If you are a classic cars fan, it’s impossible to ignore the insane number of awesome classic cars American automakers have built over the years. The American auto industry has produced amazing classic cars that are revered all over the globe, including icons like the 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray, the Shelby Cobra Super Snake, and the 1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Most of these cars featured incredible V8 engines. Subscribe to HotCars Premium to learn about the best V8s we’ve ever seen.
However, for every great well-known classic American car, there’s at least one other that flies under the radar of most gearheads, even though they’re just as awesome as the well-known icons. This article explores ten underrated American classic cars every gearhead should know about.
10 2000 Saleen S7
In 1983, American entrepreneur and former racing driver Steve Saleen established Saleen Automotive with one goal—to build world-class supercars that could compete with European options. More than a decade later, Saleen introduced its first model—the S7.
Although the S7 was Saleen’s first car, it was hard to tell as it had a proper supercar design. It was also a powerhouse, thanks to a 7.0-liter Ford Windsor V8 tuned by Saleen to produce 550 hp and later updated to 750 hp for the twin-turbo version. With a 0-60 of just 2.8 seconds and a top speed of 240 mph, the S7 is still one of the fastest American cars ever made.
9 Ford Fairlane 500 R-Code
1966 is arguably the greatest year for the Ford Fairlane. For starters, the 1966 Fairlane had an all-new design that looked meaner and more aggressive than previous versions. 1966 is also the year that Ford built the most powerful Fairlane version ever—the 500 R-Code.
The ‘R’ in R-Code stands for Racing, which indicates the performance-oriented nature of this car. Equipped with a massive 7.0-liter V8 dishing out 425 hp, the 500 R-Code was a drag strip monster. Only 57 Fairlane 500 R-Codes were ever built, making it one of the rarest Ford cars ever.
8 AMC Rebel Machine
AMC has been dead for decades, but we’ll always remember it for giving us many iconic cars. One of the best cars AMC built was the Rebel Machine—a high-performance version of the Rebel built in 1970 only.
The Rebel Machine was equipped with the most powerful engine available in 1970—a 390 cu in V8 developed in collaboration with Hurst. The Rebel Machine produced 340 hp, but buyers could get a $500 service pack to raise that to 400 hp.
7 Vector W8
Vector Motors has largely been quiet over the last two decades, but back in the ’90s, it was one of the most promising American sports car manufacturers. Vector’s main goal was to build world-class supercars that could face off against Lamborghinis and Ferraris and come out on top.
Vector’s best model was the W8. Introduced in 1989, the W8 is a superb mid-engined sports car that stunned gearheads with its alluring wedge-shaped design and mighty 625-hp twin-turbocharged V8. Only 19 W8s were ever built, which is why it can fetch close to $1 million at auctions.
6 1971 GMC Sprint SP
The Chevy El Camino was a huge success for General Motors. This weird pickup truck and muscle car combo was so popular that the company decided to build another model using the same formula as the El Camino—the GMC Sprint SP.
The Sprint SP had several engine options, with the best being the LS4 454. With an output of 365 hp, the 1971 Sprint SP was a beast.
5 Buick GNX
The ’80s decade was terrible for the muscle car industry. With automakers struggling to meet new emission requirements, the muscle cars built during that decade were absolutely horrible. Not all of them, though, as the Buick GNX was a masterpiece.
The GNX started out as the Grand National—a two-door coupe that had an aggressive, boxy design but lacked the performance to back it up. Buick collaborated with McLaren on the project, who equipped the GNX with a twin-turbocharged V6 producing around 300 hp. The GNX took just 4.4 seconds to accelerate to 60 mph, which was quicker than some of the best sports cars of the ’80s.
4 GMC Typhoon
SUVs aren’t expected to be fast. However, GM decided to change that in the early ’90s when it built the Typhoon. The Typhoon is essentially the SUV version of the more popular Syclone.
The Typhoon was equipped with a 4.3-liter turbocharged V6 engine pumping out 280 hp. With a 0-60 of just 5.3 seconds, the Typhoon was quicker than popular sports cars like the Nissan 300ZX Turbo, Chevy Corvette, and even the Ferrari 348ts.
3 Panoz Esperante GTR-1
Panoz is one of those small American automakers that most gearheads have never heard of. However, in the ’90s, Panoz was one of the few American automakers competing in top motorsports competitions like the FIA GT1 Championship, IMSA GT, and 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Panoz competed in the championships with the awesome Esperante GTR-1—a supercar that looked like the Batmobile. The Esperante GTR-1 competed against cars built by the likes of Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, which is why Panoz equipped it with a 600-hp V8 tuned by Roush Racing.
2 1970 Chrysler Hurst 300
In the mid-50s, Chrysler introduced the 300—a personal luxury sedan intended to compete against Lincoln and Cadillac models. The 300 offered a lot of space and luxury features for the first four generations, but it wasn’t known for performance.
Tired of the 300 getting bashed for poor performance, Chrysler collaborated with Hurst Performance and built the Hurst 300 in 1970. Hurst didn’t disappoint, as they equipped the 300 with a monstrous 7.2-liter V8 producing 375 hp. Less than 500 examples exist, all painted Spinnaker White and gold.
1 1989 Ford Taurus SHO
The Taurus was an important car for Ford in the ’80s. Although there was nothing really special about the Taurus, it sold so many units and helped the Blue Oval brand get through one of the toughest financial challenges it has ever faced.
Although the Taurus was a strong seller, many complained that it was too slow, prompting Ford to introduce the high-performance Taurus SHO in 1989. The Taurus SHO had a 3.0-liter Yamaha V6 belting out 220 hp, giving it great performance.