What Are The Fastest Muscle Cars in the 1960s?
There are several muscle car models that could have made the list, but we have chosen some of our favorites in no particular order. What were the fastest muscle cars of the 1960s? Read on to find out.
1964 Pontiac GTO
This is the beast that started it all. The 1964 Pontiac GTO was offered as an option for the Tempest LeMans lineup emphasizing performance. The early sales brochures encouraged buyers to consider other Pontiac makes if they didn’t want a noisy, high-performance, open-road machine. Instead, they labeled the GTO as a “device for shrinking time and distance.”
Powered by a standard 6.4L (389 cu in) V8, producing 325 hp @ 4,800 rpm with a single Carter AFB four-bbl carburetor, there was also an option for a “Tri-Power” unit with three 2 bbl Rochester carbs, that produced 348 hp. The GTO was paired with a three-speed manual transmission, and oversized wheels with 7.5 x 14-inch tires. The car could get up and move posting a 0-60 mph track time of just over 6.6 seconds.
Pontiac’s head of sales, Frank Bridge, limited production to 5,000 units, but by the end of the first quarter, (Jan. 1964) sales were double the initial estimates. The total output for the Pontiac GTO for that year was over 32k units, which was a boon to the GM subsidiary and made waves through the automotive industry. (It wouldn’t be long before other companies followed suit). The GTO cost roughly $2500 in 1964, (which is equivalent to about $24k in 2023 dollars) and it came in coupe, hardtop, and convertible models. Sales would be so good, that Pontiac made the GTO a separate nameplate in 1966.
Today, a vintage 1964 Pontiac GTO is worth about $42,000 in good condition, with a slight bump for air conditioning and the four-speed optional transmission.
1969 Ford Mustang 428 Cobra Jet Mach 1
As the muscle car wars ensued, Ford felt a need to produce specially designed performance car to keep up with the competition. (Chevrolet had just released the Camaro Z28, Pontiac was pushing the Firebird, and Dodge had its Charger with a Hemi engine). While the standard engine was a 351W 2 bbl carburetored engine, the real speed lay in the option 7.0L 428 Cobra Jet engine capable of 335 hp, and 440 lb-ft of torque. Over 72k Ford Mustang Mach 1 units were built in 1969, but just over 10k were powered by the Cobra Jet engine.
The Ford Mustang 428 Cobra Mach 1 was only produced in its Sportsroof (fastback) style, with stylish black hood accents, hood scoop, and rear spoiler. Despite its great looks, the real power was under the hood with oversized valve heads, RAM air induction, and a hood scoop that worked as well as it looked. The Mustang Mach 1 428 Cobra motored down the track clocking 0-60mph in 5.7 seconds. With a top speed of 128 mph, it could hold its own against most muscle cars on the market.
Early advertising was simple and subdued, with Ford showing views of the Mustang racing down a desert highway. When two race car drivers tested the 69 Mustang on the salt flats, the three cars they tested set over 295 new speed and endurance records. Today, ‘69 Mustang Mach 1s are prized additions to any collector’s garage, with their estimated value pushing $100k. (A recent 428 CJ Mach 1 sold for $102,000), which is considerably better than the original $3,312 it cost to drive it off the showroom floor.
1968 Dodge Charger R/T
If you are a Steve McQueen fan, you already know that the ‘68 Charger R/T (Road/Track) is one of the best muscle cars in the business. Although it’s a shame to see the fiery ending that occurred as the bad guys in the black Charger crashed, the movie’s chase scene is considered one of the all-time best car chase scenes in the history of film. The car chase did more than prove Steve McQueen was a great actor, it sparked a national debate about which was faster, a Mustang or a Charger.
Powering the Charger R/T was a standard Magnum 440 V8 with 375 hp @ 4600 rpms, and 480 lb-ft of torque @ 3200 rpms. While the Magnum offered a ridiculously large bore (4.32) with a 3.75 stroke, the engine produced a 10.1:1 compression ratio, which meant it could covert the mass of air/fuel into top-speed performance. If the size of the engine did convince buyers, the 5.6 second 0-60 mph time and a quarter mile time of 13.5 made them believers.
Dodge built over 100,000 Chargers that year alone, and 17,584 were R/Ts. Today, a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T with the 440 Magnum engine would be worth a pretty $107,000 dollars. (By the way, there is a rumor that while they were filming the movie, the stunt driver was told to slow the Charger down, because McQueen’s little Mustang couldn’t keep up, we’re just saying).
1969 Camaro ZL1
One contender for the fastest muscle car in the 60s was the 1969 Camaro ZL1. During the late sixties, General Motors prevented any divisions from installing engines greater than 400 cu inches. For Camaro owners who wanted more power than the GM rules would allow, Chevrolet dealers began to use specialized fleet ordering methods as a way of circumventing the regulations. For 1969, Chevrolet offered two versions of the COPO (Central Office Production Order) Camaros to be built, one (COPO 9561) used a with a L72 big block V8 and the other (COPO 9560) received an aluminum 7.0 L V8 (427 ci) labeled the ZL1. Only 69 units were built, and most of them were for drag racing applications.
The COPO 9560 (Zl1) was rated to produce 430 hp (although it could be tuned to over 500 hp), and with a 5.3 time in 0-60 mph, and its quarter-mile time in the low 13 seconds, the Camaro blew the doors off of anything that dared challenge it.
The Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 engine was very expensive, costing more than $4000 dollars above the MSRP of the car, and it is pretty rare. Many of the ZL1 Camaros from that day were altered for the strip or received other modifications for racing. In today’s market, the Camaro is worth a pretty penny, since the lowest recorded price for one was $159,000. (The average is about $600,000).
1968 Plymouth Road Runner Hemi
If you have never watched the Looney Tunes character Road Runner cartoons, you have no idea what you’re missing, but it was a cartoon that provided the impetus for the Road Runner name (Plymouth paid Looney Tunes for the right to use the name and addition money to buy the “beep, beep” for their horn). The purchase of Road Runner’s famous sound led to early advertising; “To Beep or Not to Beep, it’s up to you.” and “It still goes Beep, Beep.” Regardless of their attempt at cuteness, the Plymouth Road Runner Hemi sold almost 45k units its first year in production which placed it as the third best-selling muscle car for the model year.
By 1968, the muscle car era was in full swing, and many car companies offered their models with upgraded amenities at higher prices. Plymouth made a conscious decision to buck that trend, offering a straightforward back to basics sort of muscle car that emphasized performance over luxuries. Plymouth priced the Road Runner at an affordable $2,870 which included a sparse interior, rubber floor mat, and vinyl seating surfaces.
The Road Runner came with a standard 6.3L (383 ci) V8 which when paired with a 4 bbl carburetor, produced a respectable 335 hp and 475 lb-ft of torque. However, one option was to upgrade to the 7.0L Hemi (426 ci) which escalated the power to 425 hp and 490 lb-ft. Track numbers were a 5.3 second 0 - 60 mph time and a top speed of 142 mph. Production was so popular that Dodge offered customers the SuperBee as a mid-year way of maximizing the attention and affection the Road Runner was achieving.
Today, a ‘68 Road Runner is one of the best examples of an American muscle car. With its emphasis on performance, large Hemi motor, and wide stance, it is one of the most sought-after cars of the 60s. The median value for a ‘68 Road Runner in the current market is $78,000.
1969 Chevrolet Corvette
By the late sixties, Chevrolet had been producing Corvettes as their primary sports car for over a decade and a half, and now, entering into their third generation, the high-performance car was growing up.
If you want to talk straight speed, you could quickly point to the ‘67-’69 Corvette, with its L88 big block engine, that produced 430 hp @ 5700 rpm and 460 lb-ft of torque. (Although many thought that this was a misrepresentation and that the numbers were quite higher). The car was a classic muscle car with a 5.3-second speed (0-60 mph) and an 11.21 second for the quarter mile time with a top speed of 121 mph.
The L88 engine used the same block as other big block engines like the L72 and L36 along with the same bore (4.25) and stroke (3.76). However, the L88 had a higher compression ratio of 12.5:1, which enable faster speed, and with the largest Holley 850 cfm 4 bbl carburetor attached to the top, the car had the kind of speed that made advertisements proclaim that there was no substitute for the Corvette.
There were limited units of the L88 manufactured (only 116 units in 1969), and most of the units were designed for racing applications. Since ‘69 was the last year for the L88’s production, these Corvettes are rare and highly sought after. Today, the value of a 1969 Corvette with a 427 big block (L88) engine is $425,000, making it one of the most expensive muscle cars.
1969 Plymouth Barracuda 440 Super Commander
Even though only 346 of these ‘Cudas came off the production line, the 440 V8 engine produced 390 hp and 490 lb-ft of torque. In what proved to be a harbinger of things to come, Plymouth used an RB (raised block) engine to generate a 5.6 track time of 0-60 mph. The insertion of the large V8 was a sign that Plymouth was shoving all its chips into the center of the table. For a time, the ‘69 ‘Cuda was the largest engine in a pony car, and it put the muscle car world on notice.
Unfortunately, Plymouth ran into issues deciding what components it had to lose to make room for the larger 440 engine. With a weight balance ratio over the front tires (the engine was a beast), the car proved hard to steer at times. In addition, there was no room for disc brakes, (the ‘Cuda had drums), and only came with automatic transmissions. The interiors were vinyl seats, simple instrumentation, and basic controls without many frills.
The car was fashioned to be a straightforward performance winner for muscle car enthusiasts, with an original MSRP of $2,870, the car was affordable by the few owners who purchased them. Plymouth used the lessons that it learned to create some of the most iconic Barracudas entering the 70s.
Today, a 1969 Plymouth ‘Cuda is valued at nearly $67,000 dollars which makes them one of the rarest classic cars in America’s muscle car history.
1969 Chevy Nova SS
Chevy changed the Super Sport from a trim to a performance option in 1968, and to their credit, Chevrolet continued to offer it a year later. Even though smaller engines were still offered, the Nova joined the ranks of classic muscle cars with its V8 options.
GM offered two versions of the 6.5L (396 ci) big block that produced 350/375 hp and 415 lb-ft. Without much fanfare, the Nova SS impressed owners when it dropped a 0-60 mph time of close to 6.1 seconds. While the Nova might not have sprinted down the track as fast as other American muscle cars, like the Corvette, the numbers were respectable enough to generate sales of 5,542 units with the upgraded 396 V8. (Over 17K Nova SS units were made).
Chevy marketed the Nova as a five-passenger family mover but offered the SS Performance option for only $280 more than the base model. With an asking price of $2,520, the car was very affordable for the average buyer.
About THE AUTHOR
My name is Matt and I've been around cars all my life! I have owned and worked on many different classic vehicles, so I started this site to share my experiences. If you're new to classic cars, then this website is for you.Read More About Matt Lane