There are few things as quintessentially American as the beefy lines and earth-rattling growl of ’60s-era muscle cars. Defined by their excesses of power, performance, style and attitude—from Steve McQueen blazing through San Francisco in a Mustang to the Dodge Charger barreling around the banked turns of Daytona—these beasts were the embodiment of a young, upwardly mobile, industrious nation. After clean-air regulations and the fuel shortages of the ’70s halted production, a healthy secondhand and restoration market emerged. But only in the recent postbailout period has the muscle car rumbled back to life.
2012 Dodge Charger SRT8 Super Bee
Photo: Courtesy of Chrystler Group
Among the leaders of this new generation are Ford’s Mustang Shelby GT500 (starting at $54,995), Dodge’s Charger SRT8 Super Bee ($42,320) and Chevrolet’s Camaro ZL1 ($55,250). Capable of top speeds just shy of 200 mph—excuse me, officer—this new breed is as fit for the track as it is for transporting the kids from soccer practice. With a 662-hp V8 engine, the Shelby GT500 is the most race car–esque of the bunch, if you’re looking for road to burn. Still, what’s truly new about this latest bunch of muscle cars isn’t necessarily what’s under the hood.
2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Photo: Courtesy of General Motors
Unlike their gas-gulping ancestors, the GT500, ZL1 and Super Bee all exceed 20 mpg. They’re also pretty sweet for daily commuting, with comfort features like traction control, electronically adjustable shock absorbers and variable-ratio electric power steering, not to mention inviting interiors with premium sound and navigation systems and add-ons like Recaro seats. At once classic, teeth-rattlin’ Detroit and state-of-the-art luxurious, these are rides for discerning gearheads—and they say as much about our future as they do about our past.
2013 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500
Photo: Courtesy of Ford Motor Company