Muscle Cars of the ‘60s and ‘70s Part II: The Ugly

Last month, I penned the first article in a four-part series, entitled Muscle Cars of the ‘60s and ‘70s Part I: The Beautiful. In it, I listed what I thought were the most aesthetically striking cars of that era, and discussed what made their designs so attractive. We looked at a total of ten Dodges, Plymouths, Fords, Chevys, Pontiacs, AMC’s, and Oldsmobiles in that pursuit.

But just as yin has yang, hot has cold, and light has dark, so too did the automotive industry have some truly awful-looking cars during that illustrious period that now serve as a foil for us to elucidate the beautiful ones.

To this end, it is incumbent upon us to also focus our attention to the top ten ugliest muscle cars of the period. So, without further delay, here are my picks in no particular order.


(Photo courtesy of

The commonly accepted definition of a muscle car is an American-made, affordably priced, two-door, rear-wheel drive sports coupe with a powerful V8 engine designed for high-performance driving.

While most people do not consider 1960s Darts as muscle cars, and some don’t even consider the big-block powered versions built in the early ’70s as legitimate heirs to the moniker either, by the above definition, some Darts indeed were.

Introduced in 1959 as a 1960 model, the first generation Dart was a full-sized, attractively styled, and wildly successful addition to the Dodge lineup. Sadly though, in 1962 the Dart was downsized and redesigned into something that could best be described as a vision from a fever dream.

(Photo courtesy of Top Car Rating.)

With its bizarro front end, which featured quad lamps at different heights, an ungainly, oblong grille, weird contouring on the front and rear fenders, and quad taillights which, like the headlamps, were located on different planes, the car made you wonder if its designers were perhaps subjects of the CIA’s early 1960s MK-Ultra LSD experiments.

Mitigating its looks to a degree was the fact that the ’62 Dart could be outfitted with some serious firepower, including the 413 cubic-inch Max Wedge V8 pushing 420 ponies. This, however, did relatively nothing to entice the buying public into investing in a Dart, and sales plummeted, necessitating a rushed redesign for the following model year.


(Photo courtesy of PJ’s Auto World.)

AMC, the smallest of the American auto manufacturers in the ‘60s and ‘70s, was always the little corporation that could. When it had its druthers, it was capable of producing exceptionally beautiful and powerful muscle cars, such as the AMX, Javelin SST Trans Am, and The Machine. Sadly though, AMC was seemingly willing to create some real dogs too from time to time, and such was the case with the 1965 AMC Rambler Marlin.

The first year for the Marlin, the 1965 model looked fairly conventional from the grill to the front half of the greenhouse, but that’s where things went awry. The rear roofline was way too long and forced the rear quarter windows to be unusually elongated as well to take up some real estate. What’s more, the quarter windows were shaped like half an ellipse, incongruous on a car that was otherwise dominated by straight lines and crisp contours.

(Photo courtesy of PJ’s Auto World.)

The rear of the greenhouse tapered inwards severely, and sloped down at an awkwardly steep angle to meet the deck lid. High-mounted, flush rear glass and a concave shape to the tail did not help to mitigate these strange features. It was a highly unattractive design from just about any angle.

In spite of the availability of AMC’s 270 horsepower 327 cubic-inch V8 and a host of innovations, the Rambler Marlin was just too weird for America to fall in love with, and sales were dismal.


(Photo courtesy of Primo Classics International.)

Ah, The Goat. The car that many automotive historians point to as the very genesis of the muscle car. When it was first released as a performance options package for the LeMans in 1964, it took America by storm, so much so that it became a separate model in the Pontiac lineup by 1966 and was given a refresh that quite a few folks, including this humble columnist, believe to be one of the most beautiful muscle cars ever made.

Subsequent generations broke ground not only in the looks department, but also in performance as well, culminating in the raucous output of the 400 cubic-inch Ram-Air IV engine in the 1970 model. Unfortunately, with stricter EPA and insurance guidelines, that year proved to be the zenith of the GTO, and The Goat’s engine output began to dwindle year after year thereafter.

(Photo courtesy of Mecum.)

Come 1973, Pontiac realized that it could no longer market the GTO as a performance car, what with the largest engine available, the 455 cubic-inch V8, only able to churn out an unimpressive 250 horsepower. So they did the unthinkable, and repositioned the GTO as a personal luxury car and bequeathed it with what they called “Colonnade Styling,” which, for our purposes, was simply a euphemism for ugly.

With hideous, shrouded, round headlights, a grille split by a pointed, body colored snout, unattractively shaped quarter windows, and a lazy, sloping rear deck, the ’73 Goat was an abomination compared to its ancestors. Sales were a piddling 4,806 units, and although the GTO limped on for one more model year with a new body swiped from the Chevy Nova, the 1973 essentially killed off the once great beast. An indignity of no small proportions.

1978 OLSMOBILE 442

(Photo courtesy of GAA Classic Cars.)

The Olds 442, so named for the car’s four-barrel carb, four-speed manual, and dual exhaust, was first launched in 1964. It was developed steadily through the decade, culminating in one of the most beautiful and prodigiously capable muscle cars of the period in the form of the 1970 W30 model, which possessed a factory-underrated 370 horse 455 cubic-inch V8.

Like the GTO though, the 442 fell prey to the tightening emissions and insurance standards of the early ‘70s and became an ignominious parody of its former self.

(Photo courtesy of GAA Classic Cars.)

The fourth generation, launched in 1978, saw the 442 demoted to an options package on the hideous A-Body Cutlass Salon. The car was inarguably one of the worst looking vehicles on the road at the time with its sloping rear haunches, oversized 442 stickers, and contrast striping. It was decidedly non-sporting too, with a lowly 160 horsepower 350 cubic-inch V8 as the “hot” engine.

How Oldsmobile could disrespect the legacy of their most illustrious muscle car by slapping the 442 moniker on this offensively bad vehicle is beyond me, but they did it, and it was thankfully an abject failure in the marketplace.


(Photo courtesy of CarScoops.)

Want my vote for the worst looking “muscle car” of all time and the most insulting blemish to an iconic vehicle’s legacy? Well, here you go.

The Mustang II was released in the midst of the oil embargo of 1973, and was billed as a lighter, more efficient pony car. Despite being based on the Ford Pinto, and featuring watered-down looks that paid no respect to the Mustangs that preceded it, the car somehow sold well. Very well, in fact, as many people were looking for just this type of frugal daily driver that was easy on gas which, at the time, was skyrocketing in price.

For muscle enthusiasts though, the car was an unmitigated disaster. Not only didn’t the Mustang II look brawny, but its top engine was a pathetic 2.8-liter, 12-valve V6, good for (are you ready?) 105 miserable ponies. Quite a far cry from the Cobra Jets and Super Cobra Jets of just a few years prior.

(Photo courtesy of CarScoops.)

To address the discontent, Ford made a lot of noise about squeezing a V8 into the Mustang II for 1975, but the die-hards knew a pig in lipstick when they saw one, as the 302 FoMoCo used was a watered down two-barrel with a mere 140 horses.

In 1978, Ford tried again with the King Cobra, a variant festooned with spoilers, louvers, stripes, and a Trans Am-style cobra snake hood decal. The car looked gaudy, and to boot, packed the very same 302 with no power bump.

Not surprisingly, the King Cobra was a dud and only sold 4,313 units. Ford cut its losses, and introduced the Fox Body Mustang the following year, which would eventually be developed into a proper muscle car.


(Photo courtesy of

In the 1960s Plymouth was the manufacturer of many a snarling muscle car, and one of their best models was the B-body Roadrunner. With classic lines and available big block engines such as the legendary Chrysler 440 + 6 and 426 Hemi, the ‘runner combined looks and power into an affordable package.

In 1975 though, that winning combination was delivered a death blow upon the release of the third-generation car.

Massive and ungainly, with no flair or interesting lines anywhere on it, the ’75 was a huge disappointment to fans of the muscly and aggressive-looking models of old. Now based on the Fury instead of the Belvedere or Satellite, the 1975 Roadrunner had all the pizzazz of a New York City taxicab, and instead of being positioned as a low-cost muscle car, was now aimed at the luxury car segment.

(Photo courtesy of BringATrailer.)

As such, while plush interior materials and power windows and seats were available, high-performance engines were not. The best the ’75 offered was a 400 cubic-inch, four-valve, dual exhaust V8 with 235 ponies – almost half the actual output of the old 426 Hemi that was available on the car until 1971.

Perhaps the 1975 Plymouth Roadrunner isn’t the outright ugliest car on this list, but its combination of boring styling and lack of performance certainly is enough for it to appear on it.


(Photo courtesy of BringATrailer.)

The 1970 through 1974 Dodge Challenger and its E-body sibling, the Plymouth ‘Cuda, were unquestionably two of the Golden Era’s most beautiful muscle cars. Like many of the other vehicles on our list though, they met their end due to changes in the market determined by the oil shortage and emissions legislation.

That was a pity, but perhaps even more so was Dodge’s decision to bring the Challenger name back in 1978 by slapping it on an existing Japanese car instead of building a new vehicle from the ground up.

(Photo courtesy of ConceptCarz.)

The car they used was the Mitsubishi Gallant Lambda coupe, a horrible looking subcompact that had absolutely no business whatsoever having such an illustrious name attached to it. Possessing instantly forgettable styling, the 1978 Challenger also failed miserably in the powertrain department, which consisted of a choice between a 77 horsepower, 1.6-liter inline-four and a 105 pony, 2.6-liter inline-four.

Shockingly, this heinous attempt to revive a classic somehow lasted six years in the marketplace before it was mercifully canceled. Shame on you, Dodge. Shame on you.


(Photo courtesy of HotCars.)

The Toronado was first released as a 1966 model, and featured bold, somewhat weird styling that today can be viewed as a dated looking attempt at being futuristic. The 1968 refresh though was less on the bold side and more so on the plain weird.

The front end was the main offender, with a bizarre grille and hidden headlight setup that was completely surrounded by an oddly shaped, bulbous, chrome bumper element.

The svelte and sharp-edged rear quarters were in stark contrast to the front, to the extent that the two ends looked like they belonged on different cars. Such was the mishmash of design decisions that period magazines had trouble describing it.

(Photo courtesy of Orlando Classic Cars.)

To make matters even more confused, Olds decided to give the car a front-wheel drive system, which certainly didn’t aid in the handling of this 4,600-pound walrus.

At least Oldsmobile attempted to mitigate the car’s looks with a banshee of a power plant as the top offering – the Olds 455 cubic-inch V8 with 400 ponies and an astonishing 500 lb-ft of twist – but this really didn’t attract the customers the company had hoped for. Blame it on that face.


(Photo courtesy of G3GM.)

Virtually every incarnation of the Chevy Chevelle in the 1960s and early ‘70s was considered to be one of the top muscle cars during its time, with the 1970 model serving as one of the most iconic American vehicles ever.

Like the GTO and the Olds 442 though, the Chevelle suffered a slow, protracted capitulation at the hands of emissions, insurance, and gas price concerns that altered the very DNA of what the car had been.

The third generation Chevelle, released as a 1973 model, was bequeathed the very same abominable “Colonnade Styling” that had doomed the GTO. Different in some details from the latter car, the transformation nonetheless gave the Chevelle the same overall profile, one that was utterly incongruous to the idea of a muscle car. Everything about the design was milquetoast, from the grille, headlight, and bumper design, to the rear, upon which designers had placed quad round taillights in an insulting effort to connect the car to the vaunted ’71 model.

(Photo courtesy of Mecum.)

Another effort to pander to old school Chevelle fans was the availability of the massive 454 cubic-inch V8, which in 1970 LS6 guise had been one of the most powerful motors of the muscle car era. In the LS5 form of the ’73 Chevelle though, that legendary mill had its output shaved to 245 horsepower owing to a reduced compression ratio and constrictive emissions equipment, something that was as offensive to the Bowtie faithful as was the design of the car.


(Photo courtesy of GAA Classic Cars.)

Poor Dodge. As much as I love the brand (I personally own a late model SRT Challenger and SRT Durango,) and despite it having produced some of the most beautiful muscle cars of the ‘60s and ‘70s, they did indeed release some disasters as well, and as such, this is the company’s third appearance on our list.

I can’t be helped though, as the 1975 Dodge Charger Daytona, a rebadging of the Chrysler Cordoba, was a car of truly terrible design. In stark contrast to the 1968 Charger which made it to my most beautiful list last month, and the radical, if not exactly attractive, 1969 Charger Daytona winged car that the ’75 poached its name from, this iteration was a bastardization of those former classics.

Its styling? Let’s just say that it lacked any, with its immensely long hood and deck proportions combined with baroque details such as shrouded, round headlights and diminutive quarter windows. The car looked like a land yacht, and not a terribly desirous one at that.

(Photo courtesy of AutoEvolution.)

Adding insult to injury was the fact that the ‘75s powertrain, consisting of a 190 horsepower, 400 cubic-inch V8 mated to a three-speed TorqueFlite auto (nope, no manuals here) could only propel the car to an 11.5-second zero-to-sixty “sprint” and an 18.3 second quarter mile.

Given all this, it could indeed be said that the 1975 Dodge Charger Daytona was the very embodiment of the ‘malaise years” of the American automobile industry, and a stain on the great legacy of the Charger.

So, that’s my list. I’m sure it’s bound to offend some enthusiasts of the cars that appear here, and surprise some folks for what didn’t make it on, so click that email link below if you feel the need to let me know what you think.

Keep an eye out next month when the third chapter of this series, Muscle Cars of the ‘60s and ‘70s Part III: The Quick drops. Until then, happy motoring!

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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