Golden age of muscle cars is now – USA TODAY
DETROIT — The golden age of the muscle car is now.
Despite strict emissions limits, concerns about climate change and unpredictable gasoline prices that would make a ’60s hot rodder pull over and weep, Detroit”s modern performance cars could run rings around the classics. And they’re surprisingly affordable when compared with price tags of some exotic cars with similarly high-performing engines.
“Back in the 1960s and ’70s, we were looking at 300-, 325-horsepower engines. Now you’ve got 500-, 600-, even 700-horsepower,” said Ken Gross, an automotive historian, museum consultant and journalist. “Never in my lifetime did I think I’d see the day when I could drive a 700-horsepower street car.”
Even the least powerful of today’s sporty cars — say a base V-6 Chevy Camaro, Mustang or Charger — could probably out-corner most 1960s muscle cars, which were renowned for their ability to accelerate, but not to turn or stop.
“We are living in the Golden Age of the performance car,” said Matt Anderson, curator of transportation at the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. “The cars from the 1960s and ’70s were good cars, but basic. Not as fast or sophisticated as today’s cars. With new technology, improving fuel economy and reasonable gasoline prices, there’s no end in sight.”
Fiat Chrysler’s Dodge Hellcat engines cram 707 horsepower into the Challenger coupe and Charger sedan.
The 2016 Chevrolet Corvette ZO6 produces 650 horsepower and accelerates to 60 m.p.h. in 2.95 seconds. Watching one launch has more in common with the Millennium Falcon shifting into warp drive than the Corvettes Chevrolet sold when muscle cars and “Star Wars” were new.
Ford is about to join the party with the 526-horsepower Shelby GT 350 Mustang, which uses a radically designed V-8 engine of a type usually reserved for six-figure exotic cars from Porsche and Ferrari.
There are less powerful, and less expensive versions of those extreme models of the Challenger, Charger, Corvette and Mustang.
Affordability was part of what drove the first muscle car boom, and it’s a major selling point for Detroit’s modern performance cars. Prices for the Shelby GT 350 start at $49,170. You can get into a Challenger Hellcat or Charger Hellcat for $58,295 or $62,295, respectively. The Corvette ZO6 goes for $79,400. All prices exclude destination charges.
Performance cars have become big fun and good business. The first muscle car boom died because of high fuel prices, insurance costs and strict emissions limits. The new generation is among the few classes of vehicles bucking the industry trend away from cars in favor of pickups and SUVs.
Performance cars have been among the three most-researched vehicle types on car-shopping website Autotrader for at least the last 10 months, alongside pickups and midsize SUVs.
“They’re the Detroit 3’s strongest vehicles,” Autotrader senior analyst Michelle Krebs said. “They sell fast, and they sell without big incentives.”
The 2015 edition of the Dodge Hellcats sold out early, and the company will double production for 2016. The 2015 GT 350 — the 50th anniversary of the original Shelby GT 350 developed by Carroll Shelby — sold out before Ford built the first one.
While some of the model names appeal mostly to aging baby boomers, automakers are trying to create legends for a new age. Ford will take on compact super-tuners like the Subaru WRX STI and Volkswagen Golf R next spring with an all-wheel-drive Focus that will generate around 350 horsepower.
“Half a century after the muscle car era, we’ve got double the horsepower and triple the fun,” Gross said. “I can’t imagine where we’re going to go from here.”