Five Of Our Favorite Unsung Heroes That Make Awesome Musclecars

fiveunsungmc-leadartEveryone knows the usual suspects in the musclecar world. The Mustang, Camaro, Cuda, Chevelle, Challenger, Nova, Charger, etc. But what about the unsung heroes of the realm? What about those cars that had performance potential?


Even as a rust bucket, this 1969 Camaro drew attention for obvious reasons.

What about those cars that were a blank canvas waiting for just the right touch to turn them into a musclecar work of art? Those are the cars we’re here to talk about. We want the late bloomer, the ugly duckling, or the quiet kid in the back of the class.

Here are five of those cars. Some of these cars can still be found in decent condition at a reasonable price, and with the right amount of vision, they can easily become everything their more popular siblings were. When you see what others have done to theirs, you might just change your mind about these cars and their potential.

fivecars02Number 5:  1960-68 Ford Galaxie

This offering from Ford Motor Company is starting to get a little more attention from the enthusiast market. We’ve already weeded through the Boss Mustangs, the Thunderbolt “tribute” cars and others. Now it’s time to start looking at one of the larger offerings.

Long low lines with a pillar-less hardtop look were some of the signature features of the Galaxie throughout it’s lifespan. Many different engine options were available from the 223 “Mileage-Maker” inline six all the way up to a 428 Cobra Jet.

The 1965-68 redesign brought a lighter weight, square lines and a stacked headlight configuration.

Today’s iteration might be cool with an air bag suspension, 4-wheel disc brakes, 5.4 modular or 5.0 Coyote with EFI and electronic overdrive transmission.  Maybe a tribute car from NASCAR’s “Golden Age” brought to the street?  Use your imagination!

Joe Kugel's 63 1/2 Galaxie 500

Joe Kugel from Kugel Components has a great example of what one of these cars can be with some very subtle touches.  His 63 ½ Galaxie has a tri-power equipped 406 spinning a top loader 4-speed to a Currie narrowed 9 inch.  Some subtle touches include GM Hydraboost power brakes, Wilwood 4-piston brakes and Vintage Air.

69ply76639-1Number 4: 1960-76 Plymouth Valiant

This offering may have the most staying power of the cars on this list, spanning 16 years. The first generation (1960-62) have a little bit of a funky style.  That may appeal to some or it may not.

704603_21061026_1967_Plymouth_Hemi+ValiantWe’re all about outside the box thinking around here!  The first generation Valiants were only available with inline 6 power, although the 225 cubic inch version was available with an aluminum block.

Second gen (1963-66) Valiants got a restyle taking away some of the curves and faux Continental kit previously offered. The styling was more contemporary with some of the aviation inspired touches popular at the time.

1964 brought a 273 cubic inch V8, the first of the LA engine line that would eventually spawn the 318, 340 and 360 cubic inch versions. That engine line survived in the Chrysler line all the way until 2002 and has a direct link to the Viper V10 engine.

Third gen (1967-73) Valiants got redesigned into the boxier style we’re more familiar with today. Still a very lightweight vehicle, they maintain their performance potential.

Fourth gen (1974-76) Valiants were essentially rebadged Dodge Darts, with the only differences being nameplates.

There’s a lot of potential with the Valiant, offering a unique take on the musclecar. There are multiple examples of what can be cool with a Valiant.

Number 3:  1970-78 AMC Gremlin

maxresdefaultThe Gremlin from AMC has been ridiculed for it’s funky Kammback styling from the day the first one rolled off the assembly line. But the fact remains that the Gremlin is a lightweight two-door car with plenty of room in the engine bay.

Built on a shortened version of the Hornet platform, the Gremlin was classified an economy car by 1970s U.S. standards and competed with the Chevrolet Vega, Ford Maverick and Pinto, as well as imported cars becoming popular at that time due to fuel shortages and price hikes. The small domestic automaker marketed the Gremlin as “the first American-built import”.

Cars & Coffee 315 010This car has been the butt of many jokes, even getting named one of the “50 Worst Cars of All Time” by Time magazine. But don’t let that make up your mind for you, because there’s a ton of potential in this oddball car.

It was powered by anything from a 2.0 inline four (this engine was also used by VW, Audi, even the Porsche 924) all the way up to a 304 cubic inch V8. Randall AMC got the factory’s blessing to install a 401 cubic inch V8 in a few special “Randall 401XR” versions.  These managed a respectable 12.22 second ET at 115 mph while remaining totally streetable. Only 20 or so were made through 1972-74, and who can forget the Levi denim version?


October_2010_Bill_FifeNumber 2:  1978-82 Chevrolet Malibu

Street racers or bracket racers don’t have to be told about this one. Designed in the middle of the Arab oil embargo, GM engineers put this car on a serious diet to improve fuel economy, and as any gearhead knows, reducing weight improves performance.

Screenshot_86Available as a two-door coupe, four-door sedan or five-door wagon, and originally equipped with a V6 (gas and diesel) or anemic 305 V8, these cars are prime for an LS or even a big-block swap. They have a bit of style without being over the top, GM of Canada even produced 25,000 Malibu sedans special ordered for use as taxis in Iraq.

This generation of the Malibu is often overlooked because of the popularity of earlier versions with performance enthusiasts. Because of their use by the racing crowd, parts are readily available with a strong aftermarket following. The Malibu is the quintessential “quiet kid in the back of the class”.

ford-maverick-wallpaper-1Number 1:  1970-77 Ford Maverick/Mercury Comet

Shelby Maverick?

Probably one of the strangest chapters in the Shelby story concerns Carroll Shelby’s partnership with Mexican businessman Eduardo Velasquez. It began with Velasquez’ purchase of a Mustang notchback from Shelby in 1965.  One thing led to another, and by 1966 Velasquez had become a Shelby parts dealer, and in 1967 he entered into a partnership with Carroll Shelby which resulted in a company called “Shelby de Mexico.”

Shelby de Mexico produced approximately 300 Shelby Mavericks. These models carried Shelby emblems, Shelby aftermarket wheels and Shelby aluminum engine pieces. Additionally, the Maverick had rear window louvers, and front and rear spoilers, a hood-mounted tachometer and a Boss 429-style hood scoop. No Shelby de Mexico cars were ever brought into the United States until 1986.

This car may have the best styling of all on this list. A long hood line and a graceful sweep to the rear make up a package that could easily have come out of an Italian design house. The Arab oil embargo brought another lightweight to the public, this was Ford’s venture into the subcompact market, predating the Pinto by one year.

Priced right at $1,999.00 and meant for fuel economy, it also has the unintended consequence of offering performance potential. Most were produced with inline 6 cylinder engines, but a 302 V8 was offered from 1971 on. A curb weight of 2,909 lbs is pretty impressive for a 70’s car.

The Maverick of today greatly benefits from the street rod portion of our hobby; street rod builders have embraced the “Mustang II” platform for front suspension. Many of these street rod aftermarket parts are a direct bolt-on to the Maverick or Comet. This makes it much simpler to upgrade steering, suspension and/or brakes.

You could be driving around basking in the history of Dyno Don Nicholson, Jack Roush or Bob Glidden. All campaigned Mavericks in the Pro Stock ranks during the 70s. Jack Roush even got a little creative racing a four-door Maverick.

NHRA had mandated weight penalties to slow the Mavericks down, though. Jack Roush and Wayne Gapp (Roush’s partner in drag racing) decided to go with a four-door Maverick for the extended wheelbase and lighter weight that crippled the two-door version.

There you have it, that’s our list. Your list might be different and that’s OK. When you’re scanning those online ads for that next project car, don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and tackle something different.

Honorable Mentions

A list like this is hard to compile, inevitably some good choices would be left off. That said, here are a few that almost made the list, and we’d like to see the cars that you felt could have – or should have – made this list. Tell us below in the comments section.

1968-74 AMC Javelin: The Javelin got a lot of attention, especially the AMX. But it still lived in the shadow of the Mustang and Camaro. Today, few are still fond of this AMC musclecar, still not getting used to the looks of it.

1975-80 Ford Granada: Basically, the Granada was a Mustang under it’s plain-jane wrapper. Back in the late 1970s, Ford even held a design contest to see if the public could come up with a new paint/striping design to make the Granada a little more attractive. It didn’t.

1991-92 GMC Typhoon:  The sister to the GMC Syclone was only produced for two years. The Syclone beat a Ferrari 348 in 0-60 and 1/4 mile times – it was said at the time that the Syclone was “faster than a Ferrari, and has a bed to carry all the cash you saved.”

Randy Laslo's clean Typhoon

About the author

marshall ouimette

Razz Barlow has been a gearhead since very young age. His first car was a 1915 Model T Bucket that he never managed to get running. Growing up in the '70s he was attracted to musclecars., and eventually purchased a 1968 Mustang fastback powered by a 428 Cobra Jet. Razz has been working professionally in the auto repair, customizing, and performance industry for more than 30 years.
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