If Price Were No Object: The Vintage Muscle Edition

If you happen to also frequent Street Muscle Magazine’s sister publication, Power and Performance News, you may have come across an article I recently penned entitled “If Price Were No Object… Here are Rob’s Top 10 Dream Cars.” In it, I elaborate on what my ideal garage would look like if I was left to my own devices and could purchase any ten modern cars I desired with cost not being a factor.

It was a fun column to write, and judging by the traffic the article generated, it turned out to be a similarly fun one to peruse as well.

Having read it, a friend suggested that it would be interesting to see my take on what cars I would choose to fill a dream vintage muscle car garage. I liked the idea the second I heard it, and so without further ado, here is “If Price Were No Object: The Vintage Muscle Edition!”

The 1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS 396.

10. 1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS

Okay, before y’all start flaming me about how low the Camaro is on this list, I’ll be upfront and honest: I am for the most part, not a General Motors guy. While there are a fair number of GM cars on this list, I generally prefer Mopar and FoMoCo offerings.

Further, while I understand and appreciate the first-gen Camaro’s importance in muscle car history, I simply never lusted after one. Having said that, the original Camaro’s timeless styling, proportions, and its prodigious performance when optioned are undeniable, thus its appearance in this countdown.

Originally code-named “Panther,” the Camaro was GM’s answer to the unparalleled success of the Ford Mustang. The first-generation Camaro debuted in September 1966, for the 1967 model year. The 1969 iteration featured all-new sheet metal giving the car a substantially more muscular look.

My 1969 would be an SS version without the RS package that included hidden headlights and revised taillights. My engine of choice? A no-brainer: the 375 hp, L78 396ci V8 that I would have mated to a four-speed manual transmission.

Many enthusiasts are no doubt rolling their eyes right now at my choice of options, given that in today’s Camaro market, the COPO, Yenko, and ZL1 models featuring the monstrous 425 hp, 427ci lump are the top dogs and fetch serious money. However, for my own collection, I’d prefer a car with all the amenities as opposed to a stripped down dragster like the COPO cars were. The SS 396 is the best of the breed in that regard.

For an excellent, restored 1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS 396 optioned the way I want it, I could expect to fork over in the neighborhood of $70,000 according to Hagerty’s online valuation tool.

The 1968 Mercury Cougar GT 427.

9. 1968 Mercury Cougar

When considering the horses they would put in their dream stable, few classic and muscle car enthusiasts would probably consider the Mercury Cougar.  I am not your average enthusiast though, and for me, the Cougar is a super cool “alternative” muscle car with unique styling and serious performance.

The Cougar went on sale in September 1966 as a 1967 model. It was based on the refreshed first-generation Mustang, with a three-inch longer wheelbase. Its sheet metal was unique to the Cougar, with an “electric shaver” grille with hidden headlamps, and a similar rear treatment with vertically slatted grille-work concealing the taillights and sequential turn signals.

In addition to being sleek and sexy, the Cougar could be outfitted as a hardcore muscle car, which is exactly what I would want out of my Cougar. I’d select one with the GT Package, the 390 hp, 427ci four-barrel V8, and you better believe it has to have the rare sunroof and “Tilt-Away” steering wheel.

Optioned out, an excellent 427 Cougar would run me a cool $120,000 in today’s market.

The 1964 Pontiac Tempest GTO Convertible.

8. 1964 Pontiac Tempest GTO Convertible

Few muscle cars can claim to have more significance than the 1964 Pontiac GTO. While there were full-size cars with big engines that preceded it, ask most authorities on the subject, and they’ll tell you that the original Goat was the genesis of the entire muscle car segment.

A big boat of a car with crisp period styling, the GTO came standard with a 389ci V8 that nonetheless motivated it pretty well. I’d opt to own one with the “Tri-Power” option that consisted of three, two-barrel Rochester carburetors atop the engine.

With this setup, the 389 was good for an honest 348 hp. Toss in the four-speed manual, heavy-duty cooling system (which is a must on GTOs), metallic drum brake linings, limited-slip differential, the ride and handling package, and I’m good.

Like the 427 Cougar, a ’64 GTO ragtop outfitted this way is no cheap whip in today’s market. Hagerty claims a super-clean GTO would make my account $125,000 lighter. Better start saving…

The 1968 Dodge Charger R/T 440

7. 1968 Dodge Charger R/T

This one really needs no explanation. The automotive co-star of Bullitt with Steve McQueen is an icon of the muscle car world, and it’s easy to understand why. With breathtaking styling that included hidden headlights in a shark mouth recessed grille, flying buttress C-pillars and those kitschy-cool round taillights, the ’68 Charger is easily one of the most beautiful cars of the era.

That exterior beauty was also present under the hood. With both the 440 Magnum and 426 Street Hemi big blocks available, the Charger couldn’t help but be one serious performance beast.

While most would automatically gravitate to the Hemi with its laughingly underrated 425 bhp, I’d actually buck that trend and opt for the 440 for two reasons: one, because I’m a movie buff, and the car in Bullitt was a 440; and two, because in a straight line, the 440 was actually the faster option owing to the nature of its power curve and lighter weight. Once again I’d opt for the four-speed manual transmission because that’s how I roll.

Charger R/Ts have been steadily appreciating, and a beautiful condition 440 would fetch around $73,000 today according to Hagerty.

The stunning 1963 Corvette Split Window.

6. 1963 Corvette Split Window

Breathtaking. How else would you describe the jet-age lines of the C2 Corvette Stingray? Those rotating headlights, those front fender vents, the knock-off wheels. To this day, I can’t find a line I don’t like on Zora Arkus-Duntov’s masterpiece.

For me, the most beautiful variant of the entire C2 run was the first – the unique split rear window coupe. Only 10,594 of them were made before GM Chief of Design Bill Mitchell’s styling hallmark was changed to accommodate a one-piece window.

Make mine the 360 hp version of the classic 327ci lump, and load it up with goodies such as A/C, power brakes, power steering, leather, and a four-speed manual and the rare 4.56:1 gear set.

A ravishing split window fetches $260,000 these days, so chances are, I won’t be bringing one home any time soon, but dreaming is the whole point of this exercise.

The 1971 Plymouth GTX.

5. 1971 Plymouth GTX

Okay, here’s one that many of you will scratch your heads and say, “what is Rob thinking?” I get it, but I always appreciated the styling of Plymouth’s ’71 GTX. I just find it to be so period-cool with its awesome front-end styling, unique hood treatments, and muscular rear haunches.

The Plymouth B-body was completely redesigned for 1971 and proved to be the final year for the GTX as a stand-alone model. This made the ’71 GTX a relatively rare bird at less than 3,000 units produced, thus increasing its cache and collectability in today’s market.

Available with three engine options, the 440 four-barrel with 375 hp, the 440 Six-Pack with three two-barrel carbs and 390 hp, and the elephant 426 Hemi engine that put out 425 hp.

My GTX would pack a four-speed manual with the 4.10 gears. Not unlike my choices with the Charger R/T, I’d opt for the 440 Six-Pack over the Hemi, as it’s a better street engine and had a super-cool looking hood treatment/stripes package. I could expect a GTX to cost in the neighborhood of $90,000 outfitted this way.

The 1969 AMC AMX SS.

4. 1969 AMC AMX

A controversial entry on this list for some, but a no-brainer for me, the 1969 AMC AMX has long been one of my favorite cars of the era. Not for it’s styling, which is admittedly just okay, not for its performance, which was nominal. But, for the fact that it was such a cool “alternative” muscle car to those from the Big Three.

Despite its low cost, the AMX was the genesis of several safety advances that subsequently became industry standards. As such, the American Society of Automotive Engineers named the AMX as the “best engineered car of the year” for two years running.

The AMX I would want would naturally have the top-of-the-line 390ci featuring 315 hp and 425 lb-ft of torque. Mate that to the BorgWarner T-10 four-speed with the Hurst floor shifter and add the Go-Package and I’d be a happy boy. Oh, and don’t forget the iconic red, white and blue paint option.

Outfitted this way, I could expect my AMX to run me $89,000.

1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454.

3. 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454

Here’s another example of an exception to my “I don’t lust after GM cars” axiom. The 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle has one of the most recognizable shapes from the era and boasts serious performance to back up its good looks. Quite simply, I’ve always wanted one.

The second generation Chevelle was introduced in 1969 and was produced until 1972. For most, the 1970 model year was the apex of the breed owing to its crisp, restyled body, upgraded interior and the introduction of the monstrous 454ci as part of the RPO Z15 SS Equipment option. The LS6 version of the 454ci was top of the heap and came equipped with a single 4-barrel 800-cfm Holley carburetor that helped produce 450 hp and a stump-pulling 500 lb-ft of torque.

To make me happy, a Chevelle should have the above motor mated to a four-speed manual as well as the ZL2 cowl-induction hood option that gave the car hood pins, stripes and an active air scoop.

I’d be getting into some pretty big money to acquire it as I have described, with Hagerty’s valuation tool telling me I’d have to part with $143,000. Something tells me it would be close to the best money I ever spent.

The 1967 Shelby Mustang GT500.

2. 1967 Shelby Mustang GT500

Number two on my list is one of my favorite cars of all time, the new for 1967 Shelby Mustang GT500.

What can be said about this car that hasn’t been said a million times over? Combining all-new, achingly beautiful lines with serious performance and the Shelby cache, the ’67 GT500 is simply one of the most desirable muscle cars ever made.

With the expensive option boxes checked, the GT500 boasted the 428ci Cobra Jet V8 topped with an aluminum intake and two, four-barrel 600 cfm Holley carburetors producing 355 bhp and 420 lb-ft of torque. Paired with a four-speed manual transmission the car could hit 60 in six seconds, pretty darn quick for the era.

Give my Shelby the ten-spoke aluminum wheels, air conditioning, and the Traction-Lok limited-slip differential and all would be right with the world. Outfitted as such, my GT500 would take an eye-watering $210,000 to own. But really, wouldn’t it be worth it?

 

The 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda. 

1. 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda

Which brings us to my number one “if price were no object dream muscle car,” and one of my favorite automobiles of all time, the legendary 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda.

While many gravitate more to the 1971 model with its quad headlights and fender mounted fish gills, I always found the 1970 model to be a cleaner, less over-the-top treatment, and consider it to be Mopar’s styling guru John E. Herlitz’s masterpiece.

With looks to die for, the Hemi Cuda was equipped (as its moniker implies) with the 426ci Hemi elephant motor replete with its hemispheric combustion chambers. The Hemi was good for a laughingly underrated 425 hp according to the factory.

My Hemi Cuda would have the four speed manual transmission topped with the famous Hurst Pistol-Grip shifter, Shaker hood, elastomeric bumpers, Rallye wheels, and no billboard stripes.

Hemi Cudas are amongst the most valuable muscle cars of the era, owing to their relative rarity. To own one as I’ve described, I would need $260,000 for a car in top condition. I’m not likely to have the pleasure any time soon, but a guy can dream, right?

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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