425 horsepower, compared to 390hp produced by the 440 V8 engine.

Ford 427 FE MR

Retaining some of the benefits of the legendary Ford 427 High Riser engine, the Medium Riser 427 was rated at 425 horsepower. It was the street friendly version used in several FoMoCo production vehicles but was never offered as a factory option in any Ford Mustang.

428 CJ & 429 Boss

Ford's Cobra Jet and Boss 9 engines were factory rated a lot lower than the other powerplants on the list. However, I can't go without them. They are a significant part of automotive history, and talking about the best muscle car of all time without Mustangs is irresponsible.

Chevy 454 LS6

While the 427 L72 was initially advertised at 450hp, the factory ratings quickly dropped to 425, which was also the number for the 396 L78. Thus, I consider the 454 cubic inch LS6 offered in the 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS and El Camino the most powerful with its 450hp and 500 ft-lbs.

The Quickest Muscle Car

Now that we have the list of best V8 mills, it's time to add the quarter mile top performers of that muscle car era. Back in the day, most manufacturers didn't officially publish those figures, so we must rely on historical data from the drag strips.

For that purpose, I referred to an outdated-looking but highly authoritative drag tests website that states the following:

"The No BS results are just the way they were recorded 35-45 years ago in the magazines of the day."

Let's see which muscle car was the quickest down the strip.

1966 Pontiac GTO

Fitted with a 389 V8 paired with a 4-speed and 3.55 geared rear end, the Pontiac GTO ran the 1/4 mile in 14.05 seconds at 105.14 mph.

1970 Dodge Challenger SE

Powered by the 426 HEMI with a 4-speed and 4.10 rear gears, the Dodge Challenger ran the 1/4 mile in 13.10 seconds at 107.12 mph.

1967 Ford Fairlane R-Code

Packing the 427 FE MR mated to a 4-speed and 4.11 geared rear end, the Ford Fairlane ran the 1/4 mile in 14.00 seconds at 102 mph.

1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1

Sporting a 428 Cobra Jet, 3-speed auto, and 3.50 rear gears, the Mach 1 Mustang ran the 1/4 mile in 13.69 seconds at 103.44 mph.

1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429

Powered by the Boss 9 engine with a four-speed and 3.91 geared rear, the '69 Mustang ran the 1/4 mile in 13.34 seconds at 107 mph.

1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS

Fitted with the 454 LS6 backed by a 4-speed and 3.55 rear end, the Chevelle SS ran the 1/4 mile in 13.12 seconds at 107.01 mph.

Based on the data, our winner in the performance section is the 1970 Dodge HEMI Challenger, which ran the quarter mile in 13.10 seconds with a trap speed of 107.12 mph.

The Most Sought After Muscle Car

I understand that many of you reading this might feel disappointed. Some of the most beautiful and desirable muscle cars of all time aren't included.

The Dodge Charger, Plymouth Road Runner, Chevrolet Camaro, Pontiac Firebird, and Shelby GT500, to name a few, are highly appreciated for their timeless designs.

However, we had to set rules and follow those in our quest to name one American muscle car as the best of all time. I hope you've been following the logic.

Collector Car Market Data

For this task, I looked at an article on Robb Report. They collaborated with experts from Hagerty and Mecum Auctions to list the "10 Most Collectible Muscle Cars." Only two vehicles from our list appear on theirs. I'm talking about the fastest accelerating road cars of their time:

1970 Dodge Challenger 426 HEMI listed as Number #2

1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 listed as Number #9

Votes on Social Media

I went through all the comments on my LinkedIn post to see how many people mentioned these two vehicles.

Many folks mentioned Mopars like the Plymouth Superbird, HEMI Cuda, and the 1968 Dodge Charger. But fewer voted for the 1970 Dodge Challenger.

The amount of Chevrolet muscle car enthusiasts was similar. However, the majority said the 1970 Chevy Chevelle Super Sport was the best muscle car of all time.

Who is the King of American Muscle Cars?

Let's see what we have so far:

  • The Chevrolet 454 LS6 Big Block V8 engine is the most powerful, with 450 hp and 500 lb. ft.
  • The 1970 Dodge Challenger 426 HEMI is the quickest, with 1/4 mile ET: 13.10 at 107.12 mph.
  • The 1970 HEMI Challenger is also more desirable, according to the collector car market data.
  • The 1970 Chevelle SS is preferred by more of the people who participated in my survey post.

It seems that we aren't ready to name one of those muscle cars the best yet. I think we should consider some other factors like popularity and rarity.

The More Popular V8 Engine

The 454 LS6 engine used in the 1970 Chevelle SS was a game changer. You might recall the Chevy muscle car being referred to as "America's King of the Streets."

The 426 HEMI has been around for many more years. It earned a legendary status among drag racers, average muscle car enthusiasts, and collectors.

The Rarer Muscle Car

It is unknown how many Chevelle SS cars came out of the factory with the 454 LS6. According to GM's division records, the total number of vehicles (including El Caminos) was 4,475.

Mopar's introduction of the E-body design shared by the Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Barracuda was a big hit. However, only 356 Challengers were fitted with the HEMI in 1970.

The Winner

I considered all the data we gathered and these last two factors. I believe the result is obvious. We have to give the crown to the Mighty Mopar.

The 1970 Dodge HEMI Challenger is the King of the 1964-1972 American Muscle Cars!