15 of the Rarest and Most Powerful Classic Muscle Cars
Classic muscle cars you want in your garage but can’t find
Updated May 27, 2018
It often so happens that rarest of muscle cars crank up the best performance figures at the same time. It’s no coincidence. Performance-oriented cars are generally more expensive and less sought after than those from the conventional lineups. Furthermore, high-end performance isn’t meant for just everyone as it comes with burdens of its own. But, while performance-oriented models are rarer than most of others, even they sometimes don’t fulfill the expectations of all performance car buyers. This is where extremely limited run muscle cars come in. It doesn’t take too much to figure out that extremely limited production also means extreme performance. In other words, some of the fastest and most powerful classic muscle cars were also among the rarest ever built.
Reasons for their inauguration were numerous. Some were introduced with clear intention to stir the market with all the extra power they possessed, while some were meant for drag racing. Others were made in order to propel the new engines into production. You’ll remember that NASCAR homologation rules at the time required at least 500 cars produced and sold to general population before the engine or the car itself became eligible for competition. In any case, here are the fifteen classic muscle cars which were extremely rare and offered extreme performance at the same time.
Ford Galaxie 427 SOHC
Let’s start with the big guns. Ford’s flagship car of the sixties isn’t something you’d imagine as one of the most powerful muscle cars of all time, but that’s exactly what it was. Or at least handful of Galaxies fitted with 427 SOHC 7.0L V8 engines also known as “Cammers”. The engine was so powerful that Chrysler had to intervene, and NASCAR subsequently banned it from the competitions under their wing. Cammer was rated at 616 hp with single four-barrel carb, and at 657 hp with dual carburetors. Most would agree even that output was rather conservative, and that Cammer made even more.
AMC Rebel “The Machine”
Following the success they had with 1969 Hurst SC/Rambler, the AMC management decided to offer the similar package with Rebel. Thus, AMC Rebel “The Machine” was born. It’s the strongest AMC muscle car to date. Although stock car “only” packed 340 horsepower via 390ci 6.4L V8 engine, AMC actually offered numerous “under the counter” upgrades for it. For instance, $500 “service kit” option pushed the horsepower well into 400 figure territory. Enough to be considered extremely potent, yet still a limited one year run model.
Chevrolet Z11 Impala
Impala was, and still is one hugely popular car, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t a few limited options back in the day. One such is a 50 odd run of Z11 Impalas of which 7 remain alive today. Z11 was range-topping performance package which saw 409ci V8 from the regular models replaced with 427ci and cowl induction intake. Furthermore, being a drag-intended car, Z11 Impala was offered without luxuries like the radio, sound deadener and a heater.
Dodge Coronet W023
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out Hemi muscle cars were among the most powerful ones. One such 426ci Hemi-powered muscle was the 1967 Dodge Coronet. However, W023 drag-prepped Coronet produced in only 55 units is what piques our interest here. It was both powerful and quite limited at the same time. Honorable mention is another Superstock W051 Coronet – also Hemi-powered.
Plymouth Belvedere R023 GTX
Plymouth Belvedere might have been your regular intermediate car, but R023 GTX option wasn’t. Far from it. Basically a sibling of aforementioned Dodge Coronet, Plymouth Belvedere too came in limited 55 models run with the R023 GTX package. It basically had everything that Coronet offered, including the 426ci Hemi with 425 horsepower and 490 lb-ft of torque. Moreover, the R023 Belvedere saved a few pounds in weight by losing the radio, heaters, insulation, carpets and so on.
Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 LS6
Of around 4,500 Chevelles with 454 LS6 engine produced back in 1970, less than 140 are currently registered in the National Chevelle LS6 Registry. In order to get your hands on the fastest Chevelle ever produced, you had to tick off all the optional boxes. Needless to say, that made the car one hellishly expensive affair, but well worth it. 450 horsepower usually were back in the day, but it might have been more than that.
Dodge Dart L023
Yet another 023 code, and yet another Hemi engine behind it. That’s what Chrysler was capable of doing back in the day. L023 was rather limited option of Hemi-powered Darts reworked by Hurst. Unlike 55-run of Belvedere and Coronet from the year before, Dart came in slightly larger series of 80 models. Like the mentioned models, however, Dart too packed some major heat, came devoid of most interior features, and featured a “No Warranty” disclaimer. They were rated at 425 horsepower, but delivered at least 100 ponies over that laughable figure.
Buick Skylark GSX Stage 1
Skylark was the first Buick to receive the GSX performance package in 1970. That wasn’t all as there was the additional Stage 1 engine upgrade which, together with GSX package, converted luxurious Buicks into mean machines. In fact, 455ci Buicks with this setup remained America’s torque champions with 510 lb-ft until 2003 when Viper finally toppled them. Add to that the fact that only 400 or so of them were equipped with these options, and you’ll see why Skylark GSX Stage 1 has found its way onto this list.
Ford XY Falcon GT-HO Phase III
Produced between May and November 1971, Phase III Falcon was the fastest four-door car for nineteen full years before Lotus Carlton dethroned it. Although not technically American car (manufactured by Ford Australia), we simply couldn’t have excluded it from consideration. All 300 models made had 300-horsepower 351ci Clevelands under their hoods. As you can probably guess, they were also criminally underrated in order to get around the insurance trivialities. They actually made somewhere between 350 and 380 horses.
Modified Road Runner looked nothing like it when it was finally completed with its long nose and concealed fiberglass . Superbird was introduced with only one purpose, and that purpose was NASCAR. Around 2,000 were built and half of that number are still alive, although not necessarily well. Rarest of the lot were 135 Hemi Superbirds powered by the fabled 426. Others were stuffed with 440s – either with 4-barrel carbs or the six-pack option. Since we’re here already, an honorable mention of Superbirds’ predecessor Dodge Charger Daytona seems like a fair thing to do. Ford Torino Talladega also deserves to be mentioned, being Superbird’s arch rival and all.
Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II
We’ll do even more than simply mentioning the Torino Talladega. Here we are including it on the list, although in slightly unconventional way. Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II was largely similar to Ford Torino Talladega. Homologation special was supposed to be built in 503 units, but there’s a side story behind that. There’s a rumor saying Mercury only built 351 units and parked them around 152 regular Cyclone muscle cars when the inspection time came. NASCAR inspectors obviously hadn’t figured that out since Cyclone Spoiler II was given the green light.
Pontiac Catalina Super Duty
It’s hard to imagine a 405-horsepower full-size car from the early sixties, but that’s exactly what Super Duty Catalina is, or rather was. In fact, Catalina’s 421ci V8 (overbored to 427ci in a few models) was delivering north of 450 horses. Apart from being powerful, Super Duty was some 700 pounds lighter than conventional Catalinas. Aluminum had a major role in weight savings, but Pontiac engineers also drilled the frames in order to achieve their goal. Perforated frames were the inspiration behind the “Swiss Cheese” moniker which surviving Catalina Super Dutys still wear.
Ford Fairlane Thunderbolt
Built only in 1964, and only in 100 units total. That’s as rare as it gets. Responsibility for the other part of the headline falls on Ford’s 427ci big-block V8. Fairlane was never designed for a big-block which can easily be noticed by its large hood bump. Like most such cars at the time, Fairlane Thunderbolt too was conservatively rated by the manufacturer. It officially made 425 horsepower, but actual estimated output is likely closer to 600 horses.
Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda
It’s true that Hemi was part of Barracuda’s life prior to 1970 and later than that, but that year best describes what Hemi ‘Cuda actually was. That, and the fact that Track Pack was only offered during the time. And Track Pack was what made the ‘Cuda even more powerful and rare at the same time. 426 Hemi ‘Cuda only came in 652 models that year, and very few had the optional goodies which came with the mentioned package.
Chevrolet Camaro ZL-1
Only 69 of them were commissioned thanks to Central Office Production Orders (COPO) ordering process. GM didn’t want to sell their pony with 427ci aluminum big-block, but the dealers did, and they had – although in mentioned limited numbers. ZL-1 package added much needed power for the race tracks, but it came with a hefty price tag. Although rated at 430 horses, COPO ZL-1 Camaros were easily capable of topping 500 or even 550 horses. $7,200 stickers, on the other hand, weren’t at all appealing to the customers shopping for muscle cars, yet today it tops our list of rare and powerful classic muscle cars of all time.