In the mid
sixties the muscle car era was just getting started, and
the leader of this revolution was arguably Chrysler,
along with its Dodge and Plymouth lines helping to round
out their product offerings. Chrysler offered many high
horsepower options that were based on their "HEMI" and
Wedge engine designs. The "HEMI" engines have become
famous for their cubic inch to horsepower ratings, and
these power plants dominated racing for many years.
The word "HEMI" represents the word "hemispherical"
which is the special domed combustion chamber design in
the heads of these engines. The opening in the head is
actually domed instead of angled or flat, which allows
the intake and exhaust valves to be a bit larger, and
also lets the in and out air passages be in more of a
straight line in and out of the engine. This one
mechanical attribute helps the engine to aspirate much
more rapidly with less restriction on these flows. This
helps to generate much more horsepower from the engine.
There were a handful of car designs at Chrysler which
were instrumental in ushering the muscle car era in. One
of the first radical designs to come from Chrysler in
the mid sixties was a "Pony Car" class car called the
Barracuda, it did not have a giant engine, but its
weight to horsepower ratio was significant. This model
was very popular with drag racers since it could be
built to hold the largest big block "HEMI" engines that
Chrysler had to offer.
There were plenty of other high horsepower, large cars
coming from Chrysler at that time, but the original
Barracuda's were a sign of the many changes coming from
Chrysler in the very near future. So without further
preamble, here is a list of the top ten Chrysler muscle
cars from back in the heyday of "HEMI" engines and
1) 1965 barracuda formula S. This sporty little hot rod
offered a High performance commando 273 cubic inch V8
engine delivering a stout 235 hp. The rally pack
suspension, bigger tires and wider rims, plus disc
brakes up front made this car handle fairly well
considering the horsepower under the hood. This car has
a huge piece of glass in the back, which had to be
custom designed by PPG with Chrysler engineers
collaborating. At over 14 square feet this was the
biggest piece of glass in a production car up to that
time. This compact class muscle car was a platform which
became renowned for its drag racing abilities. Teams
would stuff enormous big block engines into these tiny
cars, and then tear up the asphalt all weekend.
2) 1966 dodge charger fastback, with dual quad 426
"HEMI" V8 with 425 hp. This was a long car with very
clean body lines, and a really long fastback rear end.
3) 1967 dodge coronet r/t convertible with 440magnum V8
@ 375 horsepower, this was a fairly large car compared
to the Barracuda and the Dart, but it got straight down
the road really well. These were based on the Dodge
Coronet cars which had been winning on the racing
circuits for Chrysler teams in a number of separate
4) 1967 Plymouth Belvedere GTX came with a new 440 wedge
engine that boasted high performance and drove well
street wise, and on the track. The output was 325 hp.
Some have called this model Plymouth's first truly
"identifiable muscle car." It was also called an
"executive muscle car" These were one of a series of
what Chrysler enthusiasts coined "dual purpose"
machines, suitable for both street and strip. This is
exactly the niche which the GTX filled. The body was
nothing really unique for the time except that it was
well proportioned, and it had a certain sleek look that
makes them appear to be moving fast even when they are
5) 1968 Dodge Dart GTS. This sporty little model was the
fastest production Dart which Dodge had ever built up to
that time. When you ordered this car with the big block
383 cubic inch wedge engine, plus the optional four
barrel carburetor, it pumped out a very respectable 300
hp. These cars were really fast, and looked very sharp
due to the GTS package. Due to its low cost, this model
was very popular as a street racer and daily driver. One
of the rarest Chrysler products ever made were fifty
special GTS darts which were purpose built race cars.
Chrysler contracted to have factory GTS Darts rebuilt at
the Hurst factory, with the Chrysler 440, or the 426
race hemi engine put into them. You could buy these
directly from a local dealership. They were shipped in
primer gray paint so that you could paint your own
racing colors and logo on them.
6) 1970 Plymouth "CUDA" with 426 "HEMI" engine that had
dual four barrel carburetors and put out an awesome 425
hp. This was an amazing looking car with nice curves,
and a lower longer hood, and a shorter higher rear end.
The small amounts of chrome on these cars really stood
out due to the soft curves on the body panels. It was
fairly difficult to drive on the street, mostly due to
having an extremely powerful engine in a mid sized car.
These were very popular on the street and the drag
strip. They had stiffer suspension than some of their
Chrysler cousins, but still suffered from front end
steering and cornering issues. It seemed they were meant
to go straight and fast.
7) 1970 duster 340 cubic inch 275 hp engine with a 4
barrel carburetor. This model replaced the valiant. This
was more of a mid-size than a compact car, and it had
plenty of trunk space. Until last year. The 1975
duster was the last year Chrysler made that body style.
It was a great car for buzzing around town, and to drive
to the golf course.
8) 1970 sport fury GT with optional engine package
consisting of 440 with the three two barrel carburetor
option generating 390 hp. This car was super rare, super
fast, and super big. This car is really unique in that
not many full sized two door luxury cars were getting
the speed treatment back then. This model was so special
that today it has become highly sought after by
collectors. it was nicknamed the Q-ship by Chrysler
insiders because it was relatively quiet and quite
unassuming. This car was the ultimate "sleeper" racer
because no one would suspect that this big luxurious
ride could actually be so darn fast!
9) 1971 Dodge Challenger R/T with the classic 426 "HEMI"
putting out 425 hp. This was the last year Chrysler
offered a street "HEMI", and it heralded the beginning
of the end of the muscle car era. Only 71 of these
challenger models with the 426 "HEMI" engine were made.
It is hard to imagine how rare one of these "HEMI"
machines must be today!
10) In 1971 Plymouth made a few Barracuda convertibles
with 426 cubic inch "HEMI" engines with 425 horsepower.
This was the last year of the street "HEMI". Only
7 of these were made. This was an awesome balance of
cool and brute force. A car this small and light with
that much horsepower was a scary thing to be in control
of if you did not already have some solid driving
skills. The body style was not much different as the
previous years, but the convertible option makes this
one of the rarest of rare convertibles.
There is one extra muscle car which is known for its
rarity and its beauty, and it would be the 1969 GTX
convertible. This car has both style and speed in
abundance. With nice clean body lines, just enough
chrome, and a potent power source under the hood, you
could hardly get more performance for your hard earned
dollar back in 1971 there were only 625 of these
convertibles built that year.
it is interesting that Chrysler and others are putting
great effort into bringing back some of the more
nostalgic designs, and the modern challenger is one that
pays perfect homage to it's muscle car heritage and
roots. Obviously the engineering is much more advanced,
and the new model "HEMI" looks great, but they seem a
bit too generic. The sound and feel you get when driving
a big chunk of classic American made metal is nothing
short of amazing.