The term “pony car” is often used interchangeably with “muscle car,” but there are some important distinctions between the two types of vehicles. Pony car refers to compact vehicles, usually coupés or convertibles that are powerful and provide performance. Like a muscle car, a pony car has rear-wheel drive and a long hood.
However, muscle cars tend to be much larger than pony cars in both their exteriors and engines. Muscle cars are almost always powered by a big V8 engine, whereas pony cars often have small-block eight-cylinder engines and even six-cylinder engines. The popularity of pony cars started with the first Ford Mustang in 1964 and continues today with vehicles such as the Chevy Camaro, Dodge Challenger and enduring Mustang. Another important note: despite Ford’s best attempts at marketing their iconic Mustang as the ultimate Pony (Get it? Mustang? Horse? Pony?), the term actually casts a wider net. Here are the 10 greatest pony cars of all-time.
10. 2011 Dodge Challenger SRT8
We start the list with a recent pony car, the 2001 Dodge Challenger SRT8. What makes this pony car great is its retro cool appeal. The engineers at Dodge purposely made the 2011 Challenger look like a car that burned down the highways in the 1970s.
Looks aren’t enough, though, and this pony car is ultra powerful, with a six-speed automatic transmission and 6.4-liter Hemi engine that enables the 2011 Dodge Challenger to drive a quarter mile in 12.4 seconds. While a lot of pony car aficionados dismiss any cars made after the late 1970s, the 2011 Challenger is proof that there are some reasons to consider modern versions as well.
9. 2012 Chevrolet Camaro SS
Another recent pony car worthy of consideration is the 2012 Chevy Camaro SS. Chevrolet reinvented its much-loved Camaro in 2010, but it took the 2012 SS model to remind everyone why this nameplate endures and remains special. This fifth generation Camaro was actually built to celebrate the car’s 45th anniversary, and Chevrolet’s designers and engineers spared no expense.
The 2012 SS was outfitted with a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 engine that cranks 580 horsepower and gives the car the distinction of being the fastest Camaro ever built. Add in an awesome retro look, and it’s no wonder that plenty of people fell in love with the Camaro all over again.
8. 1967 AMC Javelin
Now for a trip back in time, and what better place to start than with the 1967 AMC Javelin. This pony car was built by the American Motors Corporation (AMC) as a direct competitor of the venerable Ford Mustang. Sadly, AMC didn’t have the financial resources of the Ford Motor Corp. at the time, and so they were only able to build this single model when it came to ponies. But what a car it is!
The Javelin is small car with a massive engine, and it’s truly the powerplant that makes this car standout. The standard engine was a 3.8L straigt-6, with an optional upgrade to a beefy 5.6L V8, known as “the 363.” In its day, the AMC Javelin won multiple Trans-Am racing competitions and has become a classic American car in its own right. Take that Ford!
7. 1970 Mercury Cougar Eliminator
When it comes to cool, look no further than the 1970 Mercury Cougar Eliminator. This car was built on the same platform as the early Ford Mustangs. This makes sense since Mercury was owned by the Ford Motor Company in the 1960s and 1970s. While the Mercury Cougar Eliminator was never as popular as the Ford Mustang, it has always had a devoted fan base owing to its cool design and menacing appearance.
One of the largest pony cars, some people argue that the Mercury Cougar Eliminator is really a muscle car, but the automotive industry has always classified it as a pony. A two-door hard top, the Eliminator came with a few engine choices, including eliminating the smallest option that was available in 1967 and ’68. The 1970 version contained the Boss 302 or the 428J, and featured a 351 Cleveland V8 as the standard option.
6. 1969 Oldsmobile Rallye 350
The 1969 Oldsmobile Rallye 350 is a bit of a forgotten vehicle. Most people remember the Pontiac GTO as a great muscle car but tend to forget that Oldsmobile once made a really amazing pony car in the Rallye 350. Despite being made by Oldsmobile,the Rallye stood out in its trademark Sebring Yellow colour.
The wheels matched the color of the car, and the bumpers and hood was made of fiberglass, making it one of the lightest pony cars of its time. The car also boasts a 310-horsepower, 350-cubic inch V8 engine. This meant that the Rallye 350 can hit 60 mph in seven seconds flat and drive a quarter of a mile in 15.27 seconds. This car is now considered a collector’s item as only 3,500 were manufactured.
5. 1970 Dodge Challenger
About as classic a pony car as there ever was, the 1970 Dodge Challenger is one of the very best of the breed. First generation Dodge Challengers, made between 1970 and 1974, were built on the Chrysler E platform in hardtop and convertible models. They shared many of the same components as the Plymouth Barracuda – which is another classic pony car that barely missed the cut on this list.
Armed with a 440-six-pack engine, the 1970 Dodge Challenger was for anyone who wanted to drive fast. This car was originally made to compete the Mercury Cougar and Pontiac Firebird in the upper end of the pony car market. Chrysler marketed the Challenger as the most potent pony car of its day. Buyers who extra enthusiastic about power could outfit their Challenger with a 7.0 L Hemi engine that produced some truly staggering performance.
4. 1977 Pontiac Trans Am
This is the car that Burt Reynolds famously drive in the Smokey and the Bandit film franchise. The popularity of those movies helped to immortalize this iconic classic for a generation of American car lovers. It was originally fitted with a 455 cu engine, although later models were downgraded to a 6.6 L V8 400 cu engine.
While the lower grade engine disappointed some fans, there was still plenty of pick-up in the Trans Am to make it one of the best performing pony cars of the 1970s. Plus you’d be hard pressed to find a more stylish Trans Am than the ’77 version.
3. 1969 Ford Torino Talladega
Another pony car that has been lost a bit in the dust of history is the 1969 Ford Torino Talladega. That’s really a shame, since the Ford Torino Talladega is an amazing vehicle and one of the very best pony cars ever produced. Made at the end of the 1960s, the Torino Talladega was an attempt by Ford engineers to build a muscle car that was also aerodynamically sound.
The Torino Talladega was built by race shop Holman-Moody. The result was a sleek car with a longer front clip and rear fascia. Today, the 1969 Ford Torino Talladega is a much sought after vintage car, as only 75 of the 429 cu V8 engine version of the car were ever built, and Ford estimates that only about 50 survive today.
2. 1968 Shelby Cobra GT 500
The 1968 Shelby Cobra GT 500 was considered an instant classic when it was first unveiled, and time has only helped to burnish its reputation. The Shelby Cobra was one of the most iconic cars of its time and about as American they come. Previous models, such as the 1965 Cobra, had a 428 Cobra Jet engine and was labeled as the “King of the Road” in advertisements.
The Shelby took things to a whole new level, as it was outfitted with a fiberglass nose panel and hood, vents on the hood, and a spoiled tail. All the touches combined to make the Shelby Cobra a legendary car. Even today, this remains one of the most popular pony cars — especially after a flattering cameo as “Eleanor” in the Gone in 60 Seconds remake from 2000, where a ’67 model starred as the vexing White Whale for Nicolas Cage’s character.
1. 1964 Ford Mustang
First place on this list must go to the pony car that started it all – the 1964 Ford Mustang. Even people who are not car collectors or automotive enthusiasts have likely heard of the 1964 Ford Mustang. Its reputation is universal. It’s hard to imagine now, but when the first Mustang came out in 1964, people had never seen anything like it before.
It was initially introduced on April 17, 1964 during the World’s Fair. A hardtop and convertible model, with a fastback version was put on sale in August of the same year. The car proved instantly popular, and Ford received 22,000 orders on the first day after its viewing at the World’s Fair. While the 1964 Mustang is actually pretty basic compared to the pony cars that came after it, this car nevertheless started a huge trend and changed the automotive landscape forever. Its influence is hard to quantify.