What Are The Fastest Muscle Cars in the 70s?
There are many contenders for the fastest car of the decade, but we’ve chosen a few worthy of the title. They are offered in no particular order, but each one is an example of what a great muscle car is.
1971 Plymouth ‘Cuda 426 Hemi
The Barracuda had been around a while, but the early 70s saw it break free of its common reliance on the Valiant. Fashioned on the new “E” body, the ‘Cuda was built with a shorter wheelbase and a lower, wider stance than previous models. The car exuded an athletic appearance unlike any other on the market, and with wide tires, a large Hemi motor, hood scoop, racing mirrors, and high-backed bucket seats, the car screamed fast, even before the owner turned the ignition key.
The 71 ‘Cuda had several V8 options including a 318, 340, 383, 440, and 426 Hemi. The 426 Hemi had been around since the mid-sixties when it was designed for NASCAR applications, but Chrysler saw the advantage of offering a “street” version. The 7.0L 426 Hemi motor Plymouth used was similar to the racing version, and it was the perfect match for Plymouth’s muscle cars, (Road Runner, SuperBee, and Barracuda). The engine produced 425 hp and 490 lb-ft of torque, which gave the lighter weight ‘Cuda a decided advantage on the track. Early reports clocked the ‘Cuda with a 5.2 second 0 - 60 mph time, with top speed surpassing 140 mph.
The 71 MY would be the last year of the 426 Hemi. Of the over 6K ‘Cudas made in 1971, only 119 were made with the Hemi engine (only 11 were convertibles). Part of the reason they did not sell well is that with an additional option of $883 Hemi, the total price for the ‘Cuda pushed north of $4,000, which simply was more than many young buyers wanted to pay.
Today, the ‘71 Plymouth Barracuda is a rare collectible. A recent bid for an ultra rare 71 ‘Cuda convertible was listed at $4.8 million at Mecum Auctions. This classic car gets our vote for the best American muscle car.
1971 Dodge Challenger R/T
Plymouth was not the only car company to use the E-body, as Dodge also scooped it up for its Challenger. The Challenger was Mopar’s offering to counter the Mercury Cougar, which had drawn affluent young buyers for several years. The Challenger shared many components with its ‘Cuda cousin, but the more expensive Challenger offered more luxurious amenities. Early sales brochures included it in the “Scat Pack,” a collection of high-performance Mopars that appealed to Americans’ dreams for speed.
The largest V8 choices were the 440 and the 426 Hemi, (425 hp and 490 lb-ft torque). Of the 71 Hemi Challengers made, 90% were mated with a 4-speed manual transmission as a hardtop. (Convertible Challengers were available in other trims, but not the R/T. The moment an owner slid behind the wheel of the Challenger R/T (Road/Track), it was apparent that the car was designed for speed with its 150 mph speedometer and 8,000 rpm tachometer, and a functional hood scoop resting just over the center of the hood.
There was plenty of punch in the 426 Hemi, with the Challenger topping 146 mph as a top speed with a 5.2 second 0 - 60 mph track time. (Similar numbers were produced for the 71 Plymouth Road Runner). The Hemi option cost buyers an additional $730 on top of the $3,250 price for the R/T. Today, R/T Challengers can bring several hundred thousand dollars for classic car enthusiasts.
1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454
When you think of American muscle cars, no list is complete without the Chevelle. As soon as GM lifted its corporate edict preventing any production engine from exceeding 400 ci, the 454 V8 began dominating the muscle car world. With a sizeable 4.25-inch bore and 4-inch stroke, the engine produced 450 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque with a top speed of over 160 mph. While there were two V8 options (LS-5 and LS-6) available, the optimal performance numbers were from the LS-6 engines, which made it the most powerful muscle car on the planet.
The 454 (LS-6) was equipped with a single Holley 4-bbl carburetor, and Cowl induction which according to the sales brochure was like giving an “extra breath of fresh air” into the intake. The result was a power boost and increased acceleration. The wide racing tires were “grabbers” which got the grip on the road and kept it all the way down the strip.
The Chevelle was a beast on the track, consistently beating all comers, posting 5.4 seconds 0 - 60 mph. (The quarter-mile time was in the low 13-second range). The performance of the 454 engine combined with a redesigned, more aerodynamic exterior allowed the car to move more easily with less drag. Dual exhaust pipes made the engine sound louder and put every other car owner on notice.
The base price was around $3,436 with about 4.475 units produced. Today the value of a ‘70 Chevelle is around $63,000 when equipped with the 454 engine according to auction sites like conceptcarz.com. Considering that it is one of the fastest muscle cars ever built, it doesn’t seem like a fortune to own a piece of automotive history.
1970 Ford Mustang Boss 429
Ford struggled with the Mustang in the early 70s trying to compete with the Charger, Road Runner, and Chevelle. The 429 engine was a high-performance racing engine with 375 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque. While the 429 had been used in Ford’s racing applications, homologation requirements forced Ford to offer at least 500 units to be sold as production cars. The Boss 429 Mustang retained much of the original Mustang features, but with a specially designed larger motor compartment to accommodate the size of the big block 429.
The 429 was a heavy beast with the sizeable big block engine weighing down the Mustang’s nose. Ford compensated by installing a rear sway bar to more adequately balance the front/back weight ratios. The Boss 429 engine had a 10.5:1 compression, which was helped by the black hood scoop, driver-controlled ram air intake, and Holley 735 cfm 4 bbl carb. With oversized F60 x 15 tires that could provide the traction owners demanded and propel the car to a top speed of 147 mph. While the 0-60 times of six seconds might have been slower than its Mopar competitors, Ford decided to let the Boss 429 do its talking on the track.
Unfortunately, like many higher-performance vehicles, the Boss didn’t sell well. Only 1359 units were made in ‘69 - ‘70. Ford soon decided not to renew production of the Boss 429, and 1970 ended up being its final year. The good news is that these cars are highly sought after by collectors, with values pushing $400,000.
1971 Chevrolet Corvette 454 LS6
By 1971, the Corvette has been in production for over a decade and a half and was in its third generation. Eighteen years of experience had taught the General Motors team how to squeeze a great deal of power into a genuine sports car. Since the Corvette had developed a reputation for speed and power, with its aerodynamic shark-like silhouette, it was only a matter of time before GM paired the sports car with the most prominent big block engine they built, the 454.
Even though GM had been lowering power outputs on its engines to meet stricter emissions controls, the LS6 GM offered in the Corvette seemed to escape the reductions. The 454 V8 produced 425 hp and over 500 lb-ft of torque, with a 9.0:1 compression ratio, aluminum heads, and a special 4-speed transmission. The result of this pairing was a top speed pushing close to 160 mph. But even more crucial, the large engine forced many owners to try their luck at the track, where the Corvettes held their own, with a 5.3 second 0 - 60 mph time. Its quarter-mile track time of 13.8 was pretty fast for its day.
While only 188 LS6 Corvettes were produced, the car sold for over $5,500, which prevented many middle-class buyers from purchasing them. Still, future Corvettes would see their performance diminish over the next few years with the addition of catalytic converters and other emission controls. The 454 option would continue without the peak outputs, it had enjoyed until it was discontinued in 1975.
Today, a 1971 Corvette with a 454 engine is valued at over $150k, which makes it as fun to drive today as it was over fifty years ago.
1970 Plymouth Superbird
When Plymouth paid the Looney Tunes folks roughly $50k for the naming rights to their new muscle car, Road Runner, little did they know that it would morph into another variant, the Superbird. Designed as the company’s stock racing design, to complement the Dodge Charger Daytona from the year before, the Superbird was a Plymouth Road Runner with an unusual, pointed cone nose and extra tall spoiler. The car would only be built for one year, but it made enough of an impact to lure Richard Petty back to Plymouth for the 1970 Nascar season.
The 1970 Superbirds came with three engine choices, a 426 ci Hemi V8, with its dual 4bbl carbs that produced 425 hp and 490 lb-ft of torque. (Only 135 Superbirds received the Hemi). The second option was the cheaper to produce 440 ci Super Commando Six Barrel with triple 2 bbl carbs, and a 440 ci Super Commando with a single 4-bbl carburetors. The top speed was 182 mph and the Superbird posted a 5.5-second track time (0 - 60 mph). Even though the tall spoiler stood over 5 feet above the car’s rear, and created additional downforce, the track numbers were similar to the Plymouth Road Runner.
The Superbirds were also race cars and their unusual design did aid in helping Petty win eight races in 1970, and the car did so well that NASCAR outlawed the “aero-cars” to slow down drivers who were pushing their cars toward high speeds. (The 200 mile-per-hour limit was considered unsafe for tires and other safety reasons).
Interiors were designed with standard vinyl bench seats, a black dash with simple gauges, and black carpeting. Plymouth offered certain amenities, like an AM/FM, clock, and optional bucket seats should customers want them. Plymouth gave a nod to the Road Runner by including the horn that went “beep, beep” like the cartoon.
The Superbird was a heavy beast at over 3,800 lbs, which put it close to the Pontiac GTO, (4,035 lbs). The original MSRP was $4,745 which was more than many buyers wanted to shell out. The lack of interest in the Superbird left many cars sitting on lots because Plymouth dealers could hardly give them away. The unusual design didn’t appeal to Americans who preferred their rear spoilers closer to the trunk.
Today, the Superbird is a rare find worth an average of $210,000 and as one of the great muscle cars from the 70s, they are highly sought after by collectors.
1970 Ford Torino Cobra
One of the best-selling models for Ford in 1970 was the Torino. Even though most Torinos were equipped with a 250 ci inline six, there were several V8 options. The Cobra trim had a standard 429 Thunder Jet V8, but the top engine was a Super Cobra Jet engine (429) that produced 375 hp and came as part of a drag package. The Super Cobra Jet engine moved the compression ratio to 11.3:1, which was significantly more than the 454 that GM was promoting. Despite the extra car weight, the Torino Cobra (and its sibling, the GT) were unassuming beasts that ran a 0 - 60 time in 5.8 seconds (as tested by MotorTrend).
The Torino was a big hit for Ford who sold almost 230k units, (about 60k were GT trims and 7,765 were Cobras). The car won MotorTrends Car of the Year for 1970, and early sales brochures described the newly designed Torino as a “beautiful blend of glamour and go.”
The Cobra was only available as a Sportsroof (Fastback), with upgraded suspension, a 4-speed transmission, Hurst shifter, and 7-inch wide tires.
One of the reasons that the Ford Torino Cobra sold as well as it did was its affordability. Priced at $2,870, the Torino was within reach of many American young people, and it gave the speed and power that new buyers enjoyed. The Torino Cobra continued virtually unchanged for the 1971 model year, before streamlined the trims for the third generation’s introduction in 1972.