In high school, I drove a 1969 Dodge Charger and spent many wasted evenings driving up and down a stretch of Woodward Avenue, just north of Detroit, stopping occasionally for ice cream at a stand near 14 Mile. In those days, we knew which cars were fast and sometimes we even drove next to them to see whose car was faster. But even then, we all knew of legendary muscle cars which were really fast. Often special-order, they were a step above the more commonly-known muscle cars of the era. Some of them were even built specifically for drag racing. Not that I or anyone I knew ever did that. But if we had, we knew better than to line up next to any of these.
Ford built the Mustang Boss 429 to homologate its most potent V8 for its NASCAR-competing Torino. , the Boss 429 package cost $1200 and provided you with 375 hp. Well, 375 advertised horsepower. In its day, the Boss 429 was probably making around 475 hp, but Ford wanted to keep insurance companies in the dark.
In its final days as an automaker, Studebaker offered a proto-muscle car in the form of (pictured right). Equipped with the 289-ci "R2" engine, the Super Lark was good for 0-60 mph in around seven seconds and a top speed of over 130 mph. Studebaker even offered a supercharged Super Lark that made around 335 horsepower, but no one knows how many were actually built. Just is a known quantity.
The car companies sought bragging rights for whose cars were fastest and often made batches of cars specifically for racing. How do you make a car go fast down a quarter mile? Take the smallest car you sell and shoehorn in the biggest motor you can. Dodge Dart, meet the 426 Hemi. It was a match made in a mad scientist's dream and Chrysler actually sold these cars. Bare-bones Darts were shipped to a local Hurst shop missing anything that added weight. Seats, radios, carpeting? Who needs 'em? Some body parts were replaced with fiberglass and some panels were acid dipped. The finished cars were often raced in Super Stock drag racing where they turned in ETs in the 9s.
The Mustang is available in so many combinations and setups it is difficult to name just one variant for this list. And Ford gave a lot of cool names to their stuff. In 1971, you could buy a Mach 1 Mustang powered by a 429 CI Super Cobra Jet equipped with a Drag Pack. What is that you say? How about a 4.11 with a Detroit Locker in the rear. Functional Ram Air fed the power plant, in the days before the Feds clamped down on cold air intakes. Maybe 500 or so of these prowled the streets back in the day.
If you didn't get your driver's license while piloting an AMC Gremlin, you might not harbor the dark feelings many of us have when we hear "American Motors." The ones who brought us the Pacer, the Matador, and the Gremlin took a stab at selling a race car and the effort was noteworthy. A 390 CI engine pushed the Rebel Machine down a quarter mile in the 14s, but with mods a skilled weekender might apply, car magazines of the time said it could get into the 12s. But, like pretty much everything else sold by AMC at the time, its looks were not its best suit. Even dressed up in red, white and blue for the upcoming Bicentennial.
Chevrolet also put a car on the road with an oversized engine in an undersized car. The Chevrolet Camaro was a smash hit from Chevy and was available in a variety of packages with several engine options. When GM said it would not sell the car with its biggest engines, some dealers complained. GM allowed a few dealers to use the Central Office Production Orders (COPO) process to special order anything they liked. And at least one dealer ordered some Camaros with the ZL-1 aluminum block 427. 69 of these insane beasts were let loose, many taken straight to the drag strip.
There was a time when Pontiac dominated NASCAR more than half a century ago. The folks at Pontiac decided to pull out all the stops in 1962 and build a race car which would qualify as "stock" for both NASCAR and NHRA. The Super Duty was the result. The base was a Catalina, powered by a 421 CI engine. And the outside of the car looked pretty much stock. But underneath, it was all race car. The front clip was aluminum and the frame rails were swiss-cheesed to remove weight. Other parts of the frame were reinforced for the versions slated for circle tracks. Pushing this down the track was a high performance engine which added $1,200 to the sales price but it was worth it. The Super Duty could run a quarter mile in the mid 12s, a very respectable number considering the year.
It wasn't just the little cars that people raced and Chrysler was more than happy to accommodate its customers who wanted to race larger cars at the drag strip. The W023 was the answer. Chrysler placed the battery in the trunk, deleted the heater and a variety of other unnecessary items, and then dropped in a Hemi. It was available with an auto or manual trans and the 4-speeds ran 4.88 gears in the rear. There was also a Plymouth Belvedere R023 sister car with a similar setup; 55 of each were built. They came with no factory warranty, a fairly common feature for factory race cars of the era.
Chrysler's 426 CI Hemi engine found its way into a variety of street and race machines. By 1970, the end was near for the behemoth but racers who wanted to get in a few runs before the EPA killed the fun could order a Hemi Cuda with a "Super Track Pack." Missing many of the things which would weigh the car down – like a passenger side mirror – the car had a 4.10 rear end to get it moving. Even with a Hemi it was available with an automatic transmission. Just point the wheels straight and floor it. Assuming you were on a sanctioned raceway, of course.
Ford decided it wanted to build a car specially for the drag strip. At the time, the NHRA required a manufacturer to build and sell 100 examples of a car for it to be considered "stock." Since it would not be driven in a normal fashion, Ford opted for fiberglass body panels on much of the car and even Plexiglas windows to save weight. The car was motivated by a 427 CI "high rise" topped with dual 4-bbl carbs. Among other fancy items was an aluminum scatter shield around the clutch – for those occasions when things got a little out of control. The package could cross the ¼ mile in under 12 seconds with little effort. Later runs made with updated accessories have seen these run under 10 second quarter miles.
Chevy loves their "Z" designations and one of their lesser-knowns was a groundbreaker. In 1963, a savvy car shopper could ask for the Z-11 option package on the already-popular Impala. The car would come equipped with a hopped up 409 CI engine with dual carbs and a host of internals which allowed it to crank out the horsepower. But to ease the strain on the monster motor, the car was shipped minus things which were just dead weight. No radio, front sway bar, heater, or sound deadener to slow this beast down. And, much of the sheet metal was aluminum. Some of these cars would record quarter mile blasts in the 11s. No more than 60 of these cars were built and very few of them survive.
The Skylark was a nice looking car, but Buick wanted it to be fast too. They had marketed a "GS" version of the car earlier so they tacked on the X to give it a GSX designation when equipped with a high performance 455 CI engine. The Stage 1 indicated a little more tweaking, to the tune of 510 foot pounds of torque. That stat alone would make the GSX Stage 1 the Detroit torque champion until 2003 – when it would take the 10-cylindered Viper to unseat it. All that power ran the GSX Stage 1 through the quarter in the low 13s. Not bad for any car, let alone a Buick.