This special class will resonate with a lot of CC readers I expect, even if these cars aren’t likely to be spotted at the curbside any more. Last Days of the American Supercar was the title of the class, as that was the name actually used for these cars in the era, not muscle cars, and was intended to reflect the end of the big horsepower era before the party came to an end. There were eleven cars on display in the class, plus an Australian cousin nearby.
To start with one car in the group that doesn’t really fit with the ‘last days’ aspect of the title – a 1963 Ford Galaxie fastback with the 427 ci R-code engine that was part of Ford’s “Total Performance” era, focussed on the high-bank NASCAR tracks in this case.
This car is an original R-code 4-speed car, and had one family ownership until it was imported in 2015, part of the flood of US cars heading here in the last decade. Only 200 of these cars are known to have survived, and this one had a restoration 40 years ago, and has done just 6,500 miles since. The 427 has dual 4-barrel carburettors and is rumoured to actually make 475 hp rather than the factory rating of 425.
Most of the cars were from 1969-70, starting with this Chevrolet Camaro Z/28, which had the 302 ci engine needed to homologate the car for Trans-Am racing. Unlike most American V8s, these and the competing Ford Mustang Boss 302 were high-winding engines, (under) rated at 290 horsepower.
I didn’t get another shot of the 1969 Chevelle SS 396 in the background, or register which version of the engine it had (350 or 375 hp). Due to limited time at the show, some cars didn’t get full attention.
Next to the Camaro is a much less common car; the GTX version of the Plymouth Belvedere. This was a more highly-equipped car than its Road Runner stablemate, and also came with a 440 engine standard, effectively cutting out any sort of ‘base model’ and was consequently much less popular. This one has the optional 426 Hemi engine, and has been in Australia for 4 years.
Another high-end supercar was the “banker’s hotrod” Buick Gran Sport or GS, another version of the second generation A-body. There were fewer than 1500 cars built with the Stage 1 option. This meant the 401 engine (officially nominated at 400 cubic inches because that was an internal GM limit for intermediate cars) had 350 hp instead of the standard 340, as well as a shorter 3.64:1 diff ratio. With a shorter first gear in the TH400 trans than other cars the GS was respectably quick.
This car is unique because it was sold new here, and thus has a right-hand drive conversion. The car was restored in 1990, and remains in excellent condition.
The last of the 1969 cars featured is probably the rarest, thanks to some shenanigans by Mercury when homologating the Cyclone Spoiler II – amongst the 503 cars lined up for inspection by NASCAR officials were a bunch of the standard non-II Spoilers; they didn’t check all the cars closely enough to pick up that they didn’t all have the extended nose and flush grille needed to compete on the super speedways. The car has a 351 Windsor V8, so not the most powerful here, but its Cale Yarborough race replica colour scheme probably makes the most impact. There was another variation of the car with blue accents for Dan Gurney’s car.
The Plymouth Superbird is the best place to start with the 1970 models. I don’t think a lot needs to be said about this icon, which is good because I don’t know much about the specific car…
The Dodge Coronet R/T 6-pack (doesn’t the Sublime colour fit in well with the modern hi-visibility safety requirement!) is another one of an almost bewildering array of Mopar muscle cars of the era – it is just the R/T badge on the nose and some other cosmetic touches that indicate this is a Coronet and not a Super Bee. From an Australian point of view it is hard to understand how a mere badge, even one as nice as the cast Super Bee, can make a car a whole separate model. Against the Charger and Super Bee this car was a third fiddle, but with the 440 6-pack (365 hp) finishing in 1970 it fits nicely with the ‘last days’ theme here.
I didn’t get full details on this Oldsmobile 442, which as far as I can tell is a 1970 with the Ram Air option – those are some pretty large and distinctive nostrils! The W30 option increased the horsepower rating of the 455 engine by five to 370 hp officially, at least. The rear spoiler carried over from 1969.
The 1970 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am has the 400 ci Pontiac engine rated at 345 hp, unless you got the Ram Air IV or V options, plus stripes and spoilers that actually produced functional aerodynamic results.
Would there be a “IV” badge to indicate if this car had the upgrade? The intake manifold might be aluminium, but only 88 of the 3186 ’70 Trans Ams had the Ram Air IV option.
In the corner was a 1970 Plymouth ‘Cuda AAR, which I also didn’t spend a lot of time on to say the least. Blame it on the much rarer cars elsewhere in the hall. I probably should have, because as a road-race special it is more in my wheelhouse than some of the other cars in this group, but I suppose that the E-body cars not being sold here plus their bigger, heavier size than the other pony cars mean they don’t resonate as well. The 340 engine only made a cameo appearance down under, in the Chrysler Valiant Charger 770 SE ‘E55’ where it was choked down to disguise its hi-po roots.
A local counterpoint to the US cars featured was this 1969 Holden Monaro GTS, one of the first models (HK, introduced in 1968). Aesthetically, it combines the A-body cars we have seen with the Opel coupe. This car is slightly unusual these days because while it has the stripes badges and fantastic hub caps, it is powered by a 186 ci straight six. Of course when new it was a great option for those who didn’t want the extra costs of a V8, in purchase price, fuel and insurance. Unlike the seemingly cheap-as-water fuel in the US back then, it never has been so here in Australia, and the standard Ford or Holden has always been the 6-cylinder version.
This car had just finished being restored to a fantastic standard, and was awarded the People’s Choice for the show by popular vote.