Driving Classic Muscle Cars

Driving Classic Muscle Cars

By Jim Campisano

I’ve been in love with muscle cars since before I could drive. I remember them when they were new, drove and owned them when they were used, and have longed for a winning lottery ticket so I could purchase a dozen or so. There’s something about the style, feel and performance of a muscle car—and I use the term strictly for cars built from 1960-’74 with lots of cubes, big horsepower and/or stunning acceleration (at least by the standard of the day). We’ll discuss modern muscle (1983-present) and Corvettes another time.

Like I said, I’ve had the pleasure to own, drive or drag race a number of what were called supercars back in the day. Here are some of my favorites. If you could turn back the clock, what five stock muscle cars would you like to grab the keys to?

1. 1970 Plymouth Superbird
The first time I ever laid eyes on a Superbird was in 1970 and I practically fell off my bike at the initial sight of that rear wing with the Road Runner decal on the side. Its (misunderstood) cartoonish styling tweaks made it the butt of jokes in my neighborhood for years, but it left a lasting impression on me. I got to drive one on an otherwise-empty quarter-mile paved circle track in West Virginia. It had a 440-4V/automatic, was yellow, and simply a blast to wheel. That nose went on forever. Yes, for a few minutes I felt like Richard Petty. How could you not love it? Though its styling is not for everyone, those solid Mopar B-body underpinnings and NASCAR pedigree made it an experience I’ll never forget.
2. 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS454 LS6
As a magazine editor and writer for over 26 years I was able to get my mitts on all kinds of cool muscle machines that made me the envy of millions. One was a turquoise LS6 Chevelle I wrung out for a video. The car was going across the auction block and someone figured a web-based video beforehand would be excellent publicity. It had an M22 four-speed and was stock as a rock. It sat in a collection for a long time before I had my way with it, so there were cobwebs to clear, but a series of extended full-throttle outbursts and hooliganism had it purring. What I most remember other than the long strips of black rubber it put down was just how nicely a stock GM A-body drove. Was it fast? By 1970 standards, absolutely, but with a super-tune and headers, it would have been an animal.
3. 1970 Chevrolet Camaro Z28
I tested this one at the Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey, when I was the editor of MuscleCars magazine in 1992 or so. It was 100 percent bone stock, a metallic brown time capsule to what may have been the ultimate second-gen: 360-horse solid-lifter LT-1, Rock Crusher gear jammer, 4.10 gears, and the renowned handling these cars were known for. Bill Mitchell, the head of GM styling, always felt the first-gen Camaros were a compromised design. The second-gen was done from a clean sheet of paper and reflected his love of Italian sports cars. This car had legit supercar chops, with usable horsepower and all the torque missing from the 302 from the year before. It went 13.80 at 97.61 mph on cheater slicks.
4. 1970 Dodge Challenger T/A
One musclecar that had a profound effect on me as an adolescent was a gunmetal grey ’71 340 ’Cuda that resided in my neighborhood. The twin-scoop hood, fender gills, and the way the metallic paint glistened when the sunlight reflected off the Plymouth’s lascivious bodylines was too much for my hormone-wracked brain. This car made an everlasting impact on my psyche and I think it was fate that my first car was a ’71 Barracuda convertible. In ’93, I had a chance to drive a ’70 Dodge Challenger T/A, an original owner car. It was slick, with that factory side-exhaust. Later, I learned from a Chrysler executive that the 340 Six-Pack engine produced over 300 horsepower, but the sidepipes were so restrictive actual output was the same as the 340 4-barrel.
5. 1970 Buick Gran Sport Stage 1 Convertible
This was an option laden monster, red with a black interior, and a two-ton curb weight. Still, it was a beast, running 13.80 at 99.26 mph on BFGoodrich Radial T/A tires, with a 5.5-second 0-60 time. It was from an era when the name Buick could be synonymous with performance. The Stage 1 GS had it all: style, class, power and luxury. That’s a combo that could cost you upwards of $65,000 today in a convertible, if not more.