Wednesday 4th July 2012


PH BLOG: WHY US MUSCLE STILL RULES - FOR NOW

harris muses that the new-school US muscle car war is both brilliant and worrying


The obvious attractions of the grand-old-US muscle car are affordability and horsepower; the less overt appeal is their unfamiliarity to us Europeans. And it's the latter that always gets me going: I am a complete sucker for anything that removes me from what is easily experienced.

Last week I spent a few days in New York, in the two latest exponents of rear-tyre vapourisation - the Camaro ZL1 and the Mustang GT500 - and they posed more questions about the future of fast cars than expected.


That's partly because they seem to embrace the past with such glee. The specification of the GT500 is staggering for its simplicity: 670hp, six gears, three pedals and a solid rear axle. The driving experience you can watch on tomorrow's DRIVE video, but it's the concept I find compelling - and slightly worrying.

The fascination lies in Ford's ability to sell a fully-warranted, 670hp coupe for £35,000. Dearborn's choice not to take the bailout back in 2009 can clearly be seen in some of its most recent offerings: this and the wonderful showroom-Baja exercise called the Raptor spring to mind. The irony is that Ford and GM have always been involved in one vast, corporate shadow-boxing match, so the nationalised General Motors - supervised by a government attempting to wean the population away from its oil obsession - has been forced to retaliate: with a 580hp Camaro! You couldn't make it up.

And so, just three years after the death of the American motor industry was predicted, when we all thought the muscle car was dead, the US is in the middle of a horsepower war on a scale not seen for decades. It's fantastic. And worrying.

Like a cricket bat at its very best - just before the splice fails and it shatters in half - this glut has the whiff of a final hurrah for affordable weaponry. Is legislation in the US about to outlaw these dinosaurs? Have power outputs become too big? (For the record, I don't think so.) And what will it take for a pressure group or three to get frothy at the 2015 GT500 and its 890hp? Possibly quite a lot in the land of the free, because wherever I went in the ZL1 and the GT500, they made friends on a scale that makes Ferraris look B-list around Maranello. People simply love them.


Will the American public still put up with live axles in 2013? I think so - the only pressure on the Mustang comes from the Camaro, which is effectively a re-bodied Monaro - and has an independent rear end. Apparently Ford has a development Mustang running independent rear suspension. What a perfect concept: a skunk works outfit playing with 50-year old technology to drag the 'Stang into the 21st century. Their next trick? Penicillin for the masses?

There are other worrying noises coming out of Ford's SVT operation - mention of the word Nurburgring. I cannot think of any statistic more meaningless for a muscle car than a 'Ring lap-time. Sure, they should be able to knock-out a few laps now and again, but rumbling along and occasionally painting the road black is an almost tantric state of mind that must on no account be interrupted by people wittering on about Flugplatz. The two are not compatible.

You'll have to watch tomorrow's video to learn more about both cars. As you can tell, I like these machines. They are the antidote to the electronic sports car. Long may they continue oversteering at every possible opportunity.

Chris

Author: Chris Harris
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