10 Affordable American Muscle Cars

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If you think owning your very own American muscle car is a dream, think again—you can find plenty of classic American muscle cars in good condition on the open market for under $20,000, but you need to know what to look for to get the best deal.
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To learn what kind of muscle cars you can find on the market (without a huge price tag), keep reading!

What is an American muscle car?

American muscle cars emerged in the 1960s when car manufacturers stuck big engines, typically V8s, into the bodies of family-style sedans. This created the archetype of a big, powerful, growling, wide-bodied, mobile-beast that became iconic—the Pontiac GTO is a great example. 
Old school hot rodding style was born, and soon, these automotive animals were outrunning even classic sports cars.
Nowadays, muscle cars are more modern, tech-filled, and expensive. Fuel efficiency is prided these days over raw power.
So, if you’re looking for that classic roar of an American muscle car, built for power and nothing else, the good news is you can find secondhand classics on the open market for a decent price.
Of course, price ranges and car conditions vary, so use the internet and some old-school sleuthing to find a golden-era muscle car for an affordable price. Here are ten excellent muscle cars you should keep your eyes peeled for.

Ford Thunderbird (1967-1971)

While original Thunderbirds won’t be easy to find, keep an eye out for later versions, such as fifth generations, which are often more affordable and available on the market.
The fifth-generation Thunderbird is larger and less flashy than its erstwhile competitor, the Ford Mustang. Still, the Thunderbird is a beautiful blend of American automotive luxury and the muscle car ethos.

What makes it worthwhile? 

  • Comes with a standard V8 engine, which provides plenty of power for this cruiser
  • Iconic 1960’s styling
Priced at: You can find one on the open market from between $7,000 to $10,000.

Ford Mustang (1968)

Speaking of the Thunderbird’s foil, you might be able to find a 1st generation of the Ford Mustang—or, the original ‘pony car’—for a decent price. Fully restored ‘68 Mustangs can go for as much as $200,000. Yikes.
The Mustang has been turning heads since its debut with its signature long hood, short deck, and classic overall look.

What makes it worthwhile? 

  • Carries a 302 cubic inch, 4.7 L V8 engine (if you can find a 6-cylinder, it will be cheaper)
  • One of the first cars built with Federal emissions regulations in mind, as well as:
  • Energy-absorbing steering wheel 
  • Shoulder seat belts
Priced at: You can find one on the open market in decent shape for between $12,500 to $17,000.
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Oldsmobile Cutlass S (1969)

An Oldsmobile might bring back memories of your grandmother picking you up after school, but the 1969 Oldsmobile Cutlass S is not your grandmother’s car (well maybe it was when she was younger).

What makes it worthwhile?

  • Oversized, 3rd generation Cutlass with a semi-fast back is full of raw power and can usually be found on the open market in good shape
  • The S offered larger engine options, including a V8 5.7 L engine 
  • The Cutlass is often compared to (and shares many traits with) the Pontiac GTO (one of the original muscle cars) so its surprising that Cutlasses are even available
Priced at: You can find one on the open market for between $12,000 and $15,000.

Dodge Firebird (1970-81)

A classic that spent its formative years scaring the bejesus out of suburban parents throughout the 70s.

What makes it worthwhile?

  • 1st generation Firebirds can be hard to find, so look for ones a bit older
  • They won’t be hard to spot, with their sublime body styling that gives it plenty of flash
  • The 1979 version was a real barnburner, featuring a 6.6 L v8 engine
Priced at: You can find one on the open market for between $8,000 to $15,000.

Chevrolet Camaro (1970-1981)

You’re gonna want to look for a 2nd generation Camaro, as a fully restored 1st gen will set you back a tidy $400,000—if you can find one.

What makes it worthwhile?

  • Second-generation Camaros can be had for a bargain, so long as it's in decent shape
  • The Camaro roared through the 70s with punchy V8 engine, not to mention Chevy’s distinct, muscle car aesthetic
Priced at: Find one on the open market for between $10,000 to $15,000.

Ford Torino GT (1971)

The Torino wasn’t initially a muscle car—Ford released the Torino both as a sedan and a family-friendly station wagon before releasing the Torino GT coupe in ‘70 and ‘71.

What makes it worthwhile?

  • Though the ‘71 had better interior styling, both versions came with: a hefty 302 cubic inch V8 engine, classic non-functional hood scoop, racing mirrors, full-width tail lights, distinct hubcaps and trim
  • Renowned for great performance, even though it was only available for two years
  • A solid aftermarket for parts still exists all these years later
Priced at: Find one on the open market for between $12,000 to $19,000

Ford Ranchero (1972-1979)

If this rig isn’t quite an El Camino, think of it as the Camino’s look-alike cousin, who you see around town but can’t quite place.

What makes it worthwhile?

  • Or just the El Camino’s doppelganger with a pickup-style open rear built on a station wagon chassis
  • The Ranchero is usually cheaper to buy than an El Camino, but still badass
  • 6th generation models are usually easiest to find on the market, though the GT version is typically cheaper than the 351
  • Ranchero came with either four-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission, so if stick shift is your thing, search for the former
  • If you want that distinctive, guttural muscle car growl, you’ll need to look for a Ranchero with a big block V8 engine
Priced at: Find one on the open market for between $7,000 to $10,000.
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Chevrolet Monte Carlo (1973-1977)

Motor Trend named the Monte Carlo “Car of the year”...in 1973, so it was turning heads long before you set your lonely eyes on its front hood jutting aggressively in front of the cabin, slim opera-style rear windows, and (optional at the time) driver and passenger mirrors.

What makes it worthwhile?

  • This two-door coupe is a muscle car that looks like a beast on wheels, especially in red
  • Look for a 2nd generation Monte Carlo, easiest to find
  • It came standard with a V8 engine
  • Power-steering also standard
Priced at: Find one on the open market for between $7,000 to $15,000.

Chevrolet El Camino (1973-1977)

You’ll want to look for a 4th generation version of this unforgettable, genre-defining muscle car. 

What makes it worthwhile?

  • 4th generation is the largest El Camino in what was a big line already, and offers even more presence when you roll around town in it
  • 5.7 L V8 engine
Priced at: It's a bit harder to find these nowadays, but if you can locate one it'll set you back around $10,000.

Dodge Charger (1974)

The Charger was Dodge’s first high-speed street racing dragon, setting a standard for the carmaker which it continues to honor today.

What makes it worthwhile?

  • Look for a 3rd generation, 1974-77 Charger
  • 5.9 L engine with 200 horsepower still packs a good punch
  • Also was offered with either automatic or four speed-manual transmission
Priced at: You can find one on the market for around $13,000.

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