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It’s mind-boggling. You sit there for hours, watching middle-aged guys in Hawaiian shirts and big watches bid stupid money on muscle cars on the myriad cable channels that broadcast collector-car auctions these days. Cruddy models that were being swapped among migrant farm workers a decade ago for tens of dollars go for high five figures now. And the good stuff is all over $100,000. The great stuff? That’s in the millions: A 1967 L88 Corvette went for $3.5 million at Barrett-Jackson—before all the fees that make founder Craig Jackson wealthy. So it’s safe to say that you probably can’t afford the classic muscle car of your dreams. (What are you going to do with a $3.5 million Corvette anyway? Drive it?)
Here’s what we say: Change your dreams. Aim quirky, and expand your horizon beyond 1972. Here are 10 solid, drivable, interesting cars that, more rather than less, qualify as muscle cars. More important, they’re cars you might be able to afford—you probably won’t even have to ask the kids to skip college.
Note: All prices come from the NADA Classic Car Guide. The lower number is what you can expect to pay for an example in average condition, the higher number is the top-end value for a well-maintained used car. As with any car, pristine, fully preserved, and unicornesque examples would go for more.
1. 1970–71 Ford Torino GT and Mercury Cyclone GT
Ford redesigned its mid-size cars for 1970, and America instantly fell out of love with them. Maybe it’s because Ford kept campaigning the long-nose 1969 Ford Torino Talladega and Mercury Cyclone Spoiler in NASCAR.
Built on the same mid-size chassis as those of previous Torinos and Cyclones, the ’70 and ’71 models are gracefully drawn with better interiors. Most 1970 Torino GTs and Cyclone GTs came with the 250-hp, 351-cubic-inch (5.8 liter) V-8. Torino GT Cobra and Cyclone GT Spoiler models were often powered by the Super Cobra Jet 429 (7.0 liter) V-8 rated at 360 horsepower.
Values: Torino GT, $11,950/$15,900; Cyclone GT, $12,350/$18,400
2. 1973 Pontiac GTO and 1973–75 Pontiac Grand Am
GM’s mid-size A-cars all got larger and heavier “colonnade” style bodies for ’73. But with the GTO nearly a spent force by then, Pontiac put little effort into it. Yet it was the last traditional, mid-size GTO. Most of the 4806 built had a 230-hp, 400-cubic-inch (6.6 liter) V-8; a 250-hp 455 (7.5 liter) was optional.
More interesting, and more popular, was the squishy nosed Grand Am available as a coupe or sedan. Using the same body as the GTO, many were built with the 400 and the 250-horse 455.
Values: GTO, $12,150/$20,800; Grand Am, $11,350/$16,600
3. 1971 AMC Hornet SC/360
AMC built only 784 of these muscled-up versions of the humble Hornet compact. Power comes from a 360-cubic-inch (5.9 liter) version of the familiar AMC V-8, with a two-barrel Motorcraft carb rated at 245 gross horsepower or a four-barrel at 285 horsepower. The two-barrel is more rare, but the four-barrel is more cherished. Normally, the largest engine in the Hornet was AMC’s 304 (5.0 liter) V-8. So this one is truly special.
The earlier SC/Rambler and Rebel Machine are more prominent among collectors, and the various Javelins and AMXs are more flamboyant, but this might be the rarest AMC muscle of them all.
4. 1971–75 Ford Maverick Grabber
Not so much a muscle car as a car that looks like one, the Grabber could be had powered by a 210-gross-horsepower, two-barrel 302-cubic-inch (4.9 liter) V-8. That dropped to 140 horsepower when Ford adopted net ratings in ’72 and 129 horsepower when emissions strangled output in ’75. Still, the Grabber was good-looking and simple to work on, and the Brazilians swear by their version.
5. 1974–76 Dodge Dart Sport 360
American performance was near its nadir in 1976. But amid those doldrums, Car and Driver organized a top-speed test of four cars and a truck. In second, behind the Corvette and ahead of the Trans Am, was the ordinary Dodge Dart Sport 360. “America's fastest sedan is also one of its most innocuous; it blends into traffic like a lane divider,” a young Don Sherman concluded about the Dart.
With 200 net horsepower from a 360-cubic-inch (5.9 liter) V-8 under its hood and no catalyst clogging its dual exhaust system, the Dart freight-trained to 121.8 mph for C/D. Awesome for the time.
6. 1979 Pontiac Firebird Formula 400 WS6
Late-’70s Trans Am prices have been inflated by a generation of Bandit wannabes, but the less flashy Formula is lagging. And it was only during the 1979 model year that the Formula was available with the 220-hp true Pontiac 400 (6.6 liter) V-8 and the WS6 handling package that brought four-wheel disc brakes and the glorious “snowflake” alloy wheels along with it. There were only 24,851 Formulas made during ’79. How many of those had the 400 and WS6? Not many.
7. 1985–90 Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z and Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
The generation that grew up worshiping these icons of 1980s T-top-havin’ New Jersey cool is now entering the collector-car market, so the objects of their teenage lust remain relatively affordable.
The third F-body didn't hit its stride until the 215-hp, tuned-and-port-injected 5.0-liter V-8 and gorgeous IROC-Z arrived for ’85. The 225-horse, 5.7-liter TPI V-8 was phased in during ’86 and ’87. There are dozens of variations of the IROC and Trans Am available, and most are dirt cheap.
Values: IROC-Z, $4500/$9050; Firebird Trans Am, $5475/$8650
8. 1989 Pontiac 20th Anniversary Trans Am
Here’s the section that matters in Car and Driver’s test of the 20th Anniversary Trans Am: “Our test car scorched the drag strip with a 0-to-60-mph blast of 4.6 seconds and a quarter-mile run of 13.4 seconds at 101 mph. That means, as we go to press, that the turbocharged Trans Am is the quickest 0-to-60 sprinter available in any U.S. production-car showroom—at any price.” Top speed: 153 mph.
The 20th Anniversary Trans Am is special because only 1500 were built and because they were all powered by Buick’s turbocharged 250-hp, 3.8-liter V-6 that had been used in that division’s storied Grand National.
9. 1993 Ford SVT Mustang Cobra
Of all the 5.0-liter (er, 4.9 liter) Mustangs built from 1979 to 1993, this one is the best. Riding on a specially tuned suspension and 17-inch wheels, powered by a 235-horse version of the classic injected 5.0 V-8, and perfectly decorated to be distinctive and handsome, the Cobra was the first car to come out of Ford’s Special Vehicle Team. Only 4993 were made. Another 107 were built as “R” models, but those are pricier.
10. 1994–96 Chevrolet Impala SS
So big it can be used as a banquet hall, the mid-’90s Impala SS is essentially a redecorated Caprice 9C1 cop car powered a 260-hp version of the Corvette’s old-school LT1 small-block V-8. Comfortable, surprisingly nimble, great-looking, and engineered like a girder bridge, the Impala SS is still too new to be considered a “classic” for pricing purposes. But there are people out there already hoarding prime examples.
11. BONUS MINI-MUSCLE: 1986–87 Dodge Omni GLH-S
The Omni GLH-S has Shelby heritage, a reputation for ludicrous performance, and turbo lag that lasts a century. But it’s a front-wheel-drive five-door based on the chintzy and unloved Omni and powered by a turbocharged and intercooled 175-hp, 2.2-liter four usually found in several undistinguished K-car variants. But buy it as a collectible, and you’ll love it for all its antisocial tendencies bred when Shelby tweaked the Omni GLH model. You already knew that GLH stood for “Goes Like Hell” and the S for “Some More.”
[Related: 25 Most Compelling Cars Worth Waiting For]