PH Blog: Why US muscle still rules - for now


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

Comments (167) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Captain Muppet 09 Jul 2012

    Miguel said:
    Captain Muppet said:
    Yes there is, there is better technology. Just because a statement rhymes doesn't mean it's true.
    Sure, a 1980's turbocharged Formula 1 engine put out far more power than any completely standard small block Chevy, but that's hardly the point. People who like pushrod V8's don't like Subaru turbo four or Honda V-Tech engines. Harley fans don't like Ducati or Suzuki high revving, high tech engines no matter how much power they have, in large part because to them an engine has to fire unevenly, sound awkward, and have lots of low-end grunt in order to be any good. The statement implies "all else being equal," not to mention that it's a philosophy that dates back to before all of this technology was available and coined by people who wouldn't be able to afford it if it were.

    Corvette owners don't want their beloved pushrod V8 engine replaced with a turbo five-cylinder from an Audi TT RS or a small displacement Ferrari engine that redlines at 9000 RPM no matter how great others think they are. Conversely, those who like such an engine probably won't want a Vette, anyway. Along the same lines, British car buffs who swear up and down that no engine configuration could possibly be as good as a proper straight-six (let alone better), don't want a V8. If all else is kept equal, extra displacement will improve its performance.
    :sigh:

    Please read my previous answers about how it's possible to make a better, yet slightly slightly smaller, pushrod V8. Then imagine that I used to design engines for a living.

    Also you could have a little think about why it is that huge american V8s aren't any biger than they are. Bigger is always better, right? Why stop at 8 litres (or whatever)? It's the law of diminishing returns. Sometimes it's just better to stick a supercharger on it, like they do with Corvettes and Mustangs.

    Also "all else kept equal" you get to a combustion chamber size that starts reducing power as it gets bigger.

  • Miguel 07 Jul 2012

    PanzerCommander said:
    Sure a Ferrari have a high revving high hp/l engine but look at how much and what it takes to keep one on the road, if you were using it as a daily driver doing say 10k per year. The equivalent Corvette/GT500/Viper... will cost around the same as a hot hatch to maintain, and the standard GT's around the same as a family barge. Mine costs around £60 per year for two oil changes. Other service items are similar such as coolant changes, pollen, air and fuel filters, gearbox and axle oil etc. nothing exotic, nothing expensive. Yet the performance on offer is brilliant for such little outlay.
    Right, and that's exactly the point. What you just said is important, whereas specific power figures are usually just about bragging rights and irrelevant for the street. Of course, those comments usually come from someone who owns a 1987 Diesel Golf or Peugeot 205. wink

  • PanzerCommander 07 Jul 2012

    Miguel said:
    Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. Please, not the comfy chair. wink

    I appreciate the corrections, LuS1fer, but you forgot two important points:

    1) American cars are always heavier than European cars, even the European cars that weigh more.

    2) American pushrod engines always have terrible specific power (hp/L) even when a far more expensive and complex Euro engine produces specific power numbers within a few percentage points, not to mention how irrelevant that figure is for most road-going cars.

    Let's not even get into the Corvettes have ox-cart springs or such nonsense... rolleyes
    Sure a Ferrari have a high revving high hp/l engine but look at how much and what it takes to keep one on the road, if you were using it as a daily driver doing say 10k per year. The equivalent Corvette/GT500/Viper... will cost around the same as a hot hatch to maintain, and the standard GT's around the same as a family barge. Mine costs around £60 per year for two oil changes. Other service items are similar such as coolant changes, pollen, air and fuel filters, gearbox and axle oil etc. nothing exotic, nothing expensive. Yet the performance on offer is brilliant for such little outlay.

  • Miguel 07 Jul 2012

    LuS1fer said:
    Great post, Miguel, even if it completely ignores 3 fundamental points:
    (1) European fuel is magic and good enough to power American Apollo rockets.
    (2) Every claim Americans claim is a lie when it is better than anything European because that's actually impossible.
    (3) However bargain bucket the price is, however good or powerful the car,the car will always be somehow "crap" because it isn't actually European.
    (4) Whatever the American cars achieve, they actually don't have that European "magic bean" in the computer that makes them totally infallible.

    4...4 fundamental points...blimey, I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition..
    wink
    Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. Please, not the comfy chair. wink

    I appreciate the corrections, LuS1fer, but you forgot two important points:

    1) American cars are always heavier than European cars, even the European cars that weigh more.

    2) American pushrod engines always have terrible specific power (hp/L) even when a far more expensive and complex Euro engine produces specific power numbers within a few percentage points, not to mention how irrelevant that figure is for most road-going cars.

    Let's not even get into the Corvettes have ox-cart springs or such nonsense... rolleyes

  • Miguel 07 Jul 2012

    300bhp/ton said:
    This really really bugs me too about Autocar. A magazine claiming to be about cars and can't even get something as simple as this right, or worse intentionally gets it wrong.
    It bugged my brother enough that he actually wrote them at least two letters. One of them did get printed under the heading of "Hate Mail," which they did in the letters section for a while. I don't think that the correction of something that they should've never gotten wrong in the first place counts as hate, but what do I know? wink

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