“Oh yeah…” the phrase your inner voice tells you when your brain finds a memory or a thought that had been otherwise lost in the abyss of your self-conscious. With normal people it is usually a childhood memory, the name of someone you once knew, or a dirty joke a you heard years ago. For Gearheads it’s usually a car we forgot existed or was ever built. It is difficult for us to remember every single car at any given point, but the most famous cars do stay fresh in our minds. Cars like Ford Mustang, Chevy Camaro, Ferrari F40, Willy’s Jeep, Dodge Charger, Lamborghini Countach are just examples of the most common cars we hear on a daily bases and can instantly picture in our heads and tell you everything about. Then there are the cars we tend to overlook when planning out our dream garage. Cars that, unless you are a diehard fan of them, you rarely think about until you happen to see one at a local car show. At which point you will notice it and go, “Oh yeah… I forgot about that one… I must own it!”
I have created a short list of popular muscle cars that, I feel, tend to get overlooked constantly: AMC Javelin, AMX, S/C Rambler and Rebel “The Machine”; Buick Grand National GNX, Riviera GS, and the GSX; Oldsmobile 442 W-30 and Toronado; Chevrolet Corvair Yenko Stringer, Yenko Vega and the Dodge Little Red Express. All these cars are vehicles that unless you own it, had it, or want it, you will forget it. I know I have been guilty of that myself when it comes to the AMC cars. I never understood why these cars, in general, tend to be forgotten like a silver placed medal. These cars were not your run of the mill grocery getters; they were tire burning street machines with enough torque to pull a freight train, so why are they an afterthought?
I struggled for days trying to find a simple way to relate this problem to something a bit more common in pop culture for all my non gearhead readers, and what I came up with is music. Imagine a typical rock band or musical group, and let’s say the lead singer and lead guitar player are the famous cars we all know and love. The backup vocalist, bass player, drum player, etc. are the rest of the talented, yet unrecognized, cars that fall out of our short term memory. There is a saying that no matter how talented or good looking a bass player is, that fans will always pay more attention to the lead guitar player. The same could be said with the Ford Mustang Boss 1 and the AMC Javelin, both were champions in Trans Am racing circuit, but everyone remembers the orange Boss 1 rather than the red, white and blue Javelin. Another example could be found in the world of factory tuning companies like Yenko Chevrolet. It’s easy to spot or recognize a Yenko powered Camaro, Nova, or Chevelle, but seeing a little Corvair Stinger is a rare sight that most of us forget or even know existed.
All the cars on this list should be better known than they actually are. The 1970 Buick GSX had more torque than the most famous muscle car of 1970, the Chevelle SS LS6 454. In 1978 the Dodge Little Red Express became the fastest domestic production vehicle from 0- 100mph. AMC has to be given credit for giving the most patriotic paint schemes and the coolest names to their cars in the 1969 S/C Rambler and 1970 Rebel “The Machine”. Oldsmobile for making a 385 horsepower luxury muscle car with front wheel drive and creating the 442 W30, a car Road & Track magazine had trouble not falling in love with. Last but not least, my own personal favorite, the Buick Grand National GNX which in its heyday was faster than Ferrari, Corvette, and Lamborghini with only six cylinders and a turbo.
When it comes down to it, these cars are not as well known because they didn’t sell well. There could have been many factors as to why they didn’t sell as well as expected, but could it be that they simply were not taken seriously? Pedigree plays an important role in the automotive world, much like in the world of horse racing and show dogs. Nobody questions whether a Ferrari will be fast or not, and even if it is slow or badly made, people will still love it because it is a Ferrari and it has decades of performance pedigree. Every auto maker has a style or stereotype that it develops over time. These reasons could have been what drove these cars into the barn of our minds to be forgotten.
When most people think of AMC they think of the Pacer or the Gremlin, and most people think of retirement homes when they think of Oldsmoblie or Buick. Although they made some amazing performance cars their pedigree of being an auto maker that makes economic small cars or luxury cars stays in a person’s mind. A college student in 1971 looking for a car to get around will probably want a Javelin, but will get a Germlin because it is cheaper and saves gas. An elderly couple in 1985 will choose a Lesabre over a Grand National because they don’t need a factory hotrod for their trip to the bingo hall.
I am sure that these cars, and others in a similar situation, will get their time in the sunlight once time makes them more exclusive and collectors start to take notice. But until that day comes, these cars will just be the runner-ups, the silver medalist, to those who do not share the same passion for them as their owners or fans. It is a shame really that a straight six, bone stock, 1969 Chevrolet Camaro can get recognized by just about anyone as a Camaro and even get mistaken for an SS model. Yet a 1987 Buick Grand National GNX can get mistaken as a Monte Carlo and not get a second glance. As Gearheads it’s our unwritten duty to love and respect all cars, so the next time you see a runner-up at your local car meet or show, make sure it gets the attention it deserves.
P.S. If you feel I left out a muscle car from the list, please feel free to jog my memory on the comments below.