At the risk of embarking on a hiding to nowhere, let's define that essential US automotive staple, the muscle car. As distinct from hot-rods, lead sleds, sports cars, GT cars, rat rods and anything else under the automotive sun, muscle cars became an important part of the motoring landscape in the 1960s and 70s, with the trend even spreading to Australia.
So what is a muscle car? Well, definitions differ, but broadly speaking, a muscle car is a factory-modified version of a production sedan or coupe. Those modifications are all aimed to give the car a leg-up in the three As: Acceleration, attitude and ability. Attainability is also important, so the muscle car builds on a bread-and-butter model to keep costs down while still offering the rest of the deal.
Some muscle cars were built as race-car homologation specials, others were simply a set of decals on a wild colour aimed at creating showroom traffic. In many cases, early muscle cars were based on full-frame (separate body and chassis, not monocoque) and employed quaint touches such as drum brakes and five turns lock-to-lock steering. Then again, a five-tonne killer whale remains an apex predator, and we've never seen one of them ballet dancing. Nope, it was only ever about going fast in a straight line and sounding and looking good while you did it.
But the best ones were the cars where the manufacturer really put some thought into the end result. Some of these boasted huge engines in bodacious states of tune, monster graphics and a range of suspension and brake upgrades to give them a fighting chance of making it around the first corner.
The really good ones have become legends and, today, have collectors and nostalgia hounds fighting each other in driveways and auction rooms to own a slice of what was, for many, a golden age of production cars. Proof of that comes in the existence of the current crop of retro-styled models from Ford (the born-again Mustang) Chevrolet (Camaro) and Dodge (Challenger).
Other markets have tapped into the muscle-car vibe, too, and modern performance cars like the Mercedes-AMG E63, BMW M5 all owe their concept to the muscle-car era.
In Australia, The Big Three (Holden, Ford and Chrysler) sniffed the air, smelled petrol and wasted no time minting home brewed muscle cars based on popular family-car models like the Torana, Kingswood, Falcon and Valiant. And like their Stateside counterparts, these factory-spec muscle cars are now the darlings of the collector market.
Exactly what a slice of US muscle will cost now is a very elastic equation. Supply and demand aren't the only factors in play here, and while at least one of the following cars will rush you an easy seven figures, at least one is around for the same money as a well-optioned new hatchback. Other determining factors include a particular car's competition history and whether it has had a famous previous owner.
Meanwhile, since the USA invented the whole genre, it seems to fitting to list the best US muscle cars of all time. Not everybody will agree with the order or the cars themselves, but that's okay. Taste is a personal thing and with cars as wild as these, there will always be arguments. That's just healthy.