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Muscle cars like the Dodge Challenger are fast, loud, and raucous good-time machines. However, with industry shifts toward fuel economy and electrification, the days of the muscle car might be numbered. Still, we can revel in some of history’s craziest and fastest American V8 cars, like the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 and the Chevrolet Corvette. Here are some of the fastest muscle machines by decades, starting with the Swinging Sixties. 

The 1960s were some of the first years of the American muscle car

A Shelby Cobra, like a Chevrolet Corvette, is light, quick, and seriously fast.
Shelby Cobra | Getty Images

The fastest muscle car of the 1960s was none other than the beloved Shelby Cobra. Carroll Shelby sympathetically mated a Ford V8 with an AC-sourced British roadster body and created the first Shelby Cobra. More than just fast, Car and Driver says a V8-powered Cobra could hit 60 mph in just over four seconds on its way to 200 mph. 

The 1970s had significant muscle but also an unfortunate crisis

One of the fastest muscle cars of the 1970s is the venerable Chevrolet Corvette. The 1971 Chevrolet Corvette LS6 posted a 0-60 mph time of just 5.3 seconds. That’s quick by today’s standards, but cars soon after were hampered by the oil crisis. Of course, for it to qualify, you’d have to consider the C3 Corvette more of a muscle car than a true sports car. 

Muscle cars of the 1980s were hampered by emissions standards

The Buick Grand National is one of the fastest muscle cars from the 1980s
Buick Grand National GNX | Rodrigo Vaz, FilmMagic

Even with emissions standards, the 1986 Buick Regal Grand National is one of the fastest muscle cars to 60 mph from the 1980s. With its eager turbocharged six-cylinder engine, the Grand National could hit 60 in just 4.9 seconds. Furthermore, the unorthodox muscle machine is a bit of a collector’s item now. 

The 1990s had some cool cars, like the Dodge Viper 

I know, the Dodge Viper is as much a muscle car as a Corvette, but it still earns its spot. The 1997 Dodge Viper GTS and its famous V10 could smash a sprint to 60 in around 4 seconds, making it quick enough to go toe-to-toe with European supercars of the day. Plus, its styling made it an instantly recognizable performance car, and its V10 engine set it apart from the many V8 and V12 rockets of the day.  

Muscle cars made it into the new millennium and gave us treasures like the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

An S197 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 with blue stripes shows off its front-end styling at a car show.
A pre-facelift Shelby GT500 | Bryan Mitchell, Getty Images

Mustang: Must-Buy Ponies Before You Can’t Afford Them

As the Chevrolet Corvette and Dodge Viper evolved into supercar-esque machines, the 2000s still maintained a library of great muscle cars. The 2000s saw the resurgence of retro-styled muscle like the S197 Mustang and Dodge Challenger SRT8, but Shelby again delivered a rocket. According to MotorTrend, the 500-horsepower 2008 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 could hit 60 in just 4.3 seconds, making it one of the fastest muscle cars of the decade. 

The last decade has seen some of the fastest swan song American muscle cars ever 

With electrification on the horizon, it is a bittersweet time for car enthusiasts. However, the segment isn’t going quietly into the night. In fact, the Mopar mad scientists at Dodge built the muscle car to end them all in 2023. The 1,025-horsepower Dodge Challenger SRT Demon 170 could do wheelies right from the factory. That’s not all; the Demon 170 could blitz to 60 mph in just 1.66 seconds on a prepped surface. 

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