The History of American Muscle Cars

Cars are ever evolving. The designs, functionality, and even fuel types are progressing and moving forward at an impressive clip. But there is one piece of car history that many people, including both the car novice and the car professional, remember fondly: the era of American muscle cars.

American muscle cars have been immortalized in history books and classic movies alike. From their earliest models to the current reimaginations, American muscle cars are still turning heads and stopping traffic. 

There is a debate among car enthusiasts about the most appealing American muscle car. Most muscle cars have a passionate following ready to debate their advantages and contributions to the world of muscle cars. Among the most beloved muscle cars is the Ford Mustang.

The Mustang is iconic. Even people outside the car world often recognize the well-known body type and take a moment to admire its long-lasting beauty. But the Mustang is not alone. There are dozens of American muscle cars spanning the years of car history. 

What is American muscle?

The official definition of American muscle cars is a little confusing in that there isn’t an agreed-upon definition. The reality is the term “American muscle” can be used for a lot of different types of cars with a wide variety of elements. 

The good news is there is a list of generally agreed-upon characteristics that the majority of recognized American muscle cars share. American muscle cars are cars manufactured in America sometime in the 1960s and early 1970s. These cars are usually two-door, rear-wheel models with a large V8 engine and straight body lines. When they were originally manufactured, these cars were also fairly affordable and often cost around $2,500. 

The characteristics seem simple enough. If a car doesn’t have these elements, then it’s not a muscle car, right? Not exactly. American muscle is a hotly debated topic, and many people use the term to describe cars that just don’t fit this list. 

Some like to expand the list to include high-power pony cars, personal luxury cars like the Cadillac Eldorado, and even some sports cars. These cars, however, just don’t fit the narrow definition of American muscle. Some are too expensive, some are too large, and some just move too far away from the original purpose of American muscle cars. 

The debate of what is and isn’t an American muscle car can be a touchy subject, but there are a few cars that the vast majority of car enthusiasts agree are simply iconic pieces of American muscle. 

Iconic American Muscle Cars

There are lists for everything from the best movies of each decade to the best hairstyles of each decade. Depending on which list you’re on, the highest ranking can always change. The same is true for American muscle cars, but there are a few cars that consistently rank on all lists of top American muscle cars.

Plymouth Barracuda

The Plymouth Barracuda is the earliest version of the Dodge Challenger. While it is by most definitions a pony car, it meets a lot of the necessary requirements. 

The Barracuda made its debut in 1964, just before the better-known Ford Mustang. The biggest problem for the Barracuda was marketing. It simply didn’t have the powerhouse force behind it that other cars like the Mustang had, but the Barracuda did run for 10 years.

Pontiac GTO

Arguably the first and most iconic muscle car, the Pontiac GTO was the first to combine an oversized engine with affordability and an emphasis on performance. In fact, it’s the car that epitomizes the list of American muscle car characteristics.  

The GTO was introduced in 1964. Pontiac decided to ignore the restrictions and red tape created by GM and put an oversized engine in a smaller car. The result is, well, history. 

Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

A few years after the GTO, Chevrolet broke onto the scene of American muscle cars. The Camaro was built for Trans Am racing but quickly made its way onto the civilian streets all across America. 

In 1967, Chevrolet began producing the Camaro Z/28, and they really haven’t looked back. The Camaro is currently in its sixth generation, and it’s still going strong.


The AMC AMX might be a little less well-known than the other members of American muscle. AMC as a manufacturer disappeared in the early 1980s, but they made big waves with the AMX.

The AMC AMX took the American muscle car market by storm in 1968. AMC was an underdog in the manufacturing world and had little hope to beat out the big dogs like Ford and Chevrolet. But the AMX boosted a shortened wheelbase and an out-of-the-box design that set it apart.  

Dodge Charger (Second Generation)

Another stop in the history of Dodge is the Charger in 1968. The Charger was originally launched in 1966, but it took off in 1968 with its second generation. It’s an incredibly well-known and easily recognizable vehicle, mostly due to its part in The Dukes of Hazzard.

The Dodge Charger is still alive and well. The Dodge Charger of today is slightly different — now it’s most often seen as a four-door sedan, but it still performs well. 

Ford Mustang GT (Second Generation)

Even though the GTO is well known, some argue the 1968 Ford Mustang is the most iconic American muscle car. It’s hard to argue with the long line of high-performing and quick-selling generations. 

The 1968 Mustang is the second-generation model of the iconic car, but it is the most recognizable. This is thanks in part to its immortalization in the blockbuster movie Bullitt with Steve McQueen. Still, Ford continues to redesign and produce Mustang after Mustang. 

The Evolution of American Muscle

The term “muscle car” was introduced in 1964 by a journalist named Brock Yates. Yates was writing an article about the new and impressive Pontiac GTO. In an attempt to describe and applaud its design and performance, Yates called it a muscle car. So the term of vehicles was created.

The era of American muscle is one of awe, sleek design, and high performance. Car manufacturers from Pontiac to Ferrari and Ford were in a race to outpace and out-design each other. Each year in the 1960s and 1970s, these manufacturers debuted a new design of their intermediate design with an oversized engine. 

The American muscle of today, however, looks a little different than it did in the 60s and 70s. A few of the manufacturers still exist and are pumping out renewed designs and generations of old classics. The biggest improvement or difference with modern muscle cars is the features and fuel types.

A lot of modern muscle cars boost new tech features. Some come with super and turbocharged options, while others are more environmentally friendly, have longer lifespans, and feature electric options. Still, there are remakes and reboots of those iconic cars catering to the modern driver. 

American Muscle and Car Insurance

The modern world is different. The world of the 1960s and early 1970s just doesn’t seem to mesh with the world of today. Almost everything looks different, and that includes our vehicles and how we drive.

Not only have car manufacturers created new designs and functions for our vehicles, but how we drive is different. This means that other things have had to change as well. 

Car insurance isn’t the same as it was in the early days. Insurance companies have had to adapt, change, and evolve to the world around them. While you can still insure American hybrid muscle cars, it’s just a little bit different than those first and second generations. 

Take the Ford Mustang, for example. The average cost for full-coverage insurance is relatively affordable, but there are ways to make it even more affordable and better fit your budget. 

These muscle cars are pieces of history, a look back at a time of hot rods and expanding opportunities. It’s a way to stay connected to the past but see just how far we’ve come. Even with the changes and advancements of the modern world, the impact and influence of American muscle are here to stay.

Laura Gunn writes and researches for the car insurance comparison site, She dreams of owning a 1969 Chevy Camaro. Until that day, she’s happy to talk about the history of American muscle cars.