During the short-lived golden age of muscle cars, high-powered Mopars dominated both the roads and the drag strips. While many of these muscle cars were equipped with the iconic Elephant engine, there were a few standout models that made their mark with different high-performance engines.
One such legendary engine was the 426 HEMI, originally developed for NASCAR racing but later introduced in road-legal Dodges and Plymouths starting in 1966. From this point on, HEMI-powered Mopars became the apex predators of the muscle car food chain, with few competitors able to outperform them. From the mid-1960s to 1971, the HEMI was an option for all Dodge and Plymouth models aspiring to be muscle cars.
However, there were several Mopar muscle cars that earned their spot in the proverbial muscle car Hall of Fame without the HEMI power. Here are five epic Mopar muscle cars from that era:
1963 Dodge Polara 500 Max Wedge:
Two years before Pontiac introduced the trend-setting GTO and four years before the debut of the street HEMI, Chrysler developed a high-performance version of the 413-ci (6.7-liter) RB-block V8. Dubbed the Maximum Performance Wedge, this engine, marketed as the Ramcharger 413 for Dodge and the Super Stock 413 for Plymouth, was a drag-strip-oriented option available on the 1962 B-body intermediates like the Dodge Polara.
The 1963 Dodge Polara 500 Max Wedge looked like a standard Polara on the outside, but under the hood, it packed a powerful punch. With 415 or 420 horsepower (depending on the compression ratio), this engine turned the sporty Polara 500 into a muscle car sleeper.
1969 Plymouth Road Runner 440 Six BBL:
As the muscle car craze reached its peak, Plymouth and Dodge introduced affordable performance intermediates to their lineups in the 1968 model year. The Plymouth Road Runner, based on the Belvedere, became a popular choice among enthusiasts. Initially available with a performance-oriented version of the 383 V8 or the optional (and expensive) HEMI, the Road Runner received a middle-ground engine option in the second half of the 1969 model year.
Known as the 440 Six BBL (or 440 Six-Pack for Dodges), this engine featured a trio of two-barrel Holley carburetors and produced 390 horsepower. It was nearly half the price of the HEMI option but still delivered impressive performance. The 1969 Road Runner 440 Six BBL came with a unique matte-black fiberglass lift-off hood, a HEMI-grade suspension, and a Dana 60 rear axle with a 4:10 gearing.
1969 Dodge Dart Swinger 340:
While Plymouth’s Road Runner was a sales success, the Dodge Super Bee fell short of expectations. However, Dodge didn’t give up on the budget-friendly muscle car formula and applied it to the 1969 Dart. Marketed with the slogan “6,000 RPM for under three grand,” the 1969 Dart Swinger 340 was a no-frills compact with impressive performance.
Under the hood, Dodge installed the high-performance 340-ci (5.5-liter) small block engine, previously available in the more expensive Dart GTS. Rated at 275 horsepower, this engine featured components like a hot camshaft, a forged crankshaft, heavy-duty conrods, and forged pistons. Independent dyno tests revealed that the lightweight V8 could make close to 350 horsepower. The 1969 Dart Swinger 340 also came with a heavy-duty suspension, a limited-slip differential, and a choice of a four-speed manual or TorqueFlite automatic transmission.
1970 Plymouth AAR ‘Cuda:
While the restyled 1970 Plymouth Barracuda, especially when equipped with the HEMI, was one of the fastest street-legal cars in the US, there were other ‘Cuda-based Mopar muscle cars introduced in 1970 that captured attention. One of them was the AAR ‘Cuda, conceived to homologate Dan Gurney’s All American Racers (AAR) Barracudas for the SCCA Trans-Am series.
The AAR ‘Cuda was powered by a 340-ci (5.5-liter) V8 engine with special iron heads, solid lifters, and three two-barrel Holley carbs mounted on top of an Edelbrock aluminum intake. The small block engine was rated at 290 horsepower, but its real-world performance exceeded that figure. The AAR ‘Cuda sported an eye-catching appearance package with Plymouth’s “high-impact” colors, matte-black accents, a distinctive ducktail spoiler, and staggered wheel sizes.
1970 Chrysler 300 Hurst:
To add variety to this list, we’ll include the only Chrysler of the era with genuine muscle car aspirations. Based on the two-door coupe version of the 300 non-letter series, the 300 Hurst was the largest vehicle considered a classic muscle car today. Developed in collaboration with Hurst, a legendary aftermarket shifter manufacturer turned performance consultant, the 300 Hurst boasted unique two-tone paint, a fiberglass scooped hood, and a rear spoiler made from the same lightweight material.
Under the hood, the 300 Hurst featured a standard 440-ci (7.2-liter) TNT V8 engine rated at 377 horsepower. This engine was essentially a rebadged 440 Magnum and propelled the two-ton beast from 0 to 60 mph in a respectable 7.1 seconds. To enhance control, Chrysler equipped the 300 Hurst with a heavy-duty suspension consisting of rear leaf springs and front torsion bars.
These five Mopar muscle cars demonstrate that while HEMI power may have been the epitome of performance during the golden age of muscle cars, there were other formidable options that carved their place in the muscle car Hall of Fame. With their unique engines and impressive performance, these iconic Mopar muscle cars left an enduring mark in automotive history.