Though these cars paved the way for some of today’s most outrageous muscle cars, their engines have not always aged well. In the most recent years, American car manufacturers have developed motors that would make any German automakers envious. Some of the most reliable V8 engines ever should be fitted in classic cars that found themselves with less than admirable units.
10 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88
Oldsmobile used to be the middle-child of General Motors. A notch above Chevy and Pontiac, but still below Buick and Cadillac, Oldsmobile was far from being the lousy carmaker it ended up being before GM put the brand out of its misery. As a matter of fact, Oldsmobile used to produce some of the best American cars until the Malaise Era hit.
The Rocket 88 is the sort of car that made Oldsmobile great. In fact, it is the car that started the muscle car craze. Being the very first muscle car ever made, the Rocket 88 hold a very special place in the hearts of gearheads. Underneath its hood sits a 303 cu in V8 that makes 135 hp and 283 lb-ft of torque. The 5.7-liter V8 found in the 1996 Chevrolet Impala SS would be great in the Rocket 88. With 260 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque, it would give the Rocket 88 the extra power it needs.
9 1963 Mercury Marauder
Before the Mustang and the Camaro were released, a plethora of amazing muscle cars were already roaming the streets. Before Mercury released the almighty Cougar, it already had several interesting cars in its lineup. Despite their exquisite physique, they were not as powerful as some of the beasts released by the Chrysler Group.
The 1963 Mercury Marauder with the 427 unit does not need to be revamped. However, the 390 version desperately needs more power. A decent engine could be the 4.6-liter V8 found in the 2009 Mustang Bullitt. The unit makes 315 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. Equipped with a supercharger, the power output can easily go up to 400 hp. That is plenty of power to do some major burnouts.
8 1967 Chevrolet Impala SS
Chevrolet has released so many legends during the Golden Era of the American car that it is now hard to find an affordable classic Chevy. With the Camaro and the Corvette being the two most popular Chevy cars, it is quite normal that a lot of other Chevy cars were overlooked by the public. Gearheads, however, know exactly that some of the less popular Chevy classics are in fact the ones to seek out.
The original engine found on a base ’67 Chevy Impala SS is not very exciting. The 427 sure is exhilarating, but Impala SS’s in great condition fitted with the 427 cost an arm and a leg. In order to give the base Impala SS more juice, an L99 with an automatic transmission or LS3 with a manual transmission from the 2014 Camaro SS could do the trick. The 6.2-liter V8 cranks out between 400 and 426 hp, and 410 and 420 lb-ft of torque.
7 1970 Ford Gran Torino Cobra
It is well-known that Ford shook up the pony car industry back in 1965. The Mustang was born, and it became the most popular American car globally. Ford tried to diversify its lineup with more muscle cars in the upcoming years. However, every single Ford muscle car that came out after the Mustang ended up being overlooked.
The Ford Gran Torino has to be one of the most underrated cars America ever made. In fact, it has to be one of the most grossly underpowered muscle cars made by Ford. When it comes to the Cobra, Ford made an effort to give it more power. By today’s standards, the Cobra is sluggish. A third generation Coyote engine could do the trick. With 460 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, it would give the Gran Torino Cobra a little extra power and still make it feel genuine.
6 1972 Plymouth Duster
Once upon a time, Plymouth was the underdog owned by Chrysler, and was really meant for people with a limited budget. While it is true that the average Plymouth from the 60s and 70s was nothing exciting, they did have the potential to become true budget sports cars. In fact, Chrysler moved forward several times with top-line engines on most successful Plymouth muscle cars.
The 1970 Plymouth Duster is a very attractive car with tons of potential. The ones equipped with the 340 engine were decent in 1970. In 2022, the 275 hp simply are not enough. If the goal is to surprise people at the next Cars and Coffee event, swap the 340 for the 6.2-liter V8 found on the 2014 Cadillac CTS-V. The motor makes 556 hp and 551 lb-ft of torque.
5 1973 Buick Apollo
Buick is not necessarily known for releasing a variety of muscle cars. The company’s most popular muscle cars remain the GSX and the GNX. However, given the fact that Buick is part of General Motors, several platforms were shared among the brands that fall under GM. Some of the lesser known Buick muscle cars are great alternatives to more popular American muscles.
The 1973 Buick Apollo looks great but is severely lacking in the power department. At best, the 350 makes 175 hp. Though fitting a more powerful engine in the Apollo’s engine bay will require some extensive work, a third generation 5.7-liter LS1 would turn the Apollo into a beast. With a power output of 350 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque, the Apollo would be zooming down the drag strip.
4 1974 Dodge Dart
The Clean Air Act was passed in 1970 and had a detrimental impact on the automotive industry. It is also no secret that things got even more complicated starting in 1973. With the OPEC imposing an embargo on countries that supported Israel during the Yum Kippur War, the United States found itself in a sticky situation. Gas stations were out of gasoline, and the country was consequently at a standstill.
The Dodge Dart lost its appeal in 1974. The 318 unit was factory rated at 150 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque. It is deplorable compared to the previous versions. However, in order to give the Dart the power it deserves, gearheads should consider getting a 6.1-liter Hemi V8. It is the same V8 found on the 2005 Chrysler 300 SRT-8. The powerplant churns out 425 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque.
3 1977 AMC Hornet AMX
AMC never tried to be the ultimate muscle car manufacturer. In fact, AMC was always in a gray area. In an effort to rival major players in the industry, AMC had no choice but to constantly reinvent itself. The brand went from producing smaller vehicles, to offering compact muscle cars, to manufacturing buses to metropolitan bus systems.
It is insane to think that a 304 cu in V8 was rated at 120 hp. The AMC Hornet AMX is a cool car from the late 70s, but it needs more power. Far more power. Some AMC vehicles were fitted with Ford motors. Accordingly, considering the supercharged 4.6-liter V8 found on the 2004 Cobra could be the way to go. With a power output of 390 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque, the Hornet AMX will surprise most people at car shows.
2 1980 Pontiac Trans Am
If there is one brand that most gearheads miss, it has to be Pontiac. The defunct carmaker released a plethora of vehicles, but two really remain in people’s minds: the GTO and the Trans Am. Today, some of the rarest and cleanest classic GTOs and Trans Ams are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, as most American cars during the Malaise Era, the Trans Am became somewhat unattractive.
The Trans Am is without a doubt one of the cars that made Pontiac great. It was featured in TV shows and iconic movies and inherited the status of classic almost instantly. However, things went south when GM moved ahead with a turbocharged 5.0-liter V8. It is always possible to fix this huge mistake by shoehorning a LS7 in the engine bay. The LS7 can be found in the 2009 Corvette Z06.
1 1981 GMC Caballero
Back in the hey-days of the American car, something quite peculiar came about. Called “utes” in the land down under, the half muscle car half pickup truck vehicles are simply gorgeous. The most two popular vehicles of the kind are, of course, the Ford Ranchero and the Chevy El Camino. What is less known is that Dodge and GMC had similar vehicles.
Take that 5.7-liter V8 and send it over to Honda. Instead, contact Mopar and see if they have a Hellcat engine on sale. It will require an insane amount of work to make the Hellcat engine crate fit in the Caballero, but the car/truck will most likely be featured on AutotopiaLA once it is done. Going from 120 hp to 707 hp is the sort of Frankenstein stories gearheads love to see.
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