10 American Classics Collectors Consider Holy Grail Models

10 American Classics Collectors Consider Holy Grail Models

Today, the collector market continues booming thanks to more and more nostalgic enthusiasts desiring to recapture the fun and joy of the golden years. The best American classic cars have been hitting the headlines by fetching astonishing prices at auction. While the general trend in the used car market is that most vehicles depreciate as they age, this only applies to mass-produced vehicles – not rare or special in any way.

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Iconic sports cars, mostly legendary racers from the ’60s and ’70s, are the most sought-after by avid collectors. Take a peek under their hoods, and you’ll understand why. Many feature the most potent engines of their day, some of which were “banned.” Others are coveted for being ultra-rare.

These 10 classics are what collectors regard to be the holy grail models in American automobile history. Anytime they cross the auction block, sellers expect nothing short of five hundred grand.

10/10 1969-1970 Pontiac GTO Judge Ram Air IV

“The Judge” – a special edition of the Pontiac GTO – exemplified the best qualities of America’s most important and enduring muscle car nameplates. It brought two forced induction systems into the options list in 1969 and 1970, making the model exceedingly powerful.

With the GTO’s 400 cubic inch V8 upgraded with a Ram-Air IV forced induction system, power increased from the standard 350 hp to 370 hp. Today, GTO Judge Ram Air IVs are highly-prized beasts. Collectors pay north of $500,000 for them, as only five came with the option.

9/10 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona 426 HEMI

The 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona was a single-year model with extremely limited production of only 503 units. Only 70 came equipped with the powerful 426 Hemi, and a mere 22 received the rare four-speed manual transmission. Designed to win NASCAR races, it achieved exactly that, leaving its mark on history. It’s valued between $565,000 and $1,350,000 today. (Hagerty).

The pointy nose cone and its raked rear wing not only gave it a unique style and personality, but they both also increased its aerodynamic efficiency by 20{e3fa8c93bbc40c5a69d9feca38dfe7b99f2900dad9038a568cd0f4101441c3f9}. A terrifying competitor on high-banked speedways, it set a closed course record of 201.104 mph, even beating its more popular look-alike, the Plymouth Superbird.

8/10 1965 Shelby GT350R

Based on the 1965 Fastback coupe, Shelby built the GT350R specifically with SCCA racing in mind. Only 32 units of this non-street-legal “R” model saw the light of day. They featured 289 cubic inches small-block V8s, putting out 350 hp. 0-60mph sprints took 5 seconds, while a quarter-mile run only took 13.6 seconds.

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Being race-specification models, they consisted of many lightweight components and a 34-gallon fuel tank for endurance racing. Immensely successful on racetracks globally, collectors fork out almost $1 million for these racing Mustangs. The purported first GT350R, chassis number R500R, sold for $3.5 million, becoming the most expensive Mustang ever.

7/10 1970-1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda Convertible

The handsome Plymouth Cuda was a monster on the streets. Winning the hearts of many gearheads was the beefy Hemi version. Its legendary 426-cubic inch V8 was good for 425 hp of raw muscle and almost enough torque to rotate the earth. It was capable of blasting from 0-to-60 mph in 5.4 seconds.

Plymouth made just 21 units as convertibles, only offering them for 2 years. Many sell near the $2 million mark, the current going rate for a well-preserved open-top 1970-’71 Hemi ‘Cuda. The most expensive fetched $3.5 million at auction in 2014.

6/10 1969 Chevrolet 427 COPO Camaro ZL1

There is no 1st-Gen Camaro more collectible than the ultra-rare 1969 ZL1. Built for the drag strip, it featured a lightweight all-aluminum 427 ZL1 V8 engine. Officially, it could muster 430 hp and 450 lb.-ft of twist, but in truth, it jetted 550 hp. Chevrolet played down the numbers to avoid scrutiny from GM because the Camaro was only allowed to use 400 cubic inch engines.

Fred Gibbs, the Chevrolet dealer behind the model, used the COPO system to secretly order the model equipped with the banned big-block engine. With only 69 made, they now fetch from five hundred grand to a million.

5/10 1930-1937 Cadillac V-16 (1st-Gen Cadillac Sixteen)

Introduced in 1930, the exquisite Cadillac V-16 was the automaker’s halo model. It was both extremely expensive and exclusive in its day. Built to outperform competing luxury cars with eight- and twelve-cylinder engines, it introduced the first production V-16 engine to the passenger automobile market. The 7.4-liter engine, incredibly smooth and potent, could make 165 hp.

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Being one of the best pre-war luxury cars, this antique model is the most valuable Cadillac today. Offered in a wide variety of body styles, most sell between $300,000- $2 million. Pristine 1st Gen models are mostly the priciest. Cadillac only made 4,076 copies until 1940.

4/10 1967 Chevrolet Corvette L88

Chevy made C2-generation Corvette from 1963 to 1967. All ‘Vettes from this generation are highly sought after by collectors, but the L88 versions, which debuted in 1967, fetch the highest prices. They go for $1.5 million and above. And that’s because of the model’s breathtaking looks and ’67 being the rarest year of the L88 package. Chevy offered only 20 units.

The L88 designation indicated the model packed the famed ‘L88’ 427 cu in (7.0-Liter) big block V8, 4-speed manual transmission, and a Positraction rear differential. Although the factory-claimed horsepower was 435 horses, the real power output was more than 500 hp.

3/10 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport

The 1963 Grand Sport is the “holy grail” Corvette. Built and designed in secret by Chief Engineer Zora Duntov, it was targeted at international FIA endurance races. Power came from an aluminum 377 cubic inches small block cranking out a thumping 550hp. Already a Shelby Cobra killer on American circuits, it likely would have embarrassed Ferraris and Jaguars on the global stage if not for GM’s corporate restriction on racing.​​​

Chevy only made five units, of which two later got converted into roadsters by privateers for better aerodynamics. In the 1970s, these models were going for around $150,000, but many, including wealthy private collectors, deemed them “rarified air.” Today, collectors estimate them to be worth between $6 million and $8 million.

2/10 1965-1967 Shelby 427 Cobra

None of the Shelby Cobras models has the reputation of the iconic 427. These go for over $1 million at auction and several have even sold over the $5 million mark. Unfortunately, this model missed the homologation deadline for the 1965 racing season and wasn’t raced by the Shelby team. However, many privateer teams used the model to win races well into the 1970s.

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Designed in partnership with Ford in Detroit, it featured a new, stronger, redesigned chassis. Under the hood was Ford’s 427 cu in (7.0-liter) race engine rated at 425 hp. But it was a financial failure and slow-seller, the reason why an estimated 105 production models got fitted with the more economical but less powerful Ford 428 engine.

1/10 1963-1965 Shelby Cobra 289

The Shelby Cobra 289 was the first hugely-popular English-American hybrid sports car. It combined the power of Ford’s V8s with the agility of the AC Ace aluminum body and sports chassis. While it started off as the Mk1 with a 260 cu in engine in 1962, the Shelby Cobra 289 Mark II is the version the nameplate owes its revered status. Produced in 1963, its 289-cubic-inch (4.7-liter) V8 rendered it unbeatable on domestic road courses.

With a racing heritage unmatched by any 1960s American sports car, it is among the most collectible automobiles built on US soil. Shelby produced only 528 units of the Cobra 289, including 455 road-ready examples, all with CSX2xxx VIN codes. Prices at auctions go well over $1 million. In 2021, a Shelby 289 Works Cobra with “Sebring”-specifications sold for $4,130,050.