If there’s one type of vehicle every American gearhead should be proud of, this is it muscle cars. Muscle cars burst onto the automotive scene in the ’60s when Pontiac put a big V8 in the Cutlass to build the legendary GTO. Other American automakers copied Pontiac’s formula and by the late ’60s the muscle car segment was alive and crammed with options like the ford Mustang, Oldsmobile 442, Dodge Charger and others.
The original idea behind muscle cars was to offer affordable performance compared to European sports cars and other types of cars powerful cars. While this strategy has worked for the most part, some specialty muscle cars are going against it, now costing numbers most gearheads will never afford. These special muscle cars are super expensive due to their insane performance specs, rarity, historical significance, and other qualities that will make any collector’s mouth water. Let’s explore 10 of the most expensive muscle cars of all time.
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10 1971 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda Convertible – $3.5 million
Let’s start with one of the greatest Plymouth models of all time – the Hemi ‘Cuda. But not just any Hemi ‘Cuda – the ultra-rare convertible version.
The Hemi ‘Cuda was the most powerful version of the Barracuda that Plymouth built in 1970 and 1971 to win the horsepower wars. It had a massive Hemi V8 engine that dished out over 425 horsepower and gave it insane performance. Plymouth only built 780 Hemi Cudas and of those only 21 were convertibles. It’s no surprise a collector paid $3.5 million for it at a Mecum auction.
9 1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 – $1.1 million
In 1969, Chevrolet dealer Fred Gibb wanted Chevrolet to build a Camaro version that would help it beat Hemi-powered Chrysler in the NHRA Superstock racing series. However, because Chevrolet was banned from using its largest engines on smaller cars, it opted for the COPO program, a special fleet and special order program.
The program allowed the dealer to order a special package for the Camaro known as the ZL1. The ZL1 came with a custom aluminum big-block V8 engine specifically designed for drag racing, making it a beast. Chevy only built 69 units of the Camaro ZL1, making it one of the rarest GM models ever.
8th 1970 Pontiac GTO Judge Convertible – $1.1 million
The Pontiac GTO needs no introduction as many believe it was the first true muscle car. The GTO set the standards that most other automakers have followed when developing muscle cars, which is why it is held in high esteem by all.
Of all the GTOs, gearheads love the GTO Judge the most. The Judge was a special trim that Pontiac introduced in 1969 that featured a unique look package with a new rear spoiler and decals, wider tires, a Hurst shifter and the Ram Air 400 engine. Pontiac offered a convertible version of the GTO Judge and as it was rare you have to be a multi-millionaire to buy one today. In fact, one sold for $1.1 million at a Mecum Auctions event in Florida.
7 1967 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 “Eleanor” – $1 million
Whenever a car plays a significant role in a cult film, its value tends to skyrocket. Take the Toyota Supra Mk4 for example. Your role in the Fast & Furious Franchising made it a legend, which is why people pay five figures for it today. One of the most iconic muscle cars in movies is the 1967 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 “Eleanor”.
This fantastic car gained global fame when Nicolas Cage drove it in the hit 2000s film Gone in 60 seconds, and it’s been famous ever since. They only built three working versions of the Eleanor Mustang for filming, and because they destroyed two of them, the surviving one fetched over $1 million at auction.
6 1967 Shelby GT500 Super Snake – $2.2 million
In the 1960s, Shelby American was one of the largest distributors of Goodyear tires. The tire company launched a new line of “Thunderbolt” tires and, as a marketing strategy, decided to conduct a widely publicized high-speed test with the Shelby GT500. But not just any Shelby GT500 – the company commissioned Carroll Shelby to build the fastest possible version of the GT500, resulting in the Super Snake.
Shelby didn’t disappoint, as he immediately ditched the GT500’s powerful 425-horsepower V8 and replaced it with a racing engine derived from the legendary Ford GT40. The GT500 Super Snake, which was officially rated at 520 hp but was supposed to do much more, was insanely fast and could top 170 mph. However, since it was extremely expensive to manufacture, Shelby only built one GT500 Super Snake.
5 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350R – $3.85 million
Barely a year after Ford introduced the Mustang, Carroll Shelby hatched a plan to turn it into an incredible race car. Shelby wanted the Mustang to compete under SCCA rules, so he began turning the Mustang into the Shelby GT350R.
The Shelby GT350R had a revised engine with up to 360 hp and other modifications to save weight and increase power, which is why it was the B-class champion for three years in a row. Shelby only built 34 GT350Rs in 1965, which explains why they are so expensive.
4 1968 Ford Mustang GT390 “Bullitt” – $3.8 million
The aforementioned Eleanor Mustang would be the greatest movie Mustang of all time, but there’s one that’s just a notch up – the Bullitt Mustang. Bullitt is a late ’60s film that many believe to be one of, if not the, best film by the famous Steve McQueen. The Bullitt Mustang – a 1968 Mustang GT390 – was in one of the most iconic car chases, which is still fondly remembered by gearheads.
The Bullitt The Mustang disappeared for a while, and when it finally reappeared in 2016, it was the most exciting news in the collector car industry. The car was then auctioned shortly thereafter and sold for a staggering $3.85 million.
3 First 2020 Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 – $1.1 million
If you check reliable sites like Kelley Blue Book, you’ll find that a used 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500 is worth around $80,000, which isn’t too far off the price of a brand new example. So why would anyone pay over $1 million for one?
Well, this particular model is special as it was the first 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500 to roll off the production floor. This car had the VIN ending in 001 which made it special. All money from the sale went to charity.
2 1969 Dod Charger Daytona – $1.4 million
Whether you’re a NASCAR fan or not, chances are you’ve heard of the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona. The Dodge Charger Daytona is one of the greatest NASCAR racers of all time, having wiped out the competition in 1969 and became the first American car to reach 200 mph.
To develop the Charger Daytona, Dodge started with a 1969 Charger R/T and gave it an exterior makeover that included adding a nose cone and a large rear wing to improve aerodynamics. There were two engine options – a 440 cubic inch Magnum V8 and the rarer and more desirable 426 cubic inch Hemi V8.
1 1970 Plymouth Superbird – $1.65 million
After the Dodge Charger Daytona wiped everyone out in the 1969 NASCAR season, Chrysler knew it had struck gold. The company had found a winning formula that it could apply to other cars, and that’s exactly what happened when it turned the Plymouth Road Runner into the Superbird.
The Superbird essentially copied the winning formula of the Dodge Charger Daytona. It all started with an exterior makeover that included the incorporation of aerodynamic elements such as a nose cone and rear wing. They then outfitted it with a powerful V8 engine, with some versions getting the 426 cubic-inch Hemi V8. A 1970 Hemi-powered Plymouth Superbird sold at a Barrett-Jackson auction for a whopping $1.65 million, setting a new record for the car.