The screamin’ sixties were an era of big power, big cars, and low 0-60 times. Yes, the jet-set era gave rise to international stardom and some of the most gorgeous cars ever sculpted. Race cars became more closely intertwined with their road-going counterparts and everyone benefitted. This was also a time when homologations (requirements of racing cars sold to the public) actually became enforced, letting real race cars and engines be sold to citizens. More importantly, it gave us the muscle car wars. Big block behemoths boasted big power, and with big power comes big responsibility – to lay down fast times.
Cars of this era quickly developed into speed machines that were not only top track performers but also street-racing starlets. While no one will ever agree to which car deserves the overall crown, here are the five that we think deserve more praise than the rest. Here we go!
5) 1964 Pontiac Tempest GTO – 348 Horsepower – $4,500
Starting off our list, and we are sure this will be up for debate, is the Pontiac GTO. It is a car that deserves recognition as being the original muscle car. Here is why with the Tempest already out the GTO was the first in that year to truly start releasing modification options and the bigger engine options from the factory – then came the Mustang later that year. The GTO also whoops on the first year Mustang pretty heavily, taking 4.6 seconds to get to 60 mph (100 kph) where the Mustang took 5.2 seconds.
Aside from the big engine, the GTO could have upgraded wheels, suspension, brakes, and many other components that let owners customize their ride. So this is a car that can outrun most contemporary cars, roast the rear tires, and do all of that with four passengers.
4) 1968 Dodge Charger 426 Hemi – 425 horsepower – $4,110
Them Duke boys need to- wait, no, that was the 1969 Charger, never mind. Yes, the 1969 Charger gets all of the attention because of that garish livery and color and the television show, but the performance magic started a year earlier. In 1968 Dodge lets out the 426 Hemi and with a long wheelbase, subtler styling, and excellent amenities it was comfortable to cruise in. All of this is good for when you aren’t in a hurry, but what if you need to be somewhere fast?
Put the hammer down though and you would blitz through a quarter mile at 105 mph (169 kph) in only 13 and a half seconds. How did it pull this off since it was one of the heaviest muscle cars out there? The magic was all in those hemispherical heads that allowed for high power at high RPMs, something most of these cars could not obtain. With a unique engine, TV show kin-manship, and robust performance figures, we’ve got to give it to them. Dodge did it right back then, and that is more than enough to earn it a spot on our rankings.
3) 1967 Chevrolet Corvette 427 (L88) – 435 horsepower – $6,013
Only twenty of these were made, so it isn’t the rarest on our list, but it is unique. What else we love about the mid-year Corvettes is the styling. Dunstov nailed not just the looks but also the handling performance, thanks to improvements from the Q-Corvette prototype. Since handling on the Corvette was fixed, the best of the batch was the L88 427 motor offered in 1967.
It was, make no mistake, a racing engine. Lightweight engine components galore, a crazy high compression ratio that required 100+ octane fuel, and mandated special suspension pieces. All of it together would rocket you to 60 mph (100 kph) in 4.7 seconds.
2) 1965 Shelby Cobra 427 – 425 horsepower – $6,145
Super small car, super big engine. It sounds like a recipe for a bit of a handling and performance nightmare, but the Cobra was indomitable, literally. There are supercars today that cannot compete with its performance figures. Car and Driver say they took it to 100 mph and then back to zero in less than 15 seconds! Sixty miles per hour (100 kph) arrives in 4.3 seconds, just to impress you further.
Only 260 street cars, with coil suspension, were produced during their run in the 1960’s. That number also includes the 427, which is the 425 horsepower option you want. Although, the 289 Cobra is still a stellar little hot-rod too because of less weight. Ultimately the open air experience coupled with the lightweight low-slung roadster style feels and sounds like nothing else. Sporting incredible pedigree from Carroll Shelby himself there is only one car that we thought was more deserving of first place.
1) 1967 Ford GT40 Mk.III – 335 horsepower – $18,500
Do you know what 1966, 1967, 1968, and 1969 all have in common for Detroit? They were all years that America won Le Mans. You know what else they have in common? They were the only time America has won Le Mans, and only Ford did it, and they did it with this, the GT40. The Mk.III is the detuned road-going version of that racing car, but it still put out an incredible 335 horsepower. That was more than enough to send you to 60 mph (100 kph) in 5.1 seconds. But where most cars of the era would start to run out after 120 mph (193 kph) the GT40 would keep pulling – because it’s a race car.
The handling is superb, even above 140 mph (225 kph). This is due, in part, to Carroll Shelby who was the team manager for Ford’s first two wins at Le Mans. Only seven of these were built and sold to the public, but they were sold to the public. Regarding rareness, prestige, and looks the GT40 Mk.III is definitely the winner.