7 Of The Absolutely Worst Muscle Cars Ever Built

Updated May 18, 2018

’60s muscle cars were so evocative their image and names remain in use. But for a time the names were affixed to pathetic, embarrassing examples. Click Next to view the 7:



1982 Pontiac Trans Am


The third-generation Pontiac Firebird was a major step up from the previous design, which dated back to the 1970 model.  And without the Superchicekn on the hood , the design appeared very clear and dare I say futuristic. So much so that a 1982 Trans Am was selected for the David Hasleoff series as his partner in Knight Rider as KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand).

Unfortunately, what was under the hood didn’t quite match up to the exterior. In fact, for 1982 the Firebird’s standard engine was the 2.5-liter 90-hp Iron Duke four-cylinder. At least the four-banger in the upcoming Camaro produces 275 hp.  There was a V-8 option, but the Chevy “Cross-Fire Injected” 5.0 L V-8 was available paired only with an automatic, and produced a pathetic 165 hp – the same output per displacement as a lawn mower engine.



1974 Pontiac GTO
The ’64 Pontiac GTO is widely regarded as the first muscle car.  John Delorean and his team bucked GM policy and dropped  a 348 hp Tri-Power V-8 into the midsized Tempest chassis and created a legend. The GTO was so successful it went from being an option package become its own model. Horsepower  peaked with the 370-hp Ram Air IV V-8, though some would argue the last of the pre-emissions 455s produced more power..

Coming full circle, the GTO became an option package for the 1974 model year. Pontiac offered a  GTO option on the Ventura, which shared its infrastructure with the Chevy Nova. The motor was the Chevy 350 V-8, which had by now become the corporate V-8 used by all divisions,  rated at just 200 hp. And aside from the shaker hood scoop and GTO lettering, there wasn’t much left of the spirit of the original GTO and what it represented.



1978 – 1979 Oldsmobile 4-4-2

In the 1960’s Oldsmobile’s name for its performance model was 4-4-2. At various times Oldsmobile marketing redefined exactly what each number stood for, but it’s hard to image how they could have stretched that name over the 1978 version.

In 1978 4-4-2 came standard with the Buick-made 3.8 L V6 or an optional Chevrolet 160 hp 5.0 L V8. The 5.0 did come equipped with  a 4-barrel carburetor, and a four-speed manual gearbox standard, and with two doors, I guess you could justify the 4-4-2 designation. Then in 1979, Hurst built a special edition 4-4-2 powered by the 5.7 L V-8 from Olds’ full-size sedans. However, the larger engine produced only a 10 horsepower increase.



1976 – 1977 Dodge Charger Daytona


In probably the most larcenous case of name misappropriation, Dodge took the name of the vaunted Charger Daytona (you know, big wing, pointy nose) built to dominate NASCAR and assigned it to its miserable two-door personal luxury car in hopes of selling a few more to the unsuspecting.

In fact, the Charger Daytona of this year was really nothing more than a set of stripes, in a pattern that has not aged well. Otherwise there were no mechanical difference between ten the Charger Daytona and the Cordoba (“rich Corinthian leather”) both sharing the same 145 hp engine. Thankfully only 250 were made.



1978 Ford Mustang King Cobra

Ford fans often defend the Mustang II, claiming without it the Mustang line would have been discontinuous and may well have keep the Mustang name alive. As we can see now with the revival of the Camaro and Challenger, having skipped the periods when decent muscle cars couldn’t have been built wasn’t a damaging strategy.

Instead what we have is a car that’s more of a black mark on the Mustang’s otherwise exemplary history – a car based on a vehicle so reviled it’s still a punchline to jokes: the Ford Pinto.

The Pinto-based Mustang II, best known perhaps as the car of choice of the jiggle TV show “Charlie’s Angels”, was available with an optional 302 V-8, but one that produced a mere 139 hp. The three cylinder 1.0 L engine in the Ford Fiesta produces 123 hp, BTW

The absolute pits, though, was the 1978 Mustang King Cobra, which really just added stickers, spoilers, and wheels, but in its execution somehow made the Super Chicken on the hood of the old Trans Am look subtle. Certainly the lowest point for the Mustang and Cobra names.

Ford Mustang 1978. CN-19503-96


1976–1980 Plymouth Volare Road Runner

Though a late comer in the original muscle car wars, the Plymouth Road Runner made its mark quickly, most likely through its connection to the Warner Brothers cartoon characetro (remember the “meep, meep” horn?) and the addition of the wing and pointy nose for NASCAR competition.

In a desperate effort to sell its crappy mid-sized Volare coupe, Plymouth attached the Road Runner name to a slightly upgraded model. Where the standard 318 V-8 squeezed out 160 hp, the Road Runner was available with and optional 360 V-8 that produced between 175–195 hp depending on model year.

In the long run, it didn’t matter much. The Volare and its Dodge twin the Aspen were so prone to rust, they were actually subject of a national recall.



1978 AMC Gremlin GT
When it was launched, the Gremlin was truly polarizing: some loved the design, some hated it. In fact, originally the design called for a longer hood and a lower roof that transformed its appearance, but that’s a story for another day.
By 1978 AMC’s Gremlin had been around for eight model years, and even its supports were getting a bit tired of the design.  Gremlin production would end, to be replaced by the Spirit. As a send off,  AMC designers created the GT with fat fender flares, spoilers, body-colored bumpers, and wide 14-inch wheels with outline white letter tires. The interior was upgraded as well. Unfortunately, the 304 V-8 had been dropped from the Gremlin the year before (not that it was a great performer) and instead was stuck with the company’s 4.2-liter inline six-cylinder.


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Chris Riley
About Chris Riley

I have been wrecking cars for as long as I've been driving them but I keep coming back for more. Two wheels or four, I'm all in. gives me a chance to give something back to the automobile community.

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