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Shoot-out at the Pony-Car Corral

Paul A. Eisenstein
From the Print Edition:
Jeff Daniels-The Newsroom, July/August 2012

One of the hottest battles in the car market these days rages between two classic Detroit retro-mobiles, the Ford Mustang and the recently reborn Chevrolet Camaro. For years, Ford all but owned the pony-car market, but Camaro, an automotive phoenix, is enjoying its best sales since its days as a classic Detroit muscle car. In an unexpected turn of fortune Ford is now the also-ran intent on regaining the lead in the sporty-compact segment it created.

While today’s pony cars bear a striking similarity to the ’60s classics that defined the breed they’ve got a lot more going for them. They’re not only fast off the line but can brake and corner as well, making them serious challengers to some of the best of the European and Asian sports cars. But if affordability is part of how you think of a pony, some available configurations of the models may stretch the description.

The stats are climbing into the astronomical category. Ford has just won certification for the most powerful series production V-8 on the market—the Mustang’s Shelby GT 500 package pumping out a 650 horsepower and 600 pound-feet of torque. That’s enough to punch it up to 200 mph, putting the coupe in the same rarified space as the new Lamborghini Aventador and Ferrari 458 Italia.

Even with Carroll Shelby’s recent demise you can still have the automotive legend’s custom shop, Shelby American in Las Vegas, tune your GT 500 to an astounding 950-1,100 hp. But that bump will add $149,995 to the roughly $50,000 you’ll spend to get the “base” GT 500 out the showroom door.

What’s a Chevy marketer to do? How about turn out the most powerful Camaro ever? The 2013 model-year ZL1 will unleash 580 hp (pictured). The top-line Camaro also gets extensive aero bodywork modifications to help plant all that power on the pavement, with absolutely massive Brembo brakes to scrub speed off in a tight corner. And if your target is 200 mph, aftermarket tuner Lingenfelter Performance Engineering will pump still more adrenaline into your Camaro with a package rated at 720 ponies and 650 pound-feet of tire-spinning torque.

If only a handful of buyers ever take things to such extremes, models like the GT 500 and ZL1 will put halos around those brands, which have continued to do surprisingly well despite fuel prices. Of course, it helps that both Ford and Chevy reconcile performance and fuel economy with a V-6. The Mustang delivers 30 mpg on the highway—yet over 300 horsepower, substantially more than the pony car V-8s of the not-too-distant past.

It’s a strange shootout. The faster the bullets fly the better for Mustang and Camaro—and their customers.

Visit chevrolet.com and ford.com.

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