We’ve already covered the most powerful regular muscle cars you could buy back in the day. While the Chevelle SS and others were certainly cool and powerful, there was a whole different level of muscle car available if you knew where to look. For those discerning muscle car buyers with the cash and patience, here are the most powerful and special muscle cars ever made.
1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 – 550 HP
Before the internet, ordering a vehicle from a manufacturer could get very interesting. The Central Office Production Order system let commercial users order taxis, busses, and medium duty trucks directly from Chevy dealerships. Fred Gibb Chevrolet had made some interesting 427 Novas through the COPO system and decided to build a Camaro using Chevy’s catalog-only Can-Am race engine. Surprisingly, the cars were built, eventually making 69 of the ZL1s, with an aluminum 427 V8 making 550 hp. Try doing that at Chevy.com.
1965 Dodge Cornet W051 Superstock – 550 HP
Back in the mid-‘60s, race officials were setting rules to eliminate factory ringers, in an attempt to reclaim the words “factory” and “street.” Rules stated that the vehicles had to be available at dealerships, so rather than modifying a tame street car, Dodge released a race car for customers. The lightweight Cornet was fitted with the high-rise 426 Hemi making roughly 550 hp, in a completely redesigned body to maximize lightness. Dealers were discouraged from selling them to anyone but race teams, but a few hit the streets and ran ten second quarter miles.
1964 Ford Fairlane Thunderbolt – 550 HP
Ford made the lazy man’s muscle car, by using the 427 from the massive Galaxie in the much smaller and sedate looking Fairlane. Modifications to make it a Thunderbolt involved massively reducing weight, making it 700 lbs lighter than a Galaxie. That alone would have made the Thnderbolt faster, but Ford went and modified the V8, with dual four barrels and 13.5 compression, and ending up with somewhere around 550 to 600 hp. Tests back then put the car at mid-11s, but on modern tires and with a good driver, the Fairlane Thunderbolt can run 9s.
1968 Hurst Hemi Barracuda – 650 HP
By ’68, Chrysler was having to do some serious work to keep ahead of the NHRA competition. Like the Cornet a few years earlier, the Hurst Hemi ‘Cuda was available at dealerships, but not necessarily for public consumption. Dodge teamed with Hurst to build 50 production race cars that met Super Stock competition rules. Starting with the already legendary 426 Hemi stuffed into an already lightweight chassis, the cars received fiberglass body parts, bare bones interiors, and 4.85 gears. The result was ~650 hp in a car weighing 3,000 lbs.
2016 COPO Camaro – 580 HP
COPO is back, this time with a much more expensive race prepped Camaro. The new sixth-generation Camaro serves as the base for this racer which is designed to compete in Super Stock Eliminator. The COPO is lighter than a factory Camaro, and all the extras like navigation and stereo are missing. Like the street car, you can order a COPO with an LT-based V8. Unlike the street car, the COPO has a TH400 three-speed auto, solid rear axle with spool, adjustable suspension, and lightweight drag brakes. Order yours today, as tradition dictates only 69 will be made.
2016 Mustang Cobra Jet Drag Pack – 1,000 HP
Like the Camaro above, the Mustang Cobra Jet is a unique and rare car available by a special order. Since it is technically a “part” and not a car, the Cobra Jet does not have a VIN or warranty. It does have about 75% Mustang parts, making it a reliable and cheap-ish racer. The 5.0 Coyote V8 is topped by a whipple supercharger. Rounding out the package are Strange Engineering racing brakes, an 8.50-certified roll cage, Aeromotive fuel system with trunk-mounted fuel cell, five-point harnesses, and Corbeau FIA seats. Sounds like a great package, and it’s capable of 8 second quarter miles, if you have the $100,000 to reserve one.
Ford Galaxie 427 SOHC – 600 HP
After Chrysler blew up NASCAR’s first place podium with their 426 Hemi engines in 1964, Ford threw everything they had at their 427 FE, and made a legend. Modifications included overhead cam cylinder heads, with a hemispherical combustion chamber. In the mid ‘60s, this was radical stuff. Ford demolished everyone in one race, before the ban hammer came down. The massive V8 went to NHRA instead, and won in everything from pony car A/FX to Top Fuel. Available at the parts counter, the “Cammer” was an easy swap to the large Galaxie, making a comfy supercar for the ‘60s. Today, the engines alone go for over $50k.
Equus Bass – 640 HP
Equus Automotive outside Detroit, MI, makes some interesting throwback muscle cars using modern technology. The Bass (think music, not fish) looks like a sharpened late ‘60s Mustang, but is more akin to a current supercar. Under the hood is a supercharged 6.2L V8, GM’s LS9 from the ZR1. Turned up slightly to 640 hp and connected to a dual clutch transmission, the Bass is capable of low 11s in the quarter and a top speed of 200 mph, but also comfy everyday cruising. It’s on the high end of this list, but nowhere near the top at just $250,000.
1999 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 – 770 HP
In the 1990s, GM’s performance head Jon Moss and Ford’s SVT head John Coletti had a not-so-friendly rivalry going. The pony car wars were heating up again, and smack talk eventually lead to a drag and road course race. Moss brought the ZL1 show car, which had a monstrous Donovan 572 under the hood. Rumors put the displacement higher. Naturally aspirated, it was good for 770hp. While it was initially faster than the ‘stang, the ZL1 broke its massive Dana 60 rearend, after running a mid-10 quarter mile.
1999 Mustang Boss 10.0L – 850 HP
John Coletti, in the other lane, brought out an SN95 with a 10 liter Ford big block. Unlike the Camaro, it had been expensively converted to EFI, something that just wasn’t done on 600+ cubic inch motors back then. It did look like a factory made car, with nice details on the intake manifold and valve covers. The big Boss took some time to warm up, but edged out the Camaro in the drag race, before grenading the engine on the road course. Ford vs Chevy with two very impressive machines ended in a tie.
2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat – 707 HP
In an effort to make their car king of the hill in today’s competitive horsepower wars, Dodge came out with the Hellcat versions of the already potent Charger and Challenger. The Hellcat boasts a supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI engine that is rated at monstrous 707 HP and 650 lb·ft of torque. Dodge engineers even had to hollow out the driving light on the left front side in order to allow air to get into the engine and resulting in more torque. The SRT Hellcat comes with two kinds of key fobs; use of the black fob to limit engine output to “only” 500 horsepower. Use the red one to unleash the full 707 and hold on to your butt. With stock tires the Hellcat was able to reach the quarter mile in only 11.2 seconds @ 125 mph. Impressive for such a heavy car.
2012 Shelby 1000 – 950 HP
Not quite sure why it’s called the “1000,” as this Shelby “only” makes 950 hp. Common Core, I guess. Still, Shelby fixed the horsepower situation the next year, bringing it up to a crushing 1,200 hp. On pump gas. Wow. The GT500’s 5.8L V8 is the base engine, with a 4 liter Ford Racing supercharger. Everything from the oil pan to the fuel system is upgraded, resulting in a wickedly fast racing machine for the street. The suspension is tuned for the track and street, making this a daily driver you can slay exotics with at weekend track events. Prices start at $150,000, excluding the cost of the GT500.
Looking at the age and capability of the most powerful muscle cars ever built, it is amazing to see how far we have come and how capable today’s vehicles are. Classic muscle could be seriously fast, if you were willing to deal with sky-high compression and constant tuning. 1990s one-offs were brutally quick too, but unreliable and unlivable as a daily. Amazingly, now you can purchase hypercar horsepower in a car that is comfortable to everyday people.