6 of the best sounding muscle cars

Marketplace/Romeo

Looks can captivate, but for car lovers, how a car sounds is arguably its strongest sensory trait. Done right, a screaming engine emits a visceral thrill you never forget. Some cars hit the perfect notes to magically elevate the pulse of exhaust gases from mere byproduct to a piston-powered symphony playing a piece in the time signature of 10.5-to-1.

Few eras are so closely tied to these distinctive sounds as the late 1960s and early 1970s. At its peak, the muscle car era’s V-8 noisemakers from just about every manufacturer were unleashed, piped through simple mufflers with little restriction. Here’s a handful of the best from the era.

Oldsmobile 442 W-30

Nothing can sneak up on you at a stoplight like an Olds 442. A grown up’s muscle car, plenty of people have been surprised by what the 442 was packing. The W-30 package put 455 cubic inches of rumble under dual fiberglass scoops. A factory 13-second car in its day, and the exhaust note backed it up.

Plymouth Road Runner

While some of the heavy hitters in this category rely on big displacement, Plymouth did a lot with comparatively little when it came to the base engine in the Road Runner. A 383 is pretty big by modern standards, but was the undercard to the big 440- and 426-cubic inch engines  for most of its production run. Those who know are quick to defend it, however, and rightfully so. Putting out 335 horsepower and over 400 pound feet is nothing to sneeze at, and the design of the engine makes it sound awesome, too.

Chevrolet Chevelle LS6

With a shape as timeless as the Chevelle, the engine has to back it up. Luckily, the LS6 454 does not live to disappoint. The rumble seems to permeate the bones of those in the bucket seats—this is a muscle car’s muscle car. It’s brash, unapologetic, and willing to light the tires up anytime and anywhere.

Ford Galaxie

While the Galaxie might not be the first choice of a lot of enthusiasts, it’s worth your attention, if only for the sound. The Galaxie featured multiple flavors of the FE engine, spanning from 332 cubic inches all the way to the mighty 428. You can find an FE in everything from a four-door wagon to the Batmobile—seriously. And the best part? They all sound great.

Pontiac GTO

The GTO is unquestionably muscle car royalty, and though it came with more powerful engines, the 389 with three carburetors stacked on top is one of our favorites. A responsive and powerful package that also dresses up darn nice, the middleweight 389’s popularity makes it a great choice for a fun to drive muscle bruiser.

Dodge Challenger R/T

Few engines command the awe and respect like the legendary 426 Hemi. Combine that with the timeless shape of the 1970 Dodge Challenger and it’s a match made in heaven. The Hemi gets its name from the shape of the combustion chamber, but that also affects the sound due to how the exhaust flows out into the manifolds. Newer designs are more efficient, but there is nothing like the grumble that comes from the back of a 426-powered car.

https://youtu.be/ZjgxZsD7Rc4?si=yt5KMswO5Ae0WsEX

Have a favorite that isn’t listed here? Leave it in a comment below.
 

***

 

Check out the Hagerty Media homepage so you don’t miss a single story, or better yet, bookmark it. To get our best stories delivered right to your inbox, subscribe to our newsletters.

Click below for more about
Read next Up next: Lucky seven: Porsche 911 GT 3 R rennsport revealed

Comments

    Totally missed the Ram Air IV cam. This is the one that most Pontiac guys use for the sound and performance.

    We used them in place of the 389 cams all day.

    I challenge my ’68 RS Z/28 to any of these cars. I had to shut it off at the end of the street and coast in to avoid waking the neighborhood late at night.

    Agree! My 69 Z/28 with its chambered exhaust, factory-installed, caught the attention of a State Patrolman who stopped me when driving thru the open countryside. “Your car is too loud; we have a noise ordinance here.” “In the middle of a field?” I asked. Got off with just a warning, I think he just wanted to see the car! And I have to ease into my neighborhood, too!

    Bruce, I agree with you. The only way the 351 sounded better, was in the Pantera! That Ansa 4 trumpet exhaust on a cold start sending the condensation plumes vertical, plus the excitement of the darn thing 6″ inches from your neck when going through the gears at full chat!

    Terrible oversight to not include the Buick 455 Stage 1. With factory exhaust it out ran the rest while sounding like grandma’s car. Replace the exhaust and watch out.

    It is a wonderful sound behind me while I am driving my Pantera. Why do people put radios in the car? Under full throttle it is nirvana!

    I couldn’t agree with you more on how the C2 ‘Vettes sounded with the side pipes. I have two 1965 coupes, one stock and one I’m just finishing with the installation of a Tremec 5 speed and 350 crate engine. Way back in the early 1970s I had a ’64 Coupe with side pipes.

    As a Chevy man I have to confess that I owned a 1993 Fox-bodied Mustang 5.0 with a five speed, and that baby also had a most pleasing exhaust note. I owned that Mustang for almost 25 years.

    The Ram Air III cam sounded pretty nice as well, especially in Trans Ams with the single crossflow rear muffler.

    Many engines all sound the same but there are specific cams that really set some cars apart. Some people can pick it out some can’t.

    Also specific exhaust made some cars sound better than they really were. Not sure what it was but a Duster or Dart with a stock 318 and cheap Thrust Side Pipes has a sound that did not bely the 2 barrel carb.

    Cylinder count matters too. The VIpers has a school bus sound to them. It was a flat rumble. Same of the V6 Ford GT. it never measured up to the V8 car prior to it.

    I agree with you about the Viper sound. My neighbor had a Viper; I hated the sound. And I also agree about the sound differences with cams. It’s gearhead music.

    Kyle, are these stock-sold cars? I’d think that some buyers would be surprised by their new car sounding as though it needed exhaust repair.
    Aren’t some or most sporting aftermarket pipes?
    Maybe those should be listed and rated.

    So we’ve had best garage sounds, now best car sounds, so what’s next… best car smells?
    Actually, a list of worst car smells might be most informative.

    People that bought these knew what what the sounded like before getting near a showroom. It was no surprise. It was lust!

    Factory muscle cars from my era, ’60s-’70s had some pretty raucous exhaust right off the assembly line. They weren’t obnoxiously loud but were great sounding with awesome rumble, each having their own note. Glass pack mufflers or “turbo” mufflers were installed aftermarket to customize that sound but weren’t necessarily much noisier. Then came the monotonous original Flowmaster that people with hearing deficiency seem to like calling “classic muscle car sound” when there is nothing classic about it. Don’t get me wrong, Flowmaster does make similar mufflers that don’t have such a tin can sound, but people seem to gravitate to the tin can. Can’t fix tone deaf.

    A good friend in highschool (’74-’78 for me) with well heeled parents had a ’69 Z/28 302 with the for real crossram/ cowl induction and factory mufflerless chambered exhaust. Glorious noise climbing to redline through the Rock Crusher and 4.11s, and really “talky” on the overrun. C7 ‘Vettes with the sport exhaust sound similar; urgent, angry, and aggressive. Miss the ’70s cruise night soundtrack!

    Well Pawdog, they sure sold a hell of allot
    of bad sounding Flowmasters and that chambered design is still be copied to this day…

    Worst smell? (Not from the showroom!) ’72 Fiat 128–no AC, no cup holders. A spilled latte on a hot summer day! The passenger seat smelled like a baby had had a long bad ride. After about two years, the smell finally faded! Yuck!!
    (As an aside, K-Mart sold a great gizmo that I wish I could still get. It was a cup holder with a sturdy flap that slid into the space between the seat and seat back. Good ol’ K-Mart!)

    “The Top 10 Valve Stem Caps to Push Your Car Over The Top”
    “19 Of The Roundest Pebbles You’ll Find In A Classic Car’s Carpet”
    “7 Ways To Clean Your Door Mirrors Better”
    “Eleventy Four Cupholders That Won’t Make You Look Like a Grandpa”

    I mean, I liked the sounds of the cars article, but all of this borders on the ridiculous at this point. Maybe go to a once-a-week email newsletter if ideas are running that thin.

    Nice list although the videos didn’t capture the essence of these cars.
    We had mostly Oldsmobiles all the way back to 55. Our dad would drop us off at the house and then drive off to put the car away . That distinctive olds sound caried over all the way from our ’61 , ’64, and ’66 Starfire.
    Mopar 340 and 383’s were rumored to have a cam design taking sound into consideration. Unfortunately changing the cam or exhaust ruined the sound.
    Absent from the list are the 5.7 later gen hemis. They sounded great at idle and wot.
    My neighbors bf had a 350/350 Nova that would wake me up when he dropped her off at night. Another wonderful unmodified car sound.

    1970 340 without mufflers due to rust in the Great White North was fun in the ‘back country’
    Should not have sold it, the sound was great!

    As a MOPAR man, I concur. That LS6 sounded amazing.

    The guy with the Hemi Challenger drove it like he was taking his kids to school in the rain. I was expecting a video showing him planting his right foot at least once. People treat Hemi engines like they are fragile; in my experience they are bulletproof.

    Mufflers aside, my family had a ‘67 Impala w/ a hi po 327 4 bbl When my brother would take it out, he’d get around the corner, stop, flip the air cleaner lid over and stomp the 4 bbls open !!! I can still hear that amazing sound even now. !!! That with the exhaust note of a small blk Chevy …. Gives me a ‘ you know what’ !!!

    The Olds 442 W30 is a sweet sounding machine. I purchased mine in October of 71 factory ordered. I have owned several automobiles, mostly new but several used. My Oldsmobile 442 is hands down the most reliable and pleasing vehicle I have ever owned. I do not ever think I will sell it. That will be left to my family after I am no more.

    67 GT Fairlane with a 390cu 335 hp. Next mustang GT mine had 302 5speed only bad thing was speedometer only went to 85 could berry it in second gear

    I fully agree, I had a 1971 Olds 442 silver with black stripe on the hood. I still miss it after 40 years. I forever can still hear the beautiful powerful sound of my 455 incredible engine. Please enjoy yours in good health.

    The 1965 Shelby GT 350 with glass packs and solids sounds mean. You know that something just went by!
    The 70 Dodge 340 is bad ass sounding too!

    When Morley Performance dynoed my 400hp 289HiPo for my 1965 Shelby GT350 they said “that is the loudest little motor” At 6,500rpm going down the road it is awsome! Factory headers, mufflers and side pipes with solid lifters how can you beat it? My 1995 Cobra R I was told was the best sounding car on the track. In race trim with BBK long tube headers, no mufflers and side pipes.

    Nothing better than a Buick nailhead burbling like a Chris Craft motor boat at idle. Even better when the engine’s equipped with the dual quad cam.

    Yes! I had a ‘67 442 that sounded great. But I had to have that W-30 sound so I installed a W-30 cam ($30 over the counter at the dealer) and was in heaven ever since. Until I got a ‘70 W-30!

    Hey, didn’t you hear? I read Ford has a soundtrack installed on the Mustang-E of a 5.0 Mustang so you can think you’re driving a real car instead of an EV that uses raw materials mined in Africa using slave labor for its batteries that cannot be recycled so are dumped in American landfills, manufactured in Chinese factories using fossil fuels with no environmental controls on the processes and is a fire trap. Makes one feel good about going green, doesn’t it.

    Justin, I am with you. I have a 351C in my 1970 Mach 1 with the equivalent of a stock exhaust system. I just love to hear it at idle much less under full throttle.

    👍🏽 I am lucky enough to have one as well. Very distinct sounding. I love a lot of different engine sounds though. Hoe does that saying go? “…the spice of life.”

    You guys are missing the boat if you don’t include an A C Cobra.
    I can here them sneaking up on my way before I see it.

    Small block Chevy’s have popped up in so many cars where they don’t belong that everybody is tired of them. They are cheap though.

    Forget whats coming out of the back end,
    If i have to hear another farty sounding asian s-box driving next to me…

    I was always impressed by the secondaries opening up on a Quadrajet, the screaming Waaaaaaaaaa sound bringing your muscle car to life,
    Wondering why the rear tires were bald.

    Cold Air Intake, on the later cars
    Makes the engine sound alive.

    All that aluminum gives the intake a bit of sound when you’re feeding the ponies

    I really like the sound of the replacement LS 7.0 in my ’04 GTO. I kept the crossover blocked factory driver side exit duals after the shorty headers & aftermarket cats. Quiet when I need, snarly when I want, lotsa backtalk on the overrun. Been complimented often by modern Mopar owners… kept the original 5.7 call outs as well. Surprise! *snicker*

    There has to be a Mustang on your list of six. The best sounding cars leaving car shows are Mustangs, hands down.

    Zora Duntov narrating “Sounds of Corvette”. That recording came with Corvette News magazine, which you received regularly when buying a new Corvette, I’m 88 years old so I may not remember exactly but I think 1960. Sure would like to hear it again.

    Yes! What about that chambered exhaust sound of the small block 302 Z/28? All the neighborhood knew when I was coming and going!

    All these cars sounded good with stock exhaust. These hacked cars sound like something fell off. Why so desperate for attention? Ironically, if you want to use your performance you want quiet stealth. These loud pipes give you a second chance to get a ticket. Just in case they didn’t see you do something stoooopid, they very likely heard you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *