6 full-size alternatives to muscle cars

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Plenty of cars from the ’60s and ’70s offer beautiful designs and gutsy power plants but don’t neatly fall into the muscle car category. In the past, we’ve offered up some more affordable, midsize alternatives to the typical muscle car. This time, let’s delve into some of my favorite full-size cars from the era. Sure, they were bigger and heavier than their drag strip–hero counterparts, but they brought some big V-8 power to bear.

These cars were often the premier models in their showrooms. They featured a plusher interior and often prioritized a smoother ride. While their rowdier muscle car brethren featured some of the same power plants in smaller, lighter packages and dominated the drag strip, these cars were built for the highway and are still perfectly suited for weekend cruising or road-trip duty.

Whether totally stock, lightly resto-modded, or fully customized, here are six full-size hardtops that are overdue for some adulation. Translation: When you can find them, these fantastic cars are often a bargain.

1970 Ford Thunderbird

1970 Ford Thunderbird front

How have these cars flown under the radar for so long? From the front three-quarter view they look long and low, with a jutting grille that resembles the mid-size Mercury Cyclone. However, its rear three-quarter view is among the best of any car built during the decade. The roof is so low it looks chopped, and the taillights frame the car perfectly.

Barrett-Jackson sold a customized 1970 Thunderbird at its 2019 Las Vegas sale—the purple car you see above—that had the front of a 1967 Thunderbird seamlessly grafted on. The hidden headlights were a fantastic addition, but even in stock form they look amazing. The custom version, absolutely regal in metallic purple, went for $55,000. A well-preserved model will cost much less.

Power came from a 360-hp 429-cubic-inch V-8, and while a Boss 429 would be killer, the Thunderbird’s engine bay should be a bit more accommodating of the massive engine than the Mustang’s.

1969–70 Buick Wildcat

1970 Buick Wildcat

We’ve sung the praises of the Buick Wildcat before, but here’s the chorus one more time: The Wildcat offers up a lot of the performance of the Impala SS, without the premium price that comes with the collectibility of the “SS” badge. It brings fantastic looks, solid big-block power plants, and smooth cruising. The only problem is that they don’t come up for sale as often as their more popular B-body platform mates.

That said, because Wildcats have the benefit of riding on GM’s long-lived B-body chassis, OEM brake and suspension upgrades are simple and affordable. Spindles and calipers for big disc brakes can be found on junkyard ’90s Caprice cop cars or Impalas. Rear axle brake upgrades are just as simple.

The 1969 models with Buick’s 360-hp, 430-cubic-inch V-8, or 1970 models with the 370-hp 455, are still affordable and look every bit as good as their Chevrolet counterparts.

1969 Pontiac Bonneville

1969 Pontiac Bonneville front grille

The Pontiac Bonneville could be ordered with a more formal roofline, like the one found on the Grand Prix, but with the more traditional lines of the LeMans. The result is an upscale car without the polarizing nose of the Grand Prix. (That look would come to the Bonneville the following year.) I also love the rear view of the Bonneville, with taillights that almost drape over the rear of the car, as they would a year later with the Thunderbird.

Pretty much everything I mentioned about the Wildcat applies to the Bonneville, as it also rides on GM’s B-body chassis. The difference is that the Bonneville got Pontiac’s potent 390-hp 428-cubic-inch V-8. What’s not to love about this pavement-pounding full-size?

1970 Mercury Marauder

1970 Mercury Marauder

Mercury’s take on the personal luxury coupe for 1970 seemed a bit more forward-thinking than its Ford Thunderbird counterpart. Its squared-off leading edge was more formal and anticipated the look of future American cars, yet it boasted a sporty fastback roofline. The overall package is a perfect amalgam of luxury and sportiness. Bonus points for hidden headlights.

Under the hood was Ford’s familiar 429, again in 360-hp trim. That’s modest power by today’s metrics, but even full-size cars of that era weren’t terribly heavy. Bump the displacement to 460 cubes or more, add a roller cam, massage the cylinder heads a bit, and you’d have all the makings of a sleeper.

1972 Plymouth Gran Fury

1972 Plymouth Gran Fury
Flickr/1970 Lincoln Continental

Mopar’s C-bodies adopted “fuselage styling” in 1969. Dozens of unique Plymouth, Dodge, and Chrysler coupes, sedans, and wagons adopted this look, with varying success. Overall, the 1969–73 C-bodies have aged nicely. The Chrysler 300, particularly the 1970 Hurst variant, is a standout. Unfortunately, its 375-hp 440 big-block comes with a premium. They’re rare and pricey.

In contrast, the 1972 Plymouth Gran Fury is a relative bargain. Its massive, full-width chrome bumper was divided into two openings. It looks like it could eat a 1970 Coronet and spit out its slant six in disgust. Not subtle or understated—exactly why the Gran Fury rules.

1968 AMC Ambassador

1968 AMC Ambassador SST

Last but not least, we have the AMC Ambassador. Perhaps the most overlooked full-size on this list, the Ambassador has gorgeous lines and offers up a 390-cubic-inch V-8 engine. I just love the bulges in the fenders and quarter panels that match the bumpers, and the stacked taillights that almost mirror the headlights. The next-generation Ambassador, with its beautiful roofline, deserves an honorable mention, as well. It, too, had 390 power initially, giving way for the 401.

You won’t have trouble rebuilding or hot-rodding an AMC V-8 to keep up with any of the other V-8s on this list, but an Ambassador might prove trickier to restore. It still sounds like a worthwhile endeavor, especially for an AMC loyalist.




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    Very nice cars. All these road smoother on bumpy roads than anything out there today. God Bless America!

    My favourite would be a ‘68 T-Bird 4-door landau. There was one parked along my newspaper route in the late ‘60s. Virtually new at that time.

    I owned a ’68 Ambassador 4 door in the ’70s in the same color but with a white painted roof. I sold it for $500. I wish I had kept it.

    My aunt had the Buick Wildcat w the 430 4bbl carb. My friends and I would flip the air filter and take it to the drag strip on amateur night! Really smooth road warrior.

    Makes me think back to all the full size boats I had back in the day. Several Newports….and Merc Marquis…A 76(?) Monaco. I think my favorite was a 79 Newport with red cloth interior. Of course it long ago went to Lean Burn heaven.

    I am truly a fan of the big muscle cars of the 50’s to 70’s as they were beautiful and sporty and caught the attention of all motor heads that love cars as do I. Have had a few of them myself.
    Thanks for reminding of the glory days that can still be valued ,enjoyed and praised.

    You missed a bunch. 1965 Oldsmobile Starfire, 1970 Eldorado 500 Cubic inch with 400 HP. 1967 Pontiac 2+2 428 H.O., 1972 Buick Centurion 455 convertible, 1968 Grand Prix 428 coupe, 1969 Lincoln Continental Mark III, 1970 Ford XL 429 coupe, 1970 Chrysler 300 Hurst and 1970 Caprice 454 coupe. All of these are better than a 1972 Plymouth Fury III or most of the cars on this list.
    If you are writing articles, try to spend more than 5 minutes on research. Do you guys also write articles for “FAKE NEWS” CNN?

    An angry Mr ‘Right’ strikes again.

    Not intended to be an all-inclusive, all-encompassing list –just a sampling of some of the undersubscribed full-sized cars.

    Thank you so much, Mr. Right, for spending four minutes and fifty-nine seconds on your input! The title was NOT “An All-Inclusive List of Full-Size Alternatives”. If you’ enjoy a confrontation, there are other directions to take it; perhaps to the southern border…

    Give it up, dude. The author did not say that his choices were all-inclusive.

    And, “Fake news”? That is so 2016 – and we are well into a new decade now.

    I agree with you 100 percent!! I mean come on you guys! If you’re gonna write an article try to bed a little more thorough about it.

    Better avoid the Mark III. These cars were so problematic that one owner drove his back to the assembly plant and set it on fire in the parking lot.

    You are absolutely right, I actually owned one of the prototype Starfires. It came with the 425 Marauder motor, and the first Slap Stick automatics…

    Perhaps a few extra minutes on your post is warranted as well, as anyone who does even a modicum of research should know that any relevant reverence to “FAKE NEWS” should be referencing FOX.

    I used a 71 Ford Custom ex- state police car to tow my 65 Impala drag car.The Ford was ungodly fast.429-370.Used to race it as well.Best run 1475@99mph in first 2 gears

    Read the article. The 1970 Chrysler Hurst was mentioned. Spend more than 5 minutes reading, Fox “News” guy!

    Why do you have to be such a JERK ? People like you are the real problem in our world today !!!!!!

    Cars and politics – please refrain as we still need this escape. I hope you find happiness my friend…
    I will as I dream of cruising in the lovely cool Buick. ✅

    Thanks for saying what a lot of us “Car Guys” are probably thinking right now! We all need a place to relax and talk about the cars we love and the car culture in general! Please leave all the “Politics” else-where. Thank you in advance! Thumbs up to you all!

    Agree that the Fury does not belong. Arguably the AMC Marlin could be on this list.

    Well I must say your list was okay if your pro Ford and a clost GM fan when your FoMoCo group gathers , to talk up how great their exploits were back in the day in their minds, but when all is said and done you missed the pont of the article which was these cars are still muscle cars that are available and can be bought a enjoyed for a fraction of what the other cars go for. Lastly even though the article was written by Hagerty who insures big dollar collector cars the underlying message I here all the time is buy something you can use and enjoy. Garaging your Ls6 chevelle and not driving it is not only bad for the car, but they purpose built,for one thing and being a collectible was not why these cars were made. Don’t hide them drive them!

    Finally so close (to mine) and yet so far! The 1970 Ford XL has always been my vote for best lines on a big car since my father bought one new, and now after a complete restoration. IMHO it has a cleaner front and better rear than the ’69 XL, the Thunderbird and the Marauder as shown. 1971 went a different direction, so the Galaxie with a sporty look was basically done after ’70. No emissions on the ’70 yet other than a PCV valve. I have always been baffled as to the lack of appeal of the ’70, perhaps because there were just too many of them built and their propensity to rust out. After a $26k total restoration in 1999, including a stealth swap of a 428 in place of the 390, it’s realistically a $5-10k car at best, except to a Galaxie collector.

    Glad U still have your dad’s new 70 XL. My dad built his own, final line at Wayne, then brought it home Sep 1968 one of the 1st 69 XLs, a 68 429TJ under the hood. Starting in 73 every summer was bodywork. Decklid, quarters, wheel wells, then front frame struts, then main frame. I literally cried when we sold it in 77 but it was too far gone. 120K miles, still 65psi oil, still a tire fryer. Put the hurt to numerous 396 Chevelles too.


    Here is the catch her to most of these but the Bonnie. Parts!

    If you can find one of these in good shape complete they are great but so few were saved and even less in good shape. Few parts exist for these and if you find them they will not be cheap.

    Like the Cordoba plea above those cars in most non dry areas are gone. No cars, no parts no anything. They rusted out long ago and the few remaining were lucky garage finds someone stored.

    I played the orphan car game enough to feel the frustrations. Lack of repo parts and used parts even on EBay is a major expense or problem.

    It is just so much easier doing the cars where you can actually build one from repo parts because so many are offered.

    To do cars like this you do it for love not money.

    Agree. We had a Cordoba growing up. I looked into buying and restoring one. I don’t LOVE the car enough to spend the money to have almost any work done. I can get parts of all kinds for my 68 Cougar in 48 hours or less. NEVER had a problem getting any mechanical part. Did a test run on a Cordoba. Forget it. You won’t live to see completion of the project and unless you LOVE driving it – not worth the wait or the bucks.

    The amount of sheeple seem to hate what they can’t understand, have , or beat. I agree with you that chrysler being the luxury division was never viewed as a muscle car, because it wasn’t meant to be one. I want to point out that if you bought any car and it had the legendary 426 Hemi, it only came from one manufacturer that was Chrysler. The 426 was a detunned stripped down race engine Engines like the 426 you wouldn’t find in new yorkers or Lebarons but a 440 with 375 left many pony car drivers wondering what just beat there ass on cruise nights across america, even thought those cars was meant to get you someplace in comfort and style and have the power to move big heavy luxury cars. I’ve had cordobas, magnum and 1 mirada. Even had a 78 Volare Aspen R/t which was dodges version of the roadrunner. All these cars have people that like the later models.,for me the american cars at that time were making cars that were trying to gain some recognition of great selling cars from a few years earlier. Unfortunately they were being forced into trying to make the cars , emissions compliant, safer, and fuel efficient. So they created cars that couldn’t do anything . Chrysler for being engineer were still make big block engines when the gas shortage over hit overnight.
    There is a lot of misinformation out there but people quote it likes its gospell. Like the Mustang was the first pony car in mid 64. Wrong. Barracuda came out 2 weeks before ford released the mustang. Pontiac and John Delorean ushered in the muscle car era with the turning a tempest into a GTO, there were alot of cars before the goat that had large engines in medium size cars 10 years before the GTO. The 300’s were a good example. One thing you have to give Ford was they out built and out sold everybody. That doesn’t mean they were ever built well. So you see how few mustangs are still on the road ,very few in comparison to camarro’s or Cuda’s. I respect anyone who has restored or preserved the old cars from americas past. Would sell any Ford without hesitating unless it was a shelby or mercury eliminater or cyclone. Would take a cougar over a mustang mostly because growing up everyone had one, like the clap in the 70’s Sorry for going off on a tangent.

    There’s one they overlooked, the ’68-’70 Olds Toronado GT W34. A very stylish, sleek personal luxury sport coupe, packing a 455 c.i. V8 rated at 400 hp and 500 ft/lbs of torque, with true cold air induction, and dual exhaust. Factory buckets and console make this a true personal luxury musclecar! They are rare, but they are out there, and can be bought at reasonable prices. Dare to be different!

    Spot on. My buddy’s dad had one. Fortunately he owned a large car repair facility. Very unreliable but when running right…with that interior….class!!

    In 1971 my dad bought a 71 LTD 429 4bbl with the trailer tow pkg. Heavy duty susp.,electrical and brakes. Also a posi 3.90 rear. Massive fast. I steel raced in for two years.

    My dad had a ‘71 Chrysler 300. He opted for the ‘TNT’ version of the 440 (doubt many buyers went for that option). Sounded great with dual exhausts. Too bad the body rusted away. The engine still ran great when he sold it in the early 90’s

    Back in the day, I had a 1960 Bonneville Convertible, Coronado red -white top,leather bucket seats, 3 deuces. 3 on the tree, Positraction rear-end. A genuine big beast and a show stopper !

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