10 Must-See Muscle Cars That Won’t Break The Bank

In case it hasn’t occurred to readers yet, I love cars. I love everything about them. From driving them to looking at them, writing about them and especially owning them. While a majority of the cars in my burgeoning collection are modern, for the past twenty-five years I have been the proud owner of a vintage 1971 Mercedes 280SL “Pagoda” roadster – a car that ignited my love for classics.

I have a strong desire to add more vintage cars to my stable, but what has stopped me from doing so are the exorbitant prices these old cars tend to have. With big-block Mopars fetching six-and-seven figures and Corvettes earning staggering prices, it can be hard to find enthusiast cars in the right condition at the right price.

I’m happy to say though that it’s not impossible – if you know what to look for.

Using the Hagerty Valuation Tool – a classic car value guide that uses detailed data and Hagerty expertise – I selected ten great-looking-and-driving older muscle cars that you can buy for under $25,000.

For my search, I considered cars that would be rated a three on the Hagerty Condition Rating scale. A “three-car” is considered to be in “good” condition and is “not used for daily transportation but is ready for a long tour without excuses. The casual passerby will not find any visual flaws.”

Let’s get started! 

1967 Mercury Cougar

Average value: $19,000

The Ford Mustang, released mid-1964, is undoubtedly America’s favorite and most ubiquitous classic car. Prices for Mustangs, especially the high output versions, have reached daunting price levels, but there is mechanically identical alternative with its own flavor and style: the Mercury Cougar. 

In 1967 the Cougar gave Mercury its own pony car to compete with the Camaro, Firebird, Barracuda, and others. Aside from its three-inch longer wheelbase, the Cougar was a virtual copy of the refreshed model-year Mustang. It was offered exclusively as a coupe in either a base configuration or a luxury version, the XR-7. Engine options ranged from a 289 cubic-inch V8 to a 390 cubic-inch four-barrel V8.

Either configuration had the option to add the GT package which included upgraded brakes, tires, exhaust, and upgraded suspension components.

Other stylish features of the car included hidden headlights, an elegant grille, and sequential taillights.

For the muscle car fanatic, the only model to consider is one fitted with the GT package because of all the performance options. A fully optioned Cougar XR-7 GT in a “good” driving condition is valued at $19,000.

1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

Average value: $19,300

The Pontiac Firebird Trans Am is a muscle car that has begun to appreciate in value, in part because of its “movie car fame” as Burt Reynolds’ iconic ride in Smokey and the Bandit.

In the movie, the car used was a 1976 car that featured the ’77 front fascia bolted on because the ’77 car wasn’t ready when production began. Nonetheless, when people think of The Bandit, they immediately think of the black and gold ‘77 with the Firebird, or whats commonly referenced as the screaming chicken, on the hood.

The Firebird Trans Am had limited engine options and really didn’t offer the kind of high output that muscle cars did in the 1960s and early-1970s. The lack of factory power, in large part, has kept prices low enough so that this iconic car makes it on our list.

A 1977 Trans Am fitted with the factory 400 cubic-inch V8 in a “good” driving condition is valued at $19,300.

1994 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra

Average value: $12,100

In the 1990s, Ford relied on its internal Special Vehicles Team to produce performance-enhanced versions of the Mustang. As a result, the Cobra made its debut in 1993 and went unnoticed until the following year with the Fox-4 redesign.

Aesthetically, the Cobra can be distinguished from a standard Mustang GT by its unique front fascia with round foglights, special rear spoiler, and Cobra badges.

Under the hood is a different story. The 1994 Cobra was fitted with a 5.0-liter V8 engine complimented by cast-iron GT-40 style heads and intake manifold. The engine was rated with an output of 240 horsepower.

The power modifications along with various suspension upgrades and upsized 13-inch vented rotors coupled with two-piston calipers, and unique 17-by-8-inch aluminum wheels gave the Cobra a serious performance upgrade that far exceeded the GT.

Only 5,009 Cobra coupes were produced and just 1,000 convertibles. Despite these low production numbers a good condition, driving Cobra is valued at $12,100.

1970 Ford Torino GT

Average value: $22,100

From its 1968 debut, the Ford Torino never quite fit into the Ford model lineup. It was too big to be considered a pony car but not luxurious enough to be a grand-tourer, and it never had comparable sales to that of the Mustang or Thunderbird.

In 1970, Ford decided to give the Torino a redesign. With cutting edge styling, an upgraded interior, and a host of performance options, FoMoCo infused the new car with both muscle and civility.

The GT version was the car to have as it came loaded with performance options. Engine options ranged from the standard 302 cubic-inch V8 to the 429 cubic-inch V8.

According to the price guide, a top-of-the-line Torino 429 GT in good, driving condition, is valued at $22,100.

1987 Dodge Shelby Charger GLH-S

Average value: $20,000

The 1980s aren’t looked back on as a particularly shining era for muscle cars – increased emissions and safety requirements are to blame for that. There were, however, a number of cool muscle cars sprinkled throughout the decade, like the 1987 Dodge Shelby Charger GLH-S.

The GLHS, which stood for “Goes Like Hell S’more,” was based on the 1987 Shelby Charger, with an added host of modifications including a larger throttle body, bigger turbo, intercooler, tuned intake & exhaust manifolds, Shelby Centurion wheels, and Koni adjustable shocks. All the enhancements amounted to a car rated with 175 horsepower.

It wasn’t anything staggering, but enough to propel the car to a 14-seconds in a quarter mile – good performance for the day.

Shelby Charger GLH-Ss are fairly rare, but a good driver quality car is valued at $20,000.

1971 Plymouth Satellite Sebring

Average value: $15,900

The base 1971 Plymouth Satellite range included a two-door coupe, four-door sedan, and four-door wagon. Within the lineup, the Satellite Sebring shared its hardtop body with the Road Runner and the GTX.

The car rode on a 115-inch wheelbase and optional engines included the 383 cubic-inch V8, which was the base engine in the Road Runner, and the 440 cubic-inch V8, which was the base engine in the GTX.

And the styling? Gorgeous, but I am biased because this is one of my favorite cars from the era. A good driver condition car with the 383 cubic-inch engine is valued at $15,900.

1987 Buick Regal Grand National

Average value: $23,400

Another gem from the otherwise dreary 1980s, the Buick Regal Grand National may not have been a traditional muscle car, but it was brutish, mean-looking and fast.

The last year for the Grand National was 1987, and Buick upped it’s game to make the car the fastest in terms of performance. The 3.8-liter, 6-cylinder, turbocharged car was rated with 245 horsepower, capable of 0-60 in 6.1-seconds, and a boasted a 13.85-second quarter-mile time at 99.2 miles per hour.

Many Grand Nationals survive because almost all were immediately marked as collectibles. A car in a good drivable condition is valued at $23,400.

1971 Pontiac LeMans Sport

Average value: $14,600

The GTO is considered Pontiac’s prime muscle car of the 1960s and 1970s. With their performance drivetrains, muscular looks and full amenities, they epitomized everything that era of automobiles was about.

Unfortunately for enthusiasts, the GTO tends to fetch exorbitant prices that limit it’s ownership to only the most well-heeled of collectors. But I’ll let you in on a little secret – in 1971 Pontiac made most of what makes a GTO, a GTO, available as optional equipment on the LeMans.

This included the choice between a 400 cubic-inch V8, good for 300 horsepower, or the 455 cubic-inch engine topped with a Holley four-barrel carburetor rated with 335 horsepower.

Additionally, the car was offered with a GT-37 appearance package that included stripes, a three-speed floor shifter, tuned suspension and additional trim.

Best of all? The LeMans is kind of a forgotten muscle car, so a good, loaded example with a high performance motor is valued at $14,600.

1983 Oldsmobile Cutlass Hurst

Average value: $15,300

Produced to commemorate the 15th Anniversary of the original Hurst/Olds, the 1983 version took an A-body Cutlass notchback coupe and added many performance mods such as a tuned suspension, along with front and rear spoilers.

Other unique features included a special black and silver paint scheme with accent stripes, a twin pipe sport exhaust, and Hurst’s Lightning Rod shifter with the main stick and two auxiliary levers for first and second gears.

Completing the package was a tuned 307 cubic-inch Oldsmobile V8, a Hydra-Matic transmission, and a 3.73 geared rearend.

Originally, 2500 units were to be produced, but owing to unexpected demand, Oldsmobile produced an additional 501 cars. In spite of these relatively low numbers, the value in today’s marketplace is $15,300 for a good condition, drivable car.

1968 AMC AMX

Average value: $26,800

A good storyteller always saves the best for last, and in my humble opinion, the 1968 AMC AMX is just that. I’ve always loved this “also-ran” muscle car for its unusual looks, low production numbers, and healthy performance.

The AMX was the smallest and lightest muscle car on the market and had many groundbreaking engineering and safety features – so much so that the American Society of Automotive Engineers selected the AMX as their Best Engineered Car.

Even with its 290 cubic-inch base engine, the AMX delivered solid performance, only enhanced by upgrading to the 390 cubic-inch V8 which included a forged steel crankshaft and connecting rods. The engine was rated at 315 horsepower and put the AMX on the same level as many other muscle cars in 1968.

For the kind of acceleration and handling that the AMX offered, its value today is just over the budget at $26,800 for a good condition drivable car.

About the author

Rob Finkelman

Rob combined his two great passions of writing and cars; and began authoring columns for several Formula 1 racing websites and Street Muscle Magazine. He is an avid automotive enthusiast with a burgeoning collection of classic and muscle cars.
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