Special Report

20 Worst Muscle Cars Ever Released

1978 Ford Mustang II King Cobra
dave_7 from Lethbridge, Canada / Wikimedia Commons

The automotive industry has experienced a seismic shift in the last few decades. Americans are now hyper-conscious of fuel efficiency. Hybrid vehicles have become a favorite among environmentally conscious consumers, as well as those who simply want to spend less at the gas pump. Electric vehicles are almost certain to become the dominant player in the industry in the future (although American drivers’ adoption of EVs has been much slower than analysts had predicted). When considering a new vehicle purchase, MPG (miles per gallon) is often one of the main metrics consumers use to make their decision.

However, if we could flip the calendar back 40-60 years or so, we would see a vastly different industry catering to the desires of consumers that deeply contrast with those of today’s drivers. Far from hybrids and EVs, the 1960s-1980s marked the golden age of the muscle car era.

Muscle cars were not economical grocery-getters. They were exactly what the name implies: cars that were built for power and speed. (If you have a real need for speed, here’s a look at the 20 fastest American cars ever made.) These brawny cars guzzled gas like it was going out of style, and they were absolutely idolized, especially by younger generations. Popular music groups such as the Beach Boys promoted the romantic notion of racing muscle cars through their lyrics (“To get the traction I’m ridin’ the clutch, My pressure plate’s burnin’, that machine’s too much”). Nostalgia can lead us to believe that, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, every guy wanted a muscle car and every girl wanted a guy with a muscle car. This kind of reminiscence is, of course, an exaggeration and not an accurate representation of past reality. Still, there is no denying that muscle cars were all the rage in these bygone decades.

The Worst of the Muscle Car Era

Stacked cars in city junkyard
Source: National Archives at College Park / Wikimedia Commons
The manufacturers of these cars probably wish they had “scrapped” their ideas and started from scratch.

Some of the most popular muscle cars ever produced include the 1964 Pontiac GTO, the 1965 Ford Shelby Mustang, the 1968 Chevrolet Corvette, and the 1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird. But, along with these icons, some serious duds were also marketed as muscle cars. Here is a look at some of the worst muscle cars ever released.

Determining the worst muscle cars is an inherently subjective exercise. Gearheads can debate this topic ad infinitum. To add a bit more objectivity to the process, 24/7 Wall St. consulted the muscle car reviews on six authoritative automotive websites and blogs. Only cars that were mentioned among the worst on multiple sites were included in this list. This helped eliminate any single reviewer who may have a personal axe to grind against a specific car. Even so, you may still disagree with some of our findings. Or, to put it in car parlance, your mileage may vary. And that’s part of what makes muscle cars so great. They are endlessly interesting and provoke spirited discussion among enthusiasts.

Because the “worst muscle car ever” is an imprecise and opinion-based metric, the cars on our list are not ranked best-to-worst or worst-to-best. Instead, they are simply ordered chronologically based on the year of release.

1. Pontiac Tempest

1968 Pontiac Tempest Custom
Source: Greg Gjerdingen from Willmar, USA / Wikimedia Commons
The Pontiac Tempest was a popular car throughout much of the 1960s, but the “Coke bottle” styling that was released later in the decade was not well-received by consumers.
  • Worst Model Years: 1968-1970

2. Ford Maverick Grabber

1973 Ford Maverick Grabber
Source: Bull-Doser / Wikimedia Commons
Later models of the Ford Maverick Grabber only featured 129 horsepower. It was a muscle car without much muscle.
  • Worst Model Years: 1971-1975

3. Ford Pinto

1978 Ford Pinto
Source: dave_7 from Lethbridge, Canada / Wikimedia Commons
The infamous Pinto featured a gas tank that could rupture upon impact, making rear-end collisions exceptionally dangerous. Oh, and it was also super slow, especially by muscle car standards.
  • Worst Model Years: 1971-1980

4. Ford Mustang II

1976 Ford Mustang II
Source: RL GNZLZ from Chile / Wikimedia Commons
The Ford Mustang is one of the most iconic of all American muscle cars, but the Mustang II was slower and heavier than its predecessor.
  • Worst Model Years: 1974-1978

5. Ford Torino

1974 Ford Gran Torino Elite
Source: dave_7 / Wikimedia Commons
The 1974 Gran Torino was heavy and slow compared to previous models (despite what we were led to believe while watching “Starsky & Hutch”).
  • Worst Model Years: 1974-1976

6. Pontiac GTO

1974 Pontiac GTO coupe
Source: MercurySable99 / Wikimedia Commons
The 1964 GTO is among the most beloved muscle cars of all time, but the 1974 model was basically a Chevy Ventura with a GTO option package. It didn’t fool anybody, though.
  • Worst Model Year: 1974

7. Chevrolet Monza

1977 Chevrolet Monza Towne Coupe
Source: order_242 from Chile, cropped and levels adjusted by uploader Mr.choppers / Wikimedia Commons
The Chevy Monza was marketed as a muscle car, but it lacked power and performance. The Monza is one of the least popular cars Chevrolet ever produced.
  • Worst Model Years: 1975-1980

8. Plymouth Volare Road Runner

1980 Plymouth Volare Roadrunner
Source: Greg Gjerdingen from Willmar, USA / Wikimedia Commons
The Plymouth Volare Roadrunner lacked power. It was also recalled due to severe rusting issues.
  • Worst Model Years: 1976-1980

9. Pontiac Trans Am

Las Vegas Hosts Annual CES Trade Show
Source: Ethan Miller / Getty Images News via Getty Images
Kitt from the ’80s TV series “Knight Rider” was a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. Setting aside the futuristic design (no, it didn’t actually come with those flashing red lights), the standard engine only produced 90 horsepower.
  • Worst Model Years: 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982

10. AMC Gremlin

1978 AMC Gremlin X
Source: Christopher Ziemnowicz / Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
1978 was the last year for the underwhelming Gremlin.
  • Worst Model Year: 1978

11. Dodge Challenger

1981 Dodge Challenger X
Source: Mr.choppers / Wikimedia Commons
The second generation Dodge Challenger was merely a rebadged Mitsubishi Galant Lambda coupe.
  • Worst Model Years: 1978-1983

12. Ford Mustang II King Cobra

1978 Ford Mustang II King Cobra
Source: Michel Curi / Wikimedia Commons
While the Mustang II was listed earlier, the 1978 Mustang II King Cobra deserves its own spot on this list. It was essentially a Pinto. Only 4,313 were produced in 1978, the car’s only model year. It is widely regarded as Ford’s worst-ever Mustang model.
  • Worst Model Year: 1978

13. Chevrolet Citation X-11

1980 Chevrolet Citation X-11 hatchback at the Rambler Ranch
Source: Christopher Ziemnowicz / Wikimedia Commons
The Chevy Citation X-11 was subjected to a record number of recalls for quality and safety issues.
  • Worst Model Years: 1980-1985

14. Chevrolet Corvette California 305

1980 Chevrolet Corvette C3
Source: Corvesprit / Wikimedia Commons
In California, the 1980 Corvette was stripped down to a 305 cubic inch motor that only produced 180 horsepower. It was also only available with a three-speed automatic transmission. These changes were necessitated by the state’s strict emissions standards, but the end result was the worst Corvette ever produced. (C3 model is pictured.)
  • Worst Model Year: 1980

15. DeLorean DMC-12

1981 DeLorean DMC-12
Source: Tim Green / Wikimedia Commons
The 1981 DeLorean DMC-12 was made famous in “Back to the Future,” but it featured a serious lack of performance in the real world. The car’s V6 took 10.5 seconds to reach 60 mph. It would take Doc and Marty quite a while to reach the 88 mph needed for time travel!
  • Worst Model Years: 1980-1981

16. Mercury Capri Turbo RS

1980 Mercury Capri RS Turbo
Source: Spanish Coches / Wikimedia Commons
The Mercury Capri Turbo RS was prone to breakdowns and quickly developed a reputation as an unreliable car.
  • Worst Model Years: 1980-1981

17. Pontiac Grand Prix

1980 Pontiac Grand Prix
Source: Greg Gjerdingen from Willmar, USA / Wikimedia Commons
0-60 in 14 seconds is embarrassing for a “muscle car,” but that’s what owners of a 1980 Pontiac Grand Prix experienced.
  • Worst Model Years: 1980-1981

18. Chevrolet Camaro

1982 Chevrolet Camaro
Source: SsmIntrigue / Wikimedia Commons
1982 Camaros that were equipped with the “Iron Duke” engine took a full 20 seconds(!) to go from 0-60 mph.
  • Worst Model Years: 1982-1985

19. Ford Thunderbird

1982 Ford Thunderbird Town Landau
Source: Mr.choppers / Wikimedia Commons
The 1982 Thunderbird only featured 120 horsepower, which was not enough for this large car. Ford beefed up the following generation of the Thunderbird.
  • Worst Model Year: 1982

20. Dodge Charger

1985 Dodge Shelby Charger
Source: Greg Gjerdingen from Willmar, USA / Wikimedia Commons
Dodge tried creating a hatchback muscle car with the 1980s iteration of the Charger. It didn’t turn out well.
  • Worst Model Years: 1983-1987

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