The Quickest Muscle Cars of the Golden Era

Muscle cars are famed for their straight-line speed. But which from the golden era of the 1960s and ‘70s was quickest zero to sixty?

Best of the Best

You might not immediately associate black holes and 426 Hemis, but the truth is muscle cars and astrophysics have one important thing in common, the primacy of numbers. Whether you’re analyzing the red shift of primordial stars or wondering if the Chevy Chevelle could beat the Boss 429 Mustang in 1970, you seek hard data. In the car world, lore, conjecture, and objective fact freely comingle and often the only way to settle a dispute is to run the darn race (after which the loser can complain about cold tires and rolling starts). Despite all the potential caveats and disclaimers, consistently tested zero to sixty times are about as objective a standard as we have for measuring a car’s quickness.

The automotive world has its camps and partisan affiliations and nowhere is this Balkanization more in evidence than within muscle car circles. There are Ford guys and Chevy Guys and Mopar Guys, and each will tell you their favorite company made the bestest, fastest muscle cars. But what do the numbers really say? Does the Mustang’s zero to sixty match its level of commercial success? Is the GTO really the GOAT after all? And where does Uncle Bill’s Corvette actually stack up?*

Below we collected the quickest zero to sixty mph times from the height of the muscle car era from 1964 to 1971. The biggest takeaway? That Hemi 426 was one heck of a motor….

1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 – 5.4 Sec.

1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS LS6 - americanmusclecarmuseum.com
1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS LS6 - americanmusclecarmuseum.com

The Chevelle SS was Chevy’s first move into the muscle car arena, born of the Malibu in 1964. It had hit its stride by 1970. In the middle of its second generation, the Chevelle SS could be ordered with a 454 LS5 V8 making 360 horsepower. This motor allowed the Chevelle to sprint from zero to sixty in just 5.4 seconds. The high output was short lived as compression ratios were changed for 1971 to accommodate the shift to unleaded gas.

1970 Ford Mustang Boss 429 – 5.3 Sec.

1970 Ford Mustang Boss 429 - americanmusclecarmuseum.com
1970 Ford Mustang Boss 429 - americanmusclecarmuseum.com

The Mustang’s Boss 429 is notorious not just for its speed but for the sheer size of the massive 429 V8. The engine was so difficult to shoehorn into the Mustang’s engine bay, that Ford farmed out the reengineering to Kar Kraft to get the Mustang ready for NASCAR competition. The Boss 429 was the quickest Mustang of the era with a zero to sixty time of 5.3 seconds.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 – 5.3 Sec.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 - The Car Corner on youtube.com
1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 - The Car Corner on youtube.com

Perhaps you’ve heard of Yenko Camaros, those optioned with a 427 V8 through the clandestine COPO (Central Office Production Order) system. Yenko wasn’t the only one getting the goods on the sly, Fred Gibb was another dealer who used the COPO system to get his Camaro’s a bigger block, in this case a ZL1 all-aluminum V8 for drag racing. The engine was officially rated at 430 horsepower, but contemporary dyno figures indicate actual output was closer to 550 horsepower. As with other COPO Camaro, the ZL1 is a rare and highly sought-after collectors’ car today. Historically, it posted a 5.3-second run from zero to sixty.

1971 Plymouth ‘Cuda 426 Hemi – 5.2 Sec.

1971 Plymouth ‘Cuda 426 Hemi - dodgegarage.com
1971 Plymouth ‘Cuda 426 Hemi - dodgegarage.com

For the uninitiated, the ‘Cuda is the performance variant of the Plymouth Barracuda in 1970 and ’71. The ‘Cuda was offered with a range of V8s: a standard 383, optional 340, a 440 Super Commando, or, most relevant for our list, Chrysler’s 426 Hemi V8 making 425 fire-breathing horses. Thusly equipped, the ‘Cuda put down a blistering zero to sixty time of 5.2 seconds.

1969 Plymouth Roadrunner 426 Hemi – 5.1 Sec.

1969 Plymouth Roadrunner 426 Hemi - carsforsale.com
1969 Plymouth Roadrunner 426 Hemi - carsforsale.com

The Roadrunner is best remembered for its Superbird NASCAR iteration, but the regular production car was just as competitive on the street. With its Belvedere underpinnings, signature Roadrunner decals, and “Air Grabber” hood scoops, the Roadrunner wasn’t just one of the fastest muscle cars of its day, it was also one of the best looking. Once equipped with the 426 Hemi V8, the Roadrunner made tracks from zero to sixty in a mere 5.1 seconds.

1968 Dodge Charger R/T 426 Hemi – 4.8 Sec.

1968 Dodge Charger R/T 426 Hemi - dodgegarage.com
1968 Dodge Charger R/T 426 Hemi - dodgegarage.com

Dom’s Charger (of The Fast & the Furious fame) has made the 1970 model Dodge Charger an icon. The 1969 model was immortalized as The General Lee in The Dukes of Hazard. And yet, it’s the 1968 Charger R/T which cameoed in Bullitt that was the quickest Charger of its day. Powered by you guessed it, the 426 Hemi, the ’68 Charger R/T could make its zero to sixty run in 4.8 seconds.

1967 Plymouth Belvedere GTX 426 Hemi – 4.8 Sec.

1967 Plymouth Belvedere GTX 426 Hemi - Greg Gjerdingen on wikimedia.org
1967 Plymouth Belvedere GTX 426 Hemi - Greg Gjerdingen on wikimedia.org

The 1967 Plymouth GTX is one of those deep cut muscle cars. Though not as famous as the Camaro, Charger, or Mustang, the GTX held its own as one of the quickest cars of its generation. Like the Roadrunner, the GTX was based on the Belvedere with a muscle car twist. Like its Chrysler brethren, the GTX had help from the 426 Hemi in netting a zero to sixty time of 4.8 seconds.

1967 Chevrolet Corvette L88 – 4.7 Sec.

1967 Chevrolet Corvette L88 - Rex Gray on wikimedia.org
1967 Chevrolet Corvette L88 - Rex Gray on wikimedia.org

You know Corvette guys. You meet them at Cars & Coffee, and they regale you tales of their one-of-one, hyper-rare, only-one-built-on-a-Tuesday-in-May-with-Elkhart-Blue-paint Corvette. Roll your eyes all you want, but the guy’s not wrong about his Vette, it really is quick as all get out. The 1967 L88 Corvette was the ultimate C2. The L88 427 V8 was rated at 435 horsepower but that conservative figure lowballs the actual output by more than 100 horse. Thus equipped, the ’67 L88 Corvette was good for a zero to sixty time of 4.7 seconds. (The next-gen C3 Corvette wasn’t much slower, hitting 5.3 seconds from zero to sixty in both 1970 and ’71.)

1964 Pontiac GTO 389 – 4.6 Sec.

1964 Pontiac GTO 389 - netcarshow.com
1964 Pontiac GTO 389 - netcarshow.com

The Pontiac GTO, brainchild of John DeLorean, is considered by many the car that sparked the muscle car craze starting in 1964. Brawny yet athletic, powerful yet affordable, the GTO set the mold for a generation of muscle cars to follow. You know The Judge and the Ram Air variants, but the quickest GTO was first year car with its stock 389 V8 making 348 horsepower and 428 lb.-ft. of torque. The souped up ‘64 Tempest GTO was credited in a Car & Driver review with a zero to sixty sprint of just 4.6 seconds.

1965 AC Cobra 427 – 4.3 Sec.

1965 AC Cobra 427 - carsforsale.com
1965 AC Cobra 427 - carsforsale.com

Carroll Shelby had already won Le Mans as a driver in 1959 and would again for Ford as the team lead in ’66. In between, Shelby created the car he became most famous for, the AC Cobra. Shelby’s formula was this, combine the lightness of a British roadster with the raw horsepower of an American V8. The result was a singular machine of such raw brutishness it makes the “Widow maker” 930 Porsche 911 look tame. Legend has it, the Cobra was so violent that Shelby would tuck a $100 bill on the dash and challenge anyone to grab it under full throttle. He never lost his money on that bet. Equipped with Ford’s 427 V8 making 425 horsepower and a curb weight of just 2,355 lbs. (half a ton less than the muscle car average), the AC Cobra 427 was able to rocket from zero to sixty in just 4.3 seconds. Even the earlier version of the Cobra was record-breakingly quick. The 289-V8-equipped Cobra of 1963 was capable of a 4.5 second zero to sixty blitz.

*The numbers contained above have been thoroughly researched, verified across a minimum of three independent sources, and oft times many more, using contemporary sources whenever possible i.e., Car & Driver, Motor Trend, Hot Rod, etc. Dedicated racecars and highly limited run cars (like the Cobra Super Snake, for example) have been excluded.

Related Pop Culture Articles

The Singular and Spectacular ‘62 Dodge Dart

These are the MVPs of Justin Verlander’s Garage

This Hotrod Buick Reimagines the Roadmaster

Tags:
Chris Kaiser

With two decades of writing experience and five years of creating advertising materials for car dealerships across the U.S., Chris Kaiser explores and documents the car world’s latest innovations, unique subcultures, and era-defining classics. Armed with a Master's Degree in English from the University of South Dakota, Chris left an academic career to return to writing full-time. He is passionate about covering all aspects of the continuing evolution of personal transportation, but he specializes in automotive history, industry news, and car buying advice.

  • 1

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share
Tweet
Pin