There are no doubt some strong arguments for other years being the best in automotive history.
But, we still haven’t heard any that move us off of the position that 1969 was, and remains, the single greatest year in auto-manufacturing history. The vehicles that came out of Detroit, MI alone is a who’s-who of legendary American muscle and steel.
Welcome to 2019—the 5oth anniversary of that magical year in automotive performance and motorsports history.
And to commerate the 50th anniversary, we’re going to do what we always do—ask you to make impossible choices and choose between the best of the best. We’ve identified eight titans from model year 1969. Some of you will no doubt feel we’ve done some deserving car a gross injustice by not including it on this list.
WE AGREE WITH YOU. We promise.
This is like being asked which of your kids you like the most. It’s neither fair nor reasonable. But. It is kind-of fun.
So join us.
Which is the greatest of the famed 1969 American muscle car lineup?
1969 Yenko Nova SC427
“If you have to ask why anyone would shove a 427 into a Nova, we can’t be friends,” wrote Road & Track‘s Zach Bowman.
We feel you, Zach.
The ’69 Yenko Nova was the lightest in the famed Yenko 427 lineup and also the hairiest. This missile could go 0-60 in five seconds. Only 38 of these 425-horsepower beasts were built. That’s bad news for performance junkies—and probably good news for society at large. The L72 engine had 11.0:1 compression.
There are only 10 originals left, according to what we could find on the internet. One sold at a Mecum auction in January 2015 for $380,000.
1969 AMC Hurst SC/Rambler
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 (both Type A and Type B) 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. Just 1,512 Hurst SC/Ramblers were made, and model year 1969 was the only year that they were.
1969 COPO Camaro ZL-1
Extremely rare and highly powerful, the Camaro ZL1 is considered by most Chevrolet enthusiasts to be the holy grail of the popular Camaro line.
Code name: COPO 9560.
The nasty ZL-1 Camaro’s all-aluminum 427-cubic-inch L-88 engine was rated at 435 horsepower (although many experts say it actually made more than 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.
1969 Dodge Charger R/T
Enter the 1969 Dodge Charger R/T.
The R/T was the baddest and sportiest ’69 Charger available, but it took some time for it to enter the scene. When Dodge released the 1969 Charger, it released a 225 cubic-inch Slant Six version, and the meatier 318 cubic-inch V8 (a much more popular option).
But THEN, Dodge unleashed a couple of mid-year Scat Pack offerings to the delight of performance enthusiasts for the rest of time: the Coronet Super Bee and the now-legendary Dodge Charger R/T.
The R/T was powered by the Magnum 440 cubic-inch, four-barrel carbureted V8, and made 375 horsepower. The car featured a TorqueFlite automatic transmission, a heavy-duty braking system, and dual exhaust with chrome tips.
Of course, much of the reverence muscle car enthusiasts pay the ’69 Charger can be traced to its time as the General Lee driven by Bo and Luke Duke in the wildly popular “Dukes of Hazzard” television series.
According to The Illustrated Directory of Muscle Cars, the TV show’s producers wrecked more than 1,500 Chargers filming stunts for that show.
1969 Oldsmobile Hurst/Olds 455
The Hurst/Olds showed up for model year 1968, but everyone fell extra in-love with the 1969 version, when the silver and black paint scheme was replaced by the iconic Firefrost gold-on-white paint scheme now synonomous with the Hurst/Olds name.
The car, based on the Oldsmobile 4-4-2, was powered by a 455 c.i.d. Rocket V8 engine rated at 380 hp and 500 ft.-lbs. of torque. Just over 900 Hurst/Olds were built for 1969.
1969 Plymouth Road Runner
According to The Illustrated Directory of Muscle Cars, Plymouth’s goal for 1968 was to offer a car that could go 100 miles-per-hour in the quarter-mile for less than $3,000. And that’s what they did.
Chrysler expected to sell about 20,000. It sold more like 45,000, and was behind only the Pontiac GTO and the Chevy Chevelle SS 396 in muscle car sales.
Fast forward to 1969, and—voila—we meet the glorious 1969 Plymouth Road Runner. The Road Runner came standard with a sporty 383 cubic-inch (6.3L), 335-horsepower V8. You could also get this Mopar legend with a 426 HEMI, and at the mid-year, the 440 Six Pack package became available, showcasing a 440 V8 with three Holley two-barrel carbs, steel black wheels with no hub caps or covers, a black fiberglass hood with four hood pins and a functioning hood scoop.
The 440 Six Pack made 390 horsepower and 490 ft.-lbs. of torque (at a lower engine speed than the HEMI).
Plymouth paid $50,000 to Warner Bros. for the rights to use the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote names and likeness from the popular cartoon, and invested thousands to develop a horn that approximated the famous Warner Bros. Road Runner’s “beep-beep” sound.
The 1969 Plymouth Road Runner was named Motor Trend’s “Car of the Year,” which, when you consider the company, is no small thing.
1969 Pontiac GTO “The Judge”
There’s no shortage of car enthusiasts who consider the Goat, the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time). But which one?
The 1964 Pontiac GTO is widely considered the first true American muscle car to birth the movement for the remainder of the 1960s, and into the early ‘70s, and is revered for that reason.
The 1965-67 GTOs are gorgeous and wildly popular with collectors and hot-rodders. 1968 ushered in the Goat’s second generation and was named Car of the Year.
And then 1969 happened. Pontiac unleashed “The Judge.”
For an extra $332 over the price of a standard GTO, the Judge came equipped with Ram Air III induction (and later, Ram Air IV for a higher price) feeding a 400 cubic-inch HO (high-output) V8, three-speed gearbox, Rally II wheels, and a beefed-up suspension.
Pontiac sold just 108 convertible models, but more than 6,700 hardtop models. (Convertible versions of the Judge cost about $1,000 more than the hardtops.) Fewer than 10 percent of all 72,287 ’69 GTOs built were Judges.
The first 2,000 Judge GTOs were delivered in “Carousel Red” (which is actually orange), but were available in all GTO colors afterward.
1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429
The real battles for muscle car supremacy often took place on the race track.
That’s where the story of the 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429 begins. Ford was looking to develop a hemispherical engine that could compete with the Chrysler’s 426 HEMI, which was highly successful in NASCAR’s then-Grand National Division. The end result turned out to be one of the rarest and most-valued muscle cars of all time—the legendary “Ford Boss 9.”
The 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429 was powered by Ford’s new 429-cubic-inch engine, which featured semi-hemispherical combustion chambers. To meet NASCAR’s homologation rules, which required a minimum production run of 500 cars, Ford shoehorned the “Semi-Hemi” engine into just 859 Boss 429s for 1969.
To get the massive engine—an engine that would’ve been better suited for a Torino—to fit into the smaller Mustang, the team at Kar Kraft had modified Ford’s existing 428 Cobra Jet and Super Cobra Jet Mach 1 Mustangs to accommodate the big block. These modifications included widening the shock towers, extending out the inner fenders, chopping and displacing the motor mounts, and relocating the battery to the trunk. They also lowered the suspension, which ultimately made the Boss 429 a better-handling muscle car than many of its counterparts.
Truth is, the Boss 429 was essentially hand-built.
The 1969 “Boss 9” was rated conservatively at 375 horsepower and 450 ft.-lbs. of torque, but actual output was thought to be well over 500 horsepower. Each of the 859 Boss 429s was given special NASCAR identification, which was placed on the driver’s side door.
Today, the 1969 Mustang Boss 429 is one of the most highly valued muscle cars from the 1960s.