A muscle car, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “a group of American-made two-door sports cars with powerful engines for high-performance driving.” They usually have a V8 engine and a rear wheel drive. For size, either a family-style compact; mid-size, or full-size for four passengers.
Muscle cars were sold at affordable prices and were intended for street use and occasional drag racing, separate from sports cars, touring, and road racing.
Prime time was in the late 1960s to the early 1970s when the engines were big, and gas was cheap. Until the ‘Malaise era’ between 1973-1983 when there were multiple oil crises and the government decided to crack down on economy and emissions standards. The performance of these machines went down the drain. Automakers tried their best to make these cars look tough; however, they couldn’t last 10 seconds on the track. By the late 80s, imports started to make their way over, giving North American muscle a run for its money. Although muscle beats import every time, we must always hold them in a special place in our hearts, especially the early muscle cars. They were a force to be reckoned with.
Here are the 15 worst muscle cars ever made:
15. 1974 Pontiac GTO
The early ’64 Pontiac GTO was regarded as the first muscle car. The engine is simple: a large 325-horsepower , 389-cubic inch V8. Another option was with 348 hp. According to Motor Trend, the base V8 could reach 60 mph in 7.7 seconds and the Tri-Power in 5.7 seconds. In 1973, the GTO created a new motor for Le Mans with 455-cid V8, making 250 hp. The next year, Pontiac used a 350-cid V8 at 200 hp. Aside from the shaker hood and the GTO lettering, it was a “granny’s car”. The move flopped and Pontiac then pulled the GTO brand.
14. 1982 Pontiac Trans Am
The daring, futuristic design of the Trans Am sported a rounded hood and front fenders and was selected to feature in Knight Rider as KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand) with David Hasselhoff. Unfortunately the muscle under the hood didn’t match up with the tough exterior. The standard engine was a 2.5L 90-hp Iron Duke four-cylinder. Like, really?? There was a V8 option, but the “Cross-Fire Injected” 5.0L only came in an automatic and sadly produced 165 hp – the same output as a lawn mower. The road tests showed the same time, eight seconds, as a non-turbo and turbo motor – which tended to detonate at full-throttle.
13. 1978-79 Oldsmobile 4-4-2
‘4-4-2’ stands for four-barrel carburetor, four-speed manual transmission, and two exhausts. The 1970 Cutlass 4-4-2 set the bar with a 455-cid V8 standard with 370hp. Special packages included a fibreglass hood, special camshafts, and functional air scoops with low restriction. You notice the difference from the downsized version in 1978 to either a Buick-made 3.8L V6 or a Chevy 5L V8. Keeping the four-barrel carb and the four-speed manual gearbox, it only ran 160hp. A special Hurst edition was released in ’79 with a 5.7L V8. The full-size sedan only went up to 170hp. Oldsmobile’s marketing department should have changed the name in the late 70s, because it doesn’t hold standard to the first version at all.
12. 1978 Ford Mustang King Cobra
Definitely a low-point in the Mustang history, the Pinto-based King Cobra puffed out only 139hp with a 302-cid V8. The only things that made this car special were its “performance enhancements” such as the vinyl hood snake decal, stripes, and 13-inch “Lacy” aluminum wheels. The forward-facing hood scoop, spoilers, optional T-top roof, and black and gold trim led eyes away from the Trans Am, even though it wasn’t much of a threat. Luckily there wasn’t a lot of production with this model, only around 4000 cars. This is another head shake from Ford, but the Mustang brand managed to polish itself up with the Fox the following year.
11. 1976-80 Plymouth Volare Road Runner
The early 1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird became a legend in NASCAR with its free-breathing, dual quad 426 Hemi until it became a major underachiever with the Volare midsize coup. The standard Road Runner came in a 318-cid V8 with 160hp and a 2-barrel carburetor. An optional 360-cid V8 with 175-196 hp made it a little quicker, but it still wasn’t a match for the early models. There was a major recall in 1977 for the amount of rust on the underbody. The slats, spoiler, bucket seats, and stripes gave its design a bit of character; however, Wile E. Coyote could still overtake this muscle car.
10. 1978 AMC Gremlin GT
Some may say the Gremlin is an ugly car; this angled hatchback had some cute character with its long hood. As a send off after eight years of production, AMC created the GT with a spoiler, fat fender flares, wide 14-inch wheels, and an upgraded interior. The 1977 Gremlin sported a 304-cid V8 with 120hp (lame!) until the company switched to a torque-rich, yet horsepower-deficient 4.2L V6 – similar to the Jeep CJ-7s. Fewer than 3,000 GTs were built. Yet it still offers one of the widest engine range of all time – two to five litres. It’s not perfect, but after the 1978 season, AMC scrapped the Gremlin and replaced it with the AMC Spirit.
9. 1977 Chevrolet Monza Mirage
Originally based off the Chevy Vega, the Monza started off as a 2+2 with its swoopy hatchback design that mimicked a fastback. It was later introduced as a Towne Coupe with a combination of sportiness and cool looks. Michigan Auto Techniques introduced the Mirage in 1977. The white body had red and blue racing stripes down the length of the car, with flares and a special air dam and spoiler. The 305-cid 5L was the only V8 option. After 1977, the Monza Spyder took off, leaving the Mirage in the dust.
8. 1980-85 Chevrolet Citation X-11
GM introduced its first downsized front-wheel-drive (FWD) cars in 1980. The Citation X-11 turned out to be more than just stickers and a new spoiler. The HO 2.8L V6 rated at 135hp and boasted a retuned “sport” suspension system. The chassis was upgraded with front and rear stabilizer bars. The upgrade in 1982 included a new steering rack in the sub frame that held the engine and front suspension. Only available in a four-speed overdrive manual or three-speed automatic transmission, the X-11 had a higher-performance dual-tip exhaust added to it to give 155lb-ft of torque. The X-11 was great and all for a small frame, but the Citation had a tendency to lock its rear wheels under hard braking and had numerous factory recalls.
7. 1980-81 DeLorean DMC-12
Remember the car from Back to the Future? That was the DMC-12. Despite its claim to fame, there was a major lack in performance. It’s flashy stainless-steel body and gullwing doors were one thing; the chassis was another when DeLorean contracted Lotus to help with the suspension. Under the hood, you’ll find a Peugeot-Renault-Volvo 2.8L V6 that produces only 130 hp. With the automatic transmission, the DMC-12 could accelerate from 0-60 mph in 10.5 seconds. DeLorean decided to add a turbocharge engine, and before the cars could be put into production, the company declared bankruptcy in 1984.
6. 1980-81 Mercury Capri Turbo RS
Originally part of Ford Europe’s fleet, the Capri was sold as three different cars in the US over three decades, primarily as the baby to the Ford Mustang, another ‘Pony’ car. The short truck hatchback had a long hood and looked mighty tough. The unreliable version of the “performance” model is a naturally aspirated 2.3L four-cylinder engine with a Garret 60 trim turbocharger, puffing out 132hp. The Turbo RS received a front air dam in addition to its racing-inspired hatchback with aero window (bubble back). You have to give Lincoln-Mercury credit though, when the Capris started rolling out in 1971, it was the first European import that had a lower price tag.
5. 1980 Chevrolet Corvette California 305
Motor heads are quite familiar with the Corvette, but what was so horrible about this one? Federal emissions requirements. Regulations required 350-cid small block engines. However, the 1980-year was replaced with a 305-cid V8 and putting out 180hp. Plus, get this, the California sucked the horsepower out of a 5L through a three-speed automatic transmission. You can compare the acceleration to a Vespa. With that said, non-Cali’s had a 5.7L engine and made only 190hp. The carburetor and ignition timing was controlled by a new computer control system. California buyers also had a mandatory purchase of an emissions certification. Luckily they received a small credit in return. Let us not forget the late 60s-early 70s Corvettes – those were mean beasts with a lot more torque.
4. 1971-1975 Ford Maverick Grabber
Ford launched the compact Maverick as a pseudo-muscle car, essentially based off the 1960 Ford Falcon. The two-door sedan was designed to be inexpensive to maintain and manufacture, featuring a long hood, fastback roof, short deck, and pop-out rear side windows. The Grabber had special graphics, trim, a spoiler, and a ‘Dual Dome’ hood. A ‘Luxury Décor Option’ (LDO) was introduced with soft vinyl seats, wood grain panel trim, and deluxe wheel covers, all marketed as a domestic alternative to European brands. A 210hp 302-cid V8 was definitely comparable until later models of the Grabber made a mere 129hp.
3. 1968-70 Pontiac Tempest
The second generation Tempest was restyled in 1968 to have a body that resembled a Coke bottle with its outward curving fenders and a narrow centre. The 250 cubic inch overhead cam was added along with the 350-cid V8 engine with 250 horsepower. In 1969, a new three-speed Turbo Hydra-matic 350 automatic transmission was introduced verses the older two-speed. The Le Mans series overtook the Tempest and was then discontinued in 1970. You would have gotten a lot of attention with this car.
2. 1982 Chevrolet Camaro Iron Duke
As the base engine for the redesigned Camaro, the 2.5L, four-cylinder “Iron Duke” was the smallest, least powerful engine and it was connected to a three-speed automatic. Iron Dukes were fitted with fuel injection (TBI, a single injector in the throttle body, later Tech IV) with a power output remained a 90hp. Basically, you could do 0-60 mph acceleration to 20 seconds… tick tock… The Tech IV switch included new and improved bearings and a crankshaft. Over the years, the new engine proved to be more reliable only if the driver doesn’t push past its limits. Chevy stopped its production in 1993.
1. 1968-1970 AMC AMX
The two-seater GT was a unique muscle car due to its short wheelbase. The AMX delivered top-notch performance at an affordable price with an optional high-compression medium block 390-cid (6.4L) V8. AMX stands for American Motors eXperimental, developed for its concepts and then started to target the youthful, performance-oriented market. The American Society of Automotive Engineers named the AMX as the “best engineered car of the year in 1969 and 1970. In 1969, all manual transmission AMXs came with a Hurst, where the driver could manually shift between the first and second gear settings from “D.” The AMX gave you a run for your money, especially by doing 0 to 60 in 6.6 seconds; you’ll be chasing this bad boy past the finish line.
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