It’s that time again.
Filling out tournament brackets has become a rite of spring. What college basketball has ingrained in our culture, we’ve brought to you with an automotive twist. It’s Year 3 for Muscle Car Match-Ups, so to spice things up, we’ve expanded the field to 32 muscle cars, and have included later-model vehicles from the ’80s, ’90s, and today.
Can they dance with the titans of the muscle car era of the 1960s-70s?
Only you can decide.
How it Works
We’ll present our entire bracket as first-round match-ups below (Editor’s Note: Yes, we know some great cars didn’t make the cut—you try narrowing it to just 32). You can vote for your first round winners in one of three ways:
- Write all your first round picks in the comments section below.
- Follow OnAllCylinders on Facebook and vote on each individual match-up when we post it. You make your pick by commenting on your favorite.
- Follow Summit Racing Equipment’s Facebook page. Our friends at Summit Racing will post individual, head-to-head match-ups from the tournament, and you can comment on your favorite to vote.
(1) 1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 vs. (8) 1970 AMC Rebel “Machine”
Extremely rare and highly powerful, the Camaro ZL1 is considered by most Chevrolet enthusiasts to be the holy grail of the popular Camaro line. Its all-aluminum 427-cubic-inch engine was rated at 435 horsepower (although many experts say it actually made over 500 horses), yet weighed about the same as a small block 327. Although they were barely street cars, they were backed by a 5-year/50,000-mile warranty.
What screams American muscle more than the 1970 AMC Rebel “Machine?” It came standard with AMC’s most powerful motor ever—the 340-horse, 390-cubic-inch engine—and was wrapped in that iconic red, white, and blue paint scheme.
(4) 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T vs. (5) 1968½ Ford Mustang 428 Cobra Jet
The Dodge Challenger R/T arrived late to the muscle car game , but it came in with a loud roar. It was available with some of Mopar’s most potent powerplants, starting with the 383. The 440 and 426 HEMI engine were also options.
Following the lead of Rhode Island car dealer Robert Tasca, who crammed a 428 Police Interceptor motor into a Mustang, Ford created the 428 Cobra Jet Mustang to compete with the big block Camaros and Firebirds of the day. Using a passenger car 428 engine, 427 low-riser heads, and Tasca’s 735 Holley carb, Ford created the legendary 428 Cobra Jet for mid-year 1968. It wreaked havoc on the NHRA circuit—particularly in Super Stock.
(2) 1968 Dodge HEMI Dart vs. (7) 1968 Pontiac Firebird 400
If you’re all about performance muscle and nothing else, then the 1968 HEMI Dart is your choice. Only about 80 of the limited-production models were made, and they came about as bare bones as possible. No rear seats. No radio. No luxuries of any kind. Unless you consider a fire-breathing 426-cubic-inch elephant a luxury. With minimal modifications, the HEMI Dart was easily in the 10s in the quarter-mile.
The Firebird came on to the scene in 1967 with two engine options. By 1968, the Firebird was available with seven different engines, including a top-of-the-line 400-cubic-inch fire-breather. This engine churned out around 340 horsepower—scary enough for Ford to re-tool its own arsenal in the ongoing muscle car wars (see Mustang Cobra Jet above).
(3) 1969 Chevrolet Yenko 427 Nova vs. (6) 1964 Ford Fairlane Thunderbolt
The ’69 Yenko Nova was the lightest in the famed Yenko 427 lineup and could go zero to 60 miles-per-hour in an astonishing four seconds! Only 37 of these 425-horsepower beasts were built. That’s bad news for performance junkies—and probably good news for society at large!
Ford took its largest V8 engine and shoehorned it into the midsize Fairlane body to create the 1964 Ford Fairlane Thunderbolt. Featuring a “high-rise” 427 cubic-inch engine, the Thunderbolt was extremely lightweight and scary fast. A very rare vehicle, only around 100 Thunderbolts were made.
(1) 1970 Plymouth HEMI ‘Cuda vs. (8) 1969 AMC Hurst SC/Rambler
The 1970 Plymouth HEMI ‘Cuda was once commemorated on a special U.S. Postal Service stamp—and for good reason. The 1970 HEMI ‘Cuda featured Mopar’s brand new E-body, incorporated the almighty HEMI engine, and came standard with a distinctive shaker scoop.
The AMC Hurst SC/Rambler brought together fun and fast like no other car of its era. From the unforgettable “AIR” lettering on the hood scoop to the distinctive 390 Cu. In. label on the hood, the Hurst SC/Rambler and its patriotic paint scheme were unmistakable. So was its performance. A combination of 390 cubic inches of big block power and just 3,100 pounds made it a formidable track star.
(4) 1967 Mercury Cyclone 427 vs. (5) 1993 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra R
Have you ever seen a 1967 Mercury Cyclone 427 up close? Chances are you haven’t. And that’s one of the things that make this ultra-rare muscle car cool. Only eight Cyclones were produced with the 410-horse, single-carb 427 FE engine in 1967, making it the rarest of the cars in our competition. It featured Ford’s already-feared 427 engine—a legend in its own right. The 1967 Mercury Cyclone 427 gave the Mercury brand instant performance cred.
The 5.0L Fox-body Mustang is a polarizing vehicle, but it was absolutely instrumental in keeping American performance alive in the 1980s and early 90s. If you’re one of the legions of Fox-body fans, you no doubt know the significance of the 1993 SVT Cobra. This limited-production, high performance Mustang introduced the world to Ford’s Special Vehicles Team and laid the foundation for great SVT vehicles to come. And what about the “R?” The Cobra R was the race version of the potent SVT Cobra.
(2) 1970 Chevrolet 454 Chevelle SS vs. (7) 1964 Pontiac GTO
When GM lifted its ban on 400-plus cubic-inch motors in mid-sized cars, Chevrolet responded in a big way. Its popular Chevelle SS model was now available with a 454-cubic-inch engine, and an LS6 option gave the Chevelle 454 SS 450 horsepower. At the time, it was one of the most powerful production vehicles that anyone could purchase.
Widely credited as the car that ushered in the entire muscle car era, the 1964 GTO was actually an option package for the Tempest and sported a 389 cubic inch engine that put out 325 horsepower. While earlier cars like the Polara Max Wedge and Pontiac 421 SD had muscle, the 1964 GTO launched an entire movement of yoked up automobiles!
(3) 2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat vs. (6) 1964 Plymouth Belvedere
What can we say about the Challenger Hellcat that hasn’t already been said? Dodge basically went nuclear on the current Big Three muscle car war when it unleashed this 707-horsepower Hellcat engine last year. The Hellcat-powered Challenger, with its retro looks, would undoubtedly create havoc on the streets in any era of American performance.
It’s old school versus new school Mopar! The 1964 Plymouth Belvedere introduced the world to the 426 HEMI engine. The HEMI-powered ’64 Belvedere was so potent that it won first, second, and third at NASCAR’s 1964 Daytona race. And HEMI fever was born. Need we say more?
(1) 1969 Dodge Charger R/T vs. (8) 1961 Chevrolet Impala SS 409
The 1969 Charger reached legendary status on its own, but earned cult status when Bo and Luke piloted a ’69 Charger on TV’s Dukes of Hazzard. We went with the 1969 Charger R/T because of its standard 440-cubic-inch engine and special handling package. (A 426 was also optional.)
The 1961 Chevy Impala SS rose to celebrity status when The Beach Boys released “409” in May 1962. But that’s not what we love about it. It’s the gorgeous lines. The bubble top. The killer taillights, which we assume most rivals got good looks at. The ’61 Impala SS represented the launch of Chevy’s legendary SS legacy, a designation that would branch out to many other performance vehicles in the Chevy lineup.
(4) 1968 Hurst/Olds vs. (5) 1962 Dodge Polara 413 Max Wedge
The 1968 Hurst/Olds is sometimes called a “gentleman’s hot rod” due to its combination of luxury and high performance emanating from its 390-horsepower, 455-cubic-inch big block V8. The ’68 Hurst/Olds is a rare find and total torque monster out for blood.
The 413 V8 Max Wedge engine was Dodge’s answer to the Chevy 409 and Pontiac’s 421 Super Duty in competition on the Super Stock drag race circuit of the 1960s. Used in tandem with the A-727 Torqueflite three-speed automatic transmission, it became a favorite inside the 1962 Dodge Polara. The Polara shared body and chassis components with the Dodge Dart.
(2) 1969 Pontiac GTO (The Judge) Ram Air vs. (7) 1964 Oldsmobile Cutlass 4-4-2
Perhaps no muscle car better reflected American culture than the 1969 Pontiac GTO ‘the Judge” model, which was named after a popular comedy routine on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. The Judge had a serious vibe, though, thanks to its standard 400 H.O. Ram Air III engine, Rally II wheels, spoiler, and wide tires.
Four years before the 4-4-2 became a beloved model in its own right, it was first introduced in 1964 as an option package for the Cutlass and F-85 models. The 1964 Oldsmobile Cutlass 4-4-2 got its name from the presence of the four-barrel carburetor, four-speed manual transmission, and dual exhaust. And it kept its name by winning a lot of races.
(3) 1970 Buick GSX vs. (6) 2002 Pontiac Trans Am WS6
Buick combined luxury with muscle. The 1970 Buick GSX was the high performance package for the Gran Sport and featured a stout 455 cubic-inch engine. The Stage 1 version used a more aggressive cam and higher compression for even greater output.
The last of the legendary Pontiac Trans Ams came out in 2002, and the 2002 Trans Am WS6 was the top of the mountain. Long after the Burt Reynolds mustache went out of style, this Trans Am still churns out the power. Its 346-cubic-inch 5.7L LS1—complete with WS6 Ram-Air setup—delivers 310 horsepower and 340 ft.-lbs. of torque and handled like it was on rails.
(1) 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429 vs. (8) 1962 Pontiac Catalina 421 Super Duty
Rare but undeniably awesome, the 1969 Ford Boss 429 featured Ford’s 429 cubic-inch engine (go figure). The engine was developed for NASCAR use and built to compete with Mopar’s popular HEMI engine. In the end, only 859 Boss 429s were made, and the car remains highly collect-able.
According to The Illustrated Directory of Muscle Cars, the 1962 Pontiac Catalina 421 Super Duty was “designed to do battle on dragstrips and Stock Car tracks… it was never meant for polite society.” In 1962, nothing beat a Super Duty Pontiac. Not the 406 Fords. Not the 409 Chevys. Nothing.
(4) 1970 Plymouth Superbird vs. (5) 1973 Pontiac Trans Am SD-455
It was a car fit for a king. A Road Runner turned missile. Plymouth modeled the 1970 Superbird after the 1969 Dodge Daytona which was the first-ever car to crack the 200-mile-per-hour barrier in NASCAR. Because of their rarity, Superbirds sell for small fortunes at auction today. Only 1,935 were built. Just 135 were outfitted with the 426 HEMI.
The Illustrated Directory of Muscle Cars calls it “the last great American muscle car.” The 1973 Pontiac Trans Am Super Duty 455, according to many observers, was the bookend to Pontiac’s creation of the muscle car era with the ’64 Goat. It was a bad machine forged during an era of strict emission standards and stood alone atop the performance car category until the Z/28 Camaro reemerged in 1977.
(2) 1965 Shelby Cobra 427 vs. (7) 1987 Buick GNX
The only car in our brackets to combine American muscle with European styling, the 1965 Shelby Cobra 427 brought together a roadster body with a 510-horsepower, 427-cubic-inch “side-oiler” V8. The Carroll Shelby creation remains one of the quickest cars ever built.
Whoa. A V6? An automatic tranny? Really? Yes, really. It may be the sole six-cylinder vehicle in this tournament, but we didn’t hesitate to include one of the most-beloved cars of the 1980s. The turbocharged 1987 Buick Grand National GNX was underrated at 245 horsepower and 360 foot-pounds of torque.
(3) 2013 Shelby GT500 vs. (6) 1968 Corvette L88
We lost automotive performance legend Carroll Shelby in 2012. His swan song? The 2013 Shelby GT500, SAE-certified at 662 horsepower and 631 ft.-lbs. of torque—at the time, the most-powerful production V8 engine in the world. Top speed? More than 200 miles per hour. It’s okay. We want one, too.
There were only 80 built. And almost everyone loves rare things. What’s that? Can a Corvette be a muscle car? When it’s packing a 427, do you really want to argue with it? The 1968 Chevrolet Corvette L88 produced more than 500 horsepower. Without a fan shroud, choke, or heating system, it could eclipse 600 horses. In 1968! Giddy up.