The Worst Muscle Cars

The early muscle car era was a glorious time in American history.  The best muscle cars were produced in the 1960s, when engines were big, gas was cheap, and emissions controls were nonexistent.  These cars have captured the hearts of modern collectors, and inspired generations of Ford and Dodge apparel. What happened in later decades?

It's hard to say, but in the 1970s some of the car companies started making some bad decisions, and the fate of the muscle cars era suffered for it.  Even today, the cars from the 1960s are much more popular and collectible than some of the ones that followed. But what really did the muscle cars in was probably the fuel crises of the 1970s.

The first one came in 1973, when OPEC severely limited how much fuel they exported to the United States.  Although it didn't last very long, the fuel crisis set in motion a trend toward smaller cars and better fuel economy -- and muscle cars were the exact opposite. Muscle cars did continue to be made during the 1970s, but perhaps it was the manufacturer's attempts to make more fuel-efficient vehicles that resulted in some of the catastrophes we will explore below.

But in 1979, another fuel crisis compounded the damage.  Cars during the 1980s were much smaller, and a lot of them were imports.  Although some of the more popular muscle cars -- such as the Mustang, the Camaro, and the Trans Am -- were still being made, these years are hardly the ones we look back on fondly when we think of the era of the muscle cars! But without any further to do, here are some of the worst muscle cars of all time:

  • 1976-78 Ford Mustang II Cobra II - It may be hard to believe that there could ever be a bad Mustang, but unfortunately, it is true!  The Mustang II Cobra II of the mid to late 70s was a failure in every sense of the word.  Not only did it severely lack in power, its appearance also left a lot to be desired.  The body design looks more like a Pinto's than that of the powerful muscle car Americans love, and the terrible hood decals didn't help, either.
  • 1982 Chevrolet Camaro Iron Duke - It seems obvious that putting a 4-cylinder engine in a muscle car wouldn't go over well, yet that is exactly what Chevy did with the Iron Duke Camaro.  Maybe they were trying to create a fuel-efficient version of the muscle car -- who knows.  The body was also redesigned this year, taking on the appearance of the 1980s and early 1990s Camaros we know so well.  It was a smaller body, sure enough, but still too heavy for a 90-horsepower engine!  Whatever Chevy was trying to accomplish with this car, they failed -- brilliantly.
  • 1974 Pontiac GTO - The GTO was a great muscle car back in its day, but apparently its day was over by 1974!  Again, the great flaw was apparently attempting to create a more fuel-efficient version of a powerful car.  The result was an underpowered mess.
  • 1980 Chevrolet Corvette 305, California version - Those who have purchased cars from this time period know that California had stricter emissions laws, which all but eliminated the advantages of having a muscle car.  The way underpowered California version of the 1980 'Vette was so bad that it actually made Time's list of The 50 Worst Cars ofAll Time.

As much as American culture has romanticized the muscle car era, it wasn't ALL good, as you can see.  For the most part, these mistakes came about through the fuel crises and the manufacturers attempts to satisfy new concerns regarding fuel economy, while still continuing to make the muscle cars of the previous decade.  Unfortunately, as they discovered, fuel economy and classic muscle cars just don't go together!

14th Oct 2010

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