9 September 2016

Our top five luxury muscle picks

The formula for classic American muscle has been oft-repeated and it’s pretty straightforward – stuff the biggest, most powerful engine possible into the smallest car, go really fast in a straight line. Sure, if you checked the right boxes, you could get cushy stuff like power windows, air conditioning and an automatic transmission, but most of these options just added weight and aided your competition at the next stop light.

But the prosperous, thirty-something proctologist who had outgrown street racing on Colorado Boulevard or Woodward Avenue, didn’t necessarily care about giving up a few tenths of a second to his neighbor, the accountant. Still, they weren’t ready for the squarish conformism that a four-door Olds, Buick or Cadillac represented. For these guys, an interesting brand of personal luxury muscle thrived briefly. Here are five of our favorites:

  1. 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix SJ- The Grand Prix was the midway point for one John Z. DeLorean, in between the Pontiac GTO and the stainless steel, gullwing sports car that bore his name. While a little bit more grown up than the GTO, with a 390 hp 428-cid High Output V-8 and a four-speed, there wasn’t much that could embarrass a GP.

  2. 1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS- The Monte was Chevy’s answer to the Grand Prix. Debuting a year later, oddly enough, it also had a John DeLorean connection. John Z. had succeeded Pete Estes as Chevy’s general manager by the time the Monte was introduced. DeLorean also ensured that the Monte Carlo was available in SS trim with a 360 hp 454 V-8. The Monte was only a few hundred pounds heavier than a Chevelle, so performance was closer than you might think. For those priced out of the LS5 Chevelle market, it’s a pretty tempting car.

  3. 1967 Mercury Cougar XR-7- It’s not like you couldn’t lux up a first-generation Mustang, nevertheless, FoMoCo still decided that its Mercury division needed a personal luxury/pony car. While still very much a Mustang underneath, the more generous overhangs, slimmer profile, hidden headlamps and sequential tail lamps (which survive on the current Mustang) made the Cougar an irresistible mascot for the whole Mercury lineup. XR-7s added better, less Country Squire-like interiors that looked very British, with simulated wood and gauges and toggle switches that looked lifted straight out of an E-type. With a 390 cubic inch V-8 making 335 hp, it had little trouble showing its distinctive tail lamps to much of the competition.

  4. 1963 Studebaker Avanti- The Avanti was a last gasp, Hail Mary play by the dying Studebaker corporation. You either love or hate the looks. Less polarizing is the car’s performance, particularly with the supercharged R2 289-cid V-8 mated with a four-speed manual transmission. Amazingly, R2 Avantis in need of some minor work still can be had for $20,000 or less.

  5. 1967 Buick Riviera GS- The 1963-65 Riv gets all the accolades for its sophisticated Trans-Atlantic style. But the Riv that bowed in 1966 is certainly sleeker with its fastback roofline and it’s arguably the better looking car. Strangely, it shared the same platform as the Olds Toronado and Cadillac Eldorado—both were front-drivers while the RIv retained a traditional rear wheel-drive setup. We’re partial to the visually similar 1967 model for its optional Bendix disc brakes and the all-new 430 cubic inch, 360 hp Buick V-8 that became available that year.

33 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Bob Gerometta St. Pete FL September 9, 2016 at 15:17
    You left out the most famous luxury muscle of all the Chrysler 300 Letter Series Cars - the cars that started it all.
  • 2
    Don Wilson Centralia, WA September 12, 2016 at 12:00
    Bob's comment brings up the '56 Studebaker Golden Hawk equipped with the Packard V8. Certainly fits this category.
  • 3
    Lloyd Dunn Kona, Hawaii September 15, 2016 at 13:06
    Some of the most beautiful land yachts that took stuff off of nobody were the fuel-injected 57 Pontiac Bonneville, the 61 Olds Starfire. And, as mentioned earlier, the Chrysler 300's (before they got ugly). Am I dating myself? Perhaps.
  • 4
    Jeffrey Chase Metro Detroit September 15, 2016 at 13:15
    Don't forget the Cadillac Eldorado and Lincoln Continental MK II, II, IV, and V. I have owned a MK III, and 3 V's, including a Collector's Series and a Diamond Jubilee. All engines were slightly modified--the 78's 460 had 360 to 375 HP. Hot rod Lincolns! My 75 and 76 Eldos had reworked Rochester 4 bbl. carbs among other tweaks. How about driving 100 MPH in a 76 Eldorado drop[ top on I-94 in Macomb Cty, MI., or the same speed on I-96 in Oakland Cty., MI. These were my mechanic's test rides--and I was there, too. My Marks could move just as fast, too. These were real performance luxury cars! . .
  • 5
    Tony E htfd Ct September 15, 2016 at 13:47
    I guess my Luxury hot rod's are a little too new. I have Lincoln Mark Viii's. The 4.6 32 valve engine was used in all the MK VIII's, 280 hp- 300 hp. First used in 1993, Mustangs got them in 1996.
  • 6
    Wayne Graefen Under the X in Texas September 15, 2016 at 14:44
    Foundational to this list is the Chrysler Letter Cars. To not include them is to invalidate the list.
  • 7
    Barry Birch Port Townsend, WA. September 15, 2016 at 15:14
    Why does Hagerty and Hemmings Motor News always leave out 66 Thunderbirds with the 428 V-8? New they outsold Riveria 64 - 66 Just don't understand your logic? Leaving out Chrysler letter series is another big mistake! Who writes these articles for Hagerty, and where does their judgment come from?
  • 8
    Robert Houma,Louisiana September 15, 2016 at 15:52
    Don't forget about the best and fastest of all mentioned. The 1970 BUICK GSX. IT has BEEN THE FASTEST PRODUCTION CAR UNTIL 2016 when the hellcat came out. For 46 years it has rained supreme. And if you was lucky to own or drive one. You wwould know the truth that I write. All hail the king 1970 BUICK GSX !!!!!!!!!!!!
  • 9
    James Eastburn OK September 15, 2016 at 15:55
    Ya'all hold up your hand and count the fingers. The title is Top 5, not all of them.
  • 10
    Ken MacLennan Edmonton Alberta September 15, 2016 at 16:07
    Gotta luv the Buicks, Olds, & Pontiacs lots of torque horse power and a comfortable ride
  • 11
    Bill B Keswick September 15, 2016 at 17:33
    Everyone over 50 seems to have owned a Cutlass or 442 at sometime in the 65-88 time frame
  • 12
    Mike Rudman Chicago September 15, 2016 at 18:25
    Oldsmobile Tornado GT W-34
  • 13
    Jeff Mi September 15, 2016 at 21:15
    I have to agree about the Chrysler cars, but the early Hurst Olds Cutlass is always overlooked as both a muscle car and luxury coup. 500 ft lbs of torque and every doo dad for your cruising comfort, plus bad a** sob styling make it my pick.
  • 14
    Paul Creason Lake Forest, CA September 15, 2016 at 09:40
    What about the 1968-70 Plymouth GTX. The Gentlemen's muscle car that was fully loaded for that time. And, it looks amazing!
  • 15
    Dale Brown Louisville, KY September 15, 2016 at 09:45
    Don't forget the 1969-1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III. With its Lee Iacocca's recommended design (long hood/short trunk) and its 460 V8, it is a powerhouse and very comfortable to drive. I have owned a 1971 triple black model for 18 years and it never disappoints on the street or highway.
  • 16
    Walt Branchville NJ September 15, 2016 at 09:54
    1965 Buick Riviera Gran Sport
  • 17
    Paul Sellers Salt Lake City, Utah September 15, 2016 at 10:30
    Bob is spot on! Chrysler has always been first with innovation including the Hemi heads, 727 transmissions that could take the torque (wish they still had them), V-10 as powerful as the diesels and yes, even the cup holder.
  • 18
    Richard Maple Valley, WA September 15, 2016 at 23:02
    OMG - this list has such a personal attachment. (1) I started college with a friend who's inheritance allowed him to buy a brand new 1968 Cougar XR-7 390 4-speed. We had such fun it it. (2) another friend had a 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix and I lusted after it ever since. (3) the first new car I ever bought was a 1970 Monte Carlo - drove that car into the ground some 20 years later (4) finally bought a 1964 Avanti R-1 with 14K original miles restored by the venerable Virgil Rice (5) good friend when I was in the US Navy bought a 68 Toronado (much like the Rivera) and restored it to showroom like condition. I love these 5 choices.
  • 19
    Scott Donaldson Barrie, Ontario. September 15, 2016 at 11:26
    No 442?
  • 20
    David Lawrence SW New Hampshire September 15, 2016 at 11:33
    @Bob Gerometta, your are so right about the Chrysler 300 letter series. In my opinion the ones from 55 (C300) up to the 1960 F were all beautiful, except for the 1959E. I did not care for the ones that came after the F.
  • 21
    Tommy Young Mt. Carmel, IL September 15, 2016 at 11:43
    I agree with Bob - the 300F was a beast. My father destroyed the engine in his by driving it 147 MPH on the open road. He was on the way to a terrible wreck - he passed a state trooper.
  • 22
    Mike Kelley Texas September 15, 2016 at 11:44
    The most obvious missing from your list are the Buick Turbo Regals and Grand Nationals for 1986 & 1987. Nice riding, quiet, PS, PB, PW, PDL, AC, Power Seats, and tons of straight line performance.
  • 23
    Noel Hastalis Chicago, IL September 15, 2016 at 12:48
    I second Bob G's comment. 1955 Chrysler C-300 - first 300 horsepower U.S. production Muscle Car. 1955 C-300, 1956 300-B, 1957 300-C, 1958 300-D, 1959 300-E, 1960 300-F (my personal muscle car), 1961 300-G, 1962 300-H, 1963 300-J - All with 300 or more Horsepower, All with dual Carter 4-barrel carburetion, All with heavy duty suspension and dual exhausts, All with leather interior, All beautifully styled - referred to as "The Beautiful Brutes" and/or "The Banker's Hot Rods" - and the 1956 300-B optional 354 cu.in hemi motor put out 355 hp, beating by a year Chevy's claim to 1 hp per cu. in. in its mouse motor.
  • 24
    tom hart hood river, or September 16, 2016 at 01:10
    A first generation Monte with the 454 is one of my fantasy cars (and I've been a hardcore Studebaker driver since the '70's). As for the 300's, I love the early ones but that is a different era from these cars. I have printed out the list and am off to buy a lottery ticket.
  • 25
    phil melito pa September 16, 2016 at 05:59
    You have to include the 69-71 lincoln mark iii the gentlemens personal sports car. The most distinctive automobile that was ever made. the style of these cars are hands down the most creative styling ever made along with 360 hp advertised, more like 400 hp.
  • 26
    Jeff Shapiro Fort Lauderdale, Florida September 16, 2016 at 18:19
    I agree with all the comments that have been made about the other luxury cars that were left out of the article. But this list of 5 of Luxury Muscle Cars have been what I believe are the forgotten Luxury Muscle Cars and there current values are lower than the luxury muscle cars that every one has commented about that were not included in this article. I have been looking for months for a good 69' or 70' Pontiac Grand Prix SJ to invest in and have not found one in good enough condition for me to invest in (they have been far gone).
  • 27
    Andrew Sommers Unionville, Ontario September 16, 2016 at 21:16
    Seeing that Thunderbird created the segment that the Grand Prix, Riviera and Monte Carlo competed in and with its 429 At 360 h.p. and 475 ft. lbs. of torque you would be very, very remiss to leave it out! Tsk, tsk, tsk.
  • 28
    Roger Bellingham September 16, 2016 at 23:09
    The title is "OUR top five luxury muscle picks" You can state "YOUR" choices. Therefore, Hagerty left no other cars out of "THEIR" article.
  • 29
    jeff williams lindale ga. September 16, 2016 at 23:28
    I think the hurst/olds should be in there
  • 30
    Andrew Nebraska September 17, 2016 at 09:55
    Honestly while many would discount the Fairlane the successor, Torino and then Gran Torino...these were go-fast cars you could option light or as heavy as you wanted. Fun fact, one of our guys that belong to GranTorinoSport.org happens to own a 1976 Torino, ex-Canadian trooper sedan. 460 car built to 1970. 429 specs from the factory it's a verified 500 ft/lb monster that has embarressed many a muscle car...in unmolested stock trim. I'm a firm believer the 72-73 Torinos fell under this mantra go go-fast luxury depending upon how you option the vehicle. Of course a multitude of fanatics will say the muscle car died after 1971. Then again, I say with a few tasteful tweaks my version of muscle will shotgun more than a few cars of the era.
  • 31
    Len Boschma Beloit, WI September 17, 2016 at 00:35
    I was very happy to see the '66/'67 Riviera made the cut. Back in the late 70's when I was in high school and had a '69 Riviera GS430 (a luxury barge that made more than a few small block Mustang, Camaro and Nova owners embarrassed). I was never foolish enough to try to take on the AMC Rebel Machines, Ram Air GTO's or Big Block Chevelle guys, I was smarter than that. But the only car that I did challenge that could keep up with me and give me a run for my money was a rusty and faded Sea Foam Green '67 Riviera GS 430. That guy and car always impressed me!
  • 32
    Trey Bien Everywhere, USA November 5, 2016 at 01:50
    The Thunderbird does not resemble "luxury muscle" at all. Get a clue, folks!
  • 33
    Carl New Hampshire November 18, 2016 at 18:57
    I'll take a 65 Buick Riviera GS with the 425 dual quads any day over the later styles. Also the 57 Chrysler 300C and the Imperial 53 Caddy Eldorado 53/54 Buick Skylark 56 Continental 53 Olds Fiesta All the above had plenty of muscle for their day. Id also had liked to include the Hudson Hornet Twin H which still holds performance records but it sure wasnt luxury.

Join the Discussion