Evolution can be a funny thing. It’s a natural part of life and although it’s usually a good thing, it makes one reminiscent of days gone by. Even though I’ve had a deep-rooted obsession with cars all my life, I can remember when I became fully-involved with this hobby twelve years ago.
In the year 2000…
Back then gas was cheap at less than two bucks a gallon, 10-second street cars were considered very fast, and any factory production car that could produce anything north of 300 horsepower at the flywheel was very respectable.
As far as the industry was concerned, factory fresh LS1-powered Corvettes and F-bodies ruled the streets. Across town, Ford was in the middle of fulfilling recall orders from disgruntled ’99 SVT Cobra customers who were upset by the false claim of their “320hp” Mod Motor, and the hottest Dodge you could buy (apart from the Viper) was an Intrepid R/T with a 242hp V6.
The quality wasn’t at a then all-time high, and left a lot to be desired. The engineers took a “that’ll do” approach to things like suspension geometry, braking systems, and wheel diameter. Sixteen-inch wheels were the norm, and 17′s were thought to be an impressive upgrade.
However, we were happy with what was offered, and during these times was when the LS motors would take the lead of the late-model performance aftermarket. It seemed like there was a new part coming out for our cars every day, and we were impressed with guys pulling mid-11′s running a simple camshaft upgrade and a pair of ported truck heads.
During those formative years, only three performance cars on the road carried an LS motor; the Corvette, the Camaro and the Formula/Trans Am. If you owned one, you were already ahead of the pack.
Modern Muscle Cars are as eco-friendly as possible while being extremely reliable, and so brutally fast that no one could ever have imagined it was possible back in the so-called ‘Golden Era of Muscle Cars’…
Fast forward to 2012, and all of today’s pony cars come standard with V6 engines producing well over 300 naturally-aspirated horsepower. Ford’s Shelby GT500 (today’s equivalent of the Cobra) comes packing 662hp for 2013.
The new Viper and top-dog Corvette ZR1 both spin 640hp at the crank, and you can buy a ZL1 Camaro with a supercharged 580hp V8 and a factory warranty. Oh, and Dodge now sells modern Chargers and Challengers with available 470hp HEMI V8′s.
Heck, even Cadillac has entered the game with their trifecta of CTS-V models. A Caddy that produces 556hp, runs low-12′s in the 1320 and can embarrass basically everything on the road was once the basis of a science fiction novel. But it’s been a reality since 2009. It even made BMW and Mercedes-Benz turn up their M and AMG lines a couple of notches.
Even today’s American ponycars share the same level of quality that you would find in most high-end European sedans, their handling is better than one might imagine, and most of them come with Brembo brakes as standard.
They’re as eco-friendly as possible while being extremely reliable, daily-driver friendly, and so brutally fast that no one could ever have imagined it was possible back in the so-called “Golden Era of Muscle Cars” of that which was the 1960s.
Of course the aftermarket continues to be relevant, despite all of this massive OEM horsepower. It makes sense -we’re speed junkies, and that’s what we do. Plus you have to factor in all of the cars that was built between then and now; GTO’s, G8′s, SSR’s, Trailblazer SS’s, the LS4-powered front-drivers, and so on.
The LS motor has become the darling of the engine swap, essentially replacing the venerable Gen-1 small block in the hot-rodding community. You can now find them in everything from a ’57 Chevy, to a ’69 Camaro, and they’re even finding their way under the hoods of import cars like the Nissan 240SX for drift competition.
With the EPA ensuring the auto manufacturer’s vehicles produce especially high MPG and ridiculously low emissions by 2016, you have to wonder where we’ll be going next.
GM in particular is trying to get their MPG average up with cars like the Chevy Volt, Cruze, and the upcoming Spark. There’s already loads of talk about switching to a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine for the next generation entry-level Camaro, and we know that there’s a Gen-V small block over the horizon.
But will it be enough to keep our high-horsepower muscle cars in production, and how powerful will they eventually become? Will this truly be the end of the greatest muscle car era of all time?