The muscle car era ended abruptly in 1973 thanks to a combination of emissions regulations and the OPEC oil embargo. That didn’t stop American companies from trying to build muscle cars, but the results were often a far cry from what they sold just a few years before. These examples managed to look the part while offering laughable performance.
1980 Corvette 305 “California”
America’s sports car is as famous for its monster engine as its track performance, but by 1980, the highest-performance ‘Vette had a 190 hp 350. Californians had it worse: the 350 couldn’t pass the state’s emissions tests, so they were stuck with a 305 producing just 180 hp. Performance was further reduced by only being offered with a 3-speed automatic and a high rear axle ratio.
1978 AMC Gremlin GT
For most of its life, the Gremlin could be purchased with AMC’s 304 V8 and X or Rallye-X packages to add performance. The GT took this a step further graphically with fender flares and blacked-out body parts, but the only engine offered was the 258 straight-6, an engine usually found in trucks from Jeep and International Harvester. With no top-end power, these engines kept the GT from matching its performance appearance.
Volare Road Runner
The original Road Runner’s mix of cheeky styling, big engines and basic equipment made it a fun, affordable entry into the ’60s muscle car market while the Super Bird became a legend both on the street and in NASCAR. The package returned in 1976, but this time, it was on the Volare, a car famous for rusting while still on dealer lots. With engines topping out at 190 hp, it wasn’t enough to push past the car’s quality problems.
Ford Mustang King Cobra
A few attempts were made to bring performance to the Mustang II, culminating in 1978’s King Cobra. The graphics set out to challenge the Trans Am’s “Screaming Chicken” with a giant snake on the hood, but it was stuck with a 302 V8 producing 139 hp, or about 80 hp less than that year’s top-end Pontiac Trans Am.
Chevy Citation X-11
A 135 hp V6 and a lightweight FWD platform gave the X-11 impressive performance by early ’80s standards. Unfortunately, it also inherited the Citation’s terrible build quality and grabby rear brakes: Use them in a corner, and the car would be happy to swap ends.
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