28 little-known muscle car facts

1970 AMC Javelin SST Mark Donohue edition Mecum

March 6, 2023: Good day, fellow gearheads. There is a lot to report on coming out of the recent festivities at The Amelia, and much of that content features luxury brands and European marques. So we thought we’d treat our muscle fans to an old favorite article (September 4, 2019), lest you think we’ve lost our taste for tire-smoking Detroit iron. -Eric Weiner, Executive Editor

Want to impress your friends? Outsmart some loudmouth on Facebook? Just wanna get in the good graces of a certain tribe? Then take this here list to your local cruise and throw one at every faction under the Ambassador Bridge. Inspired by Steve Magnante’s 1001 Muscle Car Facts, this list an indispensable resource for any aspiring muscle-car know-it-all. In no particular order:


1970 AMC Javelin SST Mark Donohue edition
1970 AMC Javelin SST Mark Donohue edition Mecum
  • Yes, there still are folks who think the 390 commonly found in AMXs is a Ford engine. It’s not.
  • An urban legend suggests that the Trans Am-inspired 1970 Mark Donohue Javelin built with the standard 360 received stronger internal webbing (a feature of the 390) than run-of-the-mill 360s, but there’s no evidence of a special 360 having been factory-installed. AMC expert Ian Webb offers an explanation: AMC offered a service block with the aforementioned reinforcements but with the smaller bore of the 304 that is colloquially referred to as the “Trans Am block.” It is still unsubstantiated that this block was installed at the factory.


1966 Buick Wildcat GS
1966 Buick Wildcat GS Mecum
  • The 1968-69 GS California was based on a regional model built in 1967. Interestingly, all were based on the Special series and not the Gran Sport.
  • 1966 was the only year that there were three Gran Sport series: Skylark, Riviera, and Wildcat.
  • The last year for an available four-speed for full-size cars was 1965.


1966 Chevrolet Malibu SS
1966 Chevrolet Malibu SS Mecum
  • It was possible to order a 1966–67 Chevelle with the 396 that wasn’t an SS 396. All you had to do was visit a Canadian dealership and order a Malibu coupe or convertible with the A51 package. It was called the “Sports Option” and included Strato-bucket seats, console (when paired with four-speed or automatic), rocker trim, contrasting rear cove trim (for 1966), and Malibu SS identification. An A51-equipped Malibu was the only way to score the 396.
  • “Band-Aid” stripes for 1967–69 Camaros were an exclusive Z/28 feature. Exceptions: 1969 Z11 pace cars and the Z10 hardtop promotional model.
  • For the 1968–69 Camaro SS and Nova SS, the L78 396/375 was more popular than the L34 396/350.


1972 Dodge Dart Swinger Special
1972 Dodge Dart Swinger Special Diego Rosenberg
  • The Dodge Dart Swinger 340 was only available in 1969–70 in the U.S. but, due to the efforts of two dealerships, a handful of special-order Dart Swinger Specials with the 340 were available through 1972 in Canada.
  • For 1970, if you wanted a 340 in a Dodge Challenger, you ordered the base model. In 1971, you could get the 340 in the Challenger or Challenger R/T.
  • The 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona’s nose was made of sheet metal, not fiberglass.


1971 Ford Mustang Mach 1
1971 Ford Mustang Mach 1 Mecum
  • In 1971, the 429 Cobra Jet Mustang was the only Ford Motor Company product that officially offered the Drag Pack.
  • The 429 Police Interceptor for 1971 full-size Fords was similar (but not identical) to the 429 Cobra Jet, including heads and camshaft.
  • Despite the name, the 429 Cobra Jet was not standard for the 1970 Torino Cobra.


1969 Mercury Cyclone
1969 Mercury Cyclone Mecum
  • Ram air was not available with the 428 Cobra Jet for 1969 Mercury Montegosonly the Cyclone was available with air induction.
  • The 1969–70 Marauder X-100 could have other contrasting rear two-toning besides matte black. It also was optional for the base Marauder.
  • Mercury generally used the same engine codes in the VIN as did Ford but, for 1970, both the 428 and 429 Cobra Jet with ram air was designated differently by Mercury.


1971 Oldsmobile 442 convertible
1971 Oldsmobile 442 convertible Mecum
  • Besides the Corvette, the 1971–72 Olds 4-4-2 was the only GM vehicle that offered a dual-disc clutch.
  • The 4-4-2 package went from being based on F85 and Cutlass models in 1966 to the fancy Cutlass Supreme in 1967.
  • The 1970 Cutlass SX had a confusing array of available engines: L33 2bbl. 455/320 was standard through March, replaced by the L31 4bbl. 455/365 from the full-size series. The W32 455/365 (the same engine standard on the 4-4-2) was optional throughout the year.


1970 Plymouth Cuda
1970 Plymouth Cuda Mecum
  • Both the side stripe for the 1970 Duster 340 and the optional “Hockey Stick” stripe for the 1970 ‘Cuda were only available in black from the factory.
  • Three Barracuda models were available with the 340 in 1969: standard, Formula S, and ‘Cuda 340.
  • Strangely, the standard engine for the 1970 Sport Fury GT was not the same 375-horse 440 found in the GTX—it was the 350-horse version of the big-block.


1969 Pontiac GTO Rram Air IV convertible
1969 Pontiac GTO Rram Air IV convertible Mecum
  • Black grilles were not a part of the Judge package for 1969. Rather, all ram air cars received black grilles. Since all Judges are ram air cars, black grilles have long been associated with the Judge.
  • The last full-size four-speed was in 1968. Only 755 were built, with most being Catalinas according to the GM Heritage Center.
  • All of the 1969 Grand Prix Model J’s four-barrel engines were available with a standard three-speed. The Model SJ shared some of the same engines but required a four-speed or automatic.


1969 Shelby GT500 convertible
1969 Shelby GT500 convertible Mecum
  • The initial run of 1967 Shelby Mustangs had driving lights in the middle of the grille. However, some states had rules on the close proximity of lights, so Shelby made a running change and later cars received lights at the outer edges of the grille.
  • Ford’s Grabber colors got their start with the 1969 Shelby Mustang.


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    Sigh. Now I have to print out this article and fold it down to fit in my back pocket so that I can surreptitiously consult it when bench racing with my buddies or at the next Muscle Car Show ‘n’ Shine. 😉

    Wondering if the 3 speed manual in the 68 full size Pontiac’s was the “Dearborn” (Ford toploader) transmission. My 65 2+2 421 tripower had the “Dearborn” transmission.

    my 65 GTO coupe with 4barrel(335horse) had a Ford top loader 3 speed manual stock as the base transmission

    To my knowledge I believe they were all heavy duty Dearborn top loaders, other Pontiac model`s (Tempest, Firebirds etc. ) also used them.

    My father ordered a 1967 Pontiac Catalina sedan with the heavy-duty 3 speed manual transmission. Years later he was told it was a Ford transmission. Sure enough 9 years later I rebuilt the engine and after degreasing the transmission found the “FoMoCo” logo stamped on the side, as it was A Dearborn toploader.

    My 68 Firebird has the three speed Dearborn transmission. I was pretty surprised when doing my frame off restoration. Finding FOMOCO embossed on the side and the tunnel cut with a torch, I thought it was a modification the original owner had made. After some research, I identified it by the yellow letters DB painted on the side. The original bill of sale states HD Three Speed Transmission.

    I had to change the rear fender flare on my 1976 Firebird TransAm after my wife had a run-in with a curb. I took off the inner panel on that side to get to the nut that held the flare on, and I had to reach through a torch hole, cut from the factory.

    GM transmission was on strike so sources Ford trans which has dual bolt pattern to bellhousing for Ford cars and
    pattern for GM total of 8 holes

    Slight correction
    1970 Challenger T/A was a 340 six pack standard and the only engine offered in a T/A
    Not Base, Not RT

    Don’t forget to mention that the 340 was a four bolt main (only available with the challenger T/A or AAR CUDA)

    I think the point targeted was the R/T had the big blocks only, when you ordered the 70 Challenger with the 340 package, it was not a R/T.
    (I had one with pistol grip and consol, but no R/T and put the R/T emblems on it) That was a cool car.

    Kyle, that’s incorrect.

    The T/A was a package on the base Challenger. JH would be the prefix to the VIN, no different than a 318 Challenger….or an A66 340 Challenger.

    I like the two unusual muscle cars here. The AMC and the Mercury intrigue me the most on this list.

    AMC had the Rebel Machine as a stand alone model in 1970. In 1971 it became just a package on the Rebel. A friend ordered a Rebel Station wagon and checked off the Machine package on the order firm. Ended up with a 390, 4 speed bucket seat wagon in green. Hood tach/ scoop and all.

    Still has it. Turned down $100,000 offer. One of one.

    Back when I was a youngster in high school a local farmer (loyal Oldsmobile customer) wanted a new 1968 Vista Cruiser station wagon with a 4 speed trans. His long time dealer said automatics were only option. He told them if he couldn’t get one with a 4 speed he would go somewhere else. Next thing we knew he had a new white Vista Cruiser with a Hurst 4 speed shifter. I think a lot of this kind of thing went on back then when dealers and factorys wanted to sell cars – especially to loyal customers and ones with a lot of money.

    Back in 1981 in high school, the common car was a factory 2 barrel car with a 4 barrel added and dual exhaust.

    Then one day my buddy showed up in a 1970 W30 442, 4 speed. He showed everyone what a burn out looked like.

    Many years ago, Mopar Collector’s Guide featured a 1971 Dodge Coronet Crestwood wagon, white, woodgrain trim, 383 with factory pistol grip 4 speed. Amazing car.

    I know for a fact that “connected” people could get many things that normal car buyers couldn’t. My Dad worked for Fisher Body and ordered all the cars for the execs at his plant. He would come home with some pretty interesting cars with interiors or options you normally couldn’t get.

    I owned a 1971 Dodge Dart Swinger (in 1973) that was one of few ordered by Crestview Chrysler in Regina Saskatchewan. Another dealership in Edmonton Alberta got involved which persuaded the Windsor Ontario factory to crank out a number of these cars as well. Out of the too many to-count new and used vehicles I’ve owned, this was the ‘one’ I wish I would have kept. It was quick and handled beautifully. One of many
    that I didn’t photograph which is truly regrettable.

    Hey Ken, you did have one of them? So, this is mine (the one featured here by Diego) and I run the registry for these ’71 and ’72 Canadian 340 Specials. I’d love to know if you still have any info on it, like #’s etc., as I’d like to know if it is in the registry, and if not, more info on your old one. http://www.swinger340specials.ca

    Ya, what about the 1970 Nova SS 396 L78. They aren’t mentioned much and deserve more recognition.
    These cars could hold there own with most of the big block muscle cars of the time.

    Time out! I need a ruling on the field. What is a “muscle” car and what is a ‘pony” car? Extra credit will be given for listing all cars that belong to each category. I thought, and maybe still do, that the “pony” cars were Mustang, Camaro, Firebird, Challenger, Cuda, AMX, Javelin. Basically any car that competed in the Trans Am series and were driven by the guys who could find Watkins Glen and Mosport on a map. Muscle cars were the 442, GTO, Chevelle, Roadrunner, Super Bee, Charger, Torino, and the Mercury variants. They were driven by folks who worked at gas stations and whose girlfriends sat next to them on the bench seat.

    Yes – I agree – everybody today calls old Mustangs Muscle Cars – drives me nuts. And very few of them know what a Torino or a Talladega or a Cyclone was (you can tell I had Ford Mercury leanings), but the same is true for MoPar – Challengers and Cudas were not Muscle Cars – Chargers, Road Runners , Daytonas and Super Birds were.

    Kinda hard to think of a Hemi ‘Cuda as a “pony car” as opposed to a muscle car…
    Is a Pinto a true pony car?

    Pony car – Compact 2-dr car with performance association (your list is correct)
    Muscle car – Intermediate car with big block.

    A midsize car with a performance engine is a muscle car.

    A pony car with a performance engine is a muscle car.

    That’s how it works.

    Starting with the 1964 GTO intermediates with big block engines were not referred to as muscle cars – they were called super cars and Swingers and Novas were called Jr Super cars.

    I have several newspaper ads that call them “muscle cars.”

    Plenty of anecdotes like yours, but they’re not absolute.

    No – a pony car with a performance engine is still a pony car, and that is what they were called. Only performance-engined intermediates were commonly called muscle cars. I know – I was there. The usage has apparently changed, nowadays.

    The definition of a pony car has nothing to do with the motor it was strictly a body style, two-door, long hood and short trunk. They came with every thing from small sixes to huge V8s.

    The definition of a muscle car has nothing to do with classification.

    A mid-size car with a strong power/weight ratio is a muscle car.

    A full-size car with a strong power/weight ratio is a muscle car.

    A compact with a strong power/weight ratio is a muscle car.

    A pony car with a strong power/weight ratio is a muscle car.

    I agree 100%. The “pony car” designation simply refers to a long hood and a short deck, like a Mustang.
    My ’67 Firebird 400, 4-sp, LSD, disc brake car, for instance, was both a muscle car and a pony car.

    Ford came out with the Mustang in ’64. GM, Chrysler, and AMC had to come out with their answer. These became the “pony cars”. And in my mind, it didn’t matter if they had a six-cylinder (many did), or a fire breathing V8, the Mustang, Camaro/Firebird, ‘Cuda/Challenger, and Javelin/AMX were the Pony Cars.

    I agree 100%. The “muscle car” designation simply refers to high power-to-weight ratio and little else.

    I was there too and this is one of those questions that keep coming up and all anybody has is their own opinion on it and we all know that opinions are like, Well you know the rest 🙂

    Great article. I agree. I’m not sure that a Javelin is a Muscle Car. I have always thought of it as a Pony Car. The difference being a Pony Car is of unibody construction with a long hood and short deck. Also, Trans Am rules allowed for a maximum displacement of 302 cubic inches for the race cars. The conundrum here is the Gray Ghost of Herb Adams, PONTIAC* suspension engineer. It was a Tempest grocery-getter, turned Trans Am skunkworks contender. Final point, adding a HUGE engine to a Pony car doesn’t make it a Muscle Car in my opinion. It will ruin any handling gains by making it nose-heavy. Final, final point. There is something to the bench seat of a Muscle Car. The only reason many men do any car stuff is to get the girl to sit closer to them! *In my view, PONTIAC should always be in caps when in print.

    I remember that Tempest! It was both surprising and refreshing to see a genuine sedan competing against a field of pony car faux sedans in the Trans-Am Sedan Championship. I could be wrong but, as I remember it, the engine was a 4.12″ bore Pontiac 400 destroked to about 2.85″ for just under 5L, and with the huge Pontiac valves. Pretty cool!

    Midway through the 1967 model year (approximately 1/1/67) the Canada-only “Malibu SS” (with 136 VIN) was dropped and was replaced by the Chevelle SS 396 (same as a US built SS 396, including having a 138 VIN).

    So the “Malibu SS” was the only way to get a 396 in a Chevelle in Canada in 1966, but not in 1967.

    Thanks for the feature Diego, and thanks for hi-lighting my ’72 Cdn Swinger 340 Special… I was shocked when I opened my email this morning and there was my car on home page. Too cool :)-

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