Many people claim that we’re living in the golden age of performance cars. Which can be taken as honeyed words that could otherwise mean every automaker is giving one last push into the high octane space for its customers, before governments and rabid post modernists on social media force the internal combustion engine into oblivion. And as Maximum Bob Lutz has proclaimed, it could really be the end of the good times. But perhaps not yet. Perhaps 2020 will create evermore milestones for performance cars. Though before we know for sure, we’d like to take this last Monday of the decade to reflect on the performance achievements that have taken place over the past 10 years. And while the title does imply just the American muscle car, it would have been silly not to include major moments from American sports cars and supercars over the past decade, as well.
Enjoy the countdown below.
10. 650 HP Barrier Broken
In 2013 Ford delivered several updates to the Mustang Shelby GT500 at the time, and its centerpiece was the 5.8L Trinity V8 engine. Power improved a full 112 horsepower, from an already stout 550 hp to an unprecedented 662 horsepower. It remains one of the most powerful production V8 engines ever made, and it threw the GT500 to an incredible 202 miles per hour. It would be the lone American that met or exceeded the 650 hp barrier until Chevrolet launched the C7 Z06 in 2015 with exactly 650 hp.
9. Retro Styling, Perfected
The 2010s saw a trio of fantastic throwback designs from Chevrolet with the fifth-generation Camaro, the reintroduced Dodge Challenger, and the S-197 II Ford Mustang. Each of them did their best to recapture the muscle car magic from the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in a modern way, and it largely worked. But while the Camaro and Mustang went forward to take on a more modern appearance, the wonderfully stubborn Challenger continued to whittle and hone its shape, with current model years adapting more sophisticated exterior lighting, a more refined interior, and special paint colors to celebrate the past.
8. 700+ HP Barrier Broken
Dodge turned the performance car market on its head when it first introduced the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat muscle car in 2015. selling a 707 horsepower for just $59,995 was and remains absurd, but it has democratized speed and power that was previously reserved only for more elite supercars. The results have been fireworks, and the halo effect of the Hellcat likely helped boost the sales of the Challenger for the years to follow. And not to rest its laurels on this accomplishment, Dodge launched the 797 horsepower Challenger Hellcat Redeye in 2018. In that same year, Chevrolet launched the 755 horsepower C7 Corvette ZR1, while Ford is currently launching the 776 horsepower S-550 Mustang Shelby GT500. The 850 horsepower barrier is sure to fall soon.
7. 200 MPH Cadillac
The third-generation Cadillac CTS-V will go down in history as a wildly unconventional vehicle from a brand that customers continue to associate with the large and floaty land yachts that could hardly ever get out of their own way. Equipped with 640 horsepower from the supercharged LT4 V8 as found in the Camaro ZL1 and C7 Corvette Z06, the third-gen Cadillac CTS-V was capable of 200 miles per hour, making it the fastest production Cadillac ever. In fact, until the launch of the 214.8 mph C7 ZR1, the four-door supercar was the fastest vehicle available from General Motors for a few years; its aerodynamics allowed the Cadillac to achieve a higher VMAX than the C7 Z06.
6. S-550 Mustang
The truth is that the S550 Ford Mustang could be an entire list of significant achievements all on its own, as the top-selling iconic muscle car has continually rolled out innovation after innovation through its lifecycle. Segment firsts such as carbon fiber wheels and a flat-plane crankshaft V8 on the Shelby GT350R, a dual-clutch transmission on the 776 horsepower Mustang Shelby GT500, the gamble that paid off with the power-dense 2.3L EcoBoost, and incredible styling inside and out. Ford continues to tease further innovations with the Mustang with the Lithium concept and its 900 fully electric horsepower. Go figure, also, that it was the first of the three pony car icons to break the $100,000 barrier with a fully loaded GT500.
5. A $450,000 Ford
Ford Motor Company put on a skunkworks masterclass when it came to keeping the new Ford GT supercar a secret up until its official reveal at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show. Packing a 647 horsepower 3.5L EcoBoost V6 derived from the Ford F-150 pickup truck and a fully carbon fiber body, the Ford GT was a homologation special that celebrated the company’s triumph at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans over Ferrari and other European rivals. Only 250 of them are built by hand each year, and potential buyers had to go through a rather arduous process of being individually approved by the automaker to actually buy one for the very serious price of just over $450,000, before options. And if that wasn’t enough to heat up your wallet, the track-only Ford GT MkII comes in at a titanic $1.2 million – making it the most expensive Ford product ever, by far.
Perhaps the biggest reason that Ford kept the second-generation GT such a huge secret is because it didn’t really do much to develop or even assemble the new GT. Rather, Canada’s Multimatic handles the heavy lifting, which operates out of the Toronto suburb of Markham.
4. Demonic Power
Perhaps no other vehicle speaks more to the hearts of today’s muscle car owner than the 840 horsepower Dodge Challenger SRT Demon. This is because it was built primarily for one purpose: the quarter mile. To that end Dodge equipped the mighty Demon with revolutionary kit such as a trans brake, barely-road-legal Nitto NT05R tires made for the drag strip, skinny fronts courtesy of the optional Demon Crate, the biggest functional automobile hood scoop known to man, a 2.7L supercharger, and so on and so forth. All told, the Demon clocked in a record 9.65 seconds during factory testing, making it the quickest production car in the quarter mile that has ever been made. And it may be a while before we see such a feat replicated by any automaker.
3. The World-Beating Viper ACR
Equally as mighty and as purpose-built as the Dodge Demon was the 2016 Dodge Viper ACR. Arguably the most extreme front-engined RWD American sports car ever built, the 2016 Viper ACR campaigned across America to set production vehicle lap records at thirteen different road courses, including Road America, Virginia International Raceway, Willow Springs, and Laguna Seca. Sadly, production ended for the entire Viper program before the ACR could attack the mighty Nürburgring. To that end, Ben Keating and his ViperExchange dealership/race team combo set out to privately take on the infamous German track. Their three-day excursion ended with a best lap time of 7:01.30 set by Lance Davide Arnold, before a crash cut the adventure short. Nevertheless, it’s the fastest American car to ever lap the Nordschleife to-date.
2. The Return Of An Icon
While true that production of the fifth-generation Camaro happened in 2009, and development began taking place several years before that, the first fifth-gen Camaros to roll off the (now shuttered) Oshawa Assembly Plant were of the 2010 model year, and considering there wasn’t much happening in the late 2000’s besides automotive industry turmoil, this monumental occasion deserves a spot on the list. Grown men wept when it finally came to market. The seven year drought without a Chevy pony car was over, and it was back to blue collar burnouts. The fifth-generation model was the best selling Camaro since 1995, and routinely battled the Ford Mustang for the top sales spot. The Camaro 5 also expanded the bandwidth of capabilities for the muscle car greatly, with competitive approvals from both the SCCA and NHRA, and we’re not even talking about the 580 hp Camaro ZL1 or supercar beating Camaro Z/28. Instead those designations go to the Camaro SS 1LE and the COPO, respectively.
Chevrolet hoped to replicate this success with the sixth-generation Camaro by making it lighter, sportier and more athletic than before. These improvements manifested themselves the most in the Camaro ZL1 1LE that officially ran the ‘Ring in a super fast 7:16, making it the fastest pony car to ever lap that track. However, the burly muscle car presence and more agreeable pricing of its predecessor seemed to speak to customers more effectively. Sales continue to drop for the sixth-generation Camaro, and as we first reported, another production hiatus looms after 2023.
1. Mid. Engine. Corvette.
It’s here. It’s finally, finally here. A dream of Zora Arkus Duntov, the worst kept big secret in the industry, and to the joy (and shock) of many enthusiasts. The 2020 C8 Corvette Stingray represents a quantum leap for the nameplate, having exhausted what’s possible from its previous front-engine platform that can be traced back to the 1990’s. C8 Corvette promises to rewrite expectations for an American sports car, thanks to the repositioning of its engine for superior power delivery, while its first-ever double clutch transmission helps the car rifle to 60 in just 2.9 seconds, despite being heavier than the C7. And while the base Nürburgring lap time may not be all that ground breaking, but we have to be patient. The C8 Corvette is just getting started, as is a new decade.