7 muscle cars before the GTO


Many say Pontiac invented the muscle car in 1964 when it introduced the Pontiac GTO. Jim Wangers disagrees.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2018/05/01/muscle-cars-before-the-gto


Let’s not forget about the Dodge D-501, which DID have a Hemi engine. I owned a '57 Dodge, but was the polyspherical combustion chamber variety. Of course, today’s “Hemi” does not have hemispherical combustion chambers, so it’s all a marketing ploy.


The Olds Super Sport hat a 390/4 barrel that could move with the best in the mid/late 50s. The Buick Invicta/Wildcat had a 401/4 barrel could lay rubber. That nail head engine with 440 torch and the upscale 460(?) double 4 barrel from the start put in the early Wildcats. Some don’t look at Oldsmobile or Buick as offering a muscle car, but these were impressive. The early Wildcats could be had with the 401 with a 4 speed. A rare car but it could on the so called muscle cars of its day. Dad had a 57 Super Sport and my first car was a 64 Wildcat that did well with its Dyna-flow transmission.

Nice article!!!


I loved that article I’d love any of the cars mentioned. in 1965 I had a 58 Plymouth Fury. with a little help from an Isky cam it would keep up with any GTO.


More unappreciated MoPar muscle came in the ram-inducted 383s in the '60 and '61 Darts and Plymouths. Those engines were officially rated at 330 HP, but the same engines. without the ram tubes, were rated at 345 in the Dodge and 350 in the DeSoto. I abused a '60 Fury back in 1960-1964 and with 4.10 gears and Hedman Hedders it surprised even 409/409 Chevys. In fact, Al Eckstrand took the S/SA title at the 1960 NHRA Nationals with his '60 Fury and the Ramchargers '61 Pioneer (but with a ram 413) was the best performer at the 1961 affair.
Joe Godec


GM offered the 396 Porcupine head motor in the Chevelle in late 65. By that time the 348/409 was already on it’s way out. The 350 horse 327 was plenty potent with the new for 65 distributor. I remember seeing plenty of 1960 Ford Starliners slammed with cheater pipes hanging under the car. I’m pretty sure the 4 speed manual and a 390 FE was available then. The best part is how these drive trains could be had in any model including station wagons but most chose the 2 door hardtop as a statement. The Chrysler 300’s were fast and Studebakers with the super charger option were no slouches either. Even Ford’s 312 Y-block, supercharged were reportedly putting out 350 HP in 57.


All great cars!! however, the GTO is still the first Musclecar by definition. Not the first Fast car for sure. Most of the cars mentioned were expensive or just a big car with a big car motor. If any car challenges the GTO based on the traditional definition it would be the late 30’s Buick Century. They were specifically a smaller car with a bigger cars engine with the intent to go fast.


Prior to 1960 American manufacturers had a one size fits all line up. The differences ion any model line up was the wheel base. 2 door, or 4 door. There was no small car in which one could install a big car motor. There were some variations especially ion the GM line. Bonneville versus Catalina. Olds 88 versus 98. Buick and Cadillac even got into the wheelbase act but overall a Chevy was Chevy. 1960 saw the introduction of the Falcon/Comet, the Valiant/Lancer and the Corvair. Soon after we saw the Tempest/Skylark/F-85 variants. Rambler was really the only manufacturer with a small, mid-size and full size model lineup. 1964 saw the addition of the Chevelle/Tempest/Skylark/Cutlass line we all know so well. Let’s not forget the Mustang for 1964. Prior to those years all you could do was swap a Cadillac or Buick or Chrysler “big car” motor into your 40 Ford or your 55 Chevy. Personally I drove a 56 Victoria 2 door hardtop with a 58 Ford 352 FE Police Interceptor utilizing a Lakewood bell housing coupled to a T-10 4 speed. I could give a 66 Chevelle 396 a run for its money as long as it was the 325 horse version. I couldn’t catch the 360 horse version but it sure was fun trying!


One of the first muscle cars that no one remembers is the 1957-58 Studebaker Golden Hawks, with a factory supercharged 289 c.i. engine were one of the fastest cars of the era.


Studebaker pioneered a number of things back in the day. The Loewy-designed car in 1949 actually got closer to the ground the faster it went.
The Stude Hawks were pretty much the fastest things on the road in their day and the Avanti with the 289 R3 engine set records at Bonneville that stood for years after the fact. Plus they all looked pretty cool.
Not to mention that Andy Granatelli started STP under the Studebaker tutelage.


I couldn’t agree more! The ‘57 Golden Hawk with the supercharger was, I believe, the first production car to produce 1 HP per cubic inch: 289/289. All in a relatively light (for the time) hardtop coupe. Sounds like a muscle car to me.


There was no such thing as a Olds Super Sport. There was a J2 tri-carb option for '57-58, however.


Plymouth and Dodge didn’t have an engine with more hp than the Sonoramic 383. There was a D-500 383-4 that was rated at 325 hp, which I believe was primarily used for police duty.

I believe the DeSoto’s cross-ram engine (Ram Charge was the name?) was also rated at 330 hp.


I am sorry; you are correct. I meant Olds Super 88. It was a fast car for its weight. Thank you for your correction.


Wasn’t John Delorean credited with developing the GTO?


The 56 Golden hawk was the originator. For 1956 only, it had the Supercharged 352 Packard motor, 57 & 58 had the 289. Also the first “Muscle wagon” is a car I own, a 57 Packard Clipper ( made over Stude), but was the first “blown” wagon, with a MacCullough super charger, bragging 275 HP with a 289 engine.


Let me put it this way:

The 383 with 2X4V in-line carburetion on the '59 Dodge D-500 was listed as having 345 HP and the DeSoto Adventurer engine that year (with a different paint scheme) was given 350 horses, but both engines came out of just one plant. In 1960, the standard ram 413 on the 300F (not the 300F “Special”) was advertised at 375 HP. It stands to reason that since the 383 has 93% of the displacement of the 413, with virtually the same internal components (i.e., valve gear, heads, cam, piston configuration, exhaust, etc. without taking into account less friction), it should develop 93% of the horsepower of the bigger mill, or some 350-360 ponies. This corresponds to the 345/350 of the '59 high performance 383s. I think it rather odd that there be a power reduction in the early days of the horsepower wars. I have it from some rather reputable sources that there was some rather nasty internal corporate politicking going on at the time regarding lowly Dart and Plymouth having that much power available, particularly with the image the Plymouth Division wished to present (read “STAID”). In fact, the intended big engine for Plymouth in 1960 was supposed to be the ram 361 and the ram 383 was made available later in the model year only because of pressure from Plymouth dealers – and even at that, the “Plymmer’s” ram 361 supposedly had 310 ponies, while the identical engine in the Dart somehow got 10 more, or 320 (different colors but same engine from the same plant), Interestingly, the 2X4V in-line carbed 361 in 1958 had 325 horses.

Incidently, the internal passages on those old “Long Ram” were often modified by cutting away the internal passages to maximize the top end performance. Plymouth produced only 1577 ram cars (361s and 383s – in about equal numbers), but I don’t know the Dart figures nor that for the '61 model year. I can speak from some experience on these cars as I not only have a “SonoRamic Commando” '60 Fury in my stable now, but I also campaigned a similar car back in 1960-1962.


I neglected to mention the 1956 Golden Hawk, with the Packard 352 c.i. V8 it was the fastest car of its era.  And, the Loewy/ Bourke designed 53-55 coupes were so aerodynamic that they are still         running them at the Salt Flats to this day.


I wish to say that we should not forget that 57 American Motors Rebel 327 ,it was one of the hot cars of 50’s , Lets not leave out the orphan cars .


My grandmother had a '56 Studebaker special ordered with the 352 Packard engine with a single 4 bbl carb. One of my friends won the trophy for the fastest stock car at Ponoma in a 60 Ford Starliner. “Gran’s” Stude at him alive on the street.