Feature article

Best classic muscle cars available in NZ

Kiwi love their classic muscle cars.

19 February 2024

Kiwis love their classic muscle cars. There must be more of these V8-powered classics here than anywhere else on the planet, on a per capita basis that is. But what constitutes the best of these classic cars is a contentious subject. There’s a lot of tribal loyalty towards certain badges, and the traditional American ‘big three’; Ford, GM and Chrysler, rule the roost here. When it comes to classic muscle cars, we are talking those models from the 60s and early 70s in the main. That’s when the American manufacturers were making bigger and ever more powerful V8s, and stuffing them into anything and everything they sold. That was when winning on Sunday meant selling on Monday, and victory on the strip or the track was something the big three all craved.

While it’s not difficult to import a classic muscle car from America or Australia into New Zealand, we often hear of drama-filled and expensive stories when it comes to getting these machines compiled and on the road. Months and lots of dollars is what it usually takes.

Thankfully then, there are always plenty of these classic muscle cars already registered and for sale in New Zealand. There are always literally hundreds to browse through on Trade Me (usually taking up valuable work time) but which ones are the best? As we noted upfront, it’s a very debatable topic, but here are a few to get the discussion started.

For the Ford fans

Any talk of Ford and muscle cars conjures images of the Mustang. While it started out as a ‘Pony Car’ it wasn’t long before Ford was offering Mustang with big capacity eights. It would be hard to go past a 1968 GT 390 fastback. A big engine, classic styling and an injection of cool via Steve McQueen driving the wheels off one in Bullitt, it’s bonafide classic muscle.

Ford of Australia tapped into Detroit’s vast engine vault, using the V8 to create the first Falcon GT in 1967. It reached a head in 1971 when Ford, in a quest to win Bathurst, produced the XY GT HO phase III. It’s the holy grail of Aussie muscle cars, the best of them selling for more than $1 million.

For something a bit different, there’s the 1967 Fairlane. While in base trim it was a regular type family machine, Ford also offered it with an R-code option destined for the drag strip. That saw the mid-size coupe stuffed with a big 425-hp 427 cubic inch V8, a close-ratio four-speed manual and speedier final drive ratio to maximise acceleration.

It’s gotta be the General

If you were raised in a GM family, you’ll likely crave for a Camaro. Chevrolet’s answer to the Mustang came along a few years after but it too proved popular, and there are many now residing in NZ. We like the look of the 1969 Z28 model, one designed with circuit racing in mind. It was GM’s basis for the Trans Am race series, and while muscle cars usually pack monstrous engines, this one is rather mild with a 302 V8 under the hood.

One classic GM muscle car that is increasing in popularity in New Zealand is the Chevelle. And the peak of them is the SS 454. Introduced as a new model for 1970, the big 7.4-litre V8 produced a handy 450hp in top LS6 spec. Complete with a more pumped out body, the Chevelle SS 454 is a highly desirable muscle car.

Over the Tasman, GM Holden turned its curvy Monaro into a race winner by slotting the General’s big 327 V8 under its hood, before upping the ante and producing the GTS 350 a year later. This 5.7-litre machine went on to win Bathurst in 1969 ahead of Ford’s new XW GTHO Falcon, while another Monaro GTS 350 came in third, driven by a young Peter Brock.

Come on Chrysler

The other car in the famous Bullitt car chase scene is the 1968 Dodge Charger R/T 440. It’s probably not the most famous Charger however, that being the 1969 General Lee, often seen jumping rivers in Hazzard County. These Chargers are classic muscle, especially when paired with either the big Magnum 440 V8, or the potent 427 Hemi.

One of the first muscle cars dates back to the fifties, and that’s the Chrysler C 300. It was marketed as America’s most powerful car with the 300 referring to its horsepower rating. While a powerful luxury model, it was also intended for racing, helping Chrysler homologate the car for Nascar.

The Valiant Charger was Chrysler’s answer to the go-fast versions of the Ford Falcon and Holden Torana of the era, and the R/T E49 was the pinnacle of them. And it didn’t even have a V8. Instead it ran a straight six, one of the most powerful available anywhere in the world at the time. Unfortunately, it never won Bathurst, but that doesn’t take the shine off these desirable classics.


Kyle Cassidy
Kyle Cassidy
Editor NZ Autocar magazine - autocar.co.nz

Kyle has been reviewing cars since starting at NZ Autocar magazine in 2003 and has been editor since 2009. In that time he’s become an expert on what makes for a good vehicle while also gaining insights into the local automotive industry.