Here's How You Can Find The Coolest American Muscle For Your Buck – HotCars

Our guide to help you stay away from the insanely pricey models and buy affordable parts for a car that’s just as cool as the Camaro or Charger.
More than fifty years after the muscle car era and the original horsepower wars, there still isn't a need to introduce it. The sheer size of its impact shook the world and gave birth to irresponsible hot rodding.
If that sounds like something you'd enjoy, then get in line because hot rodding and wrenching on muscle cars is one of the very best ways to get familiarized with cars in general. Old American cars are simple and cheap to build. But there is a reason for that.
When a cultural juggernaut like the horsepower war was in full effect, you better believe that every company pumped out as many different muscle cars as possible. This left future generations and eventual gearheads with a plethora of muscle cars and parts to choose from when their horsepower sweet tooth finally took over.
So, if you're looking to buy an old muscle car, here's a guide to help you stay away from the insanely pricey models and buy affordable parts for a car that is just as cool as that Camaro or Charger.
There is a phenomenon when shopping for cars online known as "head over heels", where a buyer sees a car they love and proceed to throw any semblance of reason right out the window in order to get that car in their driveway.
It's important that you don't fall head over heels for the first car you see. One way to keep that in check is through a price limit. This should be the amount of money you're willing to spend on the initial car while keeping in mind the cash you will need to spend on parts or labor.
If you have $7,000 for your whole project, you should ideally spend no more $4,000 on your muscle car. This car should be at least running or "ran when parked," and you should know if the transmission is functional as well. If you can find a car like this – one that needs some love but can at least get on a trailer or out of the garage under its own power, you should be good.
With this plan in effect, you have a sweet little piece in your driveway for $4,000, and you have $3,000 left to fix her up. Now let's look at some of the essential things to look for when ordering your first pile of parts.
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Get your car on a lift, jack stands, or ramps and look around the underside. If you didn't do this before you bought it, make sure to look for any rust on the frame rails, floor pans, or driveshaft. These are safety measures that need to be looked at first. You could get the car running, driving, and perfectly tuned, but under power, your frame rail could break and put you at high risk of injury in the event of a crash.
This next part includes things you should spend the bulk of your money on as they are key parts of being able to enjoy your muscle car safely and reliably.
If your floor pans are rusted through, get a set of new ones and weld them in or have a buddy with a welder do it for you. There's nothing more frustrating than trying to work under your car while getting rusty dust in your eyes. It will also help the overall structure of your car reinforce itself.
Assuming that the rear end, engine, and transmission are all functional, then you can go ahead and look for new shocks and springs. Shocks can be extremely expensive, but they are important for road feel and handling. QA1 makes a great shock for all old muscle cars, but they can be pricey, so look at recommendations online for your specific model.
More often than not, your 60-year-old radiator is going to be shot, too. Look for a fully aluminum 3-row radiator with high-scoring reviews. Keeping your engine cool is one of the most important ways to lengthen its life.
Another key thing to look for is the carburetor. Take it off the manifold and look around, inside, and under it to make sure it's not completely corroded with old fuel and rust. If it is, carburetor rebuild kits are available at every parts website for cheap.
But, in the event your carb is long gone, spend the money to get a nice Holley four-barrel 4150 or Edelbrock 1406 Performer carburetor. They will make sure your fuel delivery is on point and will last you a long time if you tune them correctly.
Possibly the most important and most expensive part you will need to look at is brakes. If you know a guy who is a drum brake wizard, then you may be lucky enough to salvage your existing drums. If not, it is recommended you find a disc conversion kit.
This single kit will use up most of your parts budget, but for good reason. A muscle car that can't stop is one you can't have fun in.
If you have your engine running well with that new carburetor, then it may be time to look into wheels and tires. Most enthusiasts forget about tires even though they are the only thing connecting your car to the road at any given time. A good tire will help you brake quicker, accelerate quicker, and turn quicker, making your car more fun and safe in the process.
We recommend a nice Cooper Cobra Radial GT all-season tire or summer tire if you can find a set. They look great and perform even better in a swath of different weather conditions.
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The Pontiac T-37 is one of our favorite-looking muscle cars of the '60s. It has timeless lines, and since it is a GM product, you can fit a monster Pontiac 400 under the hood or even just a mild small-block Chevy, if you'd prefer.
This is yet another fantastic design that was gone underappreciated. The GSX or GS models were some of the first to have those cool 1970s aero packages, so look out for one of those if you're interested.
Most people who hear Cutlass think of a malaise-era car that was brown, oddly shaped, and slow, but that's not the one we're talking about. The late '60s and early '70s Cutlass was just a tick down from the legendary Oldsmobile 442 and was almost just as cool.
Not the Cuda, the Baracuda. This small little muscle car pre-dates the ridiculously popular 1970 Cuda 440/Hemi cars and is a lot cheaper, too. If you want a stylish entry into the Mopar world, then here's your chance.
The star drives plenty of SUVs and sustainable vehicles.
Max Larsen has worked on, driven, and been around cars his whole life. He has been a daily automotive journalist for quite some time and specialized in Porsches, but don’t let that fool you. He grew up with old American cars and turned into an omnivore of sorts. As a Journalism Major, classic rock snob, and car enthusiast, he now writes features for