An overwhelming majority of sources assert that the Adam of the American muscle car species is the 1964 Pontiac GTO. It was certainly the first muscle car to be marketed toward leadfooted baby boomers, but it was not the first high-performance American passenger car. Nor was it the first American car to combine one of its maker’s big car engines with one of its small car body and chassis.
In short, the history of the muscle car stretches back many years before the O.G. Goat showed up. Just how rich is that history? Take a look at the following 10 factory hot rods and we think you’ll agree it’s pretty doggone rich.
The German auto industry has earned a reputation for constructing vehicles of unmatched quality and precision. From the cheapest Volkswagen to the priciest Maybach, cars from the Fatherland generally feel rock solid and, when properly maintained, offer thousands of miles of headache-free service. Why do we use the qualifier “generally?” Well, just like not all French cars are weird and not all American cars are useless when the pavement gets squiggly, not every Auto out of Deutschland has been endowed with impeccable reliability.
As the 1970s were drawing to a close, the traditional formula for a small European sports car (two seats, rear-wheel-drive and a fold-down roof) was being replaced by a new formula: The hot hatch. The first modern hot hatch (We’re excluding the O.G. Mini Cooper, since it had a funky bottom-hinged trunklid rather than a hatch.) to really gain traction in the marketplace was the Volkswagen Golf GTI, which took Europe by storm upon its introduction in 1976 and won a huge following over here beginning in 1983 as the Pennsylvania-built Rabbit GTI.
Naturally, VW’s success did not go unnoticed by the competition; by the early ‘80s there was a bumper crop of diabolical 3-doors being peddled by manufacturers from Europe and Japan. Sadly, not all of them followed in the ur-GTI’s wheeltracks and made it to the U.S. One of the ones we really wish had gotten its Green Card shared part of its name with that of the category’s originator. We speak, of course, of the Peugeot 205 GTI.
It seems like in the 1960s and early ‘70s, you couldn’t have swung a dead cat-shaped bong without hitting a limited-production American V8-powered European exotic. Certainly the Ford-powered DeTomaso Pantera and Mangusta are pretty well known, and many car cognoscenti are familiar with Bizzarrini’s voluptuous, Chevy Small Block-motivated 5300GT Strada.
But what about fans of Mopar powertrains? Sure, the lovely Facel Vegas featured Chrysler mills, but they fall much closer to the relaxed grand tourer end of the spectrum than they do the raucous sports car end. No, we’re looking for something that has the engine in the middle, a wedgey shape and a devil-may-care attitude. Something like…the 1970 Monteverdi Hai 450 SS.