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Top 10 Best and Most Powerful Entry-Level Classic Muscle Cars

Looking for some Classic Muscle to get you where you’re going?

Published June 28, 2018

As far as muscle cars are concerned, their most important job is to swallow as much pavement in as little time possible while heading down the straight line. Cornering simply isn’t their forte. Then again, there have been many muscle cars over the years that had had additional jobs to perform. Being as plushy as possible and offering as many feats as there were was one such assignment. Then there were the bare bone muscle cars poised on doing the initial job while remaining friends with the owner’s wallet at the same time. After all, some people either weren’t able to afford the extra options or they simply craved for raw power. Or they couldn’t be bothered with the air conditioning, power windows or the leather seats.

Furthermore, these were often the ultimate racer’s choice. They weren’t the most powerful. Not by a long shot. But race spec muscle often cost almost double the entry-level car’s price. For that kind of spare change, every racing enthusiast could have beefed up their car according to their needs and still save enough for a moped. Here are the 10 powerful entry-level classic muscles we deemed better than the others.

1970 AMC AMX

AMC changed the powertrain lineup in all of their cars for the 1970 model year, and AMX was no different. 290ci V8 was dropped entirely while the 343ci V8 was replaced by the new 360ci V8 capable of producing up to 290 horsepower. That gave the base 1970 AMC AMX 65 more horses compared to the 1969 base option. For that feat alone, 1970 AMC AMX was one of the best entry-level muscle cars of its day. But that’s not all. “Go Package” which was available with the 360 engine for additional $298.85 (around $1,900 today), added the power front disc brakes, ram-air induction, handling package and  F70x14 raised white letter tires. Priced just below $24,000 in 2017 dollars, this setup could have held its own against much more prestigious opponents. Not to mention that this sports car/muscle car blend served as the poor man’s Corvette of sorts.

1968 Plymouth Roadrunner

Straight out of the gate, Plymouth Roadrunner was offered with the 383ci V8 aptly named the “Roadrunner” V8. This 6.3L mill was rated at 335 horsepower and 425 lb-ft of torque which was a feat usually reserved for performance options. The basic car was stripped of almost all amenities. It was so spartan in fact, that early models even lacked the carpeting. Furthermore, ordering air conditioning actually lowered the total output by 5 horsepower. The reason for that was the radical cam from the 440 Super Commando coupled with .25 increase in compression, in base models. There simply wasn’t enough vacuum in that setup to accommodate the air conditioning, hence models with such luxury yielded “only” 330 horsepower. Spartan or not, 1968 Plymouth Roadrunner was an instant hit selling more than twice the anticipated number.

1968 Pontiac GTO

Motor Trend’s Car of the Year for 1968 was offered with highly potent 350-horsepower 400ci V8 mill. And that was its base, economy option. Optional Ram Air II package officially came with the same figures, but actually delivered at least a few horses more. Another piece of standard equipment was the Turbo-Hydramatic TH 400 auto trans introduced the year before. At the same time, the GTO had received the energy-absorbing steering column and wheel, together with body-color Endura front bumper designed to absorb impact without permanent deformation at low speeds. This, however, was delete prone as replacement came in chrome. Whitewall tires were a no-cost option while the four-piston caliper disc brakes came at extra cost.

Even without some of the advanced optional equipment, the 1968 Pontiac GTO proved to be one of the best entry-level muscle cars around. Moreover, this year proved to be the second best-selling GTO year after the record 1966.

1968 Dodge Charger

1968 was both the last year of Charger’s V8 exclusivity and the first year of slant-six engine taking over as the basic option. Early ’68 models still packed the 230-horsepower 318ci V8 as standard, while the 225ci slant-six came later that year. These early B-body Chargers with 2-barrel LA V8’s are our pick for the day.

Unlike the first generation models which shared a lot of their cues with the Dodge Coronet, freshly redesigned Chargers featured a design of their own. That was reflected in total sales which soared from around 16,000 units in 1967 to a total of circa 92,000 models in 1968. 3-speed manual was standard, while 4-speed manual or TorqueFlite automatic could have been ordered for extra. Base factory price for 1968 Charger was $3,014 which is around $21,500 in 2017 dollars. It’s not the highly powerful and much more popular R/T, but it’s still a Charger. And it still came with V8 engine underneath the hood.

1969 Mercury Monterey

Although it retired after the seventh generation, we can at least say Monterey exited the stage in style. At least the first couple of model years Montereys did. While the 390ci V8 packing at least 266 horsepower was still running the show. This setup was available with standard 3-speed manual and 3-speed automatic transmissions. Performance package raised the total output to 280 horses, but it required the auto trans as well. Finally, those in need of even more power could have always gone with the 320-horsepower 2-barrel 429ci V8 or the 360-horsepower 4-barrel version of the same mill. Although 266 ponies might seem inadequate for such a large car, entry-level Monterey was still able to top 119 mph and accelerate to 60 mph in around 9 seconds.

1970 Oldsmobile 442

1970 was the pinnacle year for the 442. At least as far as performance goes. Unlike its predecessors, 1970 Olds 442 came with 455ci V8 powerplant straight from the get-go. This setup generated as much as 365 horsepower which was rare even for entry-level muscle cars of the golden era. Even the W30 option package only added 5 horsepower more to the base setup. All this wouldn’t be possible hadn’t GM dropped the “no more than 400ci” regulation. Still, no one expected such a powerful engine would be the only option. But that wasn’t all. New styling made the 442 even more appealing to the masses. It would even pace the Indy 500 that year.

455ci would carry over to the next year as well, but lower 8.5:1 compression ratio meant the total output would fall to 340 horsepower. As far as entry-level classic muscle cars are concerned, there aren’t many that are better than the 1970 Oldsmobile 442.

1970 Buick Wildcat

Although 1970 Buick Wildcat was only available in custom trim, it did happen to be the most powerful Wildcat yet. Sadly, its sales momentum was rapidly diminishing at the time, so the full-size muscle was replaced by the Buick Centurion the following year. While it lasted, 1970 Wildcat came with the 455ci V8 mill capable of putting up 370 horsepower and north of 510 feet-pound of torque. Largest Buick engine ever was a fitting choice for Wildcat’s swan song year. One of the most underrated, unappreciated and overlooked classic muscle cars has at least gone out of the door in style that way.

1968 Plymouth GTX

Although initially used as a performance trim level on Plymouth Belvedere, and later on Plymouth Roadrunner, the GTX had its 5 minutes as a stand-alone model as well. Actually, it had 4 years between 1967 and 1971. 1968 Plymouth GTX was our pick of the day for its fresh styling – a feat shared by all B-body Plymouths back in the day. Performance-wise, the GTX offered standard 375 horsepower via 440ci V8 mill and TorqueFlite 3-speed automatic transmission. As if that wasn’t enough, second option was the mighty 426ci Elephant Hemi. Apart from being a gentleman’s muscle with plush interior and numerous options available, Plymouth GTX came with standard heavy duty suspension and sound deadening materials. Factory price for the hardtop coupe was $3,329 which translates to less than $24,000 in 2017.

1964 Buick Riviera

Beautiful and revolutionary first generation Buick Riviera is still considered one of the most handsome American cars ever made. And while ’63 and ’65 models came standard with the 401ci Nailhead V8 mill making 325 horsepower, 1964 Riviera’s base powertrain option was the 425ci Nailhead V8 churning out 340 horses. The setup was mated to the 3-speed Turbo-Hydramatic Super Turbine 400 trans. Power pack Riviera with 360 horsepower and dual Carter AFB four-barrel carb was optional. Back then, 1964 base model went for $4,385. That’s north of $31,000 in 2017 dollars. Still much more affordable than modern-day full-size luxury carriers. And it was almost top of the line as far as luxury grade go.

1970 Plymouth Superbird

Yeah, I know it’s cheating, but can you name at least one additional Superbird trim or option package? Although Plymouth Superbird was never intended as one of “run of the mill” muscle cars, almost 2,000 of them found their way to the general public. And all of them were fitted with powerful engines. There were the 440ci Super Commando in 4-barrel and Six Pack setups, and the 426ci Elephant Hemi developing 425 horsepower. 375-horsepower Super Commando V8 with single 4-barrel carb and 727 TorqueFlite auto trans counts as standard option. Entry-level or not, Super Commando Superbird was still more than capable of obliterating anything standing in its way. Not to mention the Hemi version which accelerated to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds. Heavily modified Roadrunner and Charger Daytona’s sister – Plymouth Superbird easily counts as one of the best and most powerful entry-level classic muscle cars.

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Nikola Potrebić
About Nikola Potrebić

Despite driving a piece of junk, Nikola still manages to survive the harrowing experience called "A road trip in a Yugo," day in, day out. On the other hand, precious few things move him as muscle cars do. Especially those from the bygone golden era, which makes him wonder why wasn't he born a few decades earlier? Well, at least he's been given the opportunity to enjoy the likes of the Pontiak Aztek, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Fiat Multipla, and other lovely millennials, right? Come to think of it, I'll stick with my Yugo. Thank you very much.

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