What Are The Best Muscle Cars Mopar Made?
While there are many contenders for any “best of the Mopar brand,” here are our picks for some worthy of being viewed as classic muscle cars. (If we left off your favorite pony cars, forgive us. It’s been a challenging year).
1962 Plymouth Savoy Max Wedge
In 1962, Chrysler introduced a larger raised-body V8 engine with a 4bbl carb set over the intake (designed to shorten the ram induction) and placed it into their newly styled B-body midsized vehicles. It wasn’t long before the lightweight cars conquered the best of both the race track and the street, with the power young people wanted and the acceleration to blow away any competition at the track. Even though some Chrysler dealers balked at the new B-body design, the murmuring quieted once the Max Wedge engine cars started winning races.
The Max Wedge engine produced 410 hp and 425 ft-lb of torque. The unique wedge-style combustion chambers were enough to raise the compression ratio to 11.1:1. With slight modifications and some ultra-potent racing fuel, the compression could be raised to 13:5:1. In 1962, a Plymouth Savoy (known as the Melrose Missile) with a 413 Max Wedge engine, was the first car to break the 12-second range with a quarter mile time of 11.93 seconds (carrying a 413 Max Wedge).
Before long, the Max Wedge engines were setting records all over the place, and Dodge decided to increase the bore of the new speedy engine. This led to the development of the 426 Max Wedge for the 63 and 64 model years.
The cars weren’t top sellers the first year, mainly because Dodge and Plymouth only made about 500 total (Plymouth 298/Dodge 214). The cars had an MSRP of around $2,528, which left some cash in owners' pockets to spend on parts for an upgrade.
1968 Dodge Charger RT
The Charger was already developing a loyal following of Mopar muscle heads, but with the second-generation redesign, sales took off. Dodge figured that only about 35,000 units were needed. They actually sold almost triple that amount as production rounded off at 91k models).
With its upgraded exterior looks and mighty 426 Hemi engine (available as an option on the R/T model), the Charger quickly made a name for itself. When Car and Driver had the car featured, they reviewed that the 426 Hemi V8 was a beast, producing 425 hp and 490 lb-ft of torque (although it was capable of much more). The real test of the engine was on the quarter-mile, where the Charger R/T showed itself proud, boasting speeds in the 13.5 seconds and a 4.8 second 0 - 60 mph time. Mated with a pair of 4bbl carburetors on top of an aluminum intake valve, the Charger had a top speed of 156 mph despite its heavy weight of over 4000 lbs.
The Hemi engine was a $634 upgrade which pushed the Hemi-powered R/T version to a nearly $4,000 asking price. Of the nearly 100k Chargers built in 1968, only 17k R/Ts were built, with about 90% having the standard 440 engine (which was fast enough in its own right). Only 475 are equipped with the Hemi, 264 with the Torqueflite automatic, and the rest with a four-speed manual rising from the floor.
Today, the 426 Hemi Charger is a valuable collector car that brings significant dollars to any collector’s garage. (The Charger took such a following that CBS created a television series called the Dukes of Hazard, featuring an orange-painted ‘69 Charger equipped with a 440 Magnum. Many people don’t realize that almost 1 - 2 Chargers were destroyed during filming each week during its seven seasons).
1970 Plymouth Superbird
In response to Ford's racing success in the late sixties, Chrysler developed the ‘69 Dodge Charger Daytona (the first car to exceed 200 mph at a NASCAR event). Shortly afterward, Plymouth came out with the Superbird. With its unique front design and nearly 5’ tall rear spoiler, the Superbird took on all comers during the ‘70 season, winning eight races. The Daytona and the Superbird set many speed records, and in 1971, NASCAR deemed any “aero” car illegal to race when it changed the rules just to eliminate these superfast cars.
There is some debate about whether the development of the Superbird was an attempt by Plymouth to lure back its prime race car driver, Richard Petty, who had left to drive for Ford the year before. Whatever the company did, it must have worked because Petty returned to the fold and drove for the Superbird to victory lane several times.
The Superbird was offered three engines: the 375 hp 440 with a single 4 bbl, the 440 Six Barrel with 390 horsepower, and a 426 Hemi engine that pumped out 425 hp. There was no question that the Superbird could fly, with a 4.8 second 0 - 60 time. The quarter-mile was a blazing 13.5 seconds. With a top speed of 185 mph, it is easy to see how the Superbird was one of the best Mopar muscle cars ever made.
A limited number of Plymouth Superbirds (1,970 units) were made to be sold to the public, but they were disliked. The cars sat parked out behind the dealer's buildings. Many were modified to remove the spoilers so that they would sell better. The low sales might have had to do with the idea it was a race car more than a street car. Superbirds tended to be cop magnets).
Today, the exact opposite is true. These rare pieces of Mopar muscle fetch top dollar for car collectors everywhere. Recently, a 70 Plymouth Superbird sold for 1.65 million dollars.
1971 Plymouth Barracuda Convertible 426 Hemi
The classic car world went wild when a ‘71 Barracuda convertible sold in 2007 for 2.2 million at a Battett-Jackson auction. Then a few years later, in 2014, some sold for $3.5 million. Not to be outdone, a French owner put one of five ‘71 ‘Cudas on the market in 2021 but didn’t take the $4.8 million top bid. Granted that you can count the number of 70/71 Hemi Convertibles on your hand, this car had to make our list just because of its unbelievable market value.
When Plymouth brought out the third generation of the ‘Cuda in 1970, it broke free of its dependence on the Valiant to become its beast. The wide, low stance offered stability and patterned after the successful Dodge Challenger, the ‘Cuda was highly successful, selling over 55k units. Since the upgrade to the Hemi engine was an additional 892 dollar upcharge, most young buyers simply did not have the funds to invest more than the $3,184 price tag.
The Hemi engine was a beast on the street, topping 117 mph and setting a 5.8-second time at 0 - 60 mph. The ‘Cuda was a sport-styled separate model introduced the year before but was carried over to the 70 MY. While Plymouth was very excited to have a pony car to go with the mid-sized Plymouth Road Runner, their hopes were dashed as the Barracuda’s production fell to only 18,690k the following year. Chrysler decided after 1971 that no one wanted convertibles anymore, so it squashed the drop-tops across its entire line. By the time 1974 arrived, an Arab oil crisis drained most consumers' bank accounts and made them park their large V8s, forcing automakers to abandon their hulky muscle cars.
2023 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon 170
Okay, we know the new Dodge isn’t part of the golden era of Mopar muscle, but it might just be the best Hemi engine Dodge has ever developed. With a monstrous hp rating of 1,025, and 945 lb-ft of torque, the car blisters down the track so fast that if you blink, you might miss it. Certified times have been 1.66 seconds for 0 - 60 mph times and 8.91 seconds for the quarter mile. The top speed is 212 mph, and you get all of this speed and power from an ordinary street machine that you can drive off a dealer lot. That, in a word, is - amazing.
The Challenger and its sibling, Charger, are on their last runs. Dodge announced that it would start taking orders for the cars at the end of March, and by mid-May, they had met their quota of 3300 units (3,000 for the US and 300 for Canada). While the pleasure of owning what will likely set you back an easy $100,000, it will be a worthwhile investment in a matter of a decade (maybe sooner). And just in case you think we might be delusional, we ask you to consider that someone bought the last production Challenger slot for a cool $700,000 donated to a children’s charity.
While it remains to be seen what Mopar has in store for future muscle cars (or whether an EV can even be called a muscle car), here’s betting that the last of the Challengers will skyrocket in value. If you were fortunate enough to secure one, hold on because it is a fast car and part of Mopar's history.