13 May 2014

Muscle Class of ’74 40th Reunion

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).

Camaro Z/28

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.

1974 Hurst/Olds

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.

36 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Glenn Arlt Traverse City, Michigan May 14, 2014 at 14:45
    I hate to pick nits but the 1974 AMC 401 engine could still be had with dual exhausts and it hammered out a class-leading (for its displacement) 255 horsepower! The 235 hp job was single exhaust - kind of like intended for Matador station wagon use!
  • 2
    Glenn St Joseph MO May 14, 2014 at 15:18
    It there anyway of knowing how many 68 rag top GTX's are still around ?
  • 3
    Andrew Crouch Omaha, Nebraska May 14, 2014 at 15:37
    Sort of disappointing you left off the Ford Gran Torino / Mercury Montego cars. They could be optioned with the 429, if you ordered a police package the 429 police interceptor produced over 455 ft lbs of torque as ford was building the police engines with pre emmissions timing and healthy intake/exhaust setups. One member from grantorinosport forum owns an ex-Canadian mounty patrol car optioned as such and it's an animal that will mop up a number of other cars. In 74 you could still special order the Cleveland in the cobra jet 4v package as well...however four speed models were quite rare, most 4v cj models got a c6 automatic, special converter and deeper gearing.
  • 4
    Ray Gardner Grantds Pass, OR May 14, 2014 at 15:38
    I have a 1974 Nova - Hatchback - 454 big block - 40 Turbo/Shift Kit - 373 Posi Rear
  • 5
    Bob Oklahoma May 14, 2014 at 16:07
    No Vette or Pantera....interesting
  • 6
    Wally Marsden United States May 14, 2014 at 16:09
    Yup, it was pretty much over by 1974. Although the Challenger body style still was great, the performance was killed. The rest of the 70s and much of the 80s was pretty much downhill, too.
  • 7
    Bob Agee Houston TX May 14, 2014 at 16:25
    1974 muscle car with 245 HP? Bwahahahaha. Back in the sixties the street definition of a muscle car was 300 HP minimum. That's why no one ever referred to a Hi-Po 289 Mustang as a Muscle Car. It only developed 271 HP. P.S. GTO's Rule!!!!
  • 8
    Jeff D Dallas May 14, 2014 at 16:38
    Don't forget the 1974 DeTomaso Pantera! Low-mid 7s 0-60, great looks, great handling.
  • 9
    MIke Miami May 14, 2014 at 17:38
    You forgot the one car that was still all American muscle and little bit Italian. The 1974 Ford powered (351C) Pantera Detomaso, imported by Ford Lincoln Mercury. 265 HP at 5400 rpm (310 SAE, 380 lbs/ft at 3,400 rpm)) . 0-60 in 6.1 sec, 0-100 in 15.1 sec., Dry weight 2,900 lbs., top speed of 174 mph. Qtr mile in 14.6 sec. Now that my friends was a muscle car for the ages.
  • 10
    Bill Barbour Pittsburgh, PA May 14, 2014 at 17:40
    Why only one picture when many are included in article?
  • 11
    bill illinois May 14, 2014 at 17:51
    It would have been nice to include pics of the other cars mentioned.
  • 12
    Dave Duke pittsburgh PA. May 14, 2014 at 17:59
    I have one of the Hurst Olds. W30 with the 455 love it
  • 13
    Owen Commack, NY May 14, 2014 at 17:59
    You mention the '74 Road Runner with a 318 4 barrel engine...the 318 engine came standard in the Road Runner but it was a 2 barrel, not a 4 barrel. I worked for a Chrysler dealer back then. It was a sad day when the first '74 Road Runner came off the truck.
  • 14
    Henry Kimball Watkins Glen area May 14, 2014 at 18:31
    I have a '69 Pontiac Firebird 350 Small Bloc. Black soft top and black body. Interior is in fair condition exterior is good. I would like to do some work on the car and wondered what sort of value would a car like this have. Thanks
  • 15
    William Styles United States May 14, 2014 at 18:41
    I was lucky to have the 74 Cutlass and 74 Malibu in highschool back in 85. Having the 74 cuda though was a major rush...I sold it when I got married. Loved the 74s because the price point was so much better...but due to your article I think that may not be true anymore... thanks w.jim
  • 16
    Gary San Antonio May 14, 2014 at 19:07
    1st new car I bought was a 74 Cuda (traded in my 69 Charger...got only $800 for it). The Cuda sticker'd for over $4,000. The Cuda in this pic is missing it's (ugly) bumper guards that were gov't mandated. Wish I had both of those cars now!!!
  • 17
    William Cuffaro York Pa. May 14, 2014 at 20:05
    My wife Nicolle & I could not agree more. Our 73 challenger turns heads where ever we go. Hell this awesome machine looks like is moving when it's sitting still. The muscle cars of the early 70's need to be recignised an appreciated.
  • 18
    Steve Winters Reno NV May 14, 2014 at 20:27
    Don't forget the 73/4 corvettes were still available with 454 BB and a four speed .Horse power and torque didn't go down that much ,the way they rated it did.275 HP NET = 335 HP GROSS which is how they changed the rating for insurance purposes, they weren't really lying but.... So the late 60s early 70s cars spouting 375 or 400 hp were GROSS ratings which you deduct 60 hp for NET ratings. TORQUE, which is felt acceleration ,didn't change much between net and gross .Only what they classified it as did!
  • 19
    Tom Rochester hills michigan May 14, 2014 at 20:28
    You left out the '74 corvette LS4. Rated at 270 horse (net hp) 395 ft lb torque.
  • 20
    ernest North Carolina May 14, 2014 at 21:11
    as usual, they forgot the 1974 corvette with the 454. It hasv275 horses. the writer forgot the 1974 Corvette 454. It hadv275 horses.
  • 21
    john johnson chattanooga May 14, 2014 at 22:21
    Those 74's were still cool, much better than the front wheel drive world we live in now
  • 22
    cegrover United States May 15, 2014 at 14:07
    No Ford, not even a Torino with 351-CJ? This won't go over well with some of the Muscle Car crowd!
  • 23
    Len Boschma Beloit,WI May 15, 2014 at 03:12
    2 of my favorite cars from my youth were '74's. A 1974 GTO in Buccaneer Red with White Vinyl/Red trim interior. 350 with the shaker and a 4 speed and chambered exhaust. I bought the car in my sophomore year of high school in the fall of 1977. That was one sweet GTO. I don't care what anyone said, it was more than just a sticker and stripe car. It had a real muscle car sound and packed power! My other favorite was a 1974 Firebird Formula with 400 RamAir, 4-speed, Posi 373 rear end. This was my senior year car 1979/1980. It proved to be a little too fast for me. It would keep up with, but couldn't defeat my classmates 1974 SD-455 Trans Am. But it scared me enough to sell it to another classmate whose parents helped him buy it as a graduation present. (he totaled it before the next fall).
  • 24
    musclecardude Houston May 15, 2014 at 07:52
    great write up..it's just sad to see that the 1974 GTO (final year of first run) never gets any coverage. Way more classy than a Nova, and you could still get a 4 speed and functional shaker hood. These cars are very rare due to relatively low production numbers to other GTO years. Hard to find some parts (thank goodness for Novas) as the aftermarket industry barely recognizes these cars.
  • 25
    pete ky May 15, 2014 at 08:47
    sorry article writer,no ss model chevelle was built in 1974,last year was 1973.
  • 26
    Terry Cooke Ontario Canada May 15, 2014 at 09:43
    Good read, owning two of the cars (74 Challenger Rallye and 74 Trans Am)
  • 27
    Stephen Cashmore Brampton, ON May 15, 2014 at 22:33
    Literally last month bought a fully restored 1974 Dodge Challenger in Tucson, AZ completely rust free boasting a 408 Blueprint Stroker motor. It just arrived this week...Wow what a ride.
  • 28
    timbo Michigan May 16, 2014 at 13:31
    I have a 74 Javelin, but not the AMX, but it's good to see that there is some acknowledgement of this vehicle.
  • 29
    Mike TN May 16, 2014 at 22:03
    More pictures please! It'd be nice to see one of each...
  • 30
    Timothy California May 17, 2014 at 20:03
    I was a young child back when these cars were new and can relate to them. Some of those mid '70s cars were really the end of an era in terms of exciting styling, big block V8's and neat interiors especially many GM vehicles that had the curvaceous instrument panels and swivel bucket seats, etc. The new car designs coming out in the late '70s lost the smooth flowing lines in favor of sharp boxy roof lines, hood and trunk lines. Interiors became flat and boring and there just wasn't any soul left in these new creations. Just compare the graceful body style of a 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass (colonade body) compared to the almost ugly, downsized, boxy upright body style of the 1978 Cutlass. The '80s was even worse. It was the worst decade in automotive history bar none.
  • 31
    Mark Golden, Colorado May 17, 2014 at 12:05
    Just wanted to say I have a 74 Corvette with an original B B 454. No mention in the story about Corvette's. I know the earlier models were more impressive but after some fine tuning on the Quadrajet we put it on the Dyno and at 4400 RPM it's putting out 345 ft-lbs of torque and 289 Hp. I'm a happy camper!
  • 32
    Bill Phx. AZ May 18, 2014 at 10:18
    I always thought 1974 was the final "hoorah" for American Muscle. Since I own a 74 Roadrunner with a Chrysler big block. A 400. I have rebuilt the motor using a formula supplied by one of the drag racing greats, Dick Landy. The compression is 11 to one and the proverbial "ground pounding" is definatley there.As the years pass by. Many people dont know about the muscle car controversy of the 70's. After all, It's a gennie roadrunner. And thats all that matters.
  • 33
    Jerry Talso Iron River WI May 19, 2014 at 18:43
    I have a 74 Z28 that i bought new in 74. I paid $4300 for it. I am the original owner of the car, it is all original with only 14,000 actual miles on it. It has been stored in perfect condition and is still that way. Burgundy in color with black interior
  • 34
    Dennis NH May 19, 2014 at 09:04
    I had a '73 Barracuda repainted dark green. It wasn't a very good paint job, so whenever a piece would chip off, the color underneath was the same as the car in the picture. It would have looked better if the previous owner had gone with the original color, but by 1979, it was considered strange.
  • 35
    Jim Detroit May 29, 2014 at 12:12
    You left off the '74 442, but mentioned the Hurst Olds. As another pointed out, no Chevelle SS was avaialbe as it was replaced by the Laguna S-3. An El Camino SS or GMC Sprint SP with a 454 were other choices.
  • 36
    Roger Severns Santa Cruz, CA July 2, 2014 at 15:52
    Although Bob (Houston) makes good points above... The real joy of ownership of a 1960's or 1970's muscle cars is the fact that they were designed and built without the benefits of the computer (CAD) or in most cases, wind tunnels (generally over-designed - heavy). A modern Honda or Lexus can do the quarter with a comparable time and a Tesla "Model S" will run to 60 in 4.2 seconds on electricity faster than 99% of "muscle era" production cars that I know of...? It's not the performance of these cars but nostalgia and the memories of simpler times - gas @42 cents per gallon, no power accessories, no fuel Injection (carburetor) , no A/C, no air bags, no ABS (drums), no traction control, bias ply tires, and often NO seat belts!!! Tons of power, but you couldn't stop them! Modern "mass produced" cars are "one size fits all" (many look alike) and most sedans have near 250-300+ HP including many Lexus, Honda and Acura models. Classic muscle cars are in a class of their own and don't need to prove anything to anyone.

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