1976 Ford Mustang II

No car is more maligned than the ’74-77 Mustang II. Maybe that’s a testament to how good the first-gen was, but we’re here to tell you that with only a little effort, most Mustang II’s can be built to run rings around their early counterparts—particularly the ’71-73 models. On the suspension side, there are probably more parts available for Mustang IIs than any muscle car ever built, and that includes first-gen Camaros. (Ironically, many companies actually specialize in putting Mustang II suspensions into Camaros.) Since these cars were originally built with small-block Windsor engines, it is an absolute slam dunk to build a fast, inexpensive one. The Mustang II is not an unattractive car, and in hatchback form has lines that rival the looks of many ’60s muscle machines. All it needs is the right wheel package (19- and 20-inch Grip Equipped “Megalyte” wheels here) and attention to stance and ride height. This one has Mustang Kona Blue Metallic paint with charcoal metallic accents, a Mach 1–style hood, a recessed grille shell with mesh inserts, a few late-model Mustang body mods, and blacked-out trim.

“As newer cars, they are safer and generally have superior handling dynamics. All that’s needed is some imagination.”

1976 Ford Gran Torino

Haters love to point at mid-’70s intermediates as bloated, over-styled land yachts with no redeeming features. Outside of the fact that cherry engine cores can often be found lurking beneath their hoods at salvage yards, they have no use. We say otherwise. Sometimes you want a big car for family and stuff, and a belly button SUV just won’t cut it. If you also want a hot rod, it’s easy to make a car like the Ford Gran Torino wickedly fast. (Hey! You got horsepower on my big car! Well you got big car all over my horsepower! Two great tastes that taste great together.) Fact: The ’76 Gran Torino features full body-on-frame construction, giving it a robust service life and simple maintenance. It also can swallow any Ford engine ever made, up to and including a 500-plus-inch big-block. Artist Ben Hermance updated the Starsky & Hutch theme for our rendering with smoothed, tucked, and painted bumpers; a body-colored grille shell; matte black grille, headlight bezels, and window trim; and a raked stance with 17-inch Vintage Wheel Works V60 hoops. The paint is ’12 Mustang Red Candy with matte black graphics.

1976 AMC Hornet Hatchback

The AMC Hornet is so obscure, even hard-core AMC guys don’t pay attention to it. Nevertheless, AMC built over 100,000 two-door hatchback Hornets between 1973 and 1977 (the years they all shared the style we’re focusing on). When equipped with the right rolling stock and the goofy factory stance/ride height is fixed, the Hornet hatchback is absolutely voluptuous. AMCs aren’t well supported in the aftermarket, so they don’t score any points in the suspension department, but Wilwood does offer brake kits. Hornets did come with 304ci V-8s (360s in earlier years) backed by Chrylser TorqueFlite transmissions, so you can build a modest performer without going too crazy. For this illustration, Ben went full tilt with Viper Snakeskin Green paint with matte black graphics. It’s got a custom aluminum chin spoiler and rear spoiler, an AMX Ram Air hoodscoop, rocker panel exhaust exits, blacked-out trim, modified grille with mesh insert, and brake cooling ports in the front bumper.