Here’s our list of the Top 10 Muscle Cars from the 1970 decade at the request of several readers. You’ll notice that every car is pre-1972 as the government was mandating clean air emissions resulting in lower compressions and less horsepower.
The higher gas prices that resulted from the oil embargo resulted in Detroit eliminating the word “muscle” from their dictionary and replacing it with “better fuel mileage” ideology. Still, these 1970 and 1971 muscle cars just might be the best ever from the Detroit high-performance era.
1: 1970 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda: Along with sibling Challenger, the two-inch shorter wheelbase Hemi Barracuda was the top muscle car that roamed the boulevards. Overall, Plymouth Barracudas were available with powerful big-block V8s in 383, 440 and 426 Hemi configurations. My two favorites were the 440 Six Pack models that produced 390 horses and the ultimate “Elephant” 426 Hemi at 425 conservative horses. These cars bring top dollar at the Mecum and Barrett-Jackson auctions.
2. 1970 Buick GSX: If there is a sleeper from the 1970 class of muscle cars, it is indeed the 1970 Buick GSX. Only 678 were ever produced as the GSX option featured a 455-inch Stage I Buick V8 engine that delivered an advertised (and very conservative) 360 horses. However, this engine produced more torque than the 426 Hemi at 510 lb.ft. and with proper gearing, the GSX could outrun and out handle just about every car produced that year. Today, it is a prized possession of muscle car collectors.
3. 1970 Chevelle SS454: This SS is a big favorite all the way back to 1965. Today, the most impressive of the Chevelle SS models is the 1970 SS 454, featuring Chevy’s new 4-inch stroke big block under the hood. With over 50 more cubic inches to work with, an LS6 454 with 450 horses joined the 360 horse 454 LS5 for happy consumers to choose from. The LS6 was only offered in 1970, and was a monster at the drag races, be it 4-speed manual or Turbo 400 automatic. With some add on performance equipment like headers, 4:11 gears and a better torque converter (if automatic), it was an easy 12-second quarter mile performer.
4. 1970 GTO Judge: Pontiac’s Judge was originally conceived as a stripped down GTO model with more powerful 455-inch engines. Featured were the Ram Air III, Ram Air HO and top line 370 horse Ram Air IV. In 1970, the Judge offered a new “yellow orange” color called Orbit Orange and just 3,797 Judges were delivered that year. By mid-1971, Pontiac dropped the Judge from production.
5. 1970 Camaro Z/28 or SS: With an all new design, this second generation Camaro could still pack some serious punch with either a 396 big block (402 actually) under the hood with up to 375 horses or the Z28 350-inch small block with 360 horses. Many still favor the 1967 to 1969 Camaro design, but as the years went on, everyone now seems to appreciate the 1970 design. Notable is that in 1970, the Z28 was offered with an automatic for the first time although most still went for the Z28’s standard Muncie four speed, as did the 396 buyers.
6. 1970 Oldsmobile 442 W-30: The Olds 442 in 1970 style might be one of the best looking muscle cars of the era. The W30 model came with ram air, a 370-horse engine and some nice Hurst shifters if you ordered the four-speed. The standard engine was a 365-horse 455, but the W30 with fiberglass hood arrived rated at 370-horses. The W30 also paced the Indy 500 that year, a notable achievement.
7. 1970 Challenger R/T 440 Six-Pack: The Challenger had a larger body and longer wheelbase than sibling Plymouth Barracuda, and the R/T models started with a 383 Magnum V-8 up through the 440 wedges and finally the 426 Hemi. Sadly, 1971 was the last year for the R/T trim and the big block MOPAR engines, too. In 1972, the Challenger V8 models featured either a 340 or a 318 V8. (Ouch!)
8. 1970 Plymouth Road Runner: I liked the looks of the 1970 Plymouth Roadrunner, and also the V8 engine choices of 383, 440 or 426 Hemi. Notable is the 1970 Roadrunner Superbird, built specially for NASCAR racing on the superspeedways. Most winged Superbirds built for the consumer came with the 440 wedge, but a lucky 135 enthusiasts ordered the 426 Hemi. (1970 Dodge Super Bee is similar to non-wing Roadrunner).
9. 1971 Boss 351/Mach 1 Mustang: Can’t have a top 10 list without a Mustang, Ford enlarged the ’71 Mustangs in weight and wheelbase, and offered two performance engines of note: a Boss 351 or a Cobra Jet 429. This was the last year of the Boss Mustangs, and with the Cleveland 351 it rates a spot on this. The ‘71 Boss 351 delivered 330 horses and handled much better than the front heavy 370 horse Mach I 429 Cobra Jet.
10. 1971 AMC Javelin/AMX: Had to give a nod to American Motors, as the company did offer some pretty neat muscle cars along the way. Thanks to Roger Penske and drivers Mark Donohue and George Follmer, the AMC Javelin won the Trans-Am title in ’71, ‘72 and ’76 and transferred that success to sales at the dealership. Available in either a 265 horse, 360 inch V8 or a 401 V8 with 330 horses, these performance Javelins were really good looking.
I know I left a few off this list so readers can chip in with their picks. You 1970 Boss Ford fans I already hear you!