Wide-Open Muscle—The Rarest Muscle Car Convertibles

Book Review by Gary Smith

I get why someone would have the resources and inclination to check all of the boxes and have the factory build a turn-key drag racer. But also checking the convertible box doesn’t make sense. When the factory reinforces the structure to compensate for the lack of a top, they get heavier. Well, most performance car buyers must have agreed. But a few didn’t care. In some cases, a very few. Combine that with leaky tops and 400+ horsepower with no tires to speak of, and you get a high attrition rate. Few cars made minus the few left around equals rare.

Randy Leffingwell does a good job of succinctly telling the story of these rarest of the rare. For example, only twelve 1971 very politically incorrect Hemi ‘Cudas were made. Two went to Canada. Three went overseas. Seven stayed in the U.S. Only two of the twelve had Hurst shifter equipped 4-speeds. Keep in mind that these Hemi-equipped cars had challenging driveability at anything less than full throttle. Not to mention 490 pound-feet of torque. Or no weight in the back. The rear tires were there only to hold the back half of the car off the ground.

Only eight 1969 Pontiac Trans Am 400 Ram Air III convertibles were ordered, four with 4-speeds.

The 1965 Shelby 427 Cobra “Semi-Competition” roadster is worth a mention here. Two Holley 4-barrels fed fuel to a 425 horsepower monster that in the hands of Ken Miles was clocked going zero to 100 and back to zero in 13.8 seconds. Cobras were expensive. Shelby had only sold 16 competition cars (he needed to sell 100 to make them race legal in production SCCA and FIA production classes). What to do with 85 unsold Cobras? They dropped the price from $10,000 to $8,500, dropped the compression ratio enough to tolerate Sunoco 260, added some baffles to reduce the loud from ear-spitting to deafening, added electric cooling fans, and modified the bodies a bit for more tire clearance. Many of the S/Cs sold were used as race cars anyway.

The book is well written and worth a place on your shelf.

Available on Amazon

A few photos from the book by Tom Loeser.

Format: Hardcover, 224 Pages
ISBN: 9780760350010
Illustrations: 239 color photos
Size: 9.75 in x 12 in
Published: May 17, 2016
  1. Jason Houston

    The 1965 Galaxie 500/XL does NOT come with red line tires.

  2. Michael Greer

    A lot of British small sports cars could get away with convertible because the top weighed less than the hard tops, ah. and without wind in your hair, what was the point anyway…

  3. Every time I go to a car show and see those Pontiac GTOs and Grand Prixs, Firebirds, 2+2s, Bonnevilles, etc. I marvel at how the Pontiac designers, interior and exterior were so locked in on what was real and above all the rest.

    The gauges, engine turning, steering wheels, wheels,everything they could turn to a performance look was really done well. Elegant designs with great detail, they really were performance cars, dressed that way inside and out. The 66 GTO, understated and sophisticated was really a car to be proud of if you admired performance. You could drive it with a suit on or jeans and a sweatshirt. Time has treated them well, they stand out.

    There were a lot of great Chevrolet, Ford and Chrysler performance cars, even some Studabakers, Today Chevrolet clearly presents the most genuine street performance image with the Camaro and Corvette.. The character of the cars exudes street performance and more. A great part of American automotive history that was deep in the heart of Detroit racing, of all kinds.


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