Who made the most coveted muscle cars? Values suggest a victor

Evan Klein

Peak Muscle. 1968 to 1972. Muscle cars were honed in stoplight drags on streets and strips across America. The fastest car won. Manufacturers were in on it, too: Each competed to outdo its cross-town rivals and corporate cousins. Enthusiasts then and now have debated who fielded the strongest muscle cars during this golden age.

Of course, car to car, the easiest way to find an answer is to line them up at a drag strip. Yet the conversation gets more complicated when you try to determine which manufacturer “won” the muscle car wars.

Does the highest average horsepower win? Possibly, except many cars had underrated horsepower back then. What about the highest production numbers? If small-displacement Mustangs far outnumber COPO Camaros, what does that tell us? Not much. Besides, these numbers fail to take into account the legacy of these cars—what they mean to enthusiasts.

Another solution: Study values in the collector car market to determine an overall “winner.”

The Hagerty Price Guide has more than 1900 vehicle-body-engine combinations for cars built by the Big Three for the model years 1968 through 1972. Since we’re talking about muscle cars, we zoomed in on two-door cars with V-8s. No convertibles.

Next, we lined up model years and market segments to avoid apples-to-oranges comparisons. For 1968, for instance, we compared values of the Dodge Dart to those of Plymouth Valiant, Chevrolet Nova, Ford Falcon, and Mercury Comet. We also aligned the trim levels for those, so the ’70 Charger R/T is compared to the 1970 models of the GTX, Chevelle SS 454, Buick GSX, GTO Judge, Torino Cobra, Cyclone GT, and 4-4-2 W-30. All combined, we use 26 groups of models, trims, and model years.

For each of those 26 groups, we find the most valuable vehicle from each make and rank the entries accordingly. For example, in group 6, which has the 1968 Plymouth Barracuda, 1968 Chevrolet Camaro, 1968 Pontiac Firebird, 1968 Ford Mustang, 1968 Mercury Cougar, and 1968 Shelby GT350, the Camaro is ranked first with the COPO, Pontiac second with the Ram Air II, and Ford third with the 428-cubic-inch Cobra Jet in the Mustang Fastback GT.

Finally, we averaged those ranks across all 26 groups to determine the manufacturer with the highest average.

By this specific analysis, Dodge has the most sought-after muscle cars, with an average ranking between second and third in each group. Chevrolet is just a little behind, with a ranking closer to third than second. Plymouth, Pontiac, Shelby, Oldsmobile, Ford, Mercury, and Buick follow those in that order.

The Mopar fans in the audience surely need no more convincing. For everyone else, a few rationales exist for Dodge’s high ranking. First, VINs. They’re not as sexy sounding as Hemis or as eye-catching as the High Impact colors, but the fact that Dodge had decodable, accurate identification numbers long before this became industry-wide practice is an important factor in why they tend to fetch more money. It means the bidder on, say, a 1970 Charger R/T can be sure the car in question really came from the factory with a 440 Six Pack and a four-speed manual.

Other things to consider are the sheer range of colors and options and smaller production numbers overall. Also, Dodge has a wide range of (currently) sought-after models, with the Challenger and Charger ranking well, but also the Dart and Coronet.


Dodge also benefits from being late to the pony car game. The Challenger debuted in 1970, and thus ducks the heavyweight slugfest of the 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429 and 1969 Chevrolet Camaro COPO (the 1969 Plymouth Barracuda 440 was around and placed third).

Note we’re talking highest average ranking. Dodge doesn’t win everywhere. The 1969 Dodge Charger R/T, for instance, is second in price guide value to the 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge, while just behind those two is the 1969 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu SS 396. Also note these rankings are based on current price guide values as of this writing. In another year with different valuations and evolving consumer interest, the crown could easily go to another manufacturer.

One more critical caveat: This is all in good fun. No metric—not dollars nor horsepower nor even quarter mile times—can possibly quantify the passion (and partisanship) people feel toward muscle cars. On that note, we’d love to hear what you think in the comments. And if you’re the sort who likes to read footnotes, you can peruse all the groups we used to determine our rankings, below.

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    Should have gone back into the mid 60’s with the Pontiac Tempest option for the GTO package. The beginning of the real “Muscle Car” image and beginning. Hands down the Pontiac GTO was the best known car for speed and muscle, 64 thru 66 with multliple carbs and options available. I’ve been a 67 GTO owner for 55years now and will turn more heads when pulling into a cruise in.

    I do agree about the 1960s was the start of the real muscle car revolution, all the makes had their own power, that’s for sure.

    This article needs work. Agree with many that the US muscle car era starts with the 64 GTO. Also, your chart is pretty unclear too!
    Thanks for so many fun articles it this one needs a big redo.

    I own a 65 gto and I agree that it is a real head turner. Very nice when people pull in the parking lot just to take a picture of the Goat.

    In ’69, bought my first new car, coming from an MGB, a 44 engine green R/T Charger, only option was console, no radio, 3.23 axle, 727 TorqueFlite trans. Put 15 inch “mags” on it, and took it to Germany, where it was a big, fast car. Used .18C gallon Army Quarter master gas, or Esso by coupons. Replaced the water pump in my parking lot, and put an Offy intake manifold on, using taped together cardboard from shoeboxes for gaskets. Worked. Paid $3275 for the car, Hemi was a $770 option. Sold it later in Germany to a trooper who went off the road in it, In retrospect not terribly quick nor fast, and I never tired to find top speed on the Autobahn, as it would not make one complete stop from high speed with the 3 inch Imperial drum brakes.

    Sold it for a VW Squareback, why I just don’t know. Drove the VW a quarter million miles, sold it too for a TR 8, which later burned in my Garage. Hal, UpState SC

    My memory said muscle began in 1962 when bucket seats/ consoles/floor shifts & positraction were all the rage! Chevy introduced the Impala “SS” 409 & Ford the Galaxie XL 406. Then in 1963 & afterwards, when the 427 big blocks came out, things really ramped up, both on the street & strip!!!!!!!!!!

    If ‘muscle’ era begins when ‘big car’ drive trains’ got put into intermediate sized cars, then the ‘down sized’ Plymouth and Dodge cars of 62/63/64 that dominated drag racing with their 413 and 426 max wedge motors and first 426 Hemi motor have to be considered. Most folks thought they were ugly and didn’t want to buy them, but they had the most muscle and were fastest.

    I agree,I have had my 64 GTO for almost 30 years and it turns heads and I get thumbs up 👍 all the time.

    I’m 77 years old and my grandson asked me if I had a favorite car. Without hesitation I said my ‘65 GTO. 5.7 liters, 325 HP with a 390 rear end. A factory beast. Oh to be young again. 😀

    Sir- love the GTO. Run a built LSX 7.0/Tremec 6spd 2004 40th Anniversary Holden built GTO today, mine since ’08. Favorite is the ’66, but no classic Goat can touch mine, eighth, quarter, mile, top end (had to stop at 147 gps/radar verified cuz tires not up to it) and livability. I turn the key. We go. No hiccups, no lean/rich issues, lumpy Texas Speed&Chrome cam idle and we go. Sits three/five weeks, turn key, we go. Quick AND fast (not the same thing). Magazine idiots said it looks like a “fat Cavalier”. Yet I can eat modern Camaros and Mustangs, even most Hemi Challenger/Chargers including Hellcats driven by the inexperienced/idiotic. Hey! You have 700+HP and a paddle shift auto, I know how to drive. The launch is the thing, yes? And I’m crippled by an independent suspension rear axle (with aftermarket Porsche 930 CV joints and bronze/poly bushings).
    The GTO invented the muscle car “thing”. In the ’60s & ’70s, to have a GTO made even the nerdiest dork someone.
    Three letters define car cool and dominance- GTO.
    Carry the torch!

    Muscle cars started in 1964, and ended in 1971 …. ’71 and ’72 cars were dogs…. I know, because I owned them …

    This is a bit bogus. Value is not just based on demand but also supply.

    Many of the Dodge and Plymouth options were #3 selling to start. They also were not in demand till many of the other options were priced to the point they were difficult to find.

    Today The Mopars have finally found their spot but often many are seeing greater value due to so many less built, sold and saved.

    I am in complete agreement with you Hyperv6. Most of the article is bogus and based on narrow factors chosen by the author. Go to any classic car auction and watch Shelby’s go to the sky when biddings start. The same can be said for any Mustang with a high HP motor or desirable options. Falcons and other models fall far behind.

    Back in 69 my parents bought a Javlin w/ 343. Very cool car. It was my moms. My dad drove ford country squires w/ 428. 1972 came along and the javlin went to a sibling and a Grand Torino w/351 Cleveland became moms car. I went to college and the first car I bought was a 1970 AMX w/ 390 4 speed. A very very cool car!

    I enjoyed the article, but as some others I think you missed the boat, the true muscle car era started in the 1964-time frame. not 1968-1972

    I agree, Roy. Perhaps the earlier cars do not command the highest prices now, but they signaled the true beginning of the muscle car era.

    Muscle cars started in 1964, and ended in 1970 …. ’71 and ’72 cars were dogs…. I know, because I owned
    a few …

    Buick skylark stage one, Pontiac trans am, Mustang 429 scj, Chevelle 454, to name a few of the still powerful cars of the early 70s.

    I know you said that production numbers weren’t a factor in ranking (and I also recognize the article is not intended to be a “final word” on how these cars should be ranked), but rarity creates value. One need only look at ’60s Ferraris to see what happens when rarity becomes scarcity. Thus, when the supply side is plentiful, as in the case of the Mustang, for example, values will be kept in-check. If 50,000 Shelbys had been produced, they wouldn’t have nearly the value they have today.

    Totally agree. Fewer Dodges and Plymouths were bought when new because people preferred Mustangs and Camaros for a variety of good reasons primarily centered around the fact that they were better cars. Now that the Dodges and Plymouths are much rarer and the Mustangs and Camaros still plentiful, the scarcity factor does drive up the Mopar values.

    As others said: 1964 through 1970 better defines the era. By 1971 things were being “de-tuned” & M/C’s were hurting. By 72 it was all but over.

    For muscle cars, it’s not all about the looks. The date range of 68-72 is off. New muscle car performance was dead after 1970 with the governments decompression of the engines. A better range of muscle cars to evaluate would be 1966-1970.

    To the guys who missed the boat. except for the most discernable, I say a muscle car is what you make it! Never cared much for the niche year club thing. My 74 Charger doesn’t fit your niche? R. Petty would be proud to drive my (not a real muscle car). Who gets to claim what years a muscle car can be? You? From the postings, (no one agreed), a lot of people believe the privilege is theirs. Ya I know history. If I had to pick… I’m with john.

    This anaysis was done to generate comments; I get it. That said, my 1964 GTO and 1966 Shelby is pretty valuable to me no matter how the numbers are sliced and diced.

    The corvette is considered a sports car so it’s never in muscle car talks but it should be since a 69 L88 427 vette would clean the clocks of most muscle cars in the above discussion.

    Paul G – as would a 67 L88 Corvette with only twenty built, it is the simple reason there are now several documented sales over the 3.0 Million mark, hard to dispute fact.

    Bring those unable to launch ‘Vettes. I’ll put 10″ Hoosiers on my Goat, you do same. I’ll help you sweep up the broken parts.

    The reason they seemed so fast was that they didn’t stop! My attraction to these cars has always been the simplicity of the cars and the option book. No television on or in the dash. No big brother connection.
    I purchased an off lease ’98 Z28 base in ’01. Still a ’60s car but with P/S, P/B, A/C. Have a 2017 SS1LE which has things never dreamed or 20 years ago, as standard equipment. Like that damn TV. I’ve measured that up and it appears that six 2″ Auto Meter gauges will fit in there on an aluminum or carbon panel. Back to the ’60s

    My 1968 SS427 385 hp Impala was a real sleeper on the street. It would beat 400 Firebirds, 440 Dodge and Plymouths, and Z28 Camaros. Also, outrun 396 350 hp Chevelles and 1970 350 Corvettes on the freeways. Never took it to the drags, so can’t give you any quarter mile times. Chevy kept these cars hard to get because they made more money on Chevelles. Took me three Chevy dealers before I could special order one at Dana Chevrolet. By the way, I still own it!

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