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Worst Muscle Cars in History

Cars can be great works of engineering art, but you'd never guess it by looking at the worst muscle cars in history.

By Rowan MarleyPublished 6 years ago 8 min read
Top Story - January 2018

Ah, the muscle car... it's the car genre that's known for being a nice piece of classic Americana, the genre that made engines roar, pulses pound, and also created a massive build that truly became iconic in its own right.

Over the years, there have been many great muscle cars that could be considered works of art and major feats in mechanical engineering. Many of the most iconic cars in TV history were muscle cars, and the fact is that engineers are still competing to create the most powerful muscle car ever made.

However, for every rock-solid muscle car, there's going to be at least two or three that are unremarkable—and once in a blue moon, you'll find a hunk of metal with wheels taped to it that's supposed to be a muscle car, but only succeeds in being a dumpster fire.

Want to have a good laugh? Here are some of the worst muscle cars ever made, and why everyone seems to hate them.

The 1974 Pontiac Ventura GTO

Make no mistake about it—many iterations of the Pontiac GTO are considered to be among the best muscle cars of the 70s and 80s. Pontiac was a muscle car company, and they knew what they were doing. However, 1974 was a pretty bad year for these otherwise gorgeous cars.

At the time, Pontiac was seeing a lot of sales decline with their GTO line, so they ended up making GTOs a trim option for the Pontiac Ventura. They hoped the Ventura line would bring people to become interested in GTOs once more.

Realistically, all they did was a cheap marketing ploy and slap on some decals onto the standard Ventura body kit. The gearhead crowd noticed this and acted accordingly.

With a paltry 200 horsepower, the Ventura GTO went down as one of the worst muscle cars of its time. In fact, a horsepower rating that low might even disqualify it from really being a muscle car at all. Let's just call this a chubby station wagon, okay?

The 1978 Ford Mustang II King Cobra

The Ford Mustang II line only ran for about four years, but made a huge impact on the history of American muscle cars. That being said, there's a reason why this line only lasted for a handful of years, and much of it dealt with the fact that a lot of them weren't powerful at all.

The 1978 Ford Mustang II King Cobra was the king of the worst muscle cars to be part of this line, at least in terms of power. It only packed about 140 horsepower, and with its bulky frame, this meant terrible performance ratings.

The guys at Ford were smarter than the Pontiac crew, though, and they realized that dressing up the car would attract more buyers. To bolster interest, they added a flaming cobra on the front of it, gave it a cool body kit, and tricked it out with front and rear spoilers.

The trick worked, and the cars were bought up by people who wanted a cool custom car. Nowadays, the King Cobra is considered to be a major collector's item—but that doesn't stop it from being one of the worst muscle cars of its time.

1980 Plymouth Volare Road Runner

Looney Tunes lied to you. If you look at the science, roadrunners aren't actually crazy fast. Perhaps that's why Plymouth called one of the worst muscle cars it's ever made "the Road Runner."

The Road Runner was a total flop. A lot of the cars on this list do look cool, and this stupid thing didn't even manage to do that. It looked okay, but it was so stereotypical that nothing quite stood out to make people go, "Woah."

As unremarkable as its body was, what made it a laughably terrible car was its power. This V8-equipped car was only able to push out 120 horsepower at optimal conditions. That's about as muscular as a tricycle, even back in those days.

To make matters even worse, the 1980 Plymouth Road Runner only had a top speed of only 99 miles per hour—making it one of the slowest cars in the decade.

That being said, it's a collector's car now because classic muscle car fans decided the body kit is cool and because it's really rare. So, if you see one, appreciate it. Or, laugh at it. We don't care either way.

1977 Chevrolet Monza Mirage

Much like other cars on this list, the Chevrolet Monza Mirage had a great reception when it was first made. The thing is, it was originally a compact car that came with a lot of amenities and tons of trim options to match. Its only real flaw was a weak engine.

Chevrolet then commissioned Michigan Auto Techniques to make a Monza Mirage muscle car, and it didn't take too long for them to realize that it was a pretty bad mistake. The 1977 Monza Mirage had a 305 engine that only was able to deliver 145 horsepower at optimal conditions.

Only 4,000 were ever created of this car. Quickly realizing it was one of the worst muscle cars ever made, Chevy discontinued the muscle line and switched back to a sportier choice.

1980 Mercury Capri RS

Admittedly, the 1980 Mercury Capri RS was a very stylish-looking car that had that classic 80s muscle car vibe to it. It had a unique front-end design and a fashionably large air intake that put a twist on standard car design.

Car experts will be quick to point out that it looks like an upscale Ford Mustang—and that's precisely what it was meant to be. Obviously, if it's on this list, there's a failure in the design somewhere. In this case, it was the engine.

The three-door RS model had a 2.3 liter, turbocharged engine that might sound impressive, but actually only gave the car a pathetic 88 horsepower. Worse, its top speed was only 99 miles per hour.

To put things into perspective, a typical Mustang from the early 60s would carry at least 100 horsepower in its engine. This means that the Mercury Capri RS was around 15 years behind its lower-end competition. Ouch.

1982 Chevrolet Camaro Iron Duke

A lot of car fans do not want to see a Camaro on a list of the worst muscle cars ever made—and trust me, I get it. Camaros are very beautiful cars with amazing body styles and, usually, a lot of horsies behind their engine.

That's why it pains me to say that the 1982 Chevrolet Camaro Iron Duke was one of the worst muscle cars of the 80s. Just look at the sleek style of the body kit, and you'll understand why the Camaro survived this gaffe.

The reason why the Iron Duke is considered one of the weakest muscle cars ever made is because of its four-cylinder engine. Though the engine was pretty durable, it only put out about 90 horsepower.

In a muscle car, the Iron Duke's 0 to 60 time of 20 seconds was laughably bad. While the durable engine became a mainstay on station wagons, this still was a very un-muscular muscle car.

1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am (Standard)

By picture alone, most of us will realize that the 1982 Pontiac Trans Am was a majorly badass car. After all, it was the car that was chosen to be KITT for Knigh Rider. Most of us would consider this car one of the best muscle cars of all time, just based on "cool factor" alone.

The Firebird Trans Am also had the perk of being one of the most aerodynamic cars in the third iteration of Firebirds. So, it's not like it was a bad body design on a functional level.

The problem that made it one of the worst muscle cars in the eyes of many power-lovers was its engine. The standard version of the '82 Trans Am was equipped with an Iron Duke engine—the very same engine that ended up killing the Camaro on this list, too.

With only 90 horsepower standard, and its most powerful engine being able to pulse out around 160 horsepower, it's hard to say that this is really that good a muscle car in terms of actual muscle. The standard's top speed also rested at a factory-guaranteed 99 miles per hour, which is really slow for a muscle car.

We'd still love to drive one, though.

1979 Oldsmobile 4-4-2

Though most people who are under 30 would remember Oldsmobile for being popular with old people, this was a brand that used to be known for high-performance vehicles back in the day. In fact, many vintage Oldsmobile cars were known for being race cars and having killer designs too.

By the 60s, Oldsmobiles were the name of high-performance. That's why it comes as such a huge shock to see how far the brand plummeted by the mid-70s. The 1979 Oldsmobile 4-4-2 barely squeaked out 115 horsepower in its standard form.

Combine that with the boxy eyesore that the 4-4-2 had become, and you can see why it's no longer a very popular model. In fact, in terms of visual aesthetic and power combined, the 1979 4-4-2 had to be one of the worst muscle cars of the decade.

Oh, and if you were hoping for a high speed, prepare to be disappointed. This overgrown cardboard box won't go past 109 miles per hour on a standard drive.

1978 AMC Gremlin GT

AMC is one of those forgotten car brands that really used to rule the racetrack. Car fans can easily recall the way that the AMC Javelin became one of the hottest rally cars of the 70s, and to a point, it's still legendary for its performance.

When it first came out, the AMC Gremlin was a bit of a controversy. It started off as a very quirky subcompact car that had a ton of amenities and a lot of spunk. Most people, though, found Gremlins to be kind of ugly.

Then, the guys at AMC decided that it was time to try to turn the much-enjoyed compact car into a muscle car. Why? Because its engine was sluggish and it could have been a better ride, if only it had a bit more power.

The 90 horsepower, and a top speed that wasn't even 99 miles per hour, made it one of the weakest muscle cars to ever come into existence. Pair that with its unappealing design, and you'll have all the explanation you need to find out why it's one of the worst muscle cars of all time.

Only 3,000 of these things were ever bought... primarily because people in the 70s weren't blind.

1971 Ford Pinto

Though there seems to be a decent number of people who love the Ford Pinto, please don't crucify me for saying this, but it was one of the worst muscle cars ever made. These are just facts, and it was even considered to be one of the worst cars of all time by Time Magazine.

In the car community, the Pinto was known for having a bland appearance. If you look at the Automobile-Catalog stats on this machine, it's also pretty bland in terms of horsepower.

The Runabout 1600cc option had around 75 horsepower on one model, with a maximum speed of 85 miles per hour. So, it was a really slow car—even for the 70s.

To make matters worse, the Pinto also had an engine at the back of its body, right next to a defective gas tank. This meant that a rear-end collision could cause the car to light itself on fire. It also had electrical problems that put drivers at increased collision risk, too.

Ford actually knew of the design flaw, but after calculating that it'd cost less to just deal with lawsuits, the company chose to avoid fixing the issue before cars hit the lot.

Quality clearly wasn't the Pinto's shtick. Maybe that's why it's also on this list of the most dangerous cars of all time?


About the Creator

Rowan Marley

Rowan Marley is a 20-year-old sports enthusiast who hails from Brooklyn. When he's not hitting up a local Zumba class, he's drinking organic smoothies. That's just how he rolls.

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