QOTD: Muscle Motors! What Was the Best All Around Engine of the Muscle Car Era?


I must ask your forgiveness for my lack of creativity.  This is a question that has been asked too much, and there is no right answer.  It is a blatant plea for a discussion that could easily become uncivil faster than you can say “Hemi.”  Last week, Motor Trend posted an article titled “The Motor Trend Engine Hall of Fame,” and while that’s a broad topic, I’ve distilled it down to one era because I have a cornucopia of those engines in my photo files.  So what’s the best muscle engine of the 1960s and ’70s?


The lead-off Hemi is always a contender, but it pulls down a cool six miles per gallon or something like that, and by most accounts it doesn’t make a very tractable street engine.  Maybe this Super Duty Pontiac 421 is a better choice.  Unfortunately, it’s equally raucous, but nearly as fast.  The Super Duty 455 from the 1970s can also make a heady claim by being fast, well-mannered, and the last of its kind.


Maybe the old fashioned Chevy 409 is worth a look.  Technology had passed it by by 1965, but it has the look and the song to go with it.


In contrast to the Hemi, there’s the torquey and reliable 440 Chrysler.  There’s a lot of potential here.  Or how about the high-revving 340 as seen in Dusters, Darts, and Challengers?


The Chevy 396/427/454 seems like almost a shoe-in thanks to its use in everything from Chevelles to Chaparrals, but some may argue that the DZ 302, L79 327, or the LT-1 350 made for a better engine than the big block.


A bit of a dark horse in this crowd is the W-30 Oldsmobile 455, which was certainly competitive if not the vanguard of the class.  The W-31 small-block 350 was higher revving and nearly as quick, which makes it an interesting choice.


Maybe you’ll get really crazy and decide on the Studebaker R3, which could certainly be tuned to a razor sharp standard, with a supercharger for the win.


What about a dual-quad Buick Nailhead?  Or perhaps a Stage 1 455?  Buick was an uncommon choice for a street sweeper, but the ones doing the job did it well.


If you’re a Ford fan, you have several choices: the august side-oiler 427, seen here in a GT40 Mark IV; the 428 Cobra Jet; the Boss 429; the 427 Cammer; the 351 Cleveland…

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I don’t want to offend AMC fans, so I’ll include the 390 as used in the AMX, so vote to your heart’s content.

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Don’t worry about offending me; I have no brand allegiance, nor any real muscle cars, and I own at least one car from all Big Three corporations.  I’ll start us off by choosing two, a big-block and a small-block: the Chrysler 440 and the Chevy LT-1 from 1970. The 440 was easily upgraded with more and/or better carburetion, ran smoothly, and often outran Hemis.  The LT1 was perhaps the pinnacle of the small-block Chevy design, arguably the most successful engine in American history, one whose infinite parts availability can improve upon an already good thing.

So, what’s the best all around muscle car engine?