Numerous enthusiasts think of 1972 as the end of the original muscle car era, but two years later, there were still quite a few strong choices, even if they’d grown a bit flabbier than the earlier models and lacked their high-compression punch.
If you could stage a 40th reunion of the Muscle Cars Class of ’74, it would be an impressive gathering, indeed. Here’s a look:
Pontiac Firebird Formula and Trans-Am Super Duty 455
While taking flack for fielding a Ventura-based budget GTO in 1974, Pontiac also unleashed what many consider one of the ultimate engines of the muscle car era, the Super Duty 455. It appeared in late 1973 as an option for the Firebird Formula and Trans Am.
The 290-horsepower rating was the highest from Detroit that year, and that was a net rating, remember. The automotive press was giddy over the performance. Hot Rod laid down a 13.5-second quarter-mile at 105 mph, while Car & Driver went 13.8 at nearly 104. (That was in a 1973 “prototype,” a well-tuned ringer.) The option cost $521 in the Trans Am, and many know what rare ‘Birds these were, with the SD455 going into just 953 Trans-Ams and 58 Formulas for 1974 (in addition to 252 T/A’s and 43 Formulas for 1973).
The Camaro Z/28 carried its Corvette-shared L-82 350 small-block into 1974 with all 245 horses intact. It was still quick — capable of a sub-15-second quarter-mile at about 96 mph, according to High-Performance CARS magazine. Nearly 14,000 were made, and then Chevrolet dropped the Z/28 until a mid-1977 return with a milder 185-hp engine.
Plymouth Duster 360 / Dodge Dart Sport 360
The small-block Mopar A-bodies may have lacked the flash of midsize muscle coupes and pony cars, but they were always among the best bang-for-the-buck performers available. That was still true for the 1974 Plymouth Duster 360 and its Dodge Dart Sport 360 cousin. Their 245-horsepower 360 4-barrel matched the Camaro Z/28 for power. Despite the screaming performance bargain these cars represented, though, just about 4,000 of each were made for ’74.
Dodge Challenger Rallye / Plymouth ‘Cuda
The Mopar pony cars took their final bow for 1974, and still offered some real kick with the optional 245-hp 360 4-barrel option. The Challenger Rallye and ’Cuda models offered visual pizazz with hood scoops and stripe packages, and there was even a “performance axle ratio” package. Who wouldn’t love to go back in time and buy one of these brand new?
Plymouth Road Runner
Though the Plymouth Road Runner came standard with a tame 170-horsepower 318 4-barrel for 1974, you could still order a 245-hp 360 V-8, a 250-horse 400 big-block, and even a 275-horse 440. All were lower-compression versions of high-performance engines offered in previous years. Just 79 Road Runners got the 440, and with it, they were called Road Runner GTX’s.
Dodge Charger Rallye
The R/T badge was long gone, but you could still option up a ’74 Charger with plenty of performance. As in the Road Runner, a 275-hp 440 Magnum option was still available in the third-gen Charger’s final year, along with the same 400 and 360 4-barrel engines as the Plymouth Road Runner.
AMC Javelin AMX 401
AMC’s Javelin kept sales pace with the Dodge Challenger and even outsold the Plymouth Barracuda from 1971 through the final year for all three, 1974. To the delight of AMC buffs, the AMX performance model offered the 401 cu.-in. small-block V-8 option into 1974, though it had dropped to 235 net horsepower. Contemporary road tests put the quarter-mile time at about 15.5 seconds, which was quite respectable for the day. The more common AMC 360 V-8 had 220 hp.
Chevelle SS 454
Chevy was steering its Chevelle along a more luxury-oriented course by 1974, but you could still get an SS model with a 454-cube big block, albeit one with 235 net horsepower. That was also the case with the new Chevelle Laguna S-3 model, which, like its Pontiac Grand Am cousin, touted a kind of Europeanized driving experience and interior.
Buick Gran Sport 455
The brochure for the 1974 Buick Century described the Gran Sport option as “a highly individual road car.” That was another way of saying that it was a bit tamer than previous GS models. Yet, you could still order a 230-horse 455 4-barrel or the Stage 1 “performance modified” version with 255 horses. Fewer than 500 were made with the Stage 1, and just under 600 with the standard 455.
The Hurst/Olds collaborations yielded some of the most memorable models of the muscle car era, and in retrospect the fact that this paring continued into the 1980s seems surprising. Though the ’74 model offered the 230-horse 455 HO engine in a W-30 option package, fewer than 300 were made. The rest of the 1,800 built were equipped with a 200-horse 350. The Hurst/Olds paced the Indy 500 that year.